The Sao Paulo state government is ignoring federal legislation
protecting the rights of young offenders, and abandoning hundreds of
adolescents to torture, ill-treatment and cruel, inhuman and
degrading conditions of detention, a new Amnesty International
report says(BRAZIL: A Waste of Lives: FEBEM Juvenile Detention
entres, São Paulo. A human rights crisis, not a public security
issue. AI Index: AMR 19/014/00).
The state's juvenile detention system, Foundation for the
Well-Being of Minors (FEBEM), collapsed into crisis last October
when years of overcrowding and ill-treatment led to a series of
violent riots in one of FEBEM's detention centres. Since then the
promised reforms have not been delivered by the authorities.
"Even the warders admit that violence against inmates is the
norm," said Julia Rochester, Researcher on Brazil. "Everyone who
goes into these detention centres -- lawyers, judges, health and
safety inspectors, parliamentarians, human rights activists -- comes
out reporting beatings, humiliation, untreated illness,
overcrowding, poor hygiene and complete inactivity. The government's
refusal to acknowledge the root causes of the current crisis is
Amnesty International's report, A Waste of Lives, concludes that
the Sao Paulo government is trying to shift attention away from
torture and ill-treatment in order to pander to public fears about
violent crime. Despite almost weekly reports of beatings of large
numbers of boys, the authorities continue to characterize the crisis
purely as a public security issue.
Millions of reais have been spent on installing security
equipment, but issues such as institutionalized violence, chronic
understaffing, poor training and insuffient basic hygiene supplies
are being sidestepped.
Since the crisis, the Sao Paulo government has embarked on a
series of transfers of large numbers of adolescents into the adult
prison system and into hastily constructed new units. During these
transfers boys have been forced to run gauntlets of warders and
police armed with sticks. In one incident alone a forensic expert
examined 80 boys and found marks and bruises from beatings.
Punishments in FEBEM's overcrowded and under-staffed detention
centres are arbitrary and often designed to humiliate. A simple
offence, such as speaking during a meal, may result in punishments
ranging from confiscation of toothbrushes - often the only personal
item a boy has - to severe beatings.
In the absence of clear rules and regulations governing
discipline, punishments are meted out at the whim of warders, often
to an entire wing of detainees. Several boys have died in recent
years following beatings by warders. In one incident a boy died when
warders set fire to a dormitory, in order to force out inmates who
had barricaded themselves in. Boys have also died at the hands of
fellow-inmates when FEBEM has lost control of detention units.
In the last ten years, parliamentary commissions of inquiry,
human rights commissions and children's rights organizations have
put forward numerous reports detailing violations and making
concrete proposals for reform. These have not only been largely
ignored by the government, but official statements to the media have
sought to shift the blame for the crisis onto some of these
children's rights advocates, by publicly accusing them of inciting
Brazil's celebrated Statute of the Child and Adolescent (ECA),
launched ten years ago, regulates the treatment of young offenders
in line with international standards. Supported by Sao Paulo's
juvenile court, Public Prosecutors have brought two civil actions
and nine petitions against the Sao Paulo government and FEBEM in the
last eight years. They have called for young offenders' basic human
rights to be guaranteed and for juvenile detention units to be
brought into line with the law.
The government has appealed in every single case, and in all but
one case, the State Appeals Court has supported the government by
upholding the appeal. "The ECA is clearly being broken, and hundreds
of boys are being tortured and ill-treated. It is outrageous that
the higher court should allow the government to circumvent the law
like this," Julia Rochester said.
Amnesty International is calling on the Sao Paulo government to
take immediate steps to address the human rights crisis in FEBEM.
These should include disciplinary measures against FEBEM staff
involved in torture and ill-treatment, as well as the recruitment
and training of sufficient staff, and an immediate investment in
infrastructure to end over-crowding and poor hygiene.
The Federal Government should urgently undertake a review of the
application of the ECA throughout Brazil and take action to address
its failure to protect the basic human rights of young offenders.