The Attorney General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, asked the Federal Supreme Court, this Monday (3), that the exploitation of people in conditions analogous to those of slavery be considered an imprescriptible crime. That is, do not lapse regardless of the duration of the process.
He also requested that, while this action is analyzed, the STF grant an injunction to prohibit judges and courts from declaring prescription in ongoing cases. In collaboration with the Labor Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPT), Aras filed an ADPF (Arguição de Descumprimento de Preceito Fundamental) to the court.
Slave labor is a crime provided for in article 149 of the Penal Code, with two to eight years in prison, plus jail time for the violence involved. The penalty increases by 50% if children or prejudice based on race, color or origin are involved.
There are few cases of imprisonment after criminal conviction. A survey by the Slave Labor and Human Trafficking Clinic of the UFMG Law School points out that between 2008 and 2019 criminal actions for slave labor were filed against 2679 defendants. Of these, only 112 had final conviction. There is no updated survey of how many are in jail, whether convicted or not.
Many of the employers caught committing this crime end up convicted, but saved from deprivation of liberty by the bell, that is, by the prescription. One of the reasons is that, not infrequently, the defendants are sentenced by the floor that the law allows, which also reduces the trial time limit.
Aras argues, in the ADPF, that the prohibition of contemporary slavery is an imperative rule of international human rights law. And that prohibition of this practice is inserted in a broad regime of protection of freedom and human dignity, which derives not only from what is in the Constitution, but also from the norms and decisions of international courts.
The establishment of a time limit for the punishment by the State of crimes of this nature represents, in this sense, the violation of human dignity, the social value of work, the international principle of the prevalence of human rights, as well as the rights to freedom and integrity worker’s physique, among others.
In the document, Aras states that he recognizes that prescription is the guarantee of the rights of individuals against the power of the State so that judicial processes do not extend indefinitely. “However, it is not absolute. The Federal Constitution itself excludes crimes from the incidence of prescriptive norms”, citing racism as an example.
Condemnation of Brazil in the Brasil Verde Case
Aras uses as a reference for the ADPF the condemnation, in 2016, of Brazil for omission in a situation of slave labor on the Brasil Verde farm by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In the decision, the judges of the jurisdictional body of the Organization of American States (OAS) stated that the crime cannot prescribe. The farm, located in the south of Pará, belongs to cattleman João Luiz Quagliato Neto.
“The Court considers that the prescription of the crimes of submission to the condition of slavery and its analogous forms is incompatible with the obligation of the Brazilian State to adapt its internal regulations in accordance with international standards”, states the sentence.
“In the present case, the application of the statute of limitations constituted an obstacle for the investigation of the facts, for the determination and punishment of those responsible and for the reparation of the victims, despite the character of a crime under International Law that the facts denounced represented”, he completes.
For the PGR, Brazil continues to fail to comply with the 11th point of the sentence, regarding the non-application of the statute of limitations to international crimes of slave labor.
The ADPF also cites the decision of the 4th panel of the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region, which considered the crime of work analogous to slavery to be inapplicable when assessing, in 2018, exactly the case of the 85 workers rescued from the Brasil Verde farm 18 years earlier. With that, he denied the request to suspend a criminal investigation procedure opened by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Based on the decision of the Inter-American Court, the TRF-1 argued that there is no time limit for criminal prosecution, that is, for the entire path between investigation, prosecution and conviction in a case of contemporary slavery.
“Impunity is a fundamental factor in the recurrence of the crime of slave labor. It’s like saying to slavers: they can continue, because nothing bad can happen to them, ‘Justice guarantees'”, Friar Xavier said to the column. plassatcoordinator of the national campaign to combat slavery of the Pastoral Land Commission – one of the organizations that brought Brazil into action in the Brasil Verde case.
“The decision of the Inter-American Court is crystal clear: the condemnation of slave labor is a crime against humanity. No statute of limitations is acceptable”, he concludes.
Slave labor today in Brazil
The Lei Áurea abolished formal slavery in May 1888, which meant that the Brazilian State no longer recognized that someone owned someone else. However, situations persisted that turned people into disposable instruments, denying them their freedom and dignity.
Since the 1940s, the Brazilian Penal Code provides for the punishment of this crime. These forms are called contemporary slave labor, contemporary slavery, conditions analogous to those of slavery.
According to Article 149 of the Penal Code, four elements can define contemporary slavery here: forced labor (which involves curtailing the right to come and go), debt servitude (a bondage linked to debts, often fraudulent), degrading conditions (work that denies human dignity, putting health and life at risk) or exhausting hours (leading the worker to complete exhaustion given the intensity of exploitation, also putting his health and life at risk).
Since the creation of special mobile inspection groups, the basis of the system to combat slavery in the country, in May 1995, more than 60,000 workers have been rescued and R$ 127 million paid to them in amounts owed.
Reports of slave labor can be made confidentially in the Ipê System, a system launched in 2020 by the Labor Inspection Secretariat (SIT) in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO). Official data on combating slave labor are available on SIT’s Slave Labor Radar.
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