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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, but there were reports government officials sometimes employed such practices. The law mandates that special police courts exercise jurisdiction over state military police except those charged with “willful crimes against life,” primarily homicide. Police personnel often were responsible for investigating charges of torture and excessive force carried out by fellow officers. Delays in the special military police courts allowed many cases to expire due to statutes of limitations.
According to the National Council of the Public Ministry, in 2019 there were 2,676 cases of guards and other personnel inflicting bodily harm on prisoners compared with 3,261 cases in 2018.
In June the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounced the government for physical, verbal, and psychological aggressions committed against more than 150 adolescents at state-funded Fundacao Casa, a socioeducational center for adolescents in Sao Paulo, between 2015 and 2017. The Sao Paulo Public Defender’s Office made the complaint to the commission because the government “failed to ascertain responsibilities and compensate the victims,” according to a petition sent by the institution to the IACHR. The petition’s documentation, including testimonies and photographs of injuries, narrated recurrent aggressions and torture carried out by employees against the students during the period. The alleged abuses included beatings, intimidation by employees, and isolation without mattresses or personal belongings, with the participation and consent of unit authorities, such as directors and supervisors. The Public Defender’s Office insisted that the remedial actions taken by Fundacao Casa and the state of Sao Paulo, responsible for the guardianship of assisted minors, were not sufficient.
In the city of Rio de Janeiro, six men arrested during a police operation conducted in the Jacarezinho neighborhood on May 6 reported they suffered numerous aggressions and physical assaults following their arrest. The claims included having been tortured, beaten, hit in the head with a rifle, and forced to carry bodies to a police armored vehicle at the Jacarezinho crime scene immediately following the confrontation.
In June a military prosecutor denounced two police officers to the military court in Sao Paulo, Joao Paulo Servato and Ricardo de Morais Lopes, from the 50th Sao Paulo Metropolitan Military Police Battalion, who were filmed in May 2020 holding a Black woman to the ground by stepping on her neck. The woman sustained a fractured leg injury during the incident. The two officers were accused of abuse of authority, aggravated aggression, and ideological falsehood and remained on administrative duties. As of August 1, a trial date had not been set.
On July 29, the Sao Paulo First Criminal Court accepted the case of the Public Prosecutor’s Office against 12 military police officers on charges of intentional homicide of nine young persons during a street music event in the favela of Paraisopolis in 2019.
According to the Military Police Internal Affairs Unit, the inquiry had not been completed in the case of a Rio de Janeiro State military police officer accused of rape in August 2020. As of August the defendant was on administrative duty and awaiting trial.
On June 8, a military court convicted one military police officer of conducting a libidinous act in a military environment and acquitted a second police officer on 2019 charges of rape in Praia Grande, Sao Paulo. Judge Ronaldo Roth of the First Military Audit judged the act was consensual because the victim did not resist. The judge suspended the convicted police officer’s sentence, up to one year in prison. As of September, however, the Public Ministry of Sao Paulo opened an investigation into the friendship between Judge Roth and one of the defendant’s lawyers, Jose Miguel da Silva Junior.
In March 2020 the Military Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation into the 2018 accusations of torture of seven male residents of Rio de Janeiro by federal military officers from Vila Militar’s First Army Division, detained during a 2018 drug-trafficking operation. By March 2020 all seven men had been released after one year and four months in detention. In November 2020 the Military Justice Court in Rio reinstated its ruling to detain the seven men following an appeal by the Military Public Prosecutor’s Office. In response to the claims of torture, the court affirmed there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the military officials had tortured the seven men. According to the Rio de Janeiro Public Defender’s Office, as of October none of the military officers involved in the alleged torture of the seven men had been charged or indicted.
Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners continued. At the request of the Federal District and Territories Public Prosecutor’s Office, three prison police officers stationed in Brasilia’s Papuda Penitentiary Complex were preventively removed by the Criminal Execution Court on charges of beating two prisoners incarcerated in the Federal District I Prison. The officers also shot detainees inside a cell using a shotgun loaded with rubber bullets. The two events, recorded by security cameras, occurred on April 16. The case was being investigated by the Center for Control and Inspection of the Prison System of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
In July the Military Police carried out Operation Bronze Bull in Belo Horizonte and four other cities to execute 26 search and seizure warrants against 14 police officers to assist in the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais’ investigation into crimes of torture against prisoners at the Nelson Hungary Penitentiary in Minas Gerais in July 2020. The investigation was classified as secret, so few details were publicly available.
