Blog: Brazil

February 6, 2017

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, Former Senior Clinical Instructor, Becomes Scholar in Residence at NYU Law

Posted by Cara Solomon

As the spring semester gets underway at HRP, we’re already missing the fellowship and expertise of one of our colleagues: Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, JD ’08, Senior Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law, is now a Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law.

Fernando1

Former Senior Clinical Instructor Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, now a Scholar in Residence at NYU Law

Simply put, this is a big loss for us. Fernando is an expert on criminal justice in Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst records on mass incarceration. His clinical work went wide and deep; his teams used strategies ranging from litigation to fact-finding to negotiating with government officials to launching media campaigns.

Beyond the rigor and innovation that was the hallmark of Fernando’s work, there was another distinguishing factor: it was always collaborative. Throughout his seven years at the Clinic, he worked closely with local partners whom he considered not just colleagues but mentors: Justiça Global, Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões, Pastoral Carcerária, and Comissão Justiça e Paz. He also nurtured relationships with prisoners’ families, corrections officials, and members of the media.

Most importantly, as described in the Harvard Law Bulletin last year, Fernando treated people who were incarcerated the way he treated everyone else: with kindness.

At NYU, Fernando will explore the link between state violence and corruption, a link he first documented with Justiça Global in the high-profile, book-length report, “São Paulo under Extortion: Corruption, Organized Crime, and Institutional Violence in May 2006.” That joint report, the culmination of a five-year investigation, explored the role of corruption in a series of coordinated uprisings in detention centers and attacks on police and public buildings that left 43 state officials and hundreds of civilians dead. The report also documented the wave of reprisal attacks by police, including extrajudicial killings of people they suspected of having arrest records—in many cases profiling victims’ youth, skin color, tattoos and presence on the streets of a poor neighborhood at night.

During his time in the Clinic, Fernando tackled a range of criminal justice issues in Brazil. His clinical team contributed comparative and international law research to a workshop that culminated with federal prosecutors filing the first-ever criminal charges for dictatorship-era human rights crimes. A case he argued before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court) led to an investigation into juvenile justice system abuses, one which ultimately brought down an alleged corruption ring at the highest levels of state government.

He spent the great majority of his time, though, addressing rampant over-incarceration and abuse in prisons. Continue Reading…

December 21, 2016

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques ‘Over-Incarceration’ and Prison Building in Brazil

Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado


Inter-American Court of Human Rights Critiques “Over-Incarceration” and Prison Building in Brazil

Landmark Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex Rulings Also Innovate on Rights of LGBT Prisoners; Prisoners with Disabilities; and Anti-Corruption Measures

 

Sounding the alarm on mass incarceration, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recently ordered officials in Brazil to adopt an emergency plan to reduce overcrowding at the abusive Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison Complex in Recife, Pernambuco. Noting that it “shared the concern expressed by several Brazilian authorities…with respect to the tendency toward ‘over-incarceration’ [‘super encarceramento’] witnessed over the past decade throughout the country, and with particular intensity in Pernambuco,” the Court also demanded other measures that can promote decarceration. These include the hiring of public defenders and the listing of the legal grounds for the detention of each prisoner at the Complex.

Currently, the Complex holds some 7,000 men in space designated for less than 2,000. The Court gave the state 90 days to comply, with Brazil’s federal prosecutor’s office (Ministério Público Federal – MPF) tapped to monitor implementation.

The ruling marks a major advance for the civil society petitioning coalition comprised of the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, Pastoral Carcerária, Justiça Global, and the International Human Rights Clinic. For years, the coalition has urged authorities to redress overcrowding through decarceration measures. Brazil today has the world’s fourth largest prison population, with over 600,000 detained. In its resolution, the Court warned that “until the tendency [toward over-incarceration] is reversed,” state policies promoting prison construction “will not be sufficient” to deal with the problem.

There is growing recognition in Brazil that its turn toward mass incarceration is unwise and unsustainable. Earlier this year the head of Brazil’s federal penitentiary department (Departamento Penitenciário Federal – DEPEN) declared, “incarceration does not reduce criminality.” Over the past 25 years, the country has seen a 575 percent increase in the prison population.

