Press Release

IACHR Takes Case Involving Brazil to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

October 4, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 12.428, employees of the fireworks factory at Santo Antonio de Jesus and their family members, involving Brazil.

The case is related to an explosion in a fireworks factory that took place on December 11, 1998, in which 64 people employed at the factory died and six were injured. Some 22 of these people were children aged 11 to 17. The IACHR has determined that the state is responsible for the violation of the rights to life and personal integrity due to its failure to inspect the factory, in which it was known that hazardous industrial activities were being conducted, and because it should have been aware that the worst form of child labor and serious legal infractions were taking place there.

The IACHR has also established that the right to work and the principle of equality and nondiscrimination were also violated as the firework factory was the only employment option open to the town’s inhabitants, who were living in extreme poverty. Finally, the IACHR determined that the state violated the rights to legal guarantees and legal protection because it did not guarantee access to justice, a process to establish the truth of the events, an investigation to determine who was responsible and sanction them, nor did it provide redress for the human rights violations that took place.

In the Merits Report, the IACHR recommended that Brazil make comprehensive redress for both the tangible and intangible aspects of these human rights violations. To this end, the state must provide economic compensation and redress for moral damages and must also implement measures to provide physical and mental healthcare services for survivors. The IACHR also recommended that the state provide the necessary mental health support for the direct family members of the explosion victims. These measures should be implemented in consultation with the families and their representatives.

Likewise, the IACHR recommended that Brazil investigate the case thoroughly and effectively within a reasonable period of time in order to fully clarify events and impose the appropriate sanctions. This would include investigating people who were connected with the firework factory and also the state authorities who failed to inspect and appropriately monitor the facility.

With regard to measures of nonrepetition, the IACHR requested that Brazil adopt any legislative, administrative, or other type of measure necessary to prevent a similar incident from occurring again in the future. The IACHR observed that the state must also adopt all measures necessary to prevent, eradicate, and sanction child labor and to strengthen its institutions to ensure that they fulfil their obligation to inspect and monitor companies that carry out hazardous operations.

In a communication dated August 17, 2018, the State requested a two-month extension for compliance with the recommendations made in the Merits Report, taking into account its willingness to adopt measures for such compliance and that it had not yet received the information necessary to submit the response to the IACHR.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) underlined the importance of the case and the opportunity it presents for the IA Court to develop jurisprudence on states’ international obligations regarding high-risk employment, including on the issuing of operational licenses and the duty to inspect and monitor any facilities where such activities take place. Likewise, the Court could embark on a crosscutting analysis of private companies and human rights and the scope and content of state obligations. The case will also allow the Court to rule on the duties of prevention, sanction, and redress for the worst forms of child labor, and violations of the rights to life and personal integrity that result from hazardous labor activities. The Court will also be able to examine the scope of labor law in depth, including the relationship between this and the principle of equality and nondiscrimination in situations of poverty.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 218/18