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2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 12 June.

Business without Debate

Driving Instruction (Suspension and Exemption Powers) Bill

Bill read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63) .

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Brazil (Violence and Police Corruption)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(Helen Goodman.)

2.30 pm

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Let me start with the words of Severino Silva, a Brazilian photographer:

He is not describing a war; he is describing his work photographing the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He continues:

Violence and police corruption are a serious problem in Brazilian cities. According to Human Rights Watch, there are 50,000 homicides each year in Brazil, which is one of the highest rates in the world. A large number are concentrated in the shanty towns or favelas, as they are called. In one favela in Rio, for instance, 43 in every 100,000 deaths are homicides, compared with 14 in every 100,000 deaths in a middle-class area nearby. High levels of crime have created a culture of fear in Brazilian cities. In May 2006, for example, attacks against the police were orchestrated from inside prisons by leaders of the criminal gang called First Command of the Capital, or PCC, which brought panic to the city of Sao Paulo. Such incidents have resulted in public opinion demanding tough action against criminality in the favelas.

Let me deal with police violence. Policing in poor areas is often directed from outside the communities, meaning that residents are left vulnerable to criminal gangs. However, residents do not just suffer at the hands of criminals; violence often arises from the police themselves. According to the US State Department report on human rights, unlawful killings by the police are widespread in Brazil and, again, particularly so in poor areas. Official statistics show that police in the state of Rio de Janeiro were responsible for approximately one in every five intentional killings in the first six months of 2008. Such killings are registered as “acts of resistance”. In other words, they are confrontations with alleged criminals. Between January and June 2008, 757 such police killings were registered in Rio de Janeiro state, at an average of four killings a day. Amnesty International has claimed that Rio de Janeiro law enforcement is characterised by large-scale operations in which heavily armed police units “invade” favelas. In August 2008, UN special rapporteur Philip Alston called such operations in Rio de Janeiro “murderous and self-defeating.”

The increasing presence of militias is an additional problem for residents of Brazilian cities. The militias consist of off-duty policemen, prison guards, former soldiers and firemen. Born from a desire to gain control from drug gangs, the militias were initially welcomed. However, they soon began to charge “security taxes” and take control of services and items such as gas cylinders, cable television and local transport.

In one community in Rio in May 2008, a resident and three employees of the newspaper O Dia conducted an undercover investigation into militia activities. They were reportedly kidnapped and tortured by militia members. The captives endured beatings, suffocation, electric shocks and threats of sexual assault, alongside death threats. The militias have now developed strong links into local
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politics by using their power to affect voting in elections. Amnesty International has raised the concern that a number of state deputies have been elected in that way. Punishing the police involved in militia activity is difficult due to solidarity and fear of reprisals.

Amnesty International is currently working with Marcelo Freixo, a human rights defender and politician, who suffered death threats after campaigning for a parliamentary inquiry into the role of militias in Rio. The inquiry was approved by the Rio de Janeiro state legislative assembly in 2008 and led to a number of key arrests. Some militia figures, however, were able to bribe their way out of imprisonment, and Marcelo Freixo continues to receive threats to his life. I tabled early-day motion 1404, which deals with the human rights campaign, praising the work of Marcelo Freixo as a human rights defender investigating these militias. I greatly hope that Marcelo can be protected so that his work can continue into the foreseeable future.

That brings me on to police corruption and the culture of impunity. Brazilian law provides criminal penalties for official corruption and there are now many investigations into police involvement in arms and drug-trafficking rings, protection rackets and money laundering. However, the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators show that corruption remains a serious problem.

What are the Brazilian Government doing about it? First, there is the National Public Security and Citizenship Programme, the acronym for which is PRONASCI. The Brazilian Ministry of Justice introduced PRONASCI in 2007, putting into action the promises set out in President Lula’s public security plan of 2003. The programme is initially being rolled out in the 11 areas with the highest crime rates in Brazil. Between 2008 and 2012, it is planned that about 6.7 billion reais will be invested in crime prevention and social development. The programme aims to modernise institutions, improve training and conditions for the police and invest in community projects.

The Minister for Justice, Tarso Genro, has talked about the need to invest in human capital rather than in guns and ammunition, which have had little effect on the security problem. A clear assessment is needed of what economic and social development is required so that local economies relying on trade in drugs and illicit weapons can be replaced by sustainable societies.

In Rio de Janeiro, the PRONASCI programme has involved permanently stationing hundreds of military policemen in the favelas, including in the notorious “City of God”, where 700 policemen are deployed. It is hoped that the police will be able to build trust, gather intelligence and help rebuild the slums. The Rio de Janeiro state public secretary also announced that approximately $500,000 is being spent on less lethal weapons for the police arsenal, in the hope that it will cut down on the number of deaths and killings from the police side.

