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Brazil: Constitutional Amendment Approved

(June 9, 2014) On May 27, 2014, the Brazilian Federal Senate approved a proposal for a constitutional amendment that was first put forward in 1999. The amendment modifies article 243 of the Constitution. (Proposta de Emenda Constitucional No. 57, de 1999 (June 18, 1999), Senado Federal website; Constituição Federal [C.F.] (1988), PLANALTO; Press Release, Ministra comemora aprovação da PEC do Trabalho Escravo, Secretaria de Direitos Humanos (May 27, 2014).)

The amendment would establish that rural and urban properties in any region of the country where illegal crops of psychotropic plants or the exploitation of slave labor are found must be expropriated and devoted to agrarian reform and public housing programs, without compensation to the owner and without prejudice to other penalties provided by law. The rule would be subject, where applicable, to the provisions of article 5 of the Constitution. Article 5 defines individual and collective rights and duties. (Proposta de Emenda Constitucional No. 57.) The proposal also amends the sole existing paragraph of article 243, so that any goods of economic value that are apprehended as a result of action against illicit trafficking in narcotics and related drugs or exploitation of slave labor will be forfeited and will revert to a special fund for specific purposes to be set according to the law. (Id.)

Before the amendment, article 243 of the Constitution had already provided that the plots where illegal crops of psychotropic plants were found should be expropriated and assigned to settlement of colonists, without compensation to the owner and without prejudice to other penalties provided by law. Additionally, the Constitution determines that all rural or urban properties must fulfill a social function and cannot be used as a tool of oppression of any person. (C.F. art. 5(XXIII).)

Article 149 of the Penal Code establishes that to reduce someone to a condition analogous to slavery, or to subject a person to forced labor or an exhausting work schedule, either by subjecting the person to degrading working conditions or by restricting, through any means, the person’s movement due to a debt owed the employer or agent, is punishable with two to eight years in prison and a fine, in addition to the corresponding punishment for the violence. (Código Penal, Decreto-Lei No. 2.848, de 7 de Dezembro de 1940, PLANALTO.)