Annual Report: Brazil 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Brazil 2010

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Police and security forces

Across the country, there were persistent reports of excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions and torture by police officers. Residents of favelas (shanty towns) or poor communities, often under the control of armed criminal gangs, were subjected to military style police incursions. Police in the front line were also placed at risk and many were killed in the line of duty.

Some states launched their own stand-alone public security projects, with mixed results. The Police Pacification Units in Rio de Janeiro and the Pact for Life in Pernambuco state both claimed to have reduced crime and brought greater security to socially excluded areas. The initiatives were welcomed by some sectors of society as offering an alternative to previous repressive and abusive policing methods, although some residents in areas where the projects were implemented complained of discrimination. Outside the scope of the projects, police forces continued to commit extensive violations.

The authorities continued to describe killings by police as "acts of resistance", contrary to the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and to the third national human rights plan. Hundreds of killings were not properly investigated and little, if any, judicial action was taken. A study by the Public Security Institute attached to Rio de Janeiro's state Secretariat of Public Security found that between January 1998 and September 2009, 10,216 people were killed in the state in incidents registered as "acts of resistance". In Rio de Janeiro, police killed 1,048 people in reported "acts of resistance" during the year. In São Paulo the comparable figure was 543, an increase of 36 per cent over 2008, with killings by military police increasing by 41 per cent.

In São Paulo, the state government continued to adopt "saturation operations" in favelas. These operations involved military-style occupations of communities for a period of 90 days followed by police withdrawal. Members of the community of Paraisópolis, São Paulo, reported cases of torture, excessive use of force, intimidation, arbitrary and abusive searches, extortion and theft by police officers during a "saturation operation" in February.

In October, three police officers were killed in Rio de Janeiro when a police helicopter was shot down during a conflict between rival drug factions. Gang members began burning buses and driving residents from their homes in an attempt to distract police from their attack on a rival community, during which the helicopter had been downed. Police mounted a series of operations, described by a senior officer as "retaliation" during which more than 40 people were killed. These included a 24-year-old woman hit by a stray bullet as she held her 11-month-old baby, and a 15-year-old boy reportedly shot by police while putting out the rubbish.

Residents of the Acari and Maré favelas in Rio reported that violent police operations regularly coincided with children's return from school, putting pupils at risk and forcing schools to close. Cases of torture, intimidation, illegal and arbitrary searches, extortion and theft were also reported. It was also alleged that in Maré police rented an armoured vehicle, known as a caveirão (big skull), to drug traffickers involved in a turf war.


The spread of militias – armed paramilitary-style groups made up largely by off-duty law-enforcement officials – was such that one academic study claimed they controlled more of Rio de Janeiro's favelas than the drug factions. Using their power over communities for illicit economic and political gain, militias threatened the lives of thousands of residents and the very institutions of the state. Judges, prosecutors, police officers and a state deputy received repeated death threats from the militias. State authorities mounted a series of operations to combat the activities of the militias, leading to a number of arrests. However, the president of a parliamentary inquiry into the militias continued to criticize the failure of municipal and federal authorities to implement the inquiry's recommendations for combating the rise of the militias.