EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 19/09/91
UA 95/91 Death Penalty 12 March 1991
BRAZIL: Possible reintroduction of the Death Penalty
A proposal for a constitutional reform to allow Brazilians to vote in a
plebiscite to reinstate the death penalty for kidnappings, burglaries and rapes
resulting in the victim's death, has been presented by Congressman Amaral Netto.
On 12 December 1990 a Congressional Commission from the House of Deputies
(Comissão Especial da Camâra dos Deputados) approved the proposal which is
to be debated and voted on in Congress in the 1991 parliamentary sessions,
starting on 15 March. It is feared that this reform may be considered under
an emergency procedure (regime de urgência). The proposal needs to be voted
on twice in each house in Congress, and to gain a majority of three-fifths
of votes. Once the constitutional amendment is passed by parliament, public
opinion will be polled within 18 months.
Brazilian human rights groups fear that the rising level of crime
throughout the country, coupled with the kidnappings of business people in
recent years, will be used as effective arguments to replace existing
legislation with the death penalty. Were the proposal to be passed by
parliament, a majority of voters might approve the reintroduction of the death
penalty as an appropriate means to fight violent crimes.
Amnesty International opposes in all cases the imposition and infliction
of the death penalty, on the grounds that it violates the right to life and
that it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment. The
organization believes that it is a punishment which violates fundamental human
rights, which may discriminate against the underprivileged and disadvantaged
sectors of society, and which serves no useful penal purpose which would not
equally be served by lesser penalties.
The last judicial execution in Brazil was carried out in 1855 on a man convicted
of murder, later discovered to have been innocent of the crime. After this
case, death sentences were systematically commuted to life imprisonment. In
1890 the death penalty was excluded from the Penal Code. In the first republican
Constitution of 1891 the death penalty was abolished for common crimes but
retained under military legislation for application in wartime.
Since the abolition of the death penalty for common crimes was enshrined
in the 1988 Constitution, there has been one attempt to reintroduce it and
a proposal to hold a plebiscite on the issue. Both motions were defeated by
the Constituent Assembly in 1988.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Telegrams/telexes/faxes/express and airmail letters:
Please write courteously worded appeals, in Portuguese IF FLUENT, otherwise
in English, French or Spanish:
- expressing concern at the proposal to reintroduce the death penalty, which
Amnesty International believes is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading
punishment, and which brutalizes all those involved in the process of applying
- recognizing Brazil's opposition to the death penalty in the past and their
vote at the UN General Assembly in December 1989 in favour of adoption of the