The Court’s decision also innovated on other legal issues. Pointing to a wave of sexual violence and other abuses against LGBT persons at the prison Complex, the Court ordered the state to “adopt specific measures to protect the personal integrity and life of groups in situations of vulnerability.” Other novel points of the decision include measures protecting the rights of prisoners with disabilities and a demand for evidence demonstrating the existence of judicial oversight of the prison. Continue Reading…

November 15, 2016

Wednesday, Nov. 16: “The Future of the Inter-American System”

 

jimfinalNovember 16, 2016

“The Future of the Inter-American System”

12:00- 1:00 p.m.

Pound 102

 

Please join us for a discussion with James Cavallaro, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, where he is the Founding Director of the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and the Stanford Human Rights Center. Cavallaro was formerly the Executive Director of the Human Rights Program and Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School. He is also the founder of the Global Justice Center, a leading Brazilian human rights NGO.

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April 20, 2016

TODAY, April 20: “Human Rights, UN Millennium Development Goals, and Federal Prosecutions in Brazil”

RaquelApril 20, 2016

“Human Rights, UN Millennium Development Goals,

and Federal Prosecutions in Brazil”

A talk by Raquel Ferreira Dodge, Subprosecutor-General of the Republic, Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil

12:00- 1:00 p.m.
WCC 3016

 

What if prosecutorial priorities were expressly oriented toward the promotion of human rights and development? Might that alter the typical targets of law enforcement? Please join us for a discussion with Raquel Ferreira Dodge, Subprosecutor-General of the Republic, Federal Prosecutor’s Office, Brazil, on the efforts of the Coordination and Review Chamber on Crime and Police Oversight of the Brazilian Federal Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público Federal) to link prosecutions more clearly to human rights promotion and the attainment of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Organized by the Brazilian Studies Association at Harvard Law School, La Alianza, the Women’s Law Association, Students for Inclusion, and the Human Rights Program.

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April 7, 2016

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado recognized by students for integrating critical race theory into classroom

Posted by Keaton Allen-Gessesse, JD '16

Yesterday, it was my great honor to present Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, my former clinical instructor, with the Shatter the Ceiling Award for Excellence in Integrating Critical Race Theory into the Curriculum. The annual award, given by Students for Inclusion and the Shattered Ceiling Committee of the Harvard Women’s Law Association, is based on feedback from a student survey. Below are the comments I prepared for the ceremony, followed by the complete list of faculty honorees:

“The first time I thought ‘there may actually be a place for students like me here’ was during my 2L year in the International Human Rights Clinic.  Deborah and Tyler’s human rights seminar was intellectually engaging in ways I had never experienced at HLS and I was sure none of my other classes could compare. But my developing clinical education with Fernando was not just comparable; it was the ultimate practical supplement.

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award.

Fernando hugs Keaton as she presents him with the award. Photo credit: Anna Joseph, JD ’16

Team meetings were my oasis amid an exorbitant education generally void of critical analysis. Our clinical project – using human rights law to advocate for a moratorium on private prison expansion in Brazil – facilitated an evolution of my social and legal imagination. As expected, we learned international case law and how to compose persuasive legal arguments.  More importantly, Fernando encouraged us to embrace our curiosity and creativity as we investigated the laws’ capacity to maintain or dismantle oppressive regimes.

Fernando takes a similar approach to his teaching in the classroom, as illustrated by the following quote from a current student:

‘The central premise of critical race theory in the legal context is how the law is used as a tool in maintaining white supremacy and how we can transform the relationship between the law and racial power. In our institution, we see a curriculum that fails to view the law through this lens with almost no emphasis on critical race theory. But its central premise is taken up by Fernando in his Human Rights and Criminal Justice class. Fernando examines how the prison industrial complex, from Brazil to Baltimore, is used as a tool to oppress communities of color and encourages his students to think critically about how the law is used to disenfranchise minority communities.  His students appreciate his carefully curated readings, which aside from breaking with Harvard Law tradition in being short, collect voices which are typically not heard within our school, including works by Angela Davis on prisons, Michelle Alexander on mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow, and Makau Matua on how our system of international human rights preserves an international legal order of white colonialism.

Fernando is a living example and inspiration of how we can use our power as human rights advocates to elevate the voices of marginalized causes and groups and to never forget that this is not about us but about liberation. For so many of us disillusioned by humanity, Fernando’s class is a sanctuary in which we as imperfect advocates can fight for racial justice in a system where we don’t even know what that means or looks like.’

