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.
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From Chaos To Progress, But Not Without Bloodshed

As beautiful as the country is, Brazil has suffered for decades from the creation and development of shantytowns, known to locals as favelas, where poverty, violence and anarchy frequently dictate a ruthless way of life. The absence of state presence in the communities has made of favelas perfect centers for drug trafficking and violence. Major cities throughout the country, especially in the state of Rio de Janeiro, have fallen victims of this troubling situation.

Foto: Silvia Izquierdo/AP (Rio de Janeiro 11/25/10)In a desperate attempt to establish some form of security, a couple of years ago, Rio de Janeiro’s authorities created the state’s Pacifying Police Units (UPP), which have been welcome by the local and neighboring communities.  UPPs have been established in 13 slums, and have been coupled with other efforts intended to bring basic services to the local communities.  The objective is to provide favelas with safety and basic services, in order to reduce local violence and relentless drug-trafficking crimes. As a result, it appears that after decades of negligence and chaos, favelas may soon join the country’s socioeconomic progress, but not without a fight.

Favela Lords are showcasing their tactics, designed to remind everyone of their power and ability to be violent.  It has become evident that they will not be displaced without bloodshed.  In the last few weeks, Favela Lords have created havoc in their own towns.  Indeed, in a huge sign of defiance, on Nov. 21, 2010 they began a series of attacks against the local inhabitants and police.  Up until last week, well over 100 vehicles had been burned and dozens of people had been hurt and attacked.Their objective is to instill fear in the community in order to retain control of the favelas.


Freedom of Expression, Incessantly Suppressed in Latin America

The Inter American Press Association has been calling attention to numerous governmental acts intended to censure and inhibit freedom of expression in Latin America. As political leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been leading the efforts in funding media outlets that do little else than disseminate political propaganda, the problem is spreading fast throughout the entire region.

Silence Image

In Ecuador, the federal government seized the newspaper El Telégrafo, after they also confiscated the assets of banker and major shareholder Fernando Aspiazu, who was jailed on charges of fraud and unlawful activity in the now defunct Banco de Progreso he owned.  The authorities redesigned the newspaper and are now using it to spread hard-hitting official advertising campaigns.

In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner declared the two leading newspapers in the country, El Clarin and La Nacion, as enemies of her government. Since then, she has tried to find ways to control their activities. With this objective in mind she took over the nation’s main supplier of newsprint, alleging that the two leading newspapers illegally conspired with dictators to control the company three decades ago and then used it to drive competing newspapers out of business.

In Brazil, with the blessing of the federal government, at least five states are trying to enact legislation intended to create agencies that would allow the local Executive Power to control and overrule local media’s activities.

In Mexico, it is not the action of the government, but its inaction that is affecting local media. In the past six months 14 journalists have been killed. The headquarters of the Newspaper “El Sur”, in Acapulco, were attacked by drug cartels, all because the reporters and the media dared to denounce the illegal activities and organized crimes in the country.

The examples go on and on.  Authorities in Latin America are trying to suppress freedom of expression.  Without these vital components of democracy, the livelihood of the nations is endangered at its very core. Hundreds, if not thousands of people throughout the region have given money, work and their lives to ensure that their countries may one day enjoy true freedom of expression, uncensored and unadulterated by their governments.  But, with the most recent actions (or inactions) of the regions governments, all pro-democratic efforts may result in vain.  The progress that had been made is being reversed. The days in which one could give an opinion may soon come to an end.  Authorities must stop.  And civil society must act now.

To those of you who are reading this article, realize that you are doing so precisely because some freedom of expression is still possible.  Together we can and we must ensure that oppressive governments do not put an end to our rights.

Homophobic Hate Crimes Spreading Throughout Brazil

Alexandre Ivo, a 14-year-old boy, was tortured and killed in June 2010 in Rio de Janeiro.  Why? Because he was gay. Ms. Patricia Gomes and Ms.Sandra de Moraes, two female professors living in Parana, were killed in their own home in December of 2009.  Why? Because they were lovers.

Sao Paulo Gay Pride 2010

Although Sao Paulo hosted in 2010 the biggest gay parade in the world, with over 3.3 million people, Brazil suffers from one of the highest numbers of hate crimes in Latin America. The fear of homosexuality in the country is increasingly being expressed through horrific crimes nationwide, as reported by multiple sources.  The Latin-American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights has identified that the states of Parana and Bahia have the two highest numbers of crimes against homosexuals in the country and at least 15 people were killed in each Brazilian state in 2009, simply for being members of the LGBT community.  According to Senator Fatima Cleide, from the state of Rondonia, one person dies every two days, as a victim of homophobic crimes in Brazil. The Brazilian gay rights group Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB), which is funded by the World Bank and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), estimates that between 1980 and 2009 well over 3,100 homosexuals were killed by hate crimes in the country.

Brazil is at a pivotal moment in its history.  The new administration can choose between allowing hate crimes to continue festering the nation’s stance towards human rights, or promote respect and equality for all.  Its neighboring country, Argentina, has already shown the world that progress is not only possible but it also ought to be considered imminent in Latin America. Brazilians can, if they decide to do so, show their leadership and put an end to homophobic hate crimes in the nation, reverse the titles held by Parana and Bahia, and become a promoter of equality.

While hundreds of people die every year based on hate crimes, Brazilian Congress has struggled since 2006 to approve legislation categorizing homophobic violence as crimes. Religious and conservative interests have proven to be strong and effective opponents to this human rights law.

Not only are Brazilian LGBTs treated as second-class citizens, but people are dying because of this.  Successful professionals, loving couples, and young boys and girls, among many others, are suffering of intolerance and are being killed because of the lack of action of society and legislators. It is an unfair reality.  The question I have for the readers and the country’s newly elected politicians is: When will ALL Brazilians be protected and have equal rights under law?

