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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Brazil is a federal republic with one federal constitution. It consists of 26 states and one federal district (Braslia). The 1988 constitution is the country's seventh charter since independence from Portugal in 1822. The executive Executive power is exercised by the president, aided by ministers of state who are appointed by the president. The president is elected for a four-year term.The president is also assisted by the Council of the Republic, an advisory body consisting of the vice president of the republic, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the leaders of the majority and minority in each house, the minister of justice, and six other members (two appointed by the president of the republic, two elected by the Chamber of Deputies and two elected by the Senate). These six members have a three-year term of office. The national defence council is the president's advisory body on defence matters. It consists of the vice-president of the republic, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, the minister of justice, ministers of the army, navy and air force, and the ministers of foreign affairs and planning.

The bicameral National Congress consists of the Federal Senate (upper house) and the Chamber of Deputies (lower house). The Federal Senate has 81 members, of which two-thirds are directly elected and one-third indirectly elected. Members are elected in rotation for eight years. The Chamber of Deputies has 513 members directly elected on a constituency basis for a period of four years. All decrees must be submitted to Congress. As well as fiscal and budgetary control, Congress must be consulted on matters concerning payments of external debt. Congressional committees have powers of oversight on nominations to important posts proposed by the executive. The Senate must approve issues of treasury bills. Constitutional amendments must be approved by a three-fifths majority of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The Congress passed a constitutional amendment in 1997 allowing Fernando Henrique Cardoso to become the first president to stand for re-election.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts and Judgments (all sites in Portuguese)

An 11-member Supreme Federal Tribunal is Brazil's highest judicial body. Judges are appointed by the president of the republic and approved by the Senate. It gives decisions in cases involving the president, vice president, ministers of state, members of Congress, its own members and judges of other courts. It interprets the constitution, judges disputes between the federal and state authorities, between different state authorities, between federal and state authorities and foreign governments, between different levels of the judicial system, and cases involving extradition, habeas corpus and habeas data.

The Superior Tribunal of Justice is composed of at least 33 members and gives decisions in cases involving state governors. Its members are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. Regional federal tribunals have at least seven members, who are appointed by the president. The Superior Labor Tribunal is composed of 27 members appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. The Superior Electoral Tribunal includes at least seven judges, three from the Supreme Federal Tribunal, two elected by secret ballot from the Superior Tribunal of Justice and two appointed by the president. The labour and electoral tribunals each have regional counterparts. The Superior Military Tribunal is composed of 15 judges appointed by the president and approved by the Senate for life. Four of its judges are selected from the army, three from the navy and three from the air force. The remaining five are civilians.

The Federal Audit Court provides for the administrative review of national and state accounts.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Human Rights

The Brazilian Federal Government generally respected many of the human rights of its citizens in 2001; however, there continued to be numerous serious abuses, and the record of some state governments was poor. State police forces (both civil and uniformed) committed many extrajudicial killings, tortured and beat suspects under interrogation, and arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Police also were implicated in criminal activity of all kinds, including killings for hire, death squad executions, extortion, kidnapings for ransom, and narcotics trafficking. In April U.N. Special Rapporteur for Torture Sir Nigel Rodley released his report on torture, which contained many examples of the use of torture by police and prison administrators, and strongly criticized the Government for not taking measures to eliminate the use of torture. The authorities often failed to prevent violence inside prisons. The state governments concerned did not punish most perpetrators of these abuses effectively. Police tribunals (special courts for the uniformed police) remained overloaded, rarely investigated cases thoroughly, and seldom convicted abusers. The separate system of uniformed police tribunals contributed to a climate of impunity for police officers involved in extrajudicial killings or abuse of prisoners. Prison conditions ranged from poor to extremely harsh. Prison officials often tortured and beat inmates. The judiciary has a large case backlog and often was unable to ensure the right to a fair and speedy trial. Justice is slow and often unreliable, especially in areas where powerful economic interests influence the local judiciary. Police used excessive force to disperse demonstrators on several occasions during the year, resulting in serious injuries and at least one death. Human rights monitors on occasion faced threats and harassment. Violence and discrimination against women were problems. Child prostitution and abuse also were problems. Despite constitutional provisions safeguarding the rights of indigenous people, government authorities often failed to protect them adequately from outsiders who encroached on their lands, and failed to provide them with adequate health care and other basic services in many areas. Discrimination against Afro-Brazilians is a problem. Violence against homosexuals is a problem. Rural violence, including killings of land reform and rural labor activists, persisted. Forced labor continued to be a serious problem for adults and children, and there continued to be occasional reports of forced child labor. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and children for the purpose of prostitution, is a serious problem.

Due to jurisdictional and resource limitations, the efforts of the Federal Government to highlight human rights abuses and allocate federal resources to bolster the efforts of the states had limited impact in many of the states where human rights violations are most common. In December President Cardoso stated that he welcomed visits by international human rights groups to conduct investigations.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Legal Profession

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Law Schools (all sites in Portuguese)

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