The state of Paraiba was ordered to pay 50,000 reais (R$) ($8,950) in compensation for moral damages in the death of an inmate inside the state prison, a victim of violence by other inmates in 2008. The conviction also provided for a monthly pension in the amount of two-thirds of the minimum wage for material damages until the date the deceased would have turned 65 years old and until the date each immediate descendant turned 21.
Impunity and a lack of accountability for security forces at all levels, but especially at the local level, was a problem, and an inefficient judicial process at times delayed justice for perpetrators as well as for victims. Examples of impunity were found in the armed forces and Federal police forces but were most common in the Military Police and Civil Police. Low pay, and the resulting endemic corruption, established an environment where individuals were not consistently held accountable. Furthermore, the overburdened judicial system limited the application of justice and encouraged corruption. The federal and state public ministries, as well as ombudsmen and ethics centers, investigated accusations of impunity. Human rights are included in security forces’ training curricula.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in many prisons were poor and sometimes life threatening, mainly due to overcrowding. Abuse by prison guards continued, and poor working conditions and low pay for prison guards encouraged corruption.
Physical Conditions: According to the National Penitentiary Department, as of 2020 there were 213,022 more prisoners than the system had space to hold, causing overcrowding across the country. Although some states were more overburdened than others, during the year nationally the system was 54.9 percent over capacity, a decrease from the 67.5 percent recorded in 2020. The states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso do Sul experienced the worst overcrowding at 196 and 166 percent, respectively. During 2020, 17,141 additional places were added to increase inmate capacity. Much of the overcrowding was due to the imprisonment of pretrial detainees. According to the news portal G1 in January, 217,687 inmates, or 31.9 percent of detainees, were awaiting trial, a small increase from 31.2 percent in 2020.
In July, as a protest against overcrowding in prisons, the Santa Catarina Union of Penitentiary System Public Agents refused to receive new prisoners. For example, the Vale do Itajai Penitentiary complex, which had a designed total capacity for 1,160 inmates, held 1,523 men, and the prison, designed for 696 inmates, held 1,129. Soon afterward, a state court ordered the Prison Administration Secretariat to require the union to receive new prisoners or pay substantial fines.
Reports of abuse by prison guards continued (see Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment above). Pastoral Carceraria, a prison-monitoring NGO connected to the Catholic Church, reported that torture and prison conditions worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic when prisons closed their doors to visitors to curb the spread of the virus. Between March 15 and October 31, 2020, the organization received 90 allegations of torture within the prison system across the country, compared with 53 cases in the same period in 2019. Complaints of physical torture appeared in 53 of the 90 allegations.
General prison conditions were poor. There was a lack of potable water, inadequate nutrition, food contamination, rat and cockroach infestations, damp and dark cells, a lack of clothing and hygiene items, and poor sanitation. Prisoners also complained of poor access to personal care products and clothing. Prisoners made complaints regarding the right to health and failure to provide adequate medical assistance. General poor prison conditions were further stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but some systems attempted to provide extra support. For example, the state government of Minas Gerais hired additional doctors, nurses, and nursing technicians; by May, 237 prison employees and 200 prisoners in the state had died from COVID-19 and 20,000 employees and 57,000 inmates had been infected. These rates were lower than the general population estimates. As of August, Sao Paulo’s penitentiary system, with a population of 205,000, had experienced 78 inmate deaths from COVID-19.
Prisoners convicted of petty crimes frequently were held with murderers and other violent criminals. Authorities attempted to hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, but lack of space often required placing convicted criminals in pretrial detention facilities. In many prisons, including those in the Federal District, officials attempted to separate violent offenders from other inmates and keep convicted drug traffickers in a wing apart from the rest of the prison population. Multiple sources reported adolescents were held with adults in poor and crowded conditions.
Prisons suffered from insufficient staffing and lack of control over inmates. Violence was rampant in prison facilities. According to the National Penitentiary Department, 209 prisoners were killed while in custody in 2020. In addition to poor administration of the prison system, overcrowding, the presence of gangs, and corruption contributed to violence. Media reports indicated that incarcerated leaders of major criminal gangs continued to control their expanding transnational criminal enterprises from inside prisons.
Prison riots were common occurrences. On July 2, inmates rioted in the Romeiro Neto penitentiary in Mage, Baixada Fluminense, in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Led by members of a criminal group called Povo de Israel, the inmates set fire to mattresses and vandalized the prison facility, resulting in injuries to five prisoners. The same group instigated a second prison riot the same day in the Nelson Hungria penitentiary in Bangu, in western part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, but no injuries occurred. As of August the motivation for the two prison riots was unknown.
