About Francisco Ciampolini

Francisco Ciampolini is Amnesty Internationalís Country Specialist for Brazil. Also, he is the Program Officer for the Latin America and the Caribbean Division for American Bar Association's Rule of Law Initiative. Previously, Francisco worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and he served as a legal assistant for the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the UN in Geneva. He holds an LL.M. in International and Comparative Law from The George Washington University Law School; he has additional studies in human rights law from Oxford University, and he obtained his B.A. in Law from Faculdades Metropolitanas Unidas, in Sao Paulo. An avid supporter of rule of law and global access to justice, Francisco is a native Portuguese speaker, fluent in English and Spanish.
Author RSS Feed

Rule of Law Under Attack in Rio de Janeiro

Judge Patricia Acioli

Judge Patricia Acioli

Militia groups in Rio de Janeiro are gaining ground, while one of the state’s most effective enforcers of rule of law is now dead.

On Thursday, August 11, 2011 Judge Patrícia Acioli was in her car outside of her house in Níteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, when hooded gunmen approached her in several vehicles and shot her at close range 21 times.

Judge Acioli had been “marked for death”.  She, along with 12 other judges and prosecutors, had received threats from former police officers and criminal gangs who were threatened by her effort to uphold the law.  The judge had previously convicted several former police officers with charges of corruption.


Rural Families In Northern Brazil At Risk Of Violence

While violence in Northern Brazil is frequently ignored, local families have no other option but to live in fear.  People are being threatened and guns are being shot.

At this very moment 40 families in the settlements of Assentamento Santo Antônio Bom Sossego and Acampamento Vitória, both located in the state of Tocantins, are being threatened by eight gunmen hired by a local farmer.

On the night of June 6, the gunmen fired shots over the encampment. On June 4, gunmen were overheard arguing about whether to carry out an execution. On May 29 one gunman told a resident: Lá vai morrer gente (people are going to die there). The rural workers have also complained of men with torches walking around the perimeter of the settlements. Five community members are said to be on a hit-list of people targeted by the gunmen.


Environmental Activists Shot to Death in Brazil

Many people think of Brazil as a land full of resources and promise.  However, environmentalists face a terrifying reality.  While they are only trying to preserve and protect the beauty and nature of the nation’s land, they are frequently subject to blatant threats and attacks.

Since May 24, 2011, the described menace turned not into one, but four cold-blooded killings in the northern states of Pará and Rondônia.  Although the killings were anything but unannounced, the authorities shamefully failed to protect these brave citizens.

Environmental activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva were ambushed and shot dead at a bridge in Nova Ipixuna, Pará.  According to reports from local NGOs, one of the gunmen cut off José Cláudio’s ear to keep as proof of the killing. The killings took place at a reserve where three hundred families earn their living from harvesting Brazilian nuts and cultivating tropical fruits. As a respected community leader, José Cláudio had denounced incursions into the reserve by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. His bravery was soon met by threats and right before his death, he said he was living with the threat of “a bullet in the head at any moment”.


Massacre at Rio de Janeiro's Public High School

Earlier today Brazil suffered one of its saddest days in recent history.  It started when Wellington Menezes de Oliveira, a 23-year-old man, invaded a public school in the city of Rio de Janeiro.  He then took the life of a dozen 12- to 14-year old students.  When he was done shooting at others, he killed himself.

The reason of the massacre is unknown, but it is clear that the assassin suffered from some form of physiological disorder.  Rio’s police found in the shooter’s home a letter expressing his final wishes and the ways he wanted to be buried.  The furniture and electrical appliances of his home were also destroyed.

This tragic event reminds us of similar massacres that have taken stage in the USA, such as VA Tech’s episode from 2005.  Just like with past events, the reasons for such bizarre acts are hard to find.  Unfortunately, they are becoming more common.  We ask ourselves many questions.  How could’ve this been avoided? What signs were there to stop this from happening? What could possibly take a young man to resort to such actions? Etc., etc. We all want to know the answers, but at this moment, we must pause and share our thoughts and heartfelt feelings with the victims and their families.

Hate and Intolerance Find Support in Brazil's House of Representative

Hate and intolerance have a new stage: Brazil’s House of Representatives.  While the legislative body was created for reason and discourse, one of its elected officials has found ways to degrade the federal body by promoting racism and intolerance.  Rio de Janeiro’s congressman Jair Bolsonaro is flagrantly using the legislative chamber to make racist comments against blacks and LGBT citizens, and to disseminate militaristic ideals.

During an interview with a national humoristic program, Mr. Bolsonaro was asked how he would feel if he found his son dating a black woman. He took this as an opportunity to make racist comments and indicated that he would “never allow this kind of promiscuity” (youtube video in Portuguese).  While this interview was widely publicized and has led to a huge debate about racism in Brazil’s society, it is a shame that an elected official would even dare to speak this way of any civil group or minority.   As if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bolsonaro has also expressed his support for military regimes over democratic governments.

It is absurd that an elected official would dare to utter such words.  A person that believes that the military regime is better than democracy and who thinks that minorities aren’t humans with equal rights, ought not to be called a legislator.  Mr. Bolsonaro is on his sixth consecutive term as Federal Representative for the State of Rio de Janeiro. It has been 21 years since he was first elected… What’s even worse is that he is not alone in his attitude and racist ideals.

Another Representative, this time from the State of Sao Paulo, Mr. Marco Feliciano, wrote in his Twitter account that “the filth in homoaffective feelings are conduits to hate, crime and rejection” and that “Africans descend from ancestors cursed by Noah.”

When elected official make comments such as the ones quoted in this article, racist and oppressive groups feel empowered and justified when attacking vulnerable groups.  Just last week, Sao Paulo’s police identified 200 members of skinhead gangs that attacked and in many cases killed members of the black and homosexual communities in the city.  According to a Brazilian gay group, 260 LGBT individuals were killed in Brazil in 2010, which represented 31% increase from 2009 and a 113% increase from 2005.

