Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva‘s right to a fair trial was violated during a corruption case that resulted in his imprisonment and barred him from running for office, a United Nations committee has found.
In a statement on Thursday, the UN Human Rights Committee said the Brazilian investigation and prosecution violated Lula’s “right to be tried by an impartial tribunal, his right to privacy and his political rights”.
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“While States have a duty to investigate and prosecute acts of corruption and to keep the population informed, especially when a former head of state is concerned, such actions must be conducted fairly and respect due process guarantees,” committee member Christopher Arif Bulkan said.
Lula filed a complaint to the committee in 2016 about how he was brought to trial in Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption investigation. Dubbed “Operation Car Wash”, it exposed a massive scheme involving politicians, business leaders and the state oil company Petrobras.
The decision by the 18-member UN panel is non-binding, but was closely watched in Brazil.
The committee concluded that the lead judge in the investigation, Sergio Moro, showed bias in his handling of the case against Lula, who served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010.
“During the investigation, former judge Moro approved a request by the prosecutor to tap Lula’s telephones, as well as those of his family and his lawyer. He then released the content of the wiretaps to the media before formally instituting charges,” the panel said.
“He also issued a bench warrant to detain Lula for questioning. The warrant was leaked to the media, and photographs of Lula were consequently taken by the media as if he were under arrest.”
Moro sentenced Lula – who denied the allegations against him – to nine years in 2017 for allegedly taking bribes. An appeals court increased the sentence to 12 years in 2018, sidelining Lula from that year’s presidential elections, which were won by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
Ultimately, the committee said on Thursday that “the conduct and other public acts of former judge Moro violated Lula’s right to be tried by an impartial tribunal”, while “the actions and public statements by the former judge and the prosecutors violated his right to presumption of innocence”.
It also “urged Brazil to ensure that any further criminal proceedings against Lula comply with due process guarantees and to prevent similar violations in the future”.
The report comes just over a year after Lula had his corruption conviction quashed by a judge on procedural grounds, opening the door for the left-wing leader to seek re-election in October elections.
Recent polls have shown Lula holding a lead over Bolsonaro, who has faced criticism for his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.
Lula’s legal team hailed the UN committee’s “historic decision” on Thursday.
Moro, who went on to serve as Bolsonaro’s justice minister before resigning in 2020, said he had not seen the full findings.
But the former judge, who has also eyed a presidential run this year, underlined in a statement sent to the AFP news agency that Lula “was convicted of corruption in three proceedings, at the hands of nine different judges”.