I thought Fernando was one of the best-kept secrets at HLS, but this award demonstrates that it was foolish to think that I alone recognized his magic.  If anything, I am now discovering the significant community of students he has inspired and transformed throughout the years.

Fernando, I am so very honored to present you with this award. Without that formative semester in the Clinic and in your seminar, I would never have been able to envision a better legal system, nor a better Harvard Law School.  So I thank you deeply – more than I can adequately articulate – for modeling the type of human rights advocate that I, and so many others in this room, aspire to be. ”

Continue Reading…

November 13, 2015

Threat of Extrajudicial Executions Looms in Bangladesh

Posted by Susan Farbstein

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week despite being convicted and sentenced through a deeply flawed process.  Our partners at Akin Gump are working with Chowdhury’s family to call attention to his case, in the hopes that increased international scrutiny might lead to a different outcome.

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week.

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, faces the imminent threat of execution next week.

Chowdhury was tried and convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of Bangladesh, a body established by the ruling Awami League to prosecute those accused of committing international crimes during Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.  A variety of international human rights organizations and experts have roundly criticized the ICT, which began operating in 2010, for failing to uphold basic fair trial and due process standards.

For example, Human Rights Watch has characterized the trials as “deeply problematic, riddled with questions about the independence and impartiality of the judges and fairness of the process.”  The International Commission of Jurists has identified “serious procedure flaws at all stages: pre-trial release has been routinely and arbitrarily denied; witnesses have been abducted and intimidated; there have been credible allegations of collusion between the Government, prosecutors and judges.”  In an exhaustive study commissioned by the International Forum for Democracy and Human Rights, Geoffrey Robinson also documented a range of procedural concerns related to treatment of alibi evidence, burden of proof, use of judicial notice, time and facilities to prepare the defense, hearsay evidence, and capacity of the judges.  And the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and on the independence of judges and lawyers have spoken out against multiple irregularities, including complaints from defense witness and lawyers about “an atmosphere of hostility, intimidation and harassment.”

Chowdhury’s case brings these general concerns into stark focus, as his trial suffered from numerous flaws that violated fundamental due process standards.  For example, the tribunal denied Chowdhury’s defense team the opportunity to submit exonerating evidence to show that he was not present in Bangladesh at the time of his alleged crimes.  The ICT did not allow multiple defense eyewitnesses to testify and failed to consider affidavits from other key witnesses, including a former U.S. Ambassador and a former Pakistani Prime Minister.  The Bangladesh Supreme Court recently rendered a decision refusing to admit this substantial evidence; Chowdhury’s final review hearing is scheduled for November 17th.

Both Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have rightly warned that, “given serious concerns about the fairness of trials conducted before the Tribunal, the Government of Bangladesh should not implement death penalty sentences.”  Perpetrators of international crimes should be held accountable for their heinous acts.  But prosecutions—like Chowdhury’s—that fail to meet international fair trial standards cannot deliver the justice that survivors and victims deserve, and only serve to undermine the rule of law.

For more information, please click here.

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September 28, 2015

Coalizão demanda investigação federal em audiência na OEA sobre violência, corrupção no Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (Curado)

PRESS RELEASE

 

Coalizão demanda investigação federal em audiência na OEA sobre violência, corrupção no Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (Curado)

 

Lista de mais de 500 vítimas será apresentada à Corte IDH

28 de setembro de 2015, San José, Costa Rica – O Estado brasileiro aparecerá hoje perante a Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos para prestar esclarecimentos sobre o alto número de violações de direitos humanos dentro do Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (renomeado Complexo do Curado), que vem se agravando desde que a Corte determinou a imposição de medidas provisórias em maio de 2014. A coalizão de entidades de direitos humanos que levaram o caso à OEA demanda uma investigação penal federal sobre violência e corrupção no local, tendo preparado novas evidências – incluindo fotografias, vídeos e uma lista com mais de 500 vítimas de morte e/ou violência.  Ontem, as falhas do Estado no Complexo geraram mais vítimas durante um tumulto, com Ricardo Alves, residente próximo ao presídio, morrendo de “bala perdida” e dois presos sendo baleados.