Administration: State-level ombudsman offices; the National Council of Justice; the National Mechanism for the Prevention and Combat of Torture in the Ministry of Women, Family, and Human Rights; and the National Penitentiary Department in the Ministry of Justice monitored prison and detention center conditions and conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Prisoners and detainees had access to visitors; however, human rights observers reported some visitors complained of screening procedures that at times included invasive and unsanitary physical exams. The Pastoral Carceraria reported that all religious services remained suspended in the Sao Paulo penitentiary system due to COVID-19 restrictions, which impeded their independent monitoring of sanitary and health conditions and reporting of abuses and physical violence against inmates.
Improvements: Nationally, overcrowding decreased from 68 percent in 2020 to 55 percent, according to the Violence Monitor. Overcrowding declined in 21 states compared with 2020, and 12 states saw decreases two years in a row. Experts suggested that the decrease in the overcrowding rate could be explained by the increase in alternative sentences, noncompliance with prison terms, the increase in open prison sentences, and the opening of new prison spaces.
In July the government of Rio Grande do Sul State established a partnership with the University of Santa Cruz do Sul to offer free distance learning courses to inmates in the Santa Cruz do Sul Regional Prison.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.
The press maintained a confrontational relationship with the Bolsonaro administration. The press regularly published highly critical reporting on the government’s actions, and President Bolsonaro and members of his administration frequently criticized the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Bolsonaro criticized the press 87 times in the first half of the year, verbally or via social media – a 74 percent increase compared with the second half of 2020. Reporters Without Borders included the president in its 37-member “predators of the press freedom” gallery. The organization described the president’s tactics as “predatory methods” that used insults, humiliation, and vulgar threats against primarily women journalists, political analysts, and media networks. Despite these concerns, in general the press continued to operate freely.
In March media reported that police had subpoenaed more than 200 persons to provide depositions and, in some cases, arrested individuals after criticizing the president (including some who called for his assassination) using the 1983 National Security Law that was enacted during the military dictatorship. In February, STF minister Alexandre de Moraes used the same law to order the arrest of Federal Deputy Daniel Silveira for a video Silveira released defending the closing of the STF and expressing support for Institutional Act Number 5, the harshest instrument of repression during the military dictatorship, which removed mandates of antimilitary parliamentarians and suspended constitutional guarantees that eventually resulted in the institutionalization of torture. In September the president approved with five line-item vetoes a bill revoking the National Security Law and adding a series of crimes against democracy to the penal code – criminalizing attacks on national sovereignty, executing a coup d’etat, and spreading fake news during elections.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting.
On April 4, a man riding a motorcycle fatally shot radio broadcaster Weverton Rabelo Froes in the Fazenda Guaribagion region of Planaltino, Bahia. On April 9, an unknown individual fatally shot television producer Jose Bonfim Pitangueiras in the Engenho Velho da Federacao district in Salvador, Bahia. As of October the Civil Police were investigating both crimes but had not identified a motive or suspect in either killing.
In August a journalist and a blogger were attacked in separate incidents less than one month apart in the municipality of Mage in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area. In early August unidentified men set fire to blogger Eduardo César’s vehicle. Separately, on August 17, unidentified men opened fire on journalist Vinicius Lourenco’s vehicle. Neither victim was injured. Both were known for having previously exposed problems within the administration of Mage mayor Renato Cozolino.
In October the Public Ministry of Roraima State denounced state deputy Jalser Renier for eight crimes in the kidnapping of journalist Romano dos Anjos in October 2020. Renier, who was president of the Roraima state legislative assembly at the time, was charged as the mastermind of the kidnapping, for attempting to hinder the investigation, and for using his position to threaten the Roraima state governor. Eight additional military police officers and a former employee of the political party were also charged.
In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. In 2019, drawing on previous court precedent and in coordination with the National Police, the STF began using a law against defaming institutions to investigate cases of individuals or press criticizing the court’s members. These investigations expanded to numerous cases of investigating “fake news,” and on August 4, the STF added President Jair Bolsonaro to its investigation for spreading false statements related to the electoral process and the security of electronic voting machines.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for convictions of corruption by officials and stipulates civil penalties for corruption committed by Brazilian citizens or entities overseas. There were numerous reports of corruption during the year at various levels of government, and delays in judicial proceedings against persons accused of corruption were common, often due to constitutional protections from prosecution for elected officials. This often resulted in de facto impunity for those responsible.
Corruption: The investigation of the Petrobras state oil company embezzlement scandal (Operation Carwash or Lava Jato), which began in 2014, officially ended in February. Despite the operation’s continued popularity with the public, the investigating task force was dissolved after widespread concerns regarding the process and fairness of the prosecutions. Some prosecutors were transferred to the organized crime unit of the Federal Public Ministry to continue their work. During its seven years of existence, Operation Carwash was responsible for 295 arrests and 278 convictions and saw R$ 4.3 billion ($769.6 million) in recovered funds returned to the government.