There are some concerns about PRONASCI. Despite that, the Government have admitted that their policy of confrontation will not end, and many residents have complained that the scheme is not so much a community policing operation as an effective occupation by the police of certain areas of certain towns.

Perhaps more worryingly, the authorities in Rio de Janeiro are planning to spend $17 million to build walls around many of the city’s favelas. The concrete walls
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will be 3.5 m—approximately 10 ft—high, and are due to surround approximately 40 favelas by the end of the year. Officials say that the walls will protect the Atlantic rainforest from illegal occupation, but many residents have complained that they are another means of containing the favelas and segregating residents from their richer neighbours.

Amnesty International has raised other concerns about the PRONASCI programme. It argues that the project depends on the same police forces that include violent, discriminatory and corrupt police. In addition, as a federal project in a country where policing is under the control of state governments, rifts between the two elements continue. The federal Government can do only so much to control how state governments implement such projects.

To be fair to the Brazilian Government, homicide rates have improved, so there is some good news. According to figures from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the number of homicides in Brazil fell in 2008. That can be attributed to the sharp fall in homicides in the state of Sao Paulo, where rates have halved over the past five years. Much discussion of those figures has taken place. The authorities believe the drop is due to tighter gun control, improvements in forensic investigation, and bars being forced to close early. However, academic and judicial experts have questioned the accuracy of official statistics, and offer alternative reasons for the change. Amnesty, for instance, argues that important municipal and community projects have led to the decline in homicide rates. On a less positive note, in some areas of Sao Paulo the criminal gang called the PCC has acquired temporary control of the criminal agenda, reducing the need to kill local rivals and thus lowering the homicide rate.

How will such problems be addressed, particularly by Brazil? Brazil is one of the largest economies in the world and is projected to be a key player in the coming decades. As a consequence, its status and influence on the world stage is set to increase. But with that new power comes responsibility and scrutiny. It is clear that the Brazilian Government are taking steps to address this issue, and in recent months improvements have been made, but some would argue that measures so far act merely as a sticking plaster on a much deeper problem. Despite its expanding prosperity, Brazil remains a country of massive inequality. The gap between rich and poor, and black and white, is one of the most significant in the globe. Nowhere is this gap more apparent than in the provision of security, with residents of poorer urban communities much more likely to suffer violence than their middle-class neighbours.

Are our Government providing any assistance or resources to help the Brazilian Government improve public security in any of their cities? Addressing the issue of public security in Brazil is described by some as political suicide. Brazilians live in a state of fear and, as such, demand a strong police response to violence. Such a culture results in walls being constructed to contain favelas, as I mentioned, and human rights defenders being attacked for defending criminals. The lack of political will to address the underlying causes of the problems means there have been few long-term social development projects, and those that do exist often die out with a change of mandate.

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Are there any methods of policing that we can pass on to the Brazilian Government? There may be techniques such as those used in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles that are helpful to the point where police are seen as servants of the public rather than their enemy. To effectively address the problem of public security, responsibility must be moved to a national level, as opposed to its present location at state level. The gap between plans and implementation often comes down to differences between state and federal interests. That was a problem decades ago in the United States. It led to the formation of the FBI, allowing security provision from federal government when local state security was insufficient. Are there any examples in the United Kingdom, which could be passed on to the Brazilian Government, of the co-ordination of police activities across various forces working with national security agencies helping to deal with organised crime or internal corruption?

Constitutional reform is also required to provide more funding for the federal police. At present, the federal police deal with terrorism, borders, high-level corruption, money laundering, some environmental crimes, and indigenous issues. Their area of responsibility is therefore vast, and the federal budget for public security policing is very low. Currently, it is mainly spent on guns and tanks. Moreover, the federal force consists of just 8,000 police officers for the whole of Brazil.

There is a need to replace the heavy expenditure on weapons with programmes that will encourage a change in the police attitude to the general public change from one of control to one of service and protection. Neglecting the issue of public security has threatened the democratic process and the stability of state institutions, and has led to thousands of deaths. A country the size of Brazil, given its population and given its vast resources and potential wealth, cannot afford to have its democracy threatened because its people are not sufficiently protected and secure.

Are our Government doing all that they can to assist our friends the Brazilians, so that they can enjoy the same levels of security and peace of mind that people can reasonably expect in this country?

2.46 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) on securing this important debate. I know that he takes a keen interest in Brazilian affairs and Brazil’s relationship with this country.

It is true that Brazil is a significant partner to the United Kingdom and a key emerging power. We engage with it on a wide and comprehensive range of issues, and we very much want the bilateral relationship to continue to broaden and deepen. That was demonstrated recently by the visits to Brazil in March by their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Secretary of State for International Development.

