UN expert reports alarming rates of murder in Brazil despite efforts to end violence

A favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Agência Brasil/Fabio Pozzebom

1 June 2010 – Many Brazilians, especially inhabitants of shanty towns, continue to be subject to murder and other forms of brutal violence by various gangs, militias, death squads and the police, despite efforts by the Government to end the crimes, a United Nations independent human rights expert said today.

“When I visited the country two and a half years ago, I found that the police executed suspected criminals and innocent citizens during poorly planned and counter-productive war-style operations into favelas [shanty towns],” said Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. “Off-duty police, operating in death squads and militias, also killed civilians, either as ‘vigilantes’ or for profit.

“Today, the situation on the ground has not changed dramatically. The police continue to commit extrajudicial executions at alarming rates. And they generally get away with them,” Mr. Alston said in a follow-up report on the progress Brazil has made in reducing police killings since his previous visit in 2007.

Reviewing federal and state Government actions over the past two years, Mr. Alston’s report notes that Brazil’s efforts to tackle the problem of extrajudicial killings had resulted in significant improvements in some areas.

“Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Pernambuco have investigated militias and death squads and the fact that some police have been arrested is very positive,” he said. “In addition, new efforts at community policing in a handful of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are very welcome, as is the federal Government’s promise to increased salaries to improve security in anticipation of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016.

“But these efforts will require a much greater push if they are to bring the security hoped for within the next four years,” the independent expert added.

Mr. Alston, however, pointed out lack of progress in other areas, saying “resistance killings” – police killings which are reported as having occurred in self-defence – continue to be perpetrated.

“There were at least 11,000 so-called resistance killings in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro between 2003 and 2009. The evidence clearly shows that many of these killings were actually executions,” Mr. Alston said, adding that such killings are almost never seriously investigated.

He welcomed Rio de Janeiro’s experimental approach, which replaces violent short-term police interventions in slums with a long-term police presence and the provision of social services.

“The UPP [Pacifying Police Units] concept is a very welcome step forward because it brings the prospect of real and sustained security,” he said. “But there are also increasing reports of harassment of favela residents by the UPPs, and the promised social services have not always been delivered,” Mr. Alston said.

“The Government of Brazil deserves much credit for its cooperation and openness to external scrutiny,” said the Special Rapporteur. “But much remains to be done if the Government is to achieve its aim of reducing extrajudicial executions by the police,” he added.


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