Brazil narrowly rejected lowering age of criminal responsibility (July 1, 2015)
Brazil's lower chamber of Congress very narrowly rejected a bill that would allow teenagers as young as 16 to be tried as adults for serious crimes involving violence such as robbery, rape and homicide, reports Folha de São Paulo.
The debate over whether teenagers who commit violent crimes can be rehabilitated, or should be tried as adults and incarcerated in the country’s notoriously dangerous prison system, has split Brazil, reported the Washington Post last month.
Public outrage was fueled by several high-profile violent crimes committed by minors. A Datafolha poll published two weeks ago found that 87 percent of the public approved of reducing the age of criminal responsibility, reports The Guardian.
The bill was supported by the so-called "B" benches -- Boi, Bala e Bíblia (Beef, Bullets and Bible) -- which include evangelicals, hardliners and parts of the opposition.
President Dilma Rousseff and her cabinet opposed the proposal. Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said approval of the proposal would be an "atomic bomb" in the prison system and could lead to amendments of other laws, such as permission to drive.
Cardozo ordered the early publication of a justice ministry report on prison overcrowding ahead of yesterday's vote (which wound up finishing today at dawn). The new statistics show that Brazil’s prison population has doubled in the last 10 years and now contains more than 220,000 inmates over its capacity. Lowering the age of criminal responibility will add up to 40,000 more inmates to the system, reports The Guardian.
The idea of lowering the age of majority isn't over though. The bill received a majority of votes, but as a constitutional amendment, it required a three-fifths supermajority: proponents failed by only five votes to obtain the 308 needed to pass the bill. The rejected proposal was a modified version of the original bill, which lowered the age of adulthood for all crimes. That must still be voted on by the lower chamber but is unlikely to pass, according to Carta Capital.
O Globo is less sanguine. The 1993 proposal would reduce the age of responsibility for all crimes, an idea that has less support. But opponents of lowering the age of criminal majority fear that a delay in the vote on the original bill will buy time for legislators to propose new modifications and campaign in its favor.
Workers' Party (PT) House leader José Guimarães said the vote showed it is necessary to focus on reform of the ECA (Statute of Children and Adolescents). The government will work to install a special committee in the lower chamber to discuss the idea, he said, quoted by Folha.
Brazil has the world’s fourth-largest prison population, after the US, China and Russia, but while the number of prisoners in those countries has declined over recent years, in Brazil it grew by 33% between 2008 and 2014, according to The Guardian.
The bill's sponsor saw the project as a first step towards further reductions in the age of criminal responsibility, reports The Guardian. “In another 20 years we will reduce it to 14, then 12," he said, proposing eventually determining a person's criminal potential from the womb.
Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, criticized the proposal, saying it would do little to reduce crime and would instead put minors in danger. "The justification for this initiative is based on false premises," HRW's Brazil director Maria Laura Canineu told Folha last month. "It is being sold as necessary for the reduction of crime, but there is evidence that in the U.S., for example, this did not occur. Young people who were judged, tried and convicted in the civil courts relapsed more quickly and in more serious crimes."
Though the proposal would have housed teens in separate prison wings from adults, critics say this was unlikely to be carried out in practise. Around 40% of the inmates in Brazil’s prisons are awaiting trial. The accused are often imprisoned together with the convicted, in violation of international law, according to César Muñoz, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch quoted in The Guardian.
Conectas Human Rights notes that just four percent of murders are committed by youths. One of the arguments used to justify the proposed amendment is the need to combat crime waves perpetrated by adolescents who benefit from the impunity guaranteed them by the Child and Adolescent Act.
"There are numerous myths claiming that lowering the age of criminal responsibility is the solution to the problem of crime in the country. The facts, public data and experiences in other countries, however, show that this is an illusion," said Vivian Calderoni, a lawyer at Conectas.
The UN has said that such a move would pose a threat to the rights of children and adolescents and would also conflict with global trends in juvenile justice. In March the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reiterated the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and took a position against lowering the age of criminal responsibility. The initiative has also led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS (Organization of American States) to publicly express its concern with the matter.
The session was marked by tension outside. Police used pepper spray to control protesters demonstrating against the bill outside of Congress, reports O Globo. And protesters knocked down Deputy Heraclitus Fortes (DEM-PI) when he was entering the chamber.
The U.S. and Cuba have reached an agreement to reopen embassies in each others' capitals, reports the New York Times. It is the most tangible step towards restoring diplomatic relations between the two nations since the December announcement that negotiations would begin. (See May 21st's post.) Secretary of State John Kerry plans to travel to Cuba for the opening of the embassy on July 22. United States negotiators demanded assurances that American diplomats at an embassy in Havana would be able to move freely around the country and speak with anyone, including opponents of the government. Cuban officials, who have frequently accused the United States of working to undermine the government by aiding dissidents, had resisted the request, reports the New York Times. The details of the agreement will be announced later today in a White House announcement, reports Reuters.
