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UN urges Brazil to investigate prison violence

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] on Wednesday urged the Brazilian government to investigate the killings of inmates at the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex after a video surfaced of three decapitated inmates during a prison riot. The video [AP report], sent on Tuesday, was allegedly sent by a state prison worker's union to draw attention to the state's neglect of the penitentiary system. According to former president Jose Sarney, delays in the country's legal system have created prison overcrowding, which has resulted in an increase in prison violence. The Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex only has space for 1,700 inmates but is currently housing [NYT report] more than 2,200. The Maranhao state government has confirmed that four inmates were killed on December 17 but could not comment on the authenticity of the video.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] has also expressed concern [press release] over prison violence in Brazil, particularly in the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex, after it was reported that a large number of deaths had taken place at the prison over the past year. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] has also criticized the government's lack of solutions to prison violence "unacceptable." AI's report, "Brazil: Death has arrived," [report, text] found that the governor of Sao Paulo and the Secretary of Public Security abdicated their responsibilities by handing complete control of the prison to the military police and were therefore also responsible for Sao Paulo's Carandiru prison in 1992, in which more than 100 inmates died. AI considered [press release] the conviction of 23 Brazilian police officers for the massacre a "vital" step towards justice.

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