Brazil: Police 'still have blood on their hands' 20 years after Candelaria massacre

Vigil marking the 20th anniversary of Rio de Janeiro's Candelária massacre © AI Brasil
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July 24, 2013

Brazil: Police 'still have blood on their hands' 20 years after Candelaria massacre

Every year, police in Brazil are responsible for around 2,000 deaths, Amnesty International said today as it marked the 20th anniversary of the infamous Candelária massacre in Rio de Janeiro.

“Our police still have blood on their hands, and are allowed to act with impunity as extra-judicial killings remain rife in Brazil’s major cities,” said Atila Roque, director of Amnesty International Brazil.

On the night of July 23, 1993, eight young men and women died after a gang of hooded men opened fire on a group of some 50 street children sleeping on the steps of Rio de Janeiro’s Candelária church.

Four of them died at the scene, another was gunned down as he escaped, two more were bundled into a car and then executed, and one girl died from her injuries several days later. Two of the victims were 18 years old while six were still children.

A short investigation revealed that most of the armed gang members were military police officers. Three of them were handed prison sentences for their role in the killings, but have since been released. Six others suspects were absolved of any wrongdoing, despite evidence of their involvement.

A month after Candelária, in another brutal massacre, a police death squad killed 21 residents of Rio de Janeiro’s Vigário Geral favela. Although 33 police officers were initially charged, only six were convicted for their roles in the killings.

“These anniversaries are an important reminder of the need to pursue justice for past abuses like those at Candelária and Vigário Geral, but also provide an opportunity to bring an end to the thousands of extra-judicial killings that still take place year on year,” said Roque.

According to the United Nations, police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have been implicated in at least 11,000 so-called “resistance killings” – in which the victims were shot after allegedly opening fire on police – between 2003 and 2009. Evidence shows that many of these deaths were unlawful killings.

Besides the Candelária and Vigário Geral massacres, there has been a series of significant cases of extrajudicial executions carried out by the police in Brazilian cities, with death tolls sometimes hitting 20 or more in a single incident.

“The persistent police violence against Brazil’s urban population – with the young, poor and black disproportionately affected – points to the urgency of carrying out prompt, impartial and independent investigations into such incidents and ensuring those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials in civilian courts,” said Roque. “Unless this happens, impunity will fuel still more police violence, leading to a vicious cycle affecting the daily lives and safety of thousands of citizens.”