Brazil is a constitutional, multiparty republic governed by a democratically elected government. In 2018 voters chose the president, the vice president, and the bicameral national legislature in elections that international observers reported were free and fair.
The three national police forces – the Federal Police, Federal Highway Police, and Federal Railway Police – have domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (Ministry of Justice). There are two distinct units within the state police forces: the civil police, which performs an investigative role, and the military police, charged with maintaining law and order in the states and the Federal District. Despite the name, military police forces report to the Ministry of Justice, not the Ministry of Defense. The armed forces also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by police; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; violence against journalists; widespread acts of corruption by officials; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence or threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of racial minorities, human rights and environmental activists, members of racial and indigenous groups and other traditional populations, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons.
The government prosecuted officials who committed abuses; however, impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
c. Freedom of Religion
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men or women, including spousal rape. In addition, the law criminalizes physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women, as well as defamation and damage to property or finances by someone with whom the victim has a marriage, family, or intimate relationship. The law defines femicide as homicide of a woman due to her gender, including but not limited to, homicide that escalated from other forms of domestic violence, discrimination, or contempt for women. The law stipulates a sentence of 12 to 30 years. According to NGOs and official data, there were 1,350 femicides in 2020, compared with 1,326 in 2019. According to the National Council of Justice, the number of new cases involving the killing of a woman rose 39 percent in 2020 to 2,788 cases, and courts imposed sentences in 2,016 cases of femicide in 2020 – a 24 percent decrease from the 2,657 sentences in 2019, due to process difficulties in light of the pandemic. According to the Brazilian Public Security Forum, in cases of femicide, the killer was a partner or former partner of the victim 81.5 percent of the time.
The state of Rio de Janeiro had a total of 42 victims of femicide in the first five months of the year according to the Institute of Public Security. The state of Bahia had 64 cases of femicide in the first six months, according to the Bahian Public Security Secretariat. The Espirito Santo Public Security Secretariat recorded 13 victims in the first five months of the year. The state of Minas Gerais recorded 67 victims of femicide from January to June and 70,450 victims of domestic violence during the same period.
On April 2, justice prosecutor Andre Luiz Garcia de Pinho killed his wife, Lorenza Maria Silva de Pinho. In July the Minas Gerais Court of Justice decided that de Pinho would be brought to trial for aggravated homicide. He remained in pretrial detention after a request for habeas corpus was denied.
NGO and public security representatives reported that, culturally, domestic violence was often viewed as a private matter and that survivors and bystanders often did not report cases of violence. On July 14, police arrested Iverson de Souza Araujo (also known as DJ Ivis), in Fortaleza after videos of assaults against his former wife, Pamella Holanda, were posted by her on her social media account. The public release of the video led to widespread public condemnation, and distribution contracts and music collaborations were cancelled.
According to NGOs and public security data, gender-based violence was widespread. According to the 15th Public Safety Yearbook released annually by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, there were 60,460 cases of rape in 2020. Due to underreporting, the actual number of cases was likely much higher. The state of Sao Paulo recorded an average of 34 cases of rape per day in the first quarter of the year, 7 percent higher than the same period of 2020, according to a survey conducted by the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. Data showed that 75 percent of the victims were girls younger than age 14.
Each state secretariat for public security operated police stations dedicated exclusively to addressing crimes against women. State and local governments also operated reference centers and temporary women’s shelters, and many states maintained domestic violence hotlines. In January, Rio de Janeiro State’s Civil Police announced a new hotline for victims of gender-based violence in an effort to reduce instances of feminicide. During the pandemic the court of justice in the state of Piaui invested in campaigns and online assistance to facilitate access for victims of violence. There were several ways to denounce domestic violence: through the Salve Maria application or calling the Francisca Trindade Center, Maria da Penha Patrol, Esperanca Garcia Institute, Ombudsman of the Public Ministry of Piaui, or Public Defender’s Office. In April in the state of Piaui, requests for protective measures for women victims of domestic violence increased more than 30 percent, compared with the same period in 2020.
During the first quarter of the year, the state of Rio Grande do Sul saw a 375 percent increase in preventive arrests for domestic violence, compared with the same period of 2020. A key factor contributing to this increase was the rise of information sharing with the government through electronic means, such as WhatsApp and Online Police. The state also inaugurated an additional 17 salas das margaridas, a dedicated space within police stations to receive women at risk, bringing the total in Rio Grande do Sul to 40.
