SAO PAULO -- Torture remains a serious problem in Brazil despite government efforts to curb it, a leading human rights group said Monday.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in an emailed statement that it found evidence showing that since 2010, security forces and prison authorities practiced cruel and inhumane treatment against 64 people in their custody.
The group said more than 150 police officers and prison guards were involved in torture and cruel treatment inside detention centers, police stations and vehicles in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Espirito Santo and Parana.
Ideli Salvatti, head of the government's Human Rights Secretariat, welcomed the group's observations.
"They helped to spotlight what we have been saying for years -- that because of many factors like 300 years of slavery and several military dictatorships, torture has unfortunately become an acceptable and ingrained practice in our country," Salvatti said by telephone
She also praised the report for recognizing the 2013 law creating a National Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture.
Human Rights Watch said that the abuses often occur in the first 24 hours of police custody and that detainees typically must wait three or more months before they see a judge to whom they can directly report the abuse.
It urged the Senate to approve a measure that would ensure that suspects appear before a judge within 24 hours of their arrest to enable any victims of torture to report abuses when evidence of their mistreatment is still fresh. The law also would help prevent confessions obtained through torture from being used in court, it added.
The statement quotes Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil Human Rights Watch director, as saying: "As long as detainees wait months to see a judge, they're far less likely to report what they've suffered -- and by then, the physical evidence may well have disappeared."
The group said official data suggest "impunity in cases of serious abuses by police and prison guards is the norm."
Between January 2011 and July 2013, it said, Sao Paulo law enforcement officials received 122 complaints of torture, bodily injury, and ill-treatment, "none of which have resulted in sanctions against the police officers involved."
The Sao Paulo Public Security Department did not immediately comment on the Human Rights Watch report.