I/A Court H.R., Case of the Hacienda Brasil Verde Workers v. Brazil. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of October 20, 2016. Series C No. 318.

Non official brief

 

[This summary was developed by the Secretariat of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It relates only to the merits and reparations aspects of the judgment. A more detailed, official abstract (in Spanish only) is available on that Court’s website: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/.]

 

Facts - The facts of the case are related to the Green Brazil Fazenda (Brazil Green Farm), located in the state of Pará, Brazil. As of 1988 a series of complaints were filed before the Federal Police and the Council for the Defense of Human Rights alleging the practice of slave labor therein.

 

In March 2000 two young men managed to escape from the Fazenda . After they reported the situation, the Ministry of Labor organized an inspection during which the workers expressed their wish to leave. The audit report that the workers had been subjected to slavery. The inspectors obliged the manager to return their work to the workers and pay them the necessary necessary to complete the work contracts.

 

The workers had been enticed to the Fazenda by a recruiter who had offered a good salary and even advance payment in the state of Piauí, one of the poorest in the country. They had traveled several days by bus, train and on the back of a truck. On arrival at the Fazenda, their work permits were retained and they were obliged to sign blank documents. The regime consisted of 12 working hours or more, with a break of half an hour for lunch and only one day off per week. Dozens of workers slept in hammocks in ranches without electricity, beds or sanitary facilities. The food was insufficient, of poor quality and deducted from their wages. They got sick regularly and were not given medical attention. The work was carried out under orders, threats and armed surveillance. In addition, in order to receive the salary they had to meet a production goal, which was difficult to achieve, so some were not paid for their services. These conditions generated a desire to flee. However, the vigilance, the lack of salary, the isolated location of the Fazendaand its surroundings with the presence of wild animals, had prevented them from doing so.

 

Law

 

(a) Articles 6 (1) (freedom from slavery) in relation to Articles 1 (1) (obligation to respect and ensure rights without discrimination), 3 (right to juridical personality), 5 (right to personal integrity), 7 ( right to personal liberty), 11 (right to privacy) and 22 (freedom of movement and residence) of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)- The Inter-American Court expanded on the content and scope of the concepts of slavery, servitude, slave trade and traffic in women, as well as forced labor, which were all prohibited by the ACHR. After an overview of the binding international instruments and international tribunals on the international crime of slavery (or enslavement), the Court reiterated its absolute and universal prohibition in international law, and held that its legal definition had not varied substantially since the 1926 Slavery Convention.

 

However, the concept of slavery and its analogous forms had evolved and was not limited to owner­ship of the person, but also encompassed the loss of the person’s own will or a considerable reduction of personal autonomy. That manifestation of the exer­cise of the attributes of property, in modern times, should be understood as control that significantly restricted or denied individual liberty with an intent to exploit by using, managing, taking advantage of, transferring or disposing of the person concerned, usually through the use of violence, force, decep­tion and/or coercion.

 

The Court recalled that the ACHR used the expres­sion “slave trade and traffic in women”. However, considering the evolution of international law, the most favourable interpretation and the pro persona principle, that expression was to be understood as “trafficking in persons”, which would also bring its current definition in line with the Palermo Protocol.

 

In the instant case, Brazil had not demonstrated that it had adopted specific measures or acted with due diligence to prevent the contemporary form of slavery to which the victims were subjected or to put an end to the situation. This breach of the duty to guarantee was particularly serious in view of (a) the State´s knowledge of the context and (b) the particular situation of vulnerability and risk to the workers concerned. The State was thus responsible for the violation of the prohibition of slavery and servitude. Additionally, considering the context of recruitment from the poorest regions of the country of workers through fraud, deception and false promises, the workers rescued in March 2000 had also been victims of trafficking in persons. Lastly, the Court also acknowledged that the events in question had occurred in a context of historical structural discrimination based on the economic status of the 85 workers identified and rescued by the Ministry of Labour in March 2000.

 

Conclusion: violation (unanimously); in relation to the structural discrimination violation (five votes to one).

 

(b) Articles 8(1) (right to a fair trial) and 25(1) (right to judicial protection) of the ACHR in conjunction with Articles 1(1) (obligation to respect and ensure rights) and 2 (domestic legal effects) thereof – None of the domestic legal procedures had determined any criminal responsibility, sought redress for the victims or studied the issue in depth. The statute of limitations had been applied despite the non-appli­cability of statutory limitations under international law for the crime of slavery. For the Court, the lack of action and sanction of these facts was the result of a process of normalisation of the conditions to which people with certain characteristics were continually subjected in the poorer states of Brazil. The Court therefore found that the State had vio­lated the right of access to justice for the 85 victims, as well as for the 43 other workers who had been rescued in 1997 and who had not received ade­quate judicial protection.

 

Conclusion: violation of Article 8(1) (unanimously) and violation of Article 25 (five votes to one).

 

(c) Reparations: The Inter-American Court estab­lished that the judgment constituted per se a form of reparation and ordered the State to: (i) publish the judgment and its official summary; (ii) restart, with due diligence, investigations and/or crimi­nal proceedings with regard to the facts, within a reasonable time, to identify, prosecute and, if applicable, punish those responsible; (iii) adopt the necessary measures to ensure that statutory limita­tions do not apply to the international law crime of slavery and its analogous forms; and (iv) pay compensation in respect of non-pecuniary damage, as well as costs and expenses.

 

(See also, for an overview of the ECHR's case-law on slavery and human-trafficking, the Factsheet on Slavery, servitude and forced labor and the Case-law on Article 4 guide of the European Convention on Human Rights)