In July 2020 Rio de Janeiro’s then governor Witzel signed a bill that temporarily authorized gun permit suspensions and weapons seizures in cases of domestic violence and femicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities cited concerns that quarantine could lead to increases in domestic violence cases involving weapons. According to Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute, as of June 2020 domestic violence calls to the military police aid hotline had increased by 12 percent, in comparison with the same period the previous year. In August 2020 a police operation resulted in the arrest of 57 suspects accused of domestic violence.
The law recommends health facilities contact police regarding cases in which a woman was harmed physically, sexually, or psychologically and instructs police to collect evidence and statements should the victim decide to prosecute. Despite these protections, allegations of domestic violence were not always treated as credible by police.
Sexual assault and rape of minors was widespread. In 2020, 44,400 cases of rape and rape of vulnerable minors were registered, representing 60.6 percent of the total number of rape cases. A “vulnerable” victim is defined as a person younger than age 14, or who is considered physically, mentally, and therefore legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. According to the 15th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, 54 percent of these victims were 11 years old or younger.
In Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, a group of five men (two adults and three adolescents) raped and killed an 11-year-old Kaiowa indigenous girl in August. Police arrested the perpetrators, who confessed the crimes, and indicted them on charges of rape of a vulnerable person, femicide, and aggravated homicide. One of them, the girl’s uncle, died in prison three days later, and police were investigating the case as a possible suicide.
On March 12, the STF unanimously decided to invalidate the use of the “legitimate defense of honor thesis” in cases of femicide. The 11 STF justices assessed this thesis contradicts constitutional principles of human dignity, protection of life, and gender equality and, therefore, cannot be applied in jury trials as a defense argument in cases of femicide. The legitimate defense of honor thesis was used in jury courts to largely absolve men who killed women to “protect their own honor,” for example in cases of betrayal in romantic relationships.
On July 28, the federal government approved a law that includes the crime of psychological violence against women in the penal code, assigning a punishment of six months’ to two years’ imprisonment and a fine. The text approved by Congress defines the crime as: “Causing emotional damage to women that can harm and disturb them, or their full development, or that aims to degrade or control their actions, behaviors, beliefs and decisions, through threat, embarrassment, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, blackmail, ridicule, limitation of the right to come and go, or any other means that harm their psychological health and self-determination.”
On May 10, the government of the state of Alagoas inaugurated A Casa da Mulher Alagoana. The center serves women victims of domestic violence and provides professional psychology, advocacy, and social care services. Victims may file a police report and request protective measures in-person at the facility, as well as receive temporary shelter.
In the state of Ceara, the Women’s Reference Center, which offers a psychologist, lawyer, and social worker service and partnership with the Maria da Penha Patrol, received 240 requests for assistance in 2020, but within the first four months of 2021 it responded to 142 requests. According to the center’s director, most victims were financially dependent on their partner, which deepened during the COVID pandemic.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is a criminal offense, punishable by up to two years in prison. The law includes actions performed outside the workplace. NGOs reported sexual harassment was a serious concern, and perpetrators were infrequently held accountable. A 2019 study conducted by research institutes Patricia Galvao and Locomotiva with support from Uber found that 97 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment on public transportation, in taxis, or while using a rideshare application.
On June 15, the National Council of Justice ruled that Judge Glicerio de Angiolis Silva from Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice should be removed from the bench for two years for morally and sexually harassing public workers and interns at the court of Miracema, in the northwestern part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, in 2015. The victims reported that the judge asked them to send him photographs of them in bikinis, asked them out, and requested them to work late with no reasonable purpose. By law the judge was still entitled to receive his salary while away from his regular duties.
In June the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Police opened an investigation into plastic surgeon Klaus Wietzke Brodbeck on suspicion of sexually abusing more than 95 women patients, including one sedated patient he allegedly raped after surgery.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, including emergency contraceptives and termination of pregnancy as provided for by law. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), persons in remote regions experienced difficulty accessing reproductive health services.
