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UN rights group expresses concern about excessive detention in Brazil

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [official website] on Wednesday expressed concern [statement; press release] about excessive detention and lack of legal assistance in Brazil, after a ten day visit to the country. The group found that Brazil regularly detains individuals for minor criminal offenses, and some detainees have to wait months to see a lawyer. The rights group noted that this practice violates Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], which requires governments to seek alternatives to detention for minor offenses and to avoid detaining the accused pending a trial. Other concerns raised by the group included discriminatory detentions faced by indigenous people and drug addicts, as well as a lack of judicial review over cases resulting in the detention of minors.

Brazil has been working to fight corruption since the 2005 "Mensalao" scandal [Veja backgrounder, in Portuguese]. In November the Supreme Court of Brazil sentenced a former aide to ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to over 10 years of imprisonment [JURIST report] for his involvement in the vote-buying scheme. Jose Dirceu, Lula's former chief of staff, was convicted of using public funds to pay coalition parties for political support. The trials of those accused of participating in "Mensalao" were hailed as a potential turning point [NYT report] for Brazil in the its fight against corruption. However, observers warned that with Brazil hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, the risk for corruption remains high [WSJ report]. In August 2011 Brazilian Judge Patricia Acioli, known for taking a hard-line against corrupt officials and militia death squads, was shot and killed [JURIST report] outside of her home by two masked men on motorbikes. Acioli was one of three judges executed [O Globo report, in Portuguese] in Brazil in the past eight years for their investigations into organized crime.

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