Brazil: Protest Violent Arrests of Transvestites in Sao Paulo

On May 29 and 31, 2003, officers from Police District 16 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, arrested a total of 145 transvestites in the area surrounding Indianapolis Avenue. Local media coverage showed how transvestites were beaten and forced into police vehicles. Among the reasons alleged by police officers for the arrests are thefts and "engaging in sexual intercourse without condoms". Brazilian organizations have launched a nation-wide campaign to protest the arrests.


IGLHRC joins Grupo Gay de Bahia (GGB) to ask for letters condemning the violent arrests of transvestites in Sao Paulo. Please write TODAY to the following addresses:

Gabinete da Prefeitura de Sao Paulo
(Sao Paulo's City Government)
Fax: +55-11-3326-8256
Phone: +55-11-3315-9077, Extension 2530
Defensoria Homossexual SP
(Sao Paulo Ombudsman Office, Homossexual Department)
Rua Altino Arantes, 83
Jardim da Saúde
04042-030 - São Paulo, SP
Phone: +55-11-5072-3269 / 275-2284

And please send a copy to

Luiz Mott (GGB)

and to

National Association of Transvestites (ANTRA)


Dear Sirs,

We are writing to you to express grave concern over the events that took place on May 29 and 31, 2003, in Indianapolis Avenue, Sao Paulo, SP. Police officers from Police District 16 arrested a total of 145 transvestites on those days. This was done with unnecessary use of force: many of the arrested showed signs of having been beaten. The media was allowed to circulate the names and images of those arrested, constituting a violation of their constitutionally protected right to privacy.

We are aware that police had received complaints about criminal activity (thefts, drug trafficking and extortion) being carried out in the area and by transvestites who are also sex workers. While we agree that police has a duty to act in those cases, we also consider that punishing a whole community for the criminal acts that some of its members might be committing constitutes an act of discrimination. Sao Paulo police have violated a principle that is enshrined in international Human Rights treaties ratified by Brazil (like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights): that "all persons must be considered innocent until proven guilty according to law". On May 29 and 31, being a transvestite walking along Indianapolis Avenue when the police arrived was enough to be assumed guilty of theft, trafficking and extortion; forced into a police van; taken to the Police Station and once there, entered on record as "offender", with your photograph taken to be shown to potential victims.

We support the efforts of Sao Paulo police to protect the general population, but we consider that police procedures must always take place according to the law and not in violation of it. The State of Sao Paulo has an anti-discriminatory law (Lei 10.948) that explicitly protects transgender citizens from all forms of discrimination. Public officers are liable of offense when they act in violation of that law.

We encourage you to take immediate action to:

  • Investigate police behavior on May 29 and 31 in Indianapolis Avenue, and duly punish those servicemen who are found guilty of violating the law.
  • Order proper investigation into the alleged crimes taking place in the area, with full respect for the human rights of all involved.
  • Call transvestite, gay and lesbian organizations in town to implement a program of safer-sex education for transvestite sex workers in the area.
  • Implement a series of conversations between transvestite sex workers and neighbors of the Indianapolis Avenue area, mediated by the Ombudsman Office, to solve the problems that both communities are having in their interactions.

We hope to have the opportunity to congratulate you in the future, for your law-abiding, community-oriented handling of this situation, in the manner that has made the city and State of Sao Paulo one of the leaders in Brazil in terms of equality for lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people.


[Name, organization, address]


Officers from Police District 16 on May 29, 2003 and 65 more on May 31, around Indianapolis Avenue--a place where transvestites engage in street sex work-- arrested 80 transvestites.
Two TV programs ("Brasil Urgente" and "Cidade Alerta") as well as the newspaper "O Estado de Sao Paulo" showed several pictures of transvestites being pushed into police vans. Many exhibited signs of having been beaten. There were no restrictions on the media, which were able to show as many transvestites faces as they wanted, with names attached and captions indicating that they had committed theft and "other misdemeanors"--even though in most cases there was no evidence to sustain their guilt.

All those arrested had their names, addresses and ID numbers recorded by the police as "offenders" even in the cases where no offense was ever alleged (or proved) against them. Police took pictures of all transvestites, with a plate hanging from their necks in which their names and the numbers assigned to them in police records as "offenders" appeared. The purpose of those pictures, according to police officers, was "to facilitate identification by theft victims". Police circulated through the media a phone number to which citizens could call to denounce, "irregularities incurred in by transvestites".

Dr. Humberto (no surname provided), from Police District 16, appeared in the public media several times explaining that one of the reasons why the transvestites had been arrested was that they were "having sexual intercourse without condoms". He went as far as suggesting that the World Health Organization needed to intervene and stop transvestites from engaging in sex work without condoms. For the moment, he added, the safest solution was to put them all in jail, to avoid "contaminating the streets". And he added: "Police and other authorities must fight against this shame as rigorously as they can".

Another reasons alleged by police officers to stage the raids were:

  • That transvestites were robbing their clients, and that it was difficult for police officers to investigate those thefts because the clients (rich, married men) were afraid to denounce them.
  • That conducting sex work in public constituted a "moral offense".
  • That transvestites were spreading AIDS, as some of them would accept intercourse without condoms if paid double.

Neighbors complained about transvestites invading their gardens to engage in sex work.

Brazilian activists cannot recall a police raid with such a high number of people arrested since the 1960s, when the country was under military dictatorship.

Alexandre Sayao, chief of Police Section South (which includes Police District 16), explained to local media that "If we can catch them in flagrancy, great. All of them will be photographed and investigated to prove their involvement in trafficking, theft and extortion" ("Se pudermos pegar em flagrante, ótimo. Vamos fotografar todos e investigá-los para provar seu envolvimento no tráfico, roubo e extorsão"' Estado de Sao Paulo, May 30, 2003).

The city's Secretary of Public Security, Saulo Abreu, received a video showing a group of transvestites selling drugs in front of Jockey Club, in another area known as Cidade Jardim. After that, he ordered the police to investigate.


Right to liberty and security of person) is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Article 3; by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 6 and 9, and by the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (IAHRC) in its Articles 4 and 7.

Right to equality before the law and to be free from discrimination are protected by the UDHR in its Articles 2 and 7, by the ICCPR in its Articles 2 and 26, and by the IACHR in its Articles 1 and 24.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status. Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Right to be free from arbitrary arrest or detention is protected by the ICCPR (Article 9.1) and by the ICHR (Article 7.3)

Right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is protected by the UDHR (Article 5), by the ICCPR (Article 7) and by the ICHR (Article 5.2)

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAC) defines "torture" as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as … punishing him for an act he … has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him … or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official…" (Article 1.1. underlining ours).

Right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law is protected by the UDHR (Article 11.1), ICCPR (Article 14.2) and ICHR (8.2).

Right to privacy is protected by is protected by the ICCPR in its Article 17 and by the IAHRC in its Article 11.2.

Brazil has ratified both the ICCPR and the IAHRC in 1992. The UDHR is considered customary law for all Member States of the United Nations, including Brazil.

The Brazilian Constitution protects the right to equality before the law and affirms the rights to "life, freedom, equality, and safety…" as well as the "inviolability of the private life" (Article 5). Article 3 states as a "fundamental aim" of the Brazilian Republic to "promote the well-being of all, without prejudices based on origin, race, sex, color, ideas, or any other form of discrimination". Sao Paulo State Law 10.948 penalizes "discriminatory acts and attempts against homosexual, bisexual or transgender citizens" (Article 1). Public officers are specifically included as liable for this acts (Article 3).