According to UNFPA, in 2020, 89 percent of women of reproductive age had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods, and skilled health personnel attended to 99 percent of births from 2014 to 2019. UNFPA also reported that adolescent birth rate per 1,000 girls for those between the ages of 15 to 19 averaged 53 births for the period of 2003 to 2018. The Ministry of Health reported that the maternal mortality ratio averaged 59 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2018 and was higher among Black women than among white women. Data published in May by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation found that the risk of death of pregnant brown and Black women from COVID-19 was almost twice that of white women and noted that Black women were less likely to have gynecological and prenatal care and travelled farthest to reach a maternity ward.
In May, UNICEF and UNFPA published a report on menstrual poverty experienced by Brazilian girls who lived in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, sometimes without access to basic sanitation services, hygiene resources, and minimal knowledge about the body. More than 700,000 girls had no access to a bathroom or shower in their homes. More than four million girls experienced at least one deprivation of hygiene in schools, including lack of access to feminine care products and basic facilities such as toilets and soap. Nearly 200,000 of these students were completely deprived of the minimum conditions to handle menstruation at school. A study from Girl Up Brazil, a network to end menstrual poverty in the country, found that one in four girls had missed school because they lacked access to feminine products.
In October, President Bolsonaro signed a law to create the Program for the Protection and Promotion of Menstrual Health, a strategy to promote health and attention to feminine hygiene and aims to combat lack of access to hygiene products related to menstruation. The president vetoed a provision contained in the measure to provide free basic hygiene products to low-income students, persons living on the streets, and prisoners because he said the legislation did not establish a funding source. In November the Foreign Trade Chamber reduced the import tax rate from 12 to 10 percent on sanitary pads and baby diapers to make the products more affordable to consumers.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in all circumstances. The law does not require equal pay for equal work. According to the International Labor Organization, women not only earned less than men but also had difficulties entering the workplace: 78 percent of men held paid jobs, compared with 56 percent of women. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal, but the law was not effectively enforced.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law prohibits racial discrimination, specifically the denial of public or private facilities, employment, or housing to anyone based on race. The law also prohibits the incitement of racial discrimination or prejudice and the dissemination of racially offensive symbols and epithets, and it stipulates prison terms for such acts.
Approximately 57 percent of the population self-identified as belonging to categories other than white. Despite this high representation within the general population, darker-skinned citizens, particularly Afro-Brazilians, encountered discrimination. They experienced a higher rate of unemployment and earned average wages below those of whites in similar positions. There was also a sizeable education gap. Afro-Brazilians were disproportionately affected by crime and violence.
In November 2020 a Black man was beaten to death by security guards outside a Carrefour supermarket in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The two guards, including an off-duty Military Police officer, were arrested for assaulting and killing Joao Alberto Silveira Freitas. The attack was filmed by witnesses and generated outcry nationally, mobilizing a series of protests across the country. Carrefour condemned the act, terminated its contract with the company that hired the guards, and promised to take measures promoting diversity and inclusion, including the creation of an “antiracist plan” to provide training and protocol for employees with an emphasis on welcoming clients, guidance for valuing human rights and diversity, and combating racism. Carrefour also committed to diversifying hiring practices and setting a requirement to hire at least 30,000 Black workers in three years. In June, Carrefour signed an agreement with the prosecutor’s offices, the public defender’s offices, Educafro, and the Santo Dias Human Rights Center and agreed to invest R$115 million ($20.6 million) in human rights organizations in payment for collective moral damages. The funds were to support undergraduate and graduate scholarships for Afrodescendant students; scholarships for language and technology courses; social inclusion and Black entrepreneurship projects; the establishment of a museum at the Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro, the main gateway for enslaved Africans who arrived in the country; and public funding for justice institutions and entities.
In February, Sao Paulo Military Police Lieutenant Colonel Evanilson Correa de Souza suffered racist verbal abuse while speaking at an online international conference organized by the University of Sao Paulo. The police officer, who is Black, was speaking about the program to combat racism within police forces in Sao Paulo when one of the participants started writing insults on the shared screen. The aggressor also used pornographic images to cover the colonel’s presentation.
The law provides for quota-based affirmative action policies in higher education, government employment, and the military. Nevertheless, Afro-Brazilians were underrepresented in the government, professional positions, and middle and upper socioeconomic classes.