On April 30, a Rio de Janeiro Special Tribunal voted unanimously to impeach Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel for involvement in the embezzlement scheme related to contracts for COVID-19 response, permanently removing him from office and making him ineligible for public office for five years. The impeachment followed an August 2020 decision by STF Minister Benedito Goncalves to remove Witzel from office for an initial period of 180 days on charges of corruption, money laundering, and obstruction of justice related to his role in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the state’s COVID-19 response.
On April 29, police arrested Marcus Vinicius Rebello Gomes, municipal secretary of health in Itatiaia, Rio de Janeiro State, and four other suspects for their participation in a criminal organization that oversaw fraudulent expenditures and contracting in the city’s COVID-19 response. On June 8, the state’s Court of Justice ruled that Itatiaia Mayor Imbere Moreira Alves, his chief of staff, and three municipal secretaries should be removed from office on corruption charges in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response in the municipality
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Violence against LGBTQI+ individuals was a serious concern. While violence against LGBTQI+ individuals generally had declined yearly since 2017, violence specifically targeting transgender individuals increased. The Federal Public Ministry is responsible for registering reports of crimes committed based on gender or sexual orientation but reportedly was slow to respond. Transgender individuals were particularly at risk of being the victims of crime or committing suicide.
According to a July report by the National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals, based on reports from LGBTQI+ organizations across the country, 80 transgender individuals were killed in the first six months of the year. The largest number of cases occurred in the states of Bahia, Ceara, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo. Victims were mostly Afro-Brazilians younger than age 35. In 2019 and 2020, there were 124 and 175 killings of transgender persons, respectively. According to some civil society leaders, underreporting of crimes was likely because many LGBTQI+ persons were afraid they might experience discrimination or violence while seeking services from law enforcement authorities.
On June 24, a 17-year-old youth killed Roberta Nascimento da Silva, a homeless transgender woman, in Recife – the fourth transgender woman killed in Pernambuco State within one month. The teenager threw alcohol on the woman while she slept on the street and set her on fire. Police apprehended the assailant and charged him with an “infractional act” (because the act was committed by a minor) analogous to attempted aggravated homicide. The teenager was being provisionally held in juvenile detention awaiting sentencing. Authorities did not confirm if the case would be registered as a homophobic or transphobic crime, but Recife Mayor Joao Campos expressed regret at the transgender woman’s death and stated the city would seek to expand services to the LGBTQI+ population with a new shelter to be named in Roberta’s honor.
In July, four men convicted of the murder of Emanuelle Muniz, a transgender woman, were issued prison sentences of up to 35 years for rape, murder, and robbery. The assailants, who remained in prison following their apprehensions in 2017, received substantial prison sentences, ranging from 26 to 35 years.
No specific law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in essential goods and services such as health care. In 2019, however, the STF criminalized discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Offenders face sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine, or two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine if the offender disseminates the incident via social media thereby exposing the victim. In October the Regional Federal Court of Rio de Janeiro instructed the armed forces to recognize the social name of transgender military personnel and prohibited compulsory removal of service members for “transsexualism.”
In the Northeast there was an effort to raise civil society awareness against homophobia; to train civil and military police to provide more humanized care to the victims of violence; and to implement reference centers for legal, psychological, and social assistance to the LGBTQI+ community. The Recife Municipal Reference Center offered specialized services with a qualified team of psychologists, social workers, and lawyers for LGBTQI+ individuals.
NGOs cited lack of economic opportunity for LGBTQI+ persons as a concern. According to the NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia, 33 percent of companies avoided hiring LGBTQI+ employees, and 90 percent of transgender women engaged in prostitution because they could find no employment alternative. Transgender women often paid human traffickers for protection and daily housing fees. When they were unable to pay, they were beaten, starved, and forced into commercial sex. Traffickers exploited transgender women, luring them with offers of gender reassignment surgery and later exploiting them in sex trafficking when they were unable to repay the cost of the procedure.
According to some LGBTQI+ leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the LGBTQI+ population’s access to public health and mental health resources, and many were in abusive domestic situations with families that did not support them. According to some civil society sources, LGBTQI+ workers, who were more likely to work in the informal economy, lost their jobs at a much higher rate than the general population during the pandemic. In the states of Pernambuco, Paraiba, and Ceara, several donation campaigns were carried out to assist vulnerable LGBTQI+ populations, including donation of food baskets, hygiene kits, and clothes.