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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Brazil denies condoning torture
Prisoners in Carandiru Prisons courtyard in Sao Paulo
Brazil says it is taking steps to improve detention conditions
Brazil has rejected the findings of a report by the human rights group, Amnesty International, which accuses the government of complicity in the torture of prisoners.

Brazil's permanent representative to the United Nations, Celso Amorim, acknowledged that police brutality was widespread, but said action was being taken to stamp it out.

Mr Amorim said Amnesty's claim the government condoned the abuse of inmates in the country's jails was a "misconception".

Brazil is making its first appearance in front of the UN Committee against Torture, which regularly monitors countries' compliance with UN conventions.

Torture hotline

Amnesty says that Brazil's police and prison officers regularly torture suspects and inmates to extract confessions, extort money or to punish those in detention.

Brazilian mounted police
Stories of police abuse abound
The report says the country's poorly-trained and often corrupt police force, under pressure to combat rising crime rates, increasingly see torture as an acceptable method to secure convictions.

But Mr Amorim told the BBC that the practice was not tolerated by the government.

Proof of this, he said, was that Brazil had invited a special UN envoy to help it find a solution to a problem the authorities readily acknowledge.

Mr Amorim said a series of measures have been approved to improve poor detention conditions, fight police corruption and eradicate torture - among them a dedicated phone number which inmates or their relatives could call to report mistreatment.

'Impunity'

The Brazilian Government in its report to the UN Committee against Torture admits that torture is a big problem and that perpetrators often go unpunished.

Brazilian riot police prepare to enter a detention centre in Sao Paulo
Conditions in the jails are appalling
Suspects, particularly those with criminal records, risk being mistreated during interrogations, it says, and police officers often resort to violence.

The government gives details of human rights abuses in the country's police cells, prisons and juvenile detention centres, which it says are overcrowded and often mismanaged.

Brazil has also acknowledged that the country's anti-torture law, passed four years ago, has had limited results.

No one has yet been convicted and only a few hundred cases have ever come to trial.

Amnesty International says this has created a climate of impunity which makes a mockery of Brazil's ratification of the UN convention against torture 11 years ago.

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