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Violence Has No Place in these Games! Risk of Human Rights Violations at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games


Brazil is on a fast-track course to repeat the deadly mistakes it has been making around policing for decades, made even more evident during the 2014 World Cup, which left a long trail of suffering, Amnesty International said today in a briefing two months ahead of the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony.

Violence Has No Place in these Games! Risk of Human Rights Violations at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games reveals how Brazilian authorities and sports governing bodies in Rio de Janeiro have put in place the same ill-conceived security policies which led to a sharp increase in homicides and human rights violations by security forces since the 2014 World Cup. This jeopardizes the promised Olympic legacy of a safe city for all.

“When Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games in 2009, authorities promised to improve security for all. Instead, we have seen 2,500 people killed by police since then in the city and very little justice,” said Atila Roque, Director at Amnesty International Brazil.

“Brazil seems to have learned very little from the great mistakes it made over the years when it comes to public security. The policy of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ has placed Rio de Janeiro as the one of the deadliest cities on earth.”

“The country’s historic ill-conceived public security policies, coupled with the increasing human rights violations we have documented during major sports events and the lack of effective investigations are a recipe for disaster.”

Dozens of people were injured and hundreds arbitrarily detained during police repression of protests across the country ahead of and during the 2014 World Cup. That same year, as police and military were tasked with “securing” the cities where events were due to take place, at least 580 people were killed during policing operations in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone.

In 2014, homicides resulting from police operations rose a shocking 40 percent — and an extra 11 percent the following year with 645 people killed by police in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone. One in every five homicides in the city were committed by police on duty.

So far in 2016, more than 100 people have been killed in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The vast majority of the victims were young black men living in favelas or other marginalized areas.

Authorities have recently announced the deployment of around 65,000 police officers and 20,000 military soldiers to guard the Olympic Games, in what will be the largest security operation in Brazil’s history. This will include the deployment of military personnel to head operations in favelas, which in the past has resulted in a catalogue of human rights violations that are yet to be properly investigated and sanctioned.

In April 2014, months before the start of the World Cup, thousands of military troops were deployed to the Complex of Maré, a group of 16 favelas located near Rio de Janeiro’s international airport, home to around 14,000 people.

Military troops, who were not properly trained nor equipped to carry out public safety tasks, were supposed to leave soon after the sports event concluded. However, they continued to police the favela until June 2015.

The case of 30-year-old Vitor Santiago Borges highlights the tragic consequences of military policing in the Maré Complex of favelas. In the early morning of February 13, 2015, Vitor was driving back home with some friends when the armed forces opened fire on the vehicle without any warning.  

Vitor was severely wounded, fell into a coma and had to remain in hospital for more than three months. He is now paralyzed from the waist down and had a leg amputated. The authorities have failed to provide him or his family with adequate assistance or to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the shooting. No one has been held to account so far.

Amnesty International warns that the lessons from the 2014 World Cup have not been learned. In March 2016, the then President Dilma Rousseff signed a new Antiterrorism Law which includes overly vague language that leaves it open for being unfairly used against peaceful protesters and activists.

Furthermore, on May 10, 2016, the federal government signed a new “General Law of the Olympics.” The law imposes new restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in many areas of the host city which are contrary to international law and standards and do not address the use of unnecessary and excessive force by security forces while policing assemblies.

“Brazilian authorities are not only failing to deliver the promised Olympic legacy of a safe country for all, but are also failing to ensure that law enforcement officials meet international law and standards on the use of force and firearms,” said Roque.

“Two months ahead of the Olympics 2016, there is still time to put in place measures to mitigate the risk of human rights violations and establish accountability mechanisms for those found responsible of violating human rights. As the global sports community gathers in Rio in two months, the question remains: will the authorities respect and protect human rights and deliver the promised legacy of a safe city and country for all?”