O Aníbal Bruno é um retrato emblemático das muitas aflições que assolam os sistemas prisionais latino-americanos. O notório presídio é representativo de uma convergência de fatores que frequentemente caminham juntos, como violência, tortura, acesso à saúde deficiente, superencarceramento e denúncias de corrupção, todos registrados em um mesmo local. Desde os estágios iniciais do caso, a coalizão de organizações que monitoram o presídio tem constantemente sustentado que o Estado falhou ao não abordar de maneira apropriada e efetiva tais problemas, trazendo à luz extensiva documentação dos abusos cometidos.

Durante a audiência, que será transmitida ao vivo no site da Corte às 14hs, horário de Brasília, a coalizão irá disponibilizar fotos, vídeos e outras provas apresentadas no website arquivoanibal.weebly.com.

A Comissão Interamericana de Direitos Humanos começou a monitorar o Complexo Aníbal Bruno em 2011. Duante quatro anos, a coalizão catalogou violações à dignidade humana dos presos, funcionários e visitantes do Complexo. Um preso, por exemplo, relatou em fevereiro de 2015 que, em função da superlotação, dormia amarrado às barras que revestem a cela, por meio de uma rede improvisada. O encarceramento de mais de 7 mil indivíduos em um espaço com capacidade para menos de 1,9 mil pessoas é reflexo não somente da situação calamitosa do sistema prisional pernambucano, que possui uma das piores taxas de encarceramento no Brasil, mas também de uma realidade prisional nacional que historicamente encarcera violando direitos.

A coalização de organizações de direitos humanos responsáveis pelo caso compreende a Pastoral Carcerária, o Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI, a Justiça Global e a Clínica Internacional de Direitos Humanos da Faculdade de Direito de Harvard.

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September 22, 2015

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Summons Brazil to Answer for Violence at Aníbal Bruno Prison

PRESS RELEASE

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Summons Brazil to Answer for Wave of Violence and Deaths at Aníbal Bruno Prison (Curado Complex)

Brazilian state will be “in the dock” before the Organization of American States (OAS) body at the end of September

September 22, 2015 – After three major riots and at least sixteen deaths (including one police officer killed and one prisoner quartered) within the last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has taken the rare step of summoning the Brazilian state to a public hearing at the end of the month to answer for recurring violations at the Aníbal Bruno Prison Complex (renamed Curado Complex), one of the largest prisons in Latin America.

Nota 1222 para publicarThe Court has ordered the Brazilian state to protect the life and integrity of prisoners, staff, and visitors of the notorious prison since May 2014, when it analyzed hundreds of complaints of abuse presented by a coalition of human rights organizations.  At the hearing—set to take place on September 28 and be broadcast live from Costa Rica at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Court website (http://www.corteidh.or.cr) the coalition will present new evidence demonstrating the continuation of grave abuses at the Complex, including decapitations, gang rapes, beatings, and knife attacks.

Aníbal Bruno Prison has been under international scrutiny since August 2011, when the facility started being monitored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Since then, the coalition has documented chronic abuses, such as the presence of the so-called chaveiros: prisoners who effectively carry out official functions in the cellblocks, and are granted the authority to maintain order and discipline in the facility, often through the use of violence.  A window onto the crisis of the Brazilian prison system, Aníbal Bruno incarcerates more than 7000 men in space designated for fewer than 1900, with an insufficient number of officers to adequately ensure security.  The State has also been negligent regarding the conditions of human security pertaining to state agents.

The coalition of human rights groups responsible for the case is comprised of the Catholic Prison Ministry (Pastoral Carcerária), Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons (Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões – SEMPRI), Global Justice (Justiça Global), and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

In February of this year, the coalition released the filings from the international case online in order to bring attention to the situation of the Aníbal Bruno Prison Complexo.  For more information, please visit: http://arquivoanibal.weebly.com.