It is disturbing to know that those who are in charge of approving laws to protect society are the same people responsible for spreading hate and intolerance. We will only be able to reduce the number of hate crimes in Brazil when the country’s citizens demand that the rights of everyone, including the country’s minorities, are respected and protected.  It is imperative that the legislative system focuses on the creation of  laws designed to fight racism and hate crimes. Brazilians deserve better, much better.


The Condition of Brazil's Indigenous Community Worsens

On September 16, 2010, I wrote about an indigenous tribe in Brazil being violently evicted from its ancestral land. While the rights of the natives were obliterated, Amnesty International has not lost its focus.  We continue to bring the conditions of the native inhabitants to the spotlight.  Your help is needed, now more than ever…

Since the eviction on October 2009, thirty-five Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous families of the Laranjeira Ñanderu community, including around 85 children, are living in makeshift shacks by the side of the busy BR-163 highway in Mato Grosso do Sul. Their living conditions are deplorable and they face threats and harassment from armed security guards hired by the landowner and local farmers.

The Federal Police, who oversaw the eviction, told the landowner that the community would return to collect their remaining belongings. However, the landowner burned the families’ houses and all their belongings. The community is now living in shacks covered with sheets of black plastic in temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius. The area is frequently flooded and their encampment is teeming with insects and leeches. According to community members, local farmers drive past the community at high speed during the night and shine lights into the shacks to try to intimidate them.


Brazil Must Stop Siding With Oppressive Regimes

Brazil’s recent history of siding with some of today’s most oppressive governments must end. As we watch the events in Tunisia and Egypt unfold, Brazil’s track record of supporting and befriending today’s most powerful dictators is downright shameful.  This position is not only contrary to the country’s desire to become a leader in global human rights, but also irresponsible.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s apparent willingness to greet and negotiate with oppressive regimes was counterproductive to the world’s development.  Current President Dilma Rousseff has an opportunity to break with this trend by living up to the country’s humanitarian aspirations and expectations, as evidenced in the nation’s involvement with the world’s most respected humanitarian organizations.

Brazil became a member of the UN Human Rights Council when the multilateral body was created in 2006.  Brazil’s involvement with the organization has served as a platform for Brazil to contribute to important human rights matters, including resolutions offering access to medicines combating pandemics such as HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  Brazil also introduced and championed initiatives to protect children rights and to combat discrimination by defending the incompatibility between democracy and racism.

Although such initiatives are noteworthy, Brazil has been less than helpful with other matters of global importance.  In 2009 it stopped supporting the Council’s resolutions dealing with North Korea’s human rights violations.  Brazil also refrained from standing up to the international crimes committed under Sudan’s regime. Additionally, Brazil supported Sri Lanka’s resolution, in which the massacre of over 70 thousand people during 25 years of civil war was not recognized.


Hundreds of Deaths in Brazil, a Product of Negligence

Since the beginning of the year, at least 550 people in Brazil have died and thousands more have lost their homes, due to this year’s floods, which have been disastrous as usual, but certainly not surprising.  What is surprising is the government’s inability to prepare for a recurring problem all too familiar to local inhabitants. Of course, global warming and climate change are a big component of this tragedy, but the incompetence of local authorities is outrageous.

Floods devastate Brazil's SouthEast http://fotografia.folha.uol.com.br/galerias/1880-chuva-no-rio-de-janeiro#foto-36030 folha.com

Every single year, during summer time, Brazil suffers from flooding, which is inherent to the tropical weather of the country.  Similarly, every single year, authorities recite the same words and promises of aid to calm the desperate needs of locals.  They claim that the disaster is caused as  “… consequence of the huge amount of rain”.

Well, if authorities are aware of the consequences of the rain season, why don’t they take necessary steps to minimize the flooding consequences during the dry season? Why can’t they relocate families living in risky areas and slums?  Why can’t they build the necessary dams and water channels?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the vast majority of the victims of these floods are, in all truthfulness, marginalized and treated as second-class citizens. Not only do they live in precarious conditions, but they have no other recourse but to live without access to basic human rights, including housing, cleaning water and sewer. How many wealthy and influential people are among the fatal victims of the floods? Probable none. If there were, I am certain that the negligence and inefficiency of the authorities would be much smaller over the years.

While a great number of Brazilian families are treated as second-class citizens and they are remembered only during election periods, the casualties that the floods bring year in and year out, will be only be a big number that will grow over the years. But behind the numbers, there are fatalities; there are people struggling to survive in an unfair society, where the wealthy have the best of the worlds and the marginalized community has to be carefully not to become one more statistic in the speech of yet another negligent public officer.

Brazil Hides its Crimes Through Inhumane Legislation

It has been 25 years since Brazil’s military regime ended.  Yet, the crimes and violence enforced by the country’s authorities from 1964 to 1985 have failed to see the light of justice.

Military Dictatorship in Brazil

Brazil's Military Regime

As a condition to allow the restoration of democracy in Brazil in 1979, the military regime enacted legislation designed to provide blanket amnesty for ”political or political related crimes” committed since 1961.  The law has been used since then, to provide state agents with immunity from crimes they committed during the country’s military era.  Because of it, state officials were able to get away with torture, enforced disappearances and killings.  These crimes are so grave, that they  fall under the jurisdiction of international law.

A few months ago, in April of 2010, the Brazilian Supreme Court had an opportunity to repeal the amnesty law.  Many of us hoped that the “new Brazil” would show maturity and respect for human rights.  Instead, they decided to uphold the old interpretation, indicating that crimes committed by members of the military regime were political acts and therefore they were protected by the amnesty law.