REPORT Nº 24/98
CANUTO DE OLIVEIRA
April 7, 1998
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission") initiated
its review of this case on May 27, 1994, on the basis of a complaint that can be
summarized as follows: The Federal
Republic of Brazil (the "State" or "Brazil") violated the
American Human Rights Convention to the detriment of João Canuto de Oliveira, a
Brazilian citizen who was murdered, by failing to provide him with due
protection when he reported to the competent state and federal authorities that
he had received death threats, and by the ineffectiveness of the State in
conducting an efficient investigation and judicial proceedings subsequent to his
João Canuto was a labor union leader of rural workers in Río María del
Sur, in Pará State. After he was
assassinated on February 18, 1985, his two sons were also murdered, as were the
next two presidents to succeed him at the head of the Río María Union of Rural
Workers. In addition, members of
his family and rural leaders linked to that labor association were wounded.
The complaint gives the following information:
December 18, 1985, João Canuto, who at the time was president of the Río María
Union of Rural Workers, Pará State, was assassinated by two gunmen in the
context of a dispute over lands between farmers and the owners of the Canaã
Plantation, which had earned him the enmity of the local landholders.
Canuto had been warned that the local landholders and politicians, including the
Río María mayor at the time, were conspiring to kill him and that they had
hired gunmen for that purpose. This
situation was reported by João Canuto to the local police, but the police did
not offer him protection.
to statements by witnesses, a gunman who appeared at the offices of the Río María
Union of Rural Workers reported that the death of João Canuto had been
"ordered by Laranjeira (in reference to the then-Mayor of Río María,
Adilson Carvalho Laranjeiras) and by somebody from Canaã".
According to that testimony, the threats to the life of João Canuto were
blatant and were common knowledge.
to the files of the case being processed by the Pará Court of Justice, a group
of local politicians and influential landowners, including the then-Mayor of Río
María, had conspired to assassinate João Canuto, and in the more than nine
years since the event occurred, no suspects for the murder of João Canuto have
been arrested or tried, despite the existing evidence.
to the complaint, the investigation was conducted in a negligent manner and was
not concluded until 1993, after three judges, four prosecutors, and six police
officers had participated in it. Three
individuals were arrested early in the course of the investigation, but they
were later released. Two of them
were set free as a result of a habeas corpus filed on their behalf, and the
other was released for health reasons, without being asked to provide
information so that he could located or detained again at a later date.
Division for Political and Social Order (DOPS), the special police that
investigated the crime, concluded that at least five persons were clearly
implicated in the murder of João Canuto and it recommended their arrest.
Despite this, the corresponding arrest warrants were never issued until
the complaint was filed with the Commission.
These persons included influential landholders, local politicians, and
two gunmen, who went by the names of Gaspar Roberto Fernándes, Jandir Alves de
Paula, Vantuir Goncalves de Paula, Ovidio Gómes de Oliveira, and Adilson
testimonies indicated that there were 20 more landholders implicated in the
conspiracy to kill João Canuto, but that the involvement of those landholders
in the conspiracy was never adequately investigated by the police.
In this regard, the complainant indicated that even a judge, who was
subsequently transferred, told Amnesty International that the police had
obstructed the investigation.
complaint also states that there were irregularities in the legal proceedings,
such as the fact that ten statements by witnesses were lost, including one that
implicated various important landholders, and so the witnesses had to be deposed
a second time.
The complaint goes on to say that despite the fact that the investigation
has been concluded, none of the suspects was ever tried for the murder of João
Canuto. As a result of the impunity
and ineffectiveness of the
Brazilian legal system in the case of the murder of João Canuto, two of his
sons were murdered, and another was seriously wounded following an attempt on
his life. In addition, two other
presidents of the Río María Rural Workers Union were murdered, and another was
the victim of an attempt on his life. The
complaint concludes by stating that the acts committed are a violation, inter
alia, of Articles 8, 25, and 1 of the American Convention on Human Rights
and Articles 1 and 5 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of
Government was informed of the complaint on May 27, 1994, and following three
extensions granted by the Commission, it filed its response on November 22,
1994, in which it indicated, inter alia, that the police investigation
into the murder of João Canuto was completed in July 1993,
that penal action to determine the criminal responsibility of the persons
possibly implicated was still being pursued, and that therefore the internal
legal remedies had not been exhausted.
May 11, 1995, the petitioner filed his comments on the Government's responsive
brief and stated, inter alia, that an exception to the rule of exhaustion
of internal legal remedies, as stipulated in Article 46.2.c of the Convention,
should apply in the case in point. The
petitioner reiterated that in addition to the fact that the police investigation
was not thorough and effective, it was also excessively long and protracted.
Petitioner added that up to that date, i.e., May 11, 1995, the case was
still held up in the Prosecutor's Office, and that the Prosecutor had never
filed any charges with the relevant court, in spite of the fact that there was
sufficient evidence to establish the guilt of five suspects.
It further stated that the police investigation contained various
statements of testimony confirming that João Canuto had notified the
appropriate authorities of the death threats he had received and had then asked
them for their protection, but they did not grant the requested protection.
The petitioner concluded by pointing out that the investigation did not
meet the minimum requirements of speediness, since besides taking eight years to
be completed, no progress was achieved in convicting the responsible parties.
It indicated that the Government had been negligent by failing to
institute legal proceedings against the suspects on the basis of the police
investigation, and that now that almost 18 months have gone by since it was
concluded, the case is still held up in the Prosecutor's Office, and the
corresponding information has never been issued.
December 18, 1995, the Government filed its final comments, in which it stated, inter
alia, that the Public Prosecutor for the State of Pará had delivered to the
Ministry of Justice a copy of the information containing the formal charges of
aggravated homicide issued earlier in the month against the persons accused of
the murder of João Canuto, known by the names of Adilson Carvalho Laranjeira,
Vantuir Goncalves de Paula, Ovídeo Gomes de Oliveira, Jurandir Pereira da
Silva, and Gaspar Roberto Fernandes. The
Government concluded by stating that the General Coordinator of the Committee
for the Protection of Human Rights in the National Justice Ministry would
organize a meeting between the representatives of the Ministry and the State
Secretaries of Justice and Public Security, so that they could work out a
strategy for cooperation to improve the situation of death threats and impunity
in Pará State, and by stressing the importance of having avoided impunity in
the case of João Canuto.
this way, the regulatory procedures in this case before the Commission were
completed, and a letter was sent to the Government on January 24, 1996 to notify
it of that fact.