 

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Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos Exige Explicações ao Brasil sobre Onda de Violência e Mortes no Presídio Aníbal Bruno (Complexo do Curado)

Estado Brasileiro estará “no banco do réus” no final de setembro perante órgão da Organização dos Estados Americanos (OEA)

 

22 de Setembro de 2015 – Após três rebeliões e ao menos 16 (dezesseis) óbitos (incluindo um policial morto e um preso esquartejado) no último ano, a Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos tem tomado a rara iniciativa de convocar o Estado brasileiro a uma audiência pública no final do mês para responder sobre as violações reiteradas no Complexo Prisional Aníbal Bruno (renomeado Complexo do Curado), um dos maiores presídios da América Latina. Continue Reading…

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June 29, 2015

Coalition of Prison Monitors Urges Lifting of Camera Ban in Pernambuco, Brazil

Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado

The coalition of civil society representatives in the Aníbal Bruno (Curado) Prison litigation before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has issued a statement urging the government of Pernambuco, Brazil, to rescind its prohibition on the use of cameras during prison inspections. The camera ban has impeded the collection of evidence of human rights abuses at the prison.

Overcrowded security cell in Aníbal Prison Complex - 2013 - Colette van der Ven

Colette van der Ven, a clinical student, sketched this overcrowded security cell in Aníbal Prison Complex after the camera ban was put in place in  2012.

The prohibition was first enforced just a few months after the coalition’s publication of the case files of the Aníbal Bruno litigation this past February. The case files—partially redacted to preserve privacy, security, and investigatory integrity—provide an alarming picture of chronic violence, torture, lack of access to healthcare, and arbitrary detention at the notorious prison. Photographic evidence is vital to documenting the realities of the Aníbal Bruno Complex, which incarcerates nearly 7000 men in space designated for roughly 2000.

This is not the first time the coalition has faced a camera ban in Pernambuco. In 2012, a similar prohibition hindered efforts to gather evidence in numerous cases, including that of a severely injured Aníbal prisoner who reported being raped by officers.

A photograph of the same cell block in 2014, after the camera ban was lifted.

A photograph of the same cell block in 2014, after the camera ban was lifted.

 

Prison administrators lifted that ban in 2013, after the coalition used drawings by a clinical student to publicly expose abuses at Aníbal Bruno.

The civil society coalition litigating the case is comprised of Pastoral Carcerária (Catholic Prison Ministry), Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões (Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons), Justiça Global (Global Justice), and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

 

Read the coalition’s full statement, which was released last Friday, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (translated from Portuguese):

June 26, 2015

After photos revealed torture practiced by United States personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, authorities appeared more concerned with obscuring than responding. They prohibited cameras. They offered amnesty to those who handed over other photographs, later refusing to make them public. They did not prosecute any high level official, but they publicly exposed the name of the soldier who turned in the embarrassing evidence, effectively condemning him to fear reprisals.

This Friday, we remember the International Day in Support of Torture Victims repudiating this type of inverted logic in Brazil. Since May 18, members of our coalition of human rights organizations have been forbidden from entering with cameras at the Aníbal Bruno Prison Complex (officially renamed “Complexo do Curado”) in Recife. The coalition—composed of the Pastoral Carcerária [Catholic Prison Ministry], Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões [Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons], Justiça Global [Global Justice] and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard University—has already met twice with high-level Pernambuco government officials without being able to reverse this prohibition.

Photography is explicitly provided for in the United Nations Istanbul Protocol, an internationally recognized methodology for documenting torture cases. Resolution No. 1 of February 7, 2013, of the National Council on Criminal and Penitentiary Policy determines that “the use audiovisual and photographic recording instruments is permitted … by … civil society, which serve the function of monitoring the penitentiary system and defending human rights, with the purpose of informing reports on inspection, monitoring and visits to prison establishments.” The government insisted on the ban anyway.

Aníbal Bruno Complex is one of the main symbols of the crisis of the Brazilian prison system. It recently underwent three rebellions. It incarcerates nearly 7,000 men in space designated for approximately 2,000 and has an extremely reduced number of staff working in precarious conditions. Over the past four years, our coalition sent hundreds of complaints of violence and torture, denial of access to healthcare and other abuses in the Complex to the Organization of American States (OAS).

In light of this scenario, on May 22, 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the OAS determined that the State protect the life and integrity of prisoners, staff and visitors of the Aníbal Bruno Complex. In February 2015, facing a continued lack of sufficient action by the state, we gathered the hundreds of complaints sent to the OAS about the Complex, edited the documents to ensure the anonymity of those involved, and made the information public on arquivoanibal.weebly.com. Shortly after, we were forbidden from using cameras.