Many government offices created internal committees to validate the self-declared ethnicity claims of public-service job applicants by using phenotypic criteria, assessing “Blackness” to reduce abuse of affirmative action policies and related laws. University administrators regularly conducted investigations and expelled students for fraudulently claiming to be Black or brown to claim racial quota spots in universities. Statistics showed university racial-quota policies were beginning to have a positive impact on educational outcomes for Afro-Brazilians. For example, data analysis from the National Household Sample Survey showed that in 2019 Black women (28 percent of the population) made up 27 percent of students in public higher education, an increase of 8 percent since 2001.
According to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) and the 2010 census, there were approximately 896,000 indigenous persons, representing 305 distinct indigenous ethnic groups that spoke 274 distinct languages.
The constitution grants the indigenous population broad protection of their cultural patrimony and use of their territory; however, indigenous lands and all aboveground and underground minerals as well as hydroelectric power potential belong to the government. Approximately 14 percent of the country’s land area is designated as indigenous territory.
Indigenous peoples have the exclusive possession and land use rights in their traditional lands. Requests to exploit mineral and water resources, including ones with energy potential, on indigenous lands must be approved by Congress, in consultation with the indigenous communities. Despite several proposals, Congress had not approved legislation that rules and regulates these activities. The exploitation of natural resources on indigenous territory by nonindigenous persons is illegal.
Beginning in 2019, tension and provocative rhetoric increased between the Bolsonaro administration and many indigenous leaders regarding the extent of indigenous protections and rights. On June 28, in a report presented at the 47th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, special adviser for the prevention of genocide, cited Brazil as a genocide risk.
On August 9, indigenous leaders accused President Bolsonaro of genocide at the International Criminal Court in the Hague in response to the deaths of 1,162 indigenous individuals from 163 communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders also argued that the dismantling of government institutions charged with social and environmental protection had triggered invasions of indigenous lands, deforestation, and fires in the biomes.
Through a series of decisions by the Ministry of Health and the STF, beginning in January, indigenous persons were prioritized for COVID-19 immunizations. The government initially focused on vaccines for indigenous persons in officially demarcated territories and later expanded preferential access to indigenous persons living in cities or other areas. By June, according to the Ministry of Health, 72 percent of the eligible indigenous population residing in indigenous areas was fully vaccinated, compared with a 39 percent fully vaccinated rate for the overall population as of September 3.
NGOs claimed the lack of regulation and attempts to create new legislation or change existing legislation to promote economic development, along with impunity in cases of illegal land invasions, resulted in the illegal exploitation of natural resources. The NGO Instituto Socioambiental reported more than 20,000 miners were illegally extracting gold from the Yanomami indigenous lands in Roraima State. According to a report during the year released by the indigenous NGO Missionary Council, there were 263 cases of illegal invasions and exploitation of natural resources on 253 indigenous territories in 19 states in 2020. A MapBiomas study released in August showed that the area of illegal mining in indigenous lands and conservation areas expanded 495 percent from 2010 to 2020. In March the Federal Police led an operation to shut down a large illegal mining camp in Yanomami lands in Roraima. Officials compared the illegal camp on Yanomami lands to a small city capable of housing more than 2,000 persons, with markets, restaurants, and a dental office.
Illegal land invasions often resulted in violence and even death. According to reporting by the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic NGO that represents rural workers on land rights, there were 1,083 cases of violence related to land disputes in 2020, impacting more than 130,000 families, compared with 1,254 incidents that affected 144,741 families in 2019. There were 178 invasions into territories in 2020, in comparison with only nine in 2019. Most of the victims of these invasions were indigenous persons (54.5 percent), while 11.8 percent of the invasions took place in quilombola communities. Among the conflicts noted in the report, there were 18 killings of indigenous persons (39 percent of the victims), and 12 of 35 victims of attempted homicide were indigenous.
In May the Hutukara Yanomami Association reported a series of attacks against the Palimiu community in Roraima by illegal miners, and media reports indicated that one indigenous person and four miners were shot and wounded. Yanomami leaders reported that two children, ages one and five, drowned during the attack. A federal court ruled on May 13 that the government should keep permanent troops in place to prevent conflict. The Federal Police and the army visited the site, conducted operations to halt mining operations, and seized equipment.