Commission is now going to consider the facts communicated by the parties in
additional reports receiving during the processing of this case:
of September 16, 1994 from the petitioner which states, inter alia, that
after nearly nine years, the case has still not progressed to the trial stage
and that the police investigation into the murder of João Canuto was concluded
on July 27, 1993, or almost eight years after the murder took place, and that
said investigation showed that five persons were implicated in the crime.
The petitioner concludes his letter by pointing out that on August 30,
1993, the case was sent to the Office of the State Prosecutor in the city of Belém,
but that there had been no further progress on the case to date.
of September 6, 1995, from the Government in which it states, inter alia,
as follows: that the documents on
the police investigation into the death of João Canuto had been turned over to
the Public Prosecutor, Manoel Santino Nascimento Junior, on November 5, 1993;
that the necessary steps to correct the irregularity had been taken; that, in
addition, said Prosecutor was preparing the information, which was expected to
be issued in the next 20 days; and that the Human Rights Committee of the
National Justice Ministry reported that contacts had been initiated with the
attorney of the victim's family to present a secondary information in the event
that the Office of the Public Prosecutor [Ministerio Público] should fail to
proceed further on the matter.
of September 11, 1995 from the petitioner in which it states, inter alia,
as follows: that there was an
excessive delay in processing this case and that the Government of Brazil failed
in its responsibility to investigate adequately and punish the persons
responsible for the death of João Canuto; that there had been absolutely no
progress made in the case, and that even though the report of the police
investigation had been in the hands of the prosecutor since July 1993, no
charges had been filed, despite the large amount of evidence pointing to the
criminal responsibility of five persons; and that, as a result, the Government
of Brazil had failed to comply with its obligation to investigate and punish the
persons responsible for the crime.
of October 6, 1995 from the petitioner which states, inter alia, as
follows: that the police
investigation was finally wrapped up on July 27, 1993, or in other words nearly
eight years after the crime occurred; that
the Division of Political and Social Order had requested that five persons be
arrested and placed in custody pending trial; that on August 30, 1993, the
Division of Political and Social Order sent the case to the Office of the Public
Prosecutor in Belém, but that no significant action had been taken on this case
since that time.
accordance with Articles 58 and 59 of the Commission's Regulations,
it is appropriate to refer to the facts that are gleaned from the information on
this case which was collected during the on-site visit to Brazil which took
place December 4 to 8, 1995, when a delegation from the Commission visited Río
María. Together with the Director
of the Human Rights Committee of the Ministry of Justice and a legal
representative from Brazil's Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Commission took
testimony from members of João Canuto's family, other leaders of the Río María
Rural Workers' Union, the public defenders of the victims, the judicial
authorities, the prosecutors, and municipal officials.
During this time, and with the assistance of representatives from the
Brazilian State, the following was ascertained:
the police investigation was opened on February 20, 1986 and concluded seven
years later in July 1993, and that as a result of that investigation, it was
requested that five persons implicated in the crime be taken into custody
pending trial. The order was never issued, as the case was sent on to the
Office of the Public Prosecutor, where it has been since August 30, 1993,
waiting for the corresponding information to be issued.
on August 31, 1995, a Committee comprising federal deputies and deputies from
Pará State--which was confirmed by a letter dated September 12, 1995, sent by
Deputy Nilmario Miranda to the State Prosecutor, and which appears on page 85 of
the file--and members of nongovernmental organizations met with the Attorney for
Pará State, Dr. Edith Marília Mara Crespo, who promised that the Public
Prosecutor's Office would file charges within eight days.
in a letter dated September 4, 1995, sent by the Pará State Attorney to the
Chairman of the Río María Committee, it was stated that Prosecuting Attorney
Manoel Santino had not yet responded on the filing of the charges in relation to
the murder of João Canuto.
Prosecutor Manoel Santino Nascimento Junior, in a meeting with the legal
representative of the victims, Attorney Frei Henri des Roziers, confirmed that
the case had been in the Prosecutor's Office for two years and he promised to
present an information in the next few days.
This promise was repeated during a hearing held with a group from the Río
María Committee. On October 18,
1995, Dr. Santino reported that he had delegated authority to Prosecutor
Francisco Barbosa to issue the information.
Finally, in a letter dated October 18, 1995 and addressed to the Public
Prosecutor for Pará, Deputy Nilmário Miranda requested that the charges in
relation to the murder of João Canuto be filed immediately.
other promises made by the new Public Prosecutor on October 2 and 31, 1995, it
was not until the delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
visited the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Belém do Pará on December 11,
1995 that the information in question was finally issued.
On 18 December, 1995, the Government of Brazil sent letter 332 to the
Commission, which stated as follows: a)
The Public Prosecutor for Pará State had forwarded to the National Justice
Ministry a copy of the official information containing the charges against the
persons accused of the murder of João Canuto; and b) The General Coordinator of
the Council for the Protection of Human Rights (CDDPH) had pledged to organize a
meeting between representatives from the National Justice Ministry and the
Justice and Public Security Secretaries for Pará State with a "view to
developing a common strategy for improving the situation in Pará State."
accordance with Article 48.1.f. of the Convention, the Commission placed the
case before the parties at its 90th Regular Meeting held in March 1996, to try
to arrive at a friendly settlement. On
this point, the petitioner indicated in a letter dated October 10, 1995 that it
was interested in reaching a friendly settlement.