We are not the only ones being censored after revealing abuses in the Complex. We were told by Pernambuco authorities that the State Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture would be subject to the camera ban, even though State Law 14.863 guarantees the right of members of that prison monitoring body to “make records using audiovisual resources, respecting the privacy of those involved.” Prison officers have also reported feeling pressured not to use cameras to document unlawfulness at the public institutions in which they serve.

This is not the first time we have dealt with obstructions to our work. Coalition members have been working with other organizations in international cases concerning various notorious prisons in the country, including in Maranhão (Pedrinhas), Espírito Santo (CASCUVI), Rondônia (Urso Branco), Rio de Janeiro (Polinter) and São Paulo (Araraquara). We have always obtained clear jurisprudence from the Court on the duty of the state to grant full access to human rights monitors, as evidenced, for example, in resolutions on the Urso Branco and Araraquara prisons.

Pernambuco authorities themselves previously imposed a ban on the use of cameras after the OAS convened a meeting on the Complex Aníbal Bruno in November 2012. The prohibition caused serious harms. For example, we were unable to photographically document the case of a prisoner full of bodily injuries who reported being raped with broom stick by prison officers. We also could not record testimony concerning various other crucial complaints, including about corruption. We had to produce handmade sketches to try to continue portraying the reality of the Complex. The ban was overturned by the Pernambuco authorities only after we exposed these drawings at a public hearing in 2013.

There is no way to hide such glaring problems. It is better to opt for transparency. Only it can transform an abusive, chaotic and corrupt prison system.

Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões (SEMPRI) [Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons]

Pastoral Carcerária do Estado de Pernambuco [Catholic Prison Ministry of the State of Pernambuco]

Pastoral Carcerária Nacional [National Catholic Prison Ministry]

Global Justice [Justiça Global]

International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard University

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December 17, 2014

Pernambuco State Bans Strip Searches of Visitors to Detention Centers

Posted by Fernando Ribeiro Delgado

For decades, human rights advocates have sought an end to the humiliating state practice of strip searching prison visitors in Pernambuco, Brazil, the state housing the notorious Aníbal Bruno Prison Complex. Yesterday, responding to the Aníbal order of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and to a growing national movement against the degrading searches, the Secretariat of Development and Human Rights at last banned the procedures through Administrative Order 258/2014. The order classifies as “humiliating, inhuman or degrading,” all searches that involve “total or partial nudity; any conduct that entails the introduction of objects into the bodily cavities of the persons searches; the use of dogs or sniffer animals, even if they are trained for that end;” and/or “manual contact with the intimate parts of the person being searched.”

Administrative Order 258/2014 in the Pernambuco Official Gazette of the Executive Branch, December 16, 2014, p.3.

Administrative Order 258/2014 in the Pernambuco Official Gazette of the Executive Branch, December 16, 2014, p.3.

The prohibition should benefit an estimated 30,000 families, applying to all detention centers in the state. Until recently, Pernambuco subjected nearly all prison visitors—often including children, elderly persons, and persons with disabilities—to invasive, degrading searches involving nudity and manual inspection of intimate body parts. Women and girls were most frequently subjected to the practice.

The ban is a milestone in decades of local struggle by the Serviço Ecumênico de Militância nas Prisões (Ecumenical Service of Advocacy in Prisons) and the Pastoral Carcerária (Catholic Prison Ministry), among others. The civil society coalition which successfully sought an Inter-American Court order (para. 20) prohibiting humiliating searches includes those two groups as well as Justiça Global (Global Justice) and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School.

A judge in Recife, Pernambuco, had issued a temporary ban on humiliating searches in Greater Recife this past April, two months after the civil society coalition sought the inter-American order. Yesterday’s prohibition on humiliating searches is more expansive, containing no temporal limit and applying to all Pernambuco prisons. It provides for searches to be done “preserving the honor and dignity of the human person,” and calls for the use of metal detectors and other measures to replace the old procedures. According to 2012 data from São Paulo, only 0.02% of 3.5 million humiliating searches yielded drugs or cell phones.

In September 2014, a resolution of the National Council on Crime and Penitentiary Policy recommended a ban on humiliating searches across Brazil. However, Bill 7764/2014, abolishing humiliating searches of prison visitors nationwide, is still pending in Congress.