Arrests and compulsory detentions of drug users in Brazil concern UN experts

UN experts during the press conference28 March 2013 - The arrest and compulsory detention of drug users are among the main concerns raised by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, after a 10 day visit to Brazil. During a press conference held today at the UN House in Brasilia, Vladimir Tochilovsky, member of the Group, said: "During the visit we were presented with cases of people living on the streets who are drug addicts, and who are apprehended, detained and imprisoned by the police not for committing crimes, but over a health issue."

The Group noted that this often involved young, poor and homeless drug users who were arrested in an effort to "clean up" the streets, including because of the pressure from large events that Brazil will host, such as the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. "The law cannot be used to clean the streets. It is not about taking these people off the streets, but about how to treat these people", said Tochilovsky. The Group also raised questions regarding the arrest of teenagers and people with mental illness, and warned against arrests based on discrimination.

Excessive use of deprivation of liberty, the lack of effective legal assistance and the plight of the poor in accessing justice were also highlighted by the Group as central problems regarding arbitrary detention in the country. Currently, Brazil has one of the world's largest prison populations, with about 550,000 people, 217,000 of whom are in pretrial detention. "There is a culture of using deprivation of liberty as the norm and not as an exceptional measure reserved for serious offences as required by international human rights standards ... There is need for a public policy that is not only about repression, but also about education", said Roberto Garretón, a member of the Working Group.

The group of independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights to investigate allegations of arbitrary deprivation of liberty visited several detention centers - including prisons, police stations, immigration detention centers and psychiatric institutions - in Campo Grande, Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasília and met with the competent authorities of the executive, legislative and judicial bodies at the federal and state governments, as well as civil society organizations. The Group presented its preliminary findings to Brazilian government officials yesterday. The final report of the visit will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2014.

Twelve UN agencies, including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), signed in March 2012 a joint statement against the compulsory detention of drug users. The document states that actions of treatment for drug addiction should be voluntary, have a human rights approach and be based on evidence. According to the statement, "the deprivation of liberty without due process is an unacceptable violation of internationally recognized human rights standards."

Related information:

Statement from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Joint Statement - Compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres

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