It is also true that, in a wide range of areas, Brazil is key in a number of important international forums. That applies to trade—it plays an influential role in the World Trade Organisation—and to its aspirations for
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reform of the United Nations Security Council: we support its aspirations for permanent membership of an enlarged Council. Migration has been an important area of discussion and co-operation between our two countries. Brazil also has a critical role to play in the crucial issue of climate change and also in that of nuclear disarmament, under the auspices of the non-proliferation regime.

However, as my hon. Friend made clear, there are real concerns and challenges on the human rights front in Brazil, as is readily acknowledged by the Brazilian Government. The human rights agenda is one of the key issues that we discuss with the country. Within the United Nations human rights framework, Brazil is very much engaged. It is an active player in the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission, where it is taking a lead on Guinea-Bissau, and in the Human Rights Council. In February this year, the Human Rights Council held a special session, at the request of Egypt and Brazil, on the impact of the financial and economic crisis on human rights. I think that that in itself is a positive sign of engagement by Brazil and its Government in human rights concerns. Brazil has also ratified core UN human rights treaties and the major regional human rights instruments. In 2000, it signed the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court, a move that we greatly welcomed.

In recent years, Brazil has fulfilled a large number of its reporting obligations under the relevant UN human rights treaties. Since 2001, human rights rapporteurs and representatives have had a standing invitation, under special procedures, to visit Brazil, and the Brazilian Government have indicated a willingness to use the findings of the special procedures reports in their national human rights policies. Despite the challenges and issues that need to be addressed, that is exactly the kind of responsive and open approach that the international community should expect from any country, and I welcome the fact that the Brazilian Government operate in that way.

The Brazilian Government are also co-operative and transparent in their implementation of human rights legislation. For example, they invited the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions to visit in November 2007. Given what my hon. Friend has said about some of the challenges in terms of gang culture and the operation of the police, that is a very welcome move. The UN special rapporteur concluded that ending human rights abuses by the police and ensuring effective crime prevention by the police are tightly linked, and I support that view. We therefore support the Brazilian authorities’ efforts in dealing with the hugely difficult challenge of protecting citizens in inner-city areas, and it is clear that good progress is being made.

We also very much welcome the Brazilian Government’s focus on social improvements, with a significant investment programme on shanty town urbanisation, basic sanitation and house building. That cuts to the heart of what my hon. Friend was saying about the inequalities, and the divide between rich and poor despite their living side by side. I have certainly seen that when I travel to Brazil, and I know that the divide between rich and poor is emphatically at the heart of the Brazilian Government’s agenda to try to improve the lot of all their people.

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Since 1996, Brazil has had a national plan for human rights. The national secretariat for human rights was created in 1997, and on coming to office in 2002 President Lula elevated that secretariat to the rank of Minister, and also appointed special secretaries for women’s rights and for the promotion of racial equality. Both those positions now also hold the rank of Minister.

The trafficking of women and children for sexual and labour exploitation is also a serious issue. In that regard, Brazil has ratified the Palermo protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, and it is important that national legislation on these crimes be in full compliance with Brazil’s international obligations. There is also special protection under Brazilian law for children and adolescents, and we welcome efforts to strengthen the juvenile justice system, which is at the heart of concerns.

Since a joint programme between the Government and the UN drugs and organised crime organisation was set up in 2003, there has also been some increase in convictions for such crimes, which is welcome. Brazil has active co-operation programmes with some EU member states and with international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation. In 2007, the Government adopted a national plan to combat human trafficking, and we have worked closely with the Brazilian Government to address human trafficking jointly as part of a broader programme of work on migration, and UK officials attended a conference on that issue in Brasilia in November 2008.

A number of positive statistical indicators also exist. Over the past few years, infant mortality rates have fallen, although the current rate of 31.1 per thousand live births remains one of the highest in south America. I agree with the International Labour Organisation’s 2006 global report, which cites Brazil as an example of how Governments can reduce child labour. Between 1991 and 2004, child labour in the five to nine-year-old age group fell by 61 per cent. and by 36 per cent. in the larger 10 to 17-year-old age group. The Government have also introduced financial incentives for families to keep their children in school. Again, that is very much welcome. The ILO’s 2009 report on forced labour in the Americas mentions Brazil, where legislation and Government action has combined with initiatives involving employers, workers and civil society to step up the fight against forced labour. The Brazilian Government publish a dirty list of individual property owners and companies that have been identified as using forced labour.

Co-operation between Brazil and the European Union on human rights issues is also good, and that work includes projects to improve the democratic accountability of Brazilian police forces. The focus of this policy work is on the observance of human rights and is aimed at seeing a reduction in the use of violent methods in the fight against crime. The EU aims to achieve that through strengthening the institution of police ombudspersons, training police on human rights and supporting community policing in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brazil itself acknowledges that there is a need for further progress to be made to improve prison conditions and to combat police violence, as was suggested by my hon. Friend.

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