Latin America and the Caribbean

2 February 1995


(Editor's note: While the deadline for this action is past, the letters provide important background information on the situation in Brazil.)

Dear NGO Representative,

On behalf of the International Child Resource Institute (ICRI) Brazil Project, we would like to request your assistance in a worldwide effort to stop the killings of street children in Brazil. The lack of political will to effectively tackle the wide- spread violence against the children of the poor in Brazil and to prosecute their assailants is one of the key reasons for the four daily murders of children and adolescents in that country. We urge you to voice your concern in this orchestrated effort of the international community.

The ICRI Brazil Project has prepared the enclosed document in collaboration with the Brazilian National Movement of Street Children (MNMMR). At present, hundreds of human and children's rights groups around the world are being contacted by the Brazil Project to form a strong network against the impunity of death squad members in Brazil.

To participate, contact our office either by letter, phone, fax, or Email to let us know that your organization agrees to endorse the document. We will need from you complete contact information (name of organization, contact name, address, phone and fax numbers). In the end of March, the MNMMR will deliver the document with the list of endorsing organizations into the hands of Brazil's newly elected President, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Your participation is crucial!

The Brazil Project is a program of the International Child Resource Institute, headquartered in Berkeley, California. ICRI is a 14 year-old non-governmental organization with field representatives in 52 countries, dedicated to the survival and success of children and their families around the world.

The Brazil Project Program and Awareness Campaign seeks to inspire, organize, and direct international support to Brazilian efforts to provide street children with protection, care, and opportunities.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (510) 644-1000.

Sincerely yours,

Caius Brandao, Project Coordinator
Laura Yang, Campaign Coordinator

ICRI Brazil Project
1810 Hopkins St
Berkeley, CA 94707 USA
Tel (510) 644-1000
Fax (510) 525-4106

March ..., 1995

Federative Republic of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso President of Brazil Praca dos Tres Poderes Palacio do Planalto, Third Floor 70160-900 Brasilia-DF Brazil

Dear President Cardoso,

We write to you today both to congratulate you as you initiate your presidency, and to wish you success in your efforts to lead Brazil to a better future for all its citizens. But what bring us together in addressing you is our deep concern for those citizens of Brazil that comprise its future generations: its children and adolescents.

Over the last decade a serious movement on behalf of the rights of children has grown in Brazil, and its achievements have been impressive. Yet, in spite of these gains, destitute children and adolescents continue to be murdered with impunity. We urge you to use full power of your office to end the extra-judicial killings of children and adolescents in Brazil and to bring to justice members of death squads and others responsible for these crimes.

We share the indignation felt by many Brazilians over the impunity enjoyed by murderers of poor adolescents and children. Professional killers continue to profit from these crimes and, if anything, killings of children and adolescents have escalated. We cite the following statistics:

The Center for the Mobilization of Marginalized Populations (CEAP) states that the majority of the victims are impoverished male adolescents of African descent. In addition to being at risk of homicides, these young Brazilian are frequently humiliated, tortured, and mutilated at the hands of their assailants.

The wide-spread ideological argument that every poor child is a 'potential criminal' is not only groundless, but also cruel and deeply prejudicial. A report released by the Rio de Janeiro's State Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry revealed that 90 percent of the adolescents killed in the State had no previous police record. Nevertheless, death squads operate in many Brazilian states. Police officers are frequently accused of murdering destitute minors, and businessmen are alleged to contract professional killers to 'clean the streets'. According to the MNMMR, Marco de Lima, a city official in Novo Hamburgo from the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) went so far as to declare that "We have to kill when they are still young, so they do not bother us after they grow up".

The MNMMR and Amnesty International estimate that over 90 percent of the crimes committed against Brazilian Children and Adolescents go unpunished. The resulting climate of impunity subverts the Law and undermines the State's responsibility to meet out justice. In effect, to ignore these killings is to condone an unofficial 'death penalty" that victimizes society's most disadvantaged and vulnerable members: its children and adolescents.

Sadly, the world at large is witness to the failure of the Brazilian judicial system and law-enforcement agencies to uphold national laws designed to protect the human rights of children and adolescents. We are also aware that the foundation for change is being prepared by Brazilian society. In the past ten years civil society has taken many positive steps to curb violence against the children of the poor. Eager to consolidate the process of democratization and to avoid social chaos, community agents, neighborhood associations, the church, minority groups, unions, and non-governmental organizations have raised children's issues as national priorities in the political agenda. The plight of Brazilian street children led to the passage of the landmark Child and Adolescent Statute, which stands among the world's most advanced legislation on children's rights. The Statutes aims not only to guarantee fundamental rights to all Brazilian youth, but also to promote a new concept of childhood which could become a model to other nations. This legislation provides excellent tools which now need to be enacted in practice. We hope your administration will commit to fully implement the Child and Adolescent Statute. This bold initiative merits cooperation and support from the international community. We urge you to use the full power of you office to guarantee that the Child and Adolescent Statute, a remarkable document, does not become a dead letter. With regard to impunity, the Child and Adolescent Statute states that:

No child or adolescent will be subject to any form of negligence, discrimination, exploitation, violence, cruelty, or oppression, and any violation of their fundamental rights, either by act or omission, will be punished according to the terms of the law. [Article 5]

While a few of the most egregious massacres of children in Brazil have generated commendable responses from federal and state governments, these measures have rarely led to full investigations or prosecutions, nor have they succeeded in altering the general fact of impunity that makes such massacres possible. We call on you to use your authority as President to reinvigorate efforts to guarantee rights for children. We believe that leadership at the highest levels of government is necessary if lasting change is to occur, and the gratuitous murder of children and adolescents is truly to end.

The following cases represent just a few of the many unresolved incidents involving the murder of children and adolescents. Their resolution, however, would represent an important step toward ending impunity:

President Cardoso, we wish you great success in your endeavors for Brazil and for all Brazilians. Yours is a special opportunity; we sincerely hope that today's children, and their children, come to recognize and remember your administration ad the one that truly recognized the value of every child, defending the right of every child and adolescent to citizenship, and to life. We are confident that with you leadership such a transformation can occur. Brazil is at a critical juncture; the challenges are enormous, yet the need for change has never been greater. We stand in solidarity with each and every necessary effort toward that end.

Sincerely yours,

.................if you would like to endorse this letter, please contact ICRI at (510) 644-1000. Thanks.

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