Democracy Empowers Brazilians to Choose their Own Future

25 years after the end of its military dictatorship, on Oct 3rd 2010 Brazil carried out peaceful and legitimate democratic elections nationwide. Over 135 million Brazilians voted to elect the country’s president, the governors of Brasilia and 27 states, 54 senators, all 513 members of the House of Representatives and the assembly delegates of all states.

Brazilian Flag

Although elections were carried out without controversy, the final outcome remains unknown.  None of the presidential candidates gathered enough votes (50% plus one vote) to be named president elect; therefore, the two top contenders will face each other again in a run-off election to be held on Oct. 31st. More important than the result per se, the elections will be testament of the nation’s progress towards consolidating its democratic principles and its stance as a leading democracy in Latin America.

It’s important to remember that this was only the 6th major election in Brazil since it overcame its worst period of human rights transgressions in recent history. The Brazilian military regime, which was in power from 1964 to 1985, was responsible for systemic human rights violations, including killings, forced disappearances, torture and the curtailment of freedom of expression.  Approximately 50,000 persons were detained for speaking against the regime and roughly 10,000 went into exile.  It is only after the promulgation of its new Constitution in1988 that Brazilians had their full civil and political rights restored.  For such a young democracy, these elections should be seen as a victory for everyone, regardless of political party or affiliation.  It empowers Brazilians to choose their own leaders and indeed, their own future.

In the weeks and months to come, we will follow the work of those empowered to lead the country into the future. We will monitor them carefully, focusing on the social and economic rights of the most vulnerable sectors in society.  In the meantime, let’s join the nation in celebrating its democracy!

Contemporary Slavery in Brazil a Sad Reality

After responding to an anonymous claim filed last August, the Federal Police identified 14 individuals held as slaves at a farm in Brazil’s western state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The victims, natives to various northeastern states of the country, had travelled to Mato Grosso do Sul in response to attractive job offers and better lives.  Instead, they met slavery and abuse. They were subject to extremely poor living conditions and they lacked employment contracts, which left their rights fully vulnerable.  They worked 13-hour shifts for three entire months, without pay. Having no other option but to buy their food and basic goods for credit at the farm’s shop, they accumulated unintended and unmanageable debts, which empowered the farm owner to prevent the workers from leaving the farm’s premises.

Housing made of wood and canvas

Also, in the city of Sao Paulo an immigrant from Bolivia was recently arrested for subjecting six fellow immigrants into slavery. The suspect owned a sewing shop where people worked 15-hour shifts and were grossly underpaid.  Employees were made subject to conditions terribly unsuitable for dignified work.  Like in the case from Mato Grosso do Sul, the Bolivian employees had no employment contract and were kept unaware of their most basic employment rights.

According to the UN, in 2008 there were up to 40,000 contemporary slave laborers in Brazil. Workers are generally young men recruited from a state characterized by extreme poverty, illiteracy and rural unemployment.


Indigenous community held hostage in Brazil

Guarani-Kaiowá leaders

In October of 2009, the indigenous community Guarani Kaiowá Y’poí was violently evicted from its ancestral land near Paranhos, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.  During the assault, gunmen hired by local farmers abducted tribe members Genivaldo Vera and his cousin Rolindo Vera. Genivaldo’s body was found a few days later in a nearby river. His head had been shaved and his body had extensive bruising. Rolindo’s whereabouts remains unknown. After almost a year, Rolindo’s family continues to wait for the Federal Police to tell them what happened to him or to bring them Rolindo’s body back.

In April of 2010, tribe members managed to reoccupy the land, but they immediately became deprived of their freedom of movement, and were subject to numerous gun threats. They have been prevented from leaving their encampment, resulting in no access to water, food, education and health. The tribe’s children are falling sick due to the lack of medical assistance, water and the dry weather conditions.

Government’s agents are not providing care to the community, claiming this is due to lack of security. The tribe has denounced their situation to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) and the state police authorities, but so far no action has been taken.

As follow-up to this, we are asking everyone to join our efforts in sending a letter to the Brazilian authorities to stop the violence against the Guarani Kaiowá Y’poí tribe.

Together we can make a difference!

Rio de Janeiro, Victimized by Drug Dealers

Tactical police stand by in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, in Sao Conrado Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 21, 2010. (c) ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro is back on the headlines.  This time it’s not for its role future role hosting the World Cup in 2014 or the Olympic games in 2016.  Rather, violence is again taking primary stage in the city.

On August 21st, 10 heavily armed drug dealers invaded a five stars hotel in Rio de Janeiro.  They took over 30 hostages for well over two hours. The InterContinental Hotel in Sao Conrado is located near Vidigal and Rocinha, two of Rio’s largest slums or favelas in Rio. According to local police, the men entered the Hotel to escape police gunshots.  Although the hostages were released, a woman died during the confrontation between the police and drug dealers.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated episode of violence in Rio de Janeiro.

Events as this one are just the tip of the iceberg related with the endemic violence originated by the drug trafficking industry in Rio. Drug dealers and militias make poor areas in Rio a ‘parallel’ power, leaving the government with limited or no control and influence in these communities.  Amnesty International believes that with their power over communities for illicit economic and political gain, militias threatened the lives of thousands of residents and the very institutions of the state. Public authorities, police officers and even judges receive repeated death threats from the militias. State authorities mounted a series of operations to combat the activities of the militias, leading to a number of arrests, but so far these efforts weren’t enough to stop violence in Rio.

Authorities should invest heavily in security in Brazil, not only to be able to host international events like the Olympic Games, but mainly to bring peace and safety to the local population, which is tired of living in fear and on the margin of the society.