On October 23, 1995, the Commission sent a note to the Brazilian
Government advising it that it would be given a period of 45 days in which to
inform it as to whether or not it was interested in seeking a friendly
settlement in that case, and that if it did not notify it of its position in
that time, the possibility of arriving at a friendly settlement would be
considered as exhausted. The
Government did not notify the Commission of its position within that period of
time or subsequently.
December 26, 1996, the petitioner reported "the disappearance from the
court of the records for Criminal Case No. 0047/90, originating in Xinguara
District, Pará State, which the Public Prosecutor's Office was bringing against
Jose Ubiratan Matos Ubirajara, Geraldo de Oliveira Braga and others accused of
the attempted murder of Orlando Canuto and the murder of the brothers Jose and
Paulo Canuto, which occurred on April 22, 1990".
This information was transmitted to the Government, along with a request
to provide information prior to February 20, 1997, but no reply was ever
received on this point.
Bearing this information in mind, the Commission will now consider
whether it is competent to take up
JURISDICTION OF THE COMMISSION
to Articles 26 and 51 of its Regulations, the Commission is competent to hear
and issue an opinion on this complaint of a violation of the right to life and
security, as established in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of
Commission is also competent to examine complaints against the Brazilian State
regarding violations of human rights established in the American Convention on
Human Rights and Article 26 of its Regulations.
12. In the
first place, based on the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man,
it has competence in relation to certain events reported in the present
complaint which occurred prior to September 25, 1992, the date that Brazil
deposited its instrument of ratification of the American Convention on Human
13. In the
second place, the Commission also has jurisdiction to examine the events, which
in this case include the police investigation and subsequent proceedings, that
occurred after September 25, 1992, inasmuch as they constitute a violation or
continued denial of the right to judicial guarantees (Articles 8 and 25 of the
Convention, respectively). When the
State of Brazil deposited its instrument of accession to the American
Convention, pursuant to the case law of the Court and the Commission, it assumed
the specific international obligation to investigate and punish the guilty
parties for both the execution and the planning of the assassination of João
Canuto, and to offer the pertinent judicial guarantees and judicial protection
for the victim and his family members. In
analyzing whether the Brazilian State complied with this international
obligation, consideration must be given to the excessive delays both in
conducting the judicial investigation and in filing the charges with the
appropriate courts, which occurred ten years after the murder.
In this process, it must be determined whether the State of Brazil
complied with the provisions of Article 1.1 of the Convention, namely the duty
to respect the rights and freedoms recognized therein and to guarantee that all
persons under its jurisdiction may freely and fully exercise them.
In the opinion of the Commission, and as stated by the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights, from these duties is derived the duty to organize the
entire Government apparatus and the institutions through which public authority
is exercised to ensure that they are capable of legally guaranteeing the free
and full exercise of human rights. Also
arising from these duties is the duty to prevent, investigate, and sanction to
which we just referred and the duty to reinstate, if possible, the violated
right and, if appropriate, to pay compensation for the damages caused.
pursuant to Article XVIII of the American Declaration, the Commission has
jurisdiction ratione temporis to hear and issue an opinion in this case
regarding possible violations occurring prior to official ratification of the
Convention on September 25, 1992, and it also has jurisdiction pursuant to the
American Convention, with regard to acts and procedures carried out by the
Brazilian justice system inasmuch as they may constitute a continuous violation
of Articles 8 and 25 of the Convention, considered together with Article 1.1 of
15. On this
last point, the Commission considered it important to take into account the case
law of the European Human Rights Commission.
Even though it has recognized and repeatedly applied the principle of the
non-retroactivity of treaties,
in some of its opinions it has drawn a distinction between this type of
situation and others, which constitute situations or violations of a continuous
nature. The European Commission has
found that it was incompetent ratione temporis to hear cases pertaining
to the first type of situation, but it has found that it was within its scope to
examine situations of a continuous nature.
16. On this
point, the European Commission had the following to say:
Nevertheless, in accordance with the generally accepted principles of
international law, the Convention is valid for all the Contracting parties only
as it pertains to events occurring subsequent to its entry into force for that
Party. In the case that those
events consist of a series of legal proceedings which extend over several
months' time, the date of entry into force of the Convention for the State Party
in question serves to divide the period into two parts:
the first part falls outside the jurisdiction of the Commission, while
the second part cannot be rejected on the basis of those arguments.
these same lines, the European Commission stated as follows on another case
related to application of Article 25 of the European Convention for the
Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its protocols:
According to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the
Commission, the time period to be taken into account for the purposes of Article
6(1) of the Convention begins at the time that the initial charges are filed
against the defendant and ends when there is a judgment on the merits of those
charges, either to convict the defendant or to absolve him.
The Commission must consider the fact that Italy recognized the
jurisdiction of the Commission to hear petitions filed in accordance with
Article 25 of the Convention only in reference to acts, decisions, events, or
incidents that occurred after July 31, 1973.
Therefore, the Commission is not competent, ratione temporis, to
investigate events that occurred prior to August 1, 1973.
18. On the
applicability of this legal doctrine of the European Commission to the inter-american
system, the following opinion has been put forward:
... the doctrine according to which the European Commission and the Human
Rights Committee of the Civil Rights Pact have jurisdiction to take cognizance
of events occurring prior to the date of entry into force of the Convention for
a specific State, provided and to the extent that those events are likely to
result in a continuous violation of the Convention extending beyond that date,
is applicable to the Inter-American system.
ADMISSIBILITY OF THE PETITION
petition fulfills the formal requirements for admissibility as stipulated in
Article 46(c) and (d), Paragraph 1, of the Convention, since the subject of the
petition is not dependent on another proceeding under international law.
It also meets the requirement contained in (d), as it contains the name
and signature of the legal representative of the institution that filed the
petition, which is a nongovernmental organization recognized in one or more
member states of the organization. Likewise,
the petition is written on the letterhead paper of that organization, which
shows its name and address. Further,
although the profession and nationality of the legal representative of the
organization filing the petition is not given, the Commission finds that, based
on the Court's writing in Paragraph 36 of the judgment issued on June 26, 1987
on preliminary objections in the Godínez case,
the requirements that were not observed in the complaint are, in view of their
nature, exceptionable and exceptions have been duly made to them without
entailing disrespect of the same.
