GENEVA (1 April 2022) – The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT) welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court of Brazil to invalidate a presidential decree that would have dismantled the country’s torture prevention mechanism.
In a recent unanimous decision, the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil ruled that the presidential decree adopted in 2019 is unconstitutional. Under the controversial decree, the Brazilian government drastically reduced the financial and secretarial support to the Mecanismo Nacional de Prevenção e Combate à Torture (MNPCT), the country’s torture prevention watchdog; and members of the MNPCT would no longer be paid and would have to work on a voluntary basis.
The mandate of the MNPCT requires its members to be available throughout the year to travel across the country to inspect prisons, detention facilities and other places where people are deprived of their liberty. The Supreme Court considered that the MNPCT members could not carry out their mandate with full dedication without remuneration, as they would need to earn a living from another paid activity.
The Supreme Court also considered that the decree is an abuse of regulatory power, and contradictory to Brazil’s compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
“We welcome this unanimous decision by the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil that prevents the dismantling of the national torture prevention mechanism of the country,” said Suzanne Jabbour, Chair of the SPT.
“We now call on the Brazilian authorities to implement this decision immediately so that the mechanism can resume and further strengthen its preventive work without delay,” she added.
Brazil has the third-largest population of people deprived of liberty in the world with over 750,000 detainees, many living in overcrowded prisons. As the court also indicated, in Brazil, the rights of people deprived of liberty are severely violated – there are frequent reports of torture, ill-treatment and substandard detention conditions.
An SPT delegation visited Brazil in February, meeting with the Brazilian authorities to reiterate the need to respect the country’s international human rights obligations. In 2019, the SPT issued views, stating that the presidential decree made it impossible for Brazil’s MNPCT to operate in compliance with the Optional Protocol.
The State parties to the OPCAT are obliged to establish functional and independent national preventive mechanisms. These bodies conduct regular visits to places where people are deprived of their liberty as part of efforts to prevent torture and ill-treatment and improve detention conditions. Brazil established a national system of prevention of torture in 2013, whereby each of its 26 States should establish a preventive body in addition to the federal mechanism, but until now only four out of the 26 states have set up such a preventive body.
The Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture monitors States parties' adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which to date has been ratified by 91 countries. The Subcommittee is made up of 25 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Subcommittee has a mandate to visit States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. The Subcommittee communicates its observations and recommendations to States through confidential reports, which it encourages countries to make public.
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