Honduras' Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the vice president of Congress and 15 others accused of defrauding the country's health care system. The scandal has sparked widespread protests demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose National Party is accused of using stolen health care funds for the 2013 presidential campaign. (Seeyesterday's post.) Lawmaker lawmaker Lena Gutierrez is a member of the National Party and says she will prove her innocence. Whe and her family she own Astropharma, a company described as a wholesaler of medicines made by pharmaceutical companies, reports the AP.
Guatemala's highest court rejected President Otto Pérez Molina’s appeal for presidential immunity that also sought to legally erase a pre-trial investigation of graft allegations, reportsAFP. The probe against Pérez Molina was requested by opposition party Winaq after a U.N.-backed investigation aimed at cleaning up the Guatemalan judicial system reported in April that senior customs officials had taken bribes from businessmen seeking to avoid paying taxes. Ongoing protests have been demanding the Pérez's resignation. (See yesterday's post.)
Cuba has become the first country to eliminate mother to baby transmission of HIV and syphilis announced the World Health Organization. The WHO’s director general, Margaret Chan, said it was “one of the greatest public health achievements possible” and an important step towards an Aids-free generation, reports The Guardian. Scientists have said eradicating Aids is feasible if HIV prevention continues to grow, even if there is no cure. The reduction in infection rates in Cuba is seen as a major breakthrough in the campaign to rid the world of the virus.
Argentina announced that the United States APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) has allowed fresh beef imports from Argentina, lifting a 15-year ban regarding foot and mouth disease. Brazil will also be able to export beef to the U.S. and both countries will have access to Canadian and Mexican markets as well, announced Argentine officials yesterday. Argentine officials have considered the ban unjustified, and said U.S. restrictions have accounted for nearly $2 billion in losses, reports MercoPress. "It is clear that there is a legally accepted protectionism; international organisms accept, like in the case of the US and Europe, the huge subsidies and tariffs for agricultural products," said Argentina's Finance Minister. Brazil's Minister of Agriculture, Katia Abreu, said the deal is an outcome of President Dilma Rousseff's political planning ahead of the meeting with President Barack Obama, reports the AP.
Colombia's FARC rebel guerrilla group says it will will target the army more than oil installations, reports Bloomberg. Pipelines used by companies including Ecopetrol SA and Occidental Petroleum Corp. have been damaged in FARC bombing attacks in the past few weeks. The threat comes as peace talks in Havana drag on and support for a negotiated end to the fifty year conflict is ebbing. El Tiempo reports that after the latest FARC attacks support for peace is at an all time low: for the first time since peace negotiations began in 2012 Colombians are divided in half between those who support negotiations and those who support a military approach. In February nearly 70 percent of Colombians supported peace negotiations, but fighting between the FARC and the military, followed by the FARC's suspension of its unilateral cease-fire have eroded public support. The FARC suspended a unilateral cease-fire in May after the armed forces killed at least 26 guerrillas in an attack in south west Colombia. The resumption of attacks has increased casualties on both sides, cut oil output and caused crude to leak into rivers and seas.
Colombian prosecutors are planning to file criminal charges against former President Alvaro Uribe's aides regarding accusations that they conspired with demobilized paramilitaries to fabricate false accusations against members of the Supreme Court that was investigating ties between the demobilized paramilitary organization AUC and politicians, according to Colombia Reports.
Colombian former paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso will serve nearly seven more years in a U.S. prison on a conviction for trafficking more than 150 tons of cocaine to the U.S. The former leader of the AUC was extradited along with a dozen other paramilitary leaders in 2008. The group is blamed for killing more than 10,000 people and trafficking tons of cocaine, reports the AP.The BRICS's New Development Bank -- an alternative to the World Bank proposed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- will launch next week, Brazilian officials announced yesterday, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. The BRICS’ plan calls for the NDB to be in position to begin extending finance by January, most likely by funding one infrastructure project in each member-state. The partners are contributing equal shares of the bank’s initial capital of $50 billion and the BRICS leaders agreed last year in Fortaleza to establish an emergency reserve of $100 billion to deal with financial crises.
A proposed $10 billion Chinese project to link Peru and Brazil with an interoceanic railway -- which would facilitate exports to China -- will run up a considerable human and environmental toll, reports The Nation. The project would affect delicate ecosystems in the Amazon and hundreds of distinct indigenous communities, several of which are voluntarily isolated. The piece talks about Chinese neocolonialism, not ideologically, as has historically been the case with the U.S., but rather in an economic sense through megaprojects. Other examples include the the Nicaragua Grand Canal and an oil development in Ecuador with Andes Petroleum.