20. It is
now appropriate to consider if this petition meets the formal requirements of
admissibility specified in Paragraph 1, sections a) and b) on exhaustion of
domestic remedies and the six-month period for presentation, or, in the event it
does not, if the exceptions specified in Paragraph 2 of those provisions apply. They state as follows:
The provisions of Paragraphs 1.a and 1.b of this Article shall not apply
in the following circumstances:
internal laws of the state in question do not provide for due legal process for
protection of the right or rights that are alleged to have been violated;
person whose rights are presumed to have been infringed has not been permitted
access to domestic legal remedies, or has been prevented from exhausting them;
decision regarding those remedies has been unjustifiably delayed.
21. In this
regard, the Government of Brazil has filed a preliminary objection of failure to
exhaust internal legal remedies, based on the fact that those remedies are still
petitioner, in turn, has alleged that the domestic legal remedies were
ineffective and that there was an unjustified delay in the investigation and
processing of the case against the perpetrators of the assassination of João
Canuto, and that the exception specified in Article 46.2.c of the Convention
Inter-American Court of Human Rights has written as follows:
The rule of prior exhaustion of domestic remedies permits the State to
settle the problem according to its internal law before it is faced with
international proceedings. This is
particularly valid in international human rights law, since it contributes to or
complements internal law (American Convention, Preamble).
to the Court, this rule has implications that are contemplated in the
Convention. One of them is the obligation assumed by the States Parties
to provide effective domestic legal remedies to victims of human rights
violations (Article 25 of the Convention), and another is that these remedies
must be examined in accordance with the rules of due legal process (Article 8.1
of the Convention). All of this is
to take place within the scope of Article 1.1 of the Convention, which
establishes the State's obligation to guarantee to persons under its
jurisdiction the free and full exercise of the rights recognized by the American
Convention on Human Rights.
25. It is
evident that the burden of proof regarding exhaustion of internal legal remedies
falls on the State that is alleging their non-exhaustion.
This includes the duty to indicate the internal remedies that must be
exhausted and their effectiveness.
The Court has also maintained that "if the State proves the
existence of certain internal remedies that should have been used, the burden of
proof is reversed and it is the responsibility of the petitioner or the author
of the report to demonstrate that those remedies were exhausted or that the case
falls within the scope of one of the exceptions referred to in Article 46.2 of
In addition, since the requirement of the petition is established in the
Convention, because the inter-american
system is subsidiary and contributory to domestic laws, it is the responsibility
of the author of the report or the petition to allege said prior exhaustion, or
the reasons why he considers that the exceptions stipulated in Articles 61 and
63 are applicable to the case.
26. In this
case, the State of Brazil confined its allegation to the non-exhaustion of said
remedies, without enumerating which of them might have been used.
Moreover, it did not diminish the merit of the allegations related to the
ineffectiveness of the remedies that were attempted, nor did it present any
documentary evidence in this regard.
the State of Brazil did not object to the majority of the petitioners'
allegations, and did not justify the delay and the ineffectiveness of the
internal legal remedies, the Commission must draw its conclusions in the absence
of a more active participation by the Brazilian State.
It must also consider the allegations and evidence presented by the
petitioner regarding the delay and ineffectiveness of the domestic remedies in
to court records, in the course of this year, after more than ten years have
lapsed since the murder of João Canuto, and after the case was held up in the
Prosecutor's Office for two years, the charges of aggravated homicide were filed
against the five persons implicated in the assassination that was the subject of
the a police investigation which in turn took seven years and six months to
"the foundation of the international protection of human rights" which
is referred to in Article 46.1 of the Convention, "lies in the need to
safeguard victims from the arbitrary exercise of public authority."
The exceptions contemplated in Article 46.2 of the Convention seek
precisely to guarantee international action whenever internal legal remedies,
and the internal judicial system itself, do not prove to be effective in
guaranteeing respect for victims human rights.
30. In this
way, the formal requirement regarding nonexistence of internal remedies that
guarantee the principle of due process (Article 46.2.a of the Convention) refers
not only to a formal absence of internal legal remedies but also to the case in
which said remedies are inadequate. Denial
of justice (Article 46.2.b of the Convention) and an unjustified delay in
serving justice (Article 46.2.c of the Convention), however, are also linked to
the effectiveness of those remedies.
31. In this
sense, the generally accepted principles of international law refer both to the
fact that internal remedies formally exist and to the fact that they are
adequate to protect against the legal situation that was violated, and effective
in leading to the result for which they were conceived.
This is why their exhaustion should not be interpreted as the need to
carry out mechanically the formalities in question, but rather that the
reasonable possibility of obtaining the remedy should be analyzed in every case.
Therefore, the right to cite non-exhaustion of internal legal remedies as
the grounds for declaring a petition inadmissible may not lead to a situation in
which "international action to assist the defenseless victim is held up or
delayed to the point where it is useless."
This means that if the processing of internal remedies is delayed
it can be concluded that they have lost their effectiveness to produce the
result for which they were established, "thereby placing the victim in an
It is in this instance that international protective mechanisms,
including the exceptions specified in Article 46.2 of the Convention, should be
32. In the
case in point, the Government did not refute the arguments of the petitioner
pertaining to the ineffectiveness of the internal remedies attempted.
It also had an opportunity to refute the allegations by the petitioner
regarding the delay and lack of diligence in the police investigation, and the
failure of the Public Prosecutor, who was responsible for initiating
proceedings, to issue the information.
facts in evidence indicate, however, that over ten years have gone by since the
and that not one of the five persons suspected of planning and carrying out the
homicide of João Canuto has yet been punished.
virtue of the foregoing, the Commission considers that the exception provided
for in Article 46, section 2, Paragraph c) of the Convention, referring to the
unjustified delay in the decision related to the domestic legal remedies, is
applicable to this case.
Commission therefore concludes that the sub-judice complaint is
admissible pursuant to the provisions of Article 46, section 2, Paragraph c)
cited above e.
