Residents in many of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are living in terror after at least 11 people have been killed in police shootings since the beginning of April, Amnesty International warned ahead of the 100-day countdown to the Olympic Games.
In the city of Rio alone, at least 307 people were killed by the police last year, accounting for one in every five homicides in the city. Meanwhile the authorities have failed to hold those responsible to account and have increasingly taken a hard-line approach against mainly peaceful street protests.
“Despite the promised legacy of a safe city for hosting the Olympic Games, killings by the police have been steadily increasing over the past few years in Rio. Many have been severely injured by rubber bullets, stun grenades and even firearms used by police forces during protests,” said Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil.
“Until now, killings by police have for the most part not been investigated, rigorous training and clear operational guidelines for the use of ‘less-lethal’ weapons have not been established and the authorities still treat protesters like a ‘public enemy.’
“Over the next 100 days, there is a lot that the authorities and the organizing bodies of Rio 2016 can and must do to ensure that any public security operations will not violate human rights. We expect Rio’s police forces to take a precautionary and consultative approach to public security instead of continuing with their ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ strategy.”
There has been a surge in the police use of excessive force in Rio de Janeiro state in recent years, and the majority of victims are young black men from favelas and marginalized areas.
In 2014, when Brazil hosted the World Cup, police in the state killed 580 people, 40 percent more than in 2013. The number in 2015 was even higher, at 645.
Although it is not possible to link this rise in police killings directly to the preparations for the Olympic Games, the statistics reveal a clear pattern of excessive use of force, violence and impunity that taints public security institutions. Many of these killings take place in the state of Rio de Janeiro, which will host the Games.
In August 2015, Amnesty International launched the report “You Killed My Son: Homicides Committed by Military Police in the City of Rio de Janeiro”, detailing “trigger-happy” police practices in the favela of Acari in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup. The organization found that in the vast majority of killings by the military police in Acari in 2014 which were documented by the organization there were strong indications of extrajudicial executions. Despite the exposure and public pressure, so far no one has been brought to justice for these killings.
As long as there is impunity, this cycle of violence and killings by the police will continue.
“It is worrying to see that killings by the police continue to happen on a daily basis in Rio and other Brazilian cities, but the response from authorities continues to be very insufficient. The price in pain and loss of lives is paid mostly by the residents of the favelas and other poor territories, particularly young black men,” said Roque.
Police repression of protests is another concern in the run-up to the Olympics.
Two years after hosting the World Cup, when Amnesty International also denounced cases of excessive and unnecessary use of force by the police during protests, including the misuse of less-lethal weapons, no effective measures have been taken to prevent further police abuses.
In fact, the only new legislation related to public security around the Olympics is an anti-terrorism law that in practice could be used to curb and criminalize protests.
KEY FACTS AND FIGURES
- Police officers were responsible for one in five homicides in Rio de Janeiro city during 2015.
- At least 11 people were killed during police operations in the first three weeks of April 2016. On April 2, a five-year-old boy was killed and two others were injured in a military police operation in Magé, a municipality of the greater Rio area. On April 4, five people were killed in Acari, a favela in the north of the city, during a joint federal and civil police operation. On the same day, a young man was killed in the favela of Manguinhos during a military police operation. On April 7, at least two people were killed in Jacarezinho, also in a military police operation. Between April 16 and 17, a major police operation resulted in two killings and nine injured as residents faced 36 hours of intense shootings in Alemão. On April 23, one mototaxi driver was killed during a military police operation.
- Homicides resulting from police intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro increased by 54 percent in two years. In 2014, the year Brazil hosted the World Cup, there were 580 killings amid police operations in the state of Rio, an increase of around 40 percent on the previous year. In 2015 the trend continued, with 645 killings by police, a 54 percent increase in the two years since 2013.
Anti-terrorism Law: Thousands of activists and protesters are now at risk of arrest under Brazil’s new anti-terrorism law. The approval of a new federal anti-terrorism law in February 2016 threatens protesters and social movements by criminalizing actions linked to exercising the right to freedom of assembly.
Arrested during the protests in the run-up to the World Cup in 2013: Rafael Braga, who was detained in the protest of June 20, 2013 and sentenced to five years of prison. Braga was carrying a bottle of a cleaning product and was found guilty of the crime of carrying explosive material, despite the fact that the forensics analysis of the material affirmed that they were not explosives. The case was documented in Amnesty International’s report “They use a strategy of fear.”
No regulation of the use of the so called “less-lethal” weapons, including operational guidelines, rigorous training and standards for equipment selection and testing, has been developed. These weapons – including rubber bullets, stun grenades, chemical irritant sprays, tear gas, and others – have been widely used to repress peaceful protests in Brazil. Their misuse and abuse resulting in unnecessary and excessive use of force, as well as injuries, some life-changing, have been widely documented by Amnesty International’s “They use a strategy of fear,” report and others.
Thousands of military police and soldiers deployed to residential areas. – In 2014, the Brazilian army was deployed to Rio de Janeiro’s Maré favela complex around the FIFA World Cup games. Thousands of troops and military police remained in the community for over a year and multiple abuses were reported, such as the case of Vitor Santiago Borges, now 30 years old, who was shot by the army last year when was entering the favela to go home with friends. He lost part of his leg.