According to the Missionary Council report, there were 182 killings of indigenous persons in 2019 – a 61 percent increase, compared with 113 cases in 2018. In May 2020 the Federal Public Ministry accused two indigenous men, Nilson Carneiro Sousa Guajajara and Eduardo dos Santos Guajajara, of killing indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender Zezico Rodrigues Guajajara in March in Arame, Maranhao State. The victim was the fifth such killing of an indigenous Guajajara in as many months. Rodrigues worked as director of the Indigenous School Education Center and fought environmental crimes. According to indigenous leaders in the region, he reportedly received death threats and formally complained to FUNAI and the Federal Police.
On February 12, state troopers shot indigenous leader Isaac Tembe in Alto Rio Guama, Para State. According to media reports, Tembe, a leader of the Tenetehara people, was hunting with community members in an area near the Alto Rio Guama when military police officers shot at them. Tembe was killed as the group tried to escape into the woods. According to the Para State Department of Public Security, police were called to investigate cattle theft in the region and, upon arrival at the scene, they heard shots and returned fire in self-defense. According to the local indigenous population, Tembe did not have a gun. The Federal Public Ministry and an internal affairs office from the military police were investigating, but the indigenous group requested the case be federalized due to potential bias by local police and courts.
As of August there were 568 areas of land claimed by indigenous peoples in different stages of the demarcation process: 441 were fully approved and officially recognized and 127 remained under review. Various indigenous groups protested the slow pace of land demarcations. As of October no indigenous lands had been approved under the Bolsonaro administration, aligning with his pledge when he entered office to not increase indigenous land designations.
Throughout the year indigenous groups protested in Brasilia and in state capitals to protect their ancestral lands. In June an estimated 500 to 850 members of indigenous groups protested in Brasilia to demand that Congress cease consideration of a bill that proposes additional requirements and barriers for demarcation of indigenous lands. Protesters broke down security barriers placed to prevent entry into the federal Chamber of Deputies due the pandemic, and chamber security forces responded with tear and pepper gas, while the protesters allegedly shot arrows at the security guards. According to the indigenous groups, security forces also fired rubber bullets, an accusation the chamber denied. Three officers and at least three protesters were wounded and referred to local hospitals. The chamber’s vote on the bill in its Constitution and Justice Committee was postponed until June 23, when it was approved. The bill requires approval in the chamber before moving on to the Senate.
As of November the STF continued to review a case that analyzes the “cutoff date for land claims” thesis, which holds that indigenous peoples can only claim lands on which they were present on October 5, 1988, the day the constitution was promulgated. The decision will set precedent, impacting already completed, ongoing, and future land demarcation processes. On August 22, 6,000 indigenous leaders and supporters camped on Brasilia’s main mall for several days to bring attention to the case and call on the STF to rule against the case. Members of Congress said they would continue with their bill seeking similar timebound requirements irrespective of the STF decision.
The quilombola population – descendants of escaped African slaves – was estimated to include 6,000 communities and five million individuals, although the government had no official statistics. The constitution recognizes quilombola land ownership rights. Nearly 3,000 communities were registered, but fewer than 140 had been granted land titles by the government.
Quilombola representatives and partner organizations reported that members of these communities suffered higher mortality rates due to COVID-19 than the rest of the country’s population. According to a partnership between the NGOs ISA and National Coordination for the Articulation of Quilombola Communities (CONAQ), the case mortality rate due to COVID-19 in quilombola communities as of August 18 was 5.3 percent. In comparison, as of August the Ministry of Health reported case mortality rates due to COVID-19 in the entire country averaging 2.8 percent and in the northern region, where most indigenous peoples lived, 2.5 percent. As of September 3, the Ministry of Health estimated that 36 percent of quilombolas had been fully vaccinated. Although the government provided quilombola individuals with priority status, in some cases local municipalities did not recognize their priority status or local vaccination sites were not certified, according to research by CONAQ.
Quilombola communities faced systemic challenges such as endemic poverty, racism, violence, threats against women, and threats against community leaders, as well as limited access to essential resources and public policies. According to CONAQ, Black populations had a higher rate of diseases that further aggravated the effects of COVID-19, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The precarious access to water in many territories was a cause for concern, as it also hindered hygiene practices. Civil society leaders also cited concerns about food insecurity in quilombola communities. The communities claimed that health officials did not conduct sufficient contact tracing or testing there, compared with the general population.