Responsibility of the Federal Republic of Brazil for the Acts and
Omissions of its Institutions and Agents
going straight into an analysis of the alleged
facts and the right presumed to be violated, the Commission believes that
it would be appropriate to clarify why an act or omission by a State institution
entails its international responsibility.
37. On this
point, Article 1.1 of the Convention is a key element for determining the
responsibility of the State with regard to the violation of human rights that
are recognized in that legal instrument. This
provision states as follows;
The States Parties to this Convention shall undertake to respect the
rights and freedoms recognized therein and to guarantee their free and full
exercise to all persons under their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any
kind for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political opinion or
opinions of any other kind, national or social origin, economic position, birth,
or any other social condition.
article clearly establishes the State's obligation both to respect the rights
and freedoms recognized in the Convention, and to guarantee their exercise.
As a result of that obligation, the State has the duty to "prevent,
investigate, and punish" violations of the human rights recognized by the
international law assigns the State international responsibility for the
behavior of its institutions and agents when they are operating in that
capacity, even if outside the normal scope of their functions.
This includes the higher organs of the State, such as the Executive,
Legislative, and Judicial Branches, and acts and omissions of public officials
or agents acting in their place.
40. In a
judgment handed down on July 29, 1988 (Velásquez Rodríguez Case), the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights established as follows:
It is a principle of international law that the State must answer for the
acts of its agents performed in their official capacity and for their omissions,
even if they were acting outside the scope of their authority or in violation of
41. In other
words, in the case under study, the Federal Republic of Brazil is responsible
for the acts and omissions of one of the public officials of the Federal State
of Pará, as represented in the person of the Mayor of Río María at the time,
who conspired to murder João Canuto. It
is also responsible for the acts and omissions of its police officers, who
denied police protection to the victim before he was murdered, and subsequently
took more than seven years to complete the investigation into the murder of João
Canuto. Finally, the State of
Brazil is also responsible for the lack of diligence of the Public Prosecutor,
who just recently filed the charges with the appropriate judicial authorities,
two years after the investigation was concluded.
Brazil is a Federal State, it is the national State that must be held
responsible in the international sphere. Article
28 of the Convention has the following to say on this point:
a State Party is a Federal State, the National Government of that State Party
shall comply with all the provisions of this Convention related to the subjects
over which it exercises legislative and judicial jurisdiction.
regards provisions pertaining to matters that fall within the scope of the
entities comprising the federation, the national Government must
immediately take the pertinent steps pursuant to its constitution and laws, so
that the competent authorities of said entities may adopt the necessary
provisions to ensure compliance with this Convention.
43. As a
result, the Commission concludes that in the case in point, the Federal Republic
of Brazil is responsible and must answer internationally for the violation of
the right to life committed by one of its public officials, and for the acts and
omissions of its agents and institutions in charge of preventing the commission
of illicit acts in violation of human rights, investigating those acts and
identifying the persons responsible for them, and initiating State action to
Commission further concludes that it is the responsibility of the Federal State
of Brazil to take the pertinent steps, pursuant to its Constitution and laws, to
ensure that the competent authorities of the Federated States adopt the
necessary measures to comply with the Convention, and especially with its
Article 1.1, in accordance with the provisions of Article 28, Paragraph 2 of
that legal instrument.
RIGHT TO LIFE
December 18, 1985, João Canuto, President of the Río María Union of Rural
Workers, was assassinated by two gunmen. Various
local politicians and landholders were presumably involved in the assassination,
including the then Mayor of Río María, Adilson Carvalho Laranjeiras. In view of the fact that the Brazilian State ratified the
American Convention after the events that gave rise to this complaint, the
petitioner alleges that these events violate the right to life of the victim, as
established in Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of
1 of the American Declaration establishes that:
Every human being has the right to life, and to personal freedom and
provision establishes as a basic principle that no person may be arbitrarily
deprived of his life.
48. As was
pointed out earlier, it is a principle of international law that the State
answers for the acts of its agents performed in their official capacity, and for
their omissions, even if they were operating outside the scope of their
jurisdiction or in violation of domestic law.
This responsibility of the State extends to the violation of the right to
life as a result of the act or omission of Government agents, among other
Commission recalls that the Mayor of Río María, who was acknowledged to be one
of the assassins of João Canuto, was a key member of a group of persons who
owned fields and contracted workers. This
group was in open conflict with the Río María Union of Rural Workers and, as
was supported by testimony received by the Commission's delegation at the time
of its visit, the Mayor used the connections and power of his office to take
part in acts of intimidation against the officials and members of the Union and
to maintain his own impunity and the impunity of his cohorts.
50. In the
present proceeding, Brazil did not dispute the allegation by the petitioner to
the effect that the then mayor of Río María, in his official capacity and
acting with the impunity granted by that office and in control of the forces of
law and order in the region, participated in the murder of João Canuto.
On the contrary, the State admitted that said official had participated
in the murder of João Canuto in one of its letters to the Commission in which
it stated that the mayor of Río María at the time, Adilson Carvalho Laranjeira,
was accused by the Public Prosecutor of having participated in the assassination
of João Canuto. On the basis of
this information, the Commission finds that the State, as a result of the action
of one of its agents, represented in the person of the former mayor of Río María,
violated the right to life of João Canuto, a Brazilian citizen, pursuant to
Article 1 of the American Declaration.
51. At the
same time, the Government did not dispute the petitioner's argument that the
police officers in question failed to offer police protection to the victim,
despite the fact that it was public knowledge that he had been receiving death
threats, which could find their justification in the land dispute in which João
Canuto was involved as President of the Río María Rural Workers Union.
virtue of the foregoing, and in keeping with the principle of international law
according to which silence on the part of the defendant or an elusive or
ambiguous response may be interpreted as acceptance of the facts set forth in
the petition, unless information to the contrary appears in the court documents
or results from judicial conviction,
which is not the case in this proceeding, the Commission infers that Brazil has
tacitly acknowledged the existence of these facts and its responsibility for
the Commission declares that Brazil also failed to fulfill its duty to prevent
the commission of an illicit act in violation of human rights by not affording
protection to the victim when he requested it, leaving him unprotected and
thereby facilitating his subsequent murder.
