Prison Beheadings in Brazil Prompt UN Request for Investigation

A video showing three tortured and decapitated inmates in a Brazilian prison has prompted the United Nations to request an investigation into prison violence in the Northern state of Maranhao.

The video, published Tuesday on the website of Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, has drawn attention to gang violence in Pedrinhas prison in the state capital, Sao Luis. Sixty people were killed last year in the Maranhao penitentiary system, according to the National Council of Justice.

“We regret having to, once again, express concern at the dire state of prisons in Brazil, and urge the authorities to take immediate action to restore order in Pedrinhas Prison and other prisons throughout the country, as well as to reduce overcrowding and provide dignified conditions to those deprived of liberty,” the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot is considering recommending an unprecedented intervention in the state that would strip powers from the governor and temporarily install federal control. Janot received a report from the government of Maranhao Tuesday, and there is no timetable for his decision, according to the attorney general press office.

The press office of the state government of Maranhao didn’t immediately respond to request for comment from Bloomberg News. The state is the second least developed state in Brazil, with the country’s lowest income, according to the UN Human Development Index.

Federal public safety troops have been present in the capital of the northern state since October, and Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo has asked that they remain in the prisons until Feb. 23. The National Justice Council report cites overcrowding as the principle factor behind the creation of rival prison factions.

Brazil had around 550,000 prison inmates as of last March, according to a UN report. Of these, 217,000 are in pretrial detention, waiting months to see a public defender and years for their cases to be resolved, the report said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Edgerton in Brasilia at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Helder Marinho at

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