Pursuant to the opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, this
situation occasioned the international responsibility of the State.
TO JUDICIAL GUARANTEES AND JUDICIAL PROTECTION
petitioner alleges in his written complaint and in subsequent letters that the
investigation triggered by the murder of João Canuto had proceeded extremely
slowly, and that the prosecutor took more than two years to file criminal
charges. Petitioner further alleges that these facts constitute a
violation of Articles 8 and 25 of the Convention.
Commission finds that, in the first place, Article XVIII of the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which speaks of the right to
justice, is applicable to this case. It
states as follows:
All persons may have recourse to the courts to assert their rights.
Likewise, they should have access to a simple, brief proceeding in which
the system of justice protects them against acts by authorities that violate, to
their detriment, any of the fundamental rights consecrated in the constitution.
56. It is
now fitting to determine whether Article 8, on the right to judicial guarantees,
and Article 25, on the right to judicial protection, both contained in the
American Convention on Human Rights, are applicable.
57. As was
stated earlier, Brazil deposited its instrument of accession to the American
Convention on September 25, 1992, at a time when, in the case under
consideration, the police
investigation to identify the persons presumed
to be responsible for the murder of João Canuto was still dragging on.
The obligation to investigate extends over a period of time. The
ineffectiveness of the Brazilian State in failing to conduct a prompt, efficient
investigation constitutes in itself a specific, independent violation of the
right to life. The lack of
diligence on the part of the Office of the Public Prosecutor by failing to file
charges occurred, however, in 1993, or after the State of Brazil had deposited
its instrument of accession to the American Convention.
The violation of the right to justice and the duty to adopt provisions of
domestic law, as referred to in Articles 1.1, 8, and 25 of the Convention, are
also examples of denial of justice.
accordance with Article 8 of the American Convention:
All persons have the right to be heard, with due guarantees and within a
reasonable period of time, by a competent, independent, and impartial court or
judge, previously established by law, in connection with any criminal charges
formulated against them, or to determine their rights and obligations pertaining
to civil, work, or fiscal matters, or matters of any other sort.
jurisprudence has in turn maintained the following:
The guarantees serve to protect, ensure, or assert the entitlement to or
exercise of a right. Since the
States Parties have the obligation to recognize and respect the rights and
freedoms of individuals, they also have the obligation to protect and ensure
their exercise through pertinent guarantees (Article 1.1), that is to say,
suitable measures to ensure that those rights and freedoms are effective in all
25 of the Convention reads as follows:
All persons have the right to a simple, prompt remedy to protect them
against acts that violate their fundamental rights as recognized by the
Constitution, the law, or this Convention, even when said violation is committed
by persons while exercising their official functions.
61. In this
regard, Brazil not only did not at any time dispute the allegations made by the
petitioner, but it confirmed them in the letters that it forwarded to the
Commission regarding the case in point. The
same conclusion is reached from the information gathered by the IACHR delegation
during its on-site visit to Río María and Belém do Pará.
into account the findings of the Inter-American Court in the Genie Lacayo case,
the Commission analyzed the proceedings of the case as a whole to determine
whether the repeated delays in investigating the crime and in filing the
pertinent charges also affected the right recognized in Article 8 of the
Convention, since that Article states that the determination of the rights of
the affected parties must be carried out within a "reasonable period of
time." Article 25 of the
Convention refers to a "simple and prompt remedy."
Thus the time periods established in Brazil's legislation on criminal
procedure provide an important criterion for assessing what constitutes a
reasonable period of time in the framework of Brazil's internal procedures.
The facts presented below demonstrate that a reasonable period of time
was exceeded in the present case:
police investigation or inquiry was initiated on February 20, 1986, and it was
concluded in July 1993, thus taking seven years and six months to complete,
while Brazilian legislation gives a period of 30 days to complete an
the entity that completed the investigation recommended that the five suspects
presumed to be responsible for committing the murder of João Canuto be taken
into custody pending trial, this was not done, and they remained at large.
the investigation was concluded, the official reports were forwarded to the
Office of the Public Prosecutor, who received them on August 30, 1993.
It was not until October to December of 1995, however, that the
Prosecution issued the information, or a little over two years after the results
of the investigation had reached that office.
This delay is also a violation of Brazilian laws on criminal procedure.
63. In this
case, the Commission finds that the lack of efficiency in the investigation into
the murder of João Canuto, which was reflected in unjustified delays in
completing that investigation, in addition to the obvious negligence on the part
of the Office of the Public Prosecutor in failing to issue the corresponding
information, compromised the international responsibility of the Brazilian
State. In fact, the unjustified delay in both the police
investigation and the procedures conducted by the Office of the Public
Prosecutor, which amounted to a total of ten years, not only exonerates the
petitioner from his obligation to exhaust domestic legal remedies, as was
mentioned in the chapter regarding admissibility, but also is a violation of
Article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights, in that it deprived the
victim and his family of the right to obtain justice "within a reasonable
period of time," as stated in those provisions, and of Article 25, which
establishes that all persons are entitled to a "simple and speedy
regards the provisions of Article 1.1 of the Convention on the obligation of the
States Parties to guarantee that any persons under their jurisdiction may freely
and fully exercise the rights recognized in the Convention, the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights
has found that stemming from this obligation are the duty to organize the
Government apparatus and structures through which public authority is exercised,
the duty to prevent, investigate, and sanction any violation of rights
recognized by the Convention, and the duty to ensure that the infringed right is
reinstated and, if appropriate, compensation for any damages caused is paid.
among the obligations arising from Article 2 of the Convention is the one
establishing the obligation of the States Parties to adopt provisions of
internal law. This provision states as follows:
If the exercise of the rights and freedoms referred to in Article 1 is
not already guaranteed under legislative or other provisions, the States Parties
shall, in accordance with their constitutional procedures and the provisions of
this Convention, undertake to adopt the laws or other measures required to make
those rights and freedoms effective.
conclude, the Commission considers it appropriate to refer to the obligation to
guarantee the free and full exercise of human rights provided for in Article 1.1
of the Convention, as did the Inter-American Court of Human Rights:
... is not exhausted with the existence of a regulatory order designed to
facilitate compliance with this obligation, but it also involves the need for
the Government to conduct itself in a manner that provides for the effective
guarantee of the free and full exercise of human rights in actual practice.
67. Based on
the foregoing, the Commission concludes that in the case in point, by incurring
unjustified delays in both the police investigation and the negligent action on
the part of the Public Prosecutor's Office in issuing the information, the
Brazilian State violated Article XVIII of the American Declaration of the Rights
and Duties of Man and Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention on Human
Rights, considered in conjunction with Article 1.1 of that legal instrument.
BY THE IACHR AFTER APPROVAL OF THE REPORT AS PER ARTICLE 50 OF THE AMERICAN
report, previously approved by the Commission in its 97th Period of Sessions, in
October 1997 following Article 50 of the American Convention, was sent
confidentially to the Government on December 1º, 1997 with a request to inform
the Commission within three months, about any measures taken to fulfill its
recommendations. The Commission has
not received answer from the Government, and has decided in its 98th Period of
Sessions in March 1998 to adopt it as definitive report, as establish in Article
51 of the Convention. Based on the
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
that Brazil is responsible for the violations of the following rights:
the rights to life, freedom, and personal security and safety (Article 1)
and the right to justice (Article
XVIII) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and, the
rights to judicial guarantees (Art. 8) and judicial protection (Art. 25)
contained in the American Convention on Human Rights, considered in conjunction
with Article 1, Paragraph 1.l.
that the Brazilian State is interested in improving the situation in the State
of Pará, through the efforts of the Council for the Protection of Human Rights
(CDDPH) and other institutions, and recommends that those efforts be intensified
to prevent cases such as the present one from being repeated.
ask the Brazilian State to ensure that its pertinent institutions or agents
expedite penal action with due diligence and that its competent legal
institutions or agents hand down judgments promptly and impartially and, in
accordance with the seriousness of the crime committed and the applicable laws,
mete out timely punishment to the individuals involved in the murder of João
recommend to the Brazilian State that it make reparations by paying compensation
to the members of the victim's family for damages caused as a result of the
illicit activities and the negligence on the part of the State and its agents in
performing and exercising the duties of public office in this case.
recommend to the Brazilian State that, pursuant to Art. 28.2 of the Convention,
it immediately take the pertinent steps pursuant to its constitution and laws to
ensure that the competent authorities of the State of Pará adopt the necessary
provisions to ensure compliance with the commitments undertaken under the
American Convention on Human Rights.
74. On March
10, 1998, the Commission sent to the Brazilian State, Report No. 24/98 adopted
in the instant case (Chapters I TO VIII supra) based on Article 51.1 and 51.2 of
the American Convention, and putting forward a period of one month for said
State to adopt the necessary measures to fulfill the recommendations formulated
therein, and thereby remedying the situation under analysis.
The Commission has not received answer from the Government to that
FINAL ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSIONS
The Inter-American on Human Rights shall decide if the Brazilian State
has adopted adequate measures to fulfill the recommendations included in this
report. Considering that it has not
received any information indicating that those measures have been adopted, and
on the basis of the previous considerations, as established in Articles 51.3 of
the American Convention and 48 of its Regulations the IACHR decides to reiterate
the conclusions and recommendations included in Chapters VII and VIII supra, to
make public this report and to publish it in its Annual Report to the General
Assembly of the OAS.
On April 10, 1998, the Government of Brazil informed the Commission that
it is exploring in light of Article 48 (f) of the American Convention, the
possibility of proposing a friendly settlement in this case.
To that effect, the Commission sent such communication to the
petitioners. At the time of
publication of this report their answer had not been received
Amnesty International, Authorized Violence in Rural
Areas, (1988), pp. 37-38 (source cited in the petition).
Amnesty International, Authorized Violence in Rural Areas,
(1988), pp. 37-38 (source cited in the petition).
Article 58: When a government invites a mission to observe in loco or
gives its consent, it shall grant to the Special Commission all the
facilities necessary to carry out its mission.
More specifically, it shall undertake not to retaliate in any way
against the persons or entities that cooperate with the Commission by
providing information or testimony of any kind.
The Special Commission, or any of its members, may interview freely
and in private any persons, groups, entities, or institutions, and the
government must provide the relevant guarantees to any of them that provides
information, testimony, or evidence of any kind to the Commission.
The Special Commission may use any appropriate means to gather, tape,
or reproduce information that it considers opportune.
It is evident from the above
that the Commission may make use of any reports or information it receives
during its on-site visit to present elements of proof related to the events
or the case that the information refers to.
See Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez
Judgment, July 29, 1988, par. 186.
See, for instance, Dec Adm Com Ap 214/56 (June 9, 1958, II YB214,
230-231); Dec Adm Com Ap 343/57 (September 2, 1959), II YB 412, 425; Dec Adm
Ap 889/60 (March 9, 1962), V YB 136, 142; Dec Adm Ap (September 18, 1961),
IV YB 324, 334; Dec Adm Com Ap (July 26, 1963), VI YB 332, 344.
See, for instance, Dec Adm Com Ap 232/57, I YB 246; Dec Adm Com Ap
7211/75 (October 6, 1976, 7 D&R 104, 106-107.
European Commission of Human Rights, Dec Adm Com Ap 8261/78 (October
11, 1979), 18 D&R 150, 151.
Andrés Aguilar, Derechos Humanos en las Américas [Human Rights
in the Americas], supra note number 8, page 202.
The Court took into account in the first place that under
international jurisdiction, failure to observe certain procedures is not
always relevant, since what is important is that the purposes for which the
specific procedures were designed are met.
(International Court of Human Rights, Godínez Cruz Case, preliminary
objections, judgment of June 26, 1987, Paragraph 36).
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Case,
July 29, 1988, par. 61.
Velásquez Rodríguez Case, judgment of July 29, 1988, par. 62.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Case,
Preliminary Objections, Judgment of June 26, 1988, par. 87; Godínez Cruz
Case, Preliminary Objections, Judgment of December 11, 1991, par. 30;
Castillo Páez Case, Preliminary Objections, Judgment of January 30, 1996,
par. 40; and, Velásquez Rodríguez Case, Judgment of July 29, 1988, par.
Cfr Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Exceptions to exhaustion of
domestic remedies (Art. 46.1, 46.2.1 and 46.2.b of the Convention), Advisory
Opinion No. 11/90, Series A, No. 11, Paragraph 41.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Judgment,
July 29, 1988, par. 137.
Article 10 of Brazil's Code of Criminal Procedures establishes a
period of 30 days for completion of police investigations.
In the sub-judice case, it is obvious that this time limit was
not observed, since the police investigation lasted seven years and six
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Godínez Cruz Case, Judgment of
June 26, 1987.
Mónica Pinto, La Denuncia ante la Comisión Interamericana de
Derechos Humanos [The Complaint Before the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, Puerto Publishers, 1993, page 64.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Case,
Judgment of July 29, 1988, par. 62-66; Farién Garbi and Solís Corrales
Case, Preliminary Objections, March 15, 1989, par. 86-90; Godínez Cruz
Case, Judgment of January 20, 1989, par. 75.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Judgment,
July 29, 1988, par. 72, Farién Garbi and Solís Corrales Judgment,
Preliminary Objections, March 15, 1989, par. 97; Godínez Cruz Judgment,
January 20, 1989, par. 75.
Inter-American Court of human Rights, Godínez Cruz Case, Judgment of
June 26, 1987, par. 95.
This type of delays adversely affects the effectiveness of domestic
legal remedies, since it causes a deterioration of the evidence, and
especially evidence presented by witnesses who have moved or tend to forget
the facts, after so many years have gone by.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Godínez Cruz Case, Judgment of
June 26, 1987, par. 95.
The events occurred on December 18, 1985.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Case,
Judgment of July 29, 1988, par. 172.
See Santiago Bendavia, International Public Law, Editorial Jurídica
de Chile, 1976, p. 151.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez Case,
judgment issued on July 29, 1988, par. 170.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez judgment
of July 29, 1988, par. 164.
According to Amnesty International's report, "Brazil, Authorized
Violence in Rural Areas," "... the number of murders has been on
the rise and the victims are carefully chosen.
Leaders of communities of farm workers, labor union leaders, herders,
nuns, priests, and attorneys who defend the rights of farmers in land
holding disputes have been the victims of threats and attacks, and even on
occasion of murder. These
attacks and murders are closely related to the degree to which the
communities of rural workers in question
are organized or are active politically...".
Amnesty International, Brazil, Authorized Violence in Rural Areas,
page 8, September 1988.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Judgment of July 29, 1988, Velásquez
Rodríguez case, par. 138.
The State has the legal duty to prevent, within reason, violations of
human rights... (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez
case, judgment issued on July 29, 1988, par. 174).
The duty of prevention covers all those measures of a legal,
political, administrative, or culture nature that serve to safeguard human
rights and ensure that any violations of those rights will be effectively
considered and treated as an illicit act which, as such, is liable to entail
sanctions to the person who committed them. (Inter-American Court of Human Rights, judgment of July 29,
1988, Velásquez Rodríguez case, Paragraph 175).
An illicit act in violation of human rights which could not initially
be directly imputed to a State because, for instance, it was the act of an
individual, or because the perpetrator of the crime had not been identified,
may entail the international responsibility of the State, not for the crime
itself, but because of its failure to exercise due diligence to prevent the
violation or to deal with it as required by the Convention.
(Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Judgment of July 29, 1988, Velásquez
Rodríguez case, par. 172 in fine).
The police investigation was initiated immediately following the
murder on December 18, 1985, and it lasted until July 27, 1993, when it was
concluded by the Division of Political and Social Order (DOPS) of the
Federal Police and sent to the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Pará
State, in Belém.
In its response on November 22, 1994, the government stated as
follows: "The police
investigation into the murder of Joao Canuto was completed in July 1993, and
criminal proceedings to determine the criminal responsibility of the persons
possibly implicated are still going on." Likewise, on December 18, 1995, it stated in its final
comments that: "The Public
Prosecutor of the State of Pará delivered to the Ministry of Justice a copy
of the formal charges of aggravated homicide against the persons accused of
the murder of Joao Canuto."
In this case, the Court considered the possible delays in the various
stages of the process, the "overall analysis of the procedure,"
namely, the reasonability of the time throughout the proceedings, and
concluded that "even if the police investigation and the time taken by
the Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Nicaragua to file
charges with the judge of the trial court are excluded, by counting from ...
the date on which the judge issued the order to begin proceedings up to the
present time, when there still has been no final ruling, over five years
have lapsed, and this Court finds that this period of time exceeds the
limits of reasonableness as set forth in Article 8.1 of the
Convention." Genie Lacayo
case, Judgment dated January 29, 1997, Paragraph 81.
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Petition filed with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against
the State of Nicaragua, page 8.
Article 10 of Brazil=s Code of Criminal Procedure states that a
police investigation must be completed in a period of 30 days, if it does
not involve a case of flagrante delicto; otherwise the period for
completion of the investigation is 10 days.
It is clear that in the case in point, the police investigation,
which took 7 years and 6 months, far exceeded the peremptory period of time
stipulated by law.
Article 46 of the Brazilian Code of Criminal Procedure states as
follows: "The deadline for
presentation of the information in the event that the accused is in custody
shall be 5 days counting from the date that the Public Prosecutor's Office
receives the reports of the police investigation, and 15 days if the accused
is at large or has been released on bail...".
 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez, Judgment of July 29, 1988, Pfo. 166. Decisions and judgments, Series C, No. 4, San José, Costa Rica.