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Rio Police Kill One for Every 23 Arrested

December 9th, 2009

Brazilian policeA report by Human Rights Watch a non-governmental organization (NGO) reveals that many killings by police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, in Southeastern Brazil, reported as self-defense, are extra-judicial killings. The document also shows that the police in the two states are among the biggest killers worldwide.

The document “Lethal Force: Police Violence and Public Safety in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo” gathers evidence to contradict 51 of more than 11,000 cases registered as self resistance followed by death by the police since 2003. In 33 cases, forensic techniques go against the official versions for the murders and 17 show that the victim was shot at close range.

In one case mentioned by the ONG, Rio policemen killed 19 people in the Complexo do Alemão favela in a single day in 2007. Police documents state, however, that at least 9 of the victims were taken to a hospital. Photographs and autopsy reports showed that the victims were already dead when their bodies were removed.

“The police are authorized to use lethal force as a last resort to protect themselves or protect others. But the notion that these murders were committed in self-defense or were justified by the high crime rate is unsustainable,” said the director of the Americas division of the NGO, José Miguel Vivanco. in a statement.

According to Human Rights, the police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo together kill more than a thousand people a year in alleged confrontations. In 2008, for each person killed, police arrested 23 people in Rio and 348 in São Paulo. In the United States, police arrested more than 37,000 suspects for each victim.

Although the numbers are not recorded, the report also draws attention to the killings committed by police after hours, “often when acting as members of the militia in Rio or death squads in São Paulo.”

The cause for the extrajudicial exterminations, says the Human Rights’s document, are the criminal justice systems in the two states that rely on members of their own corporations to investigate the circumstances of the “resistance” and they never blame the police for murder.

“As long as the police continues to investigate themselves, these executions will continue. And the legitimate efforts to combat violence will be weakened,” stated Vivanco.

Based on data collected during two years of research, the report features interviews with about 40 criminal justice officials as prosecutors and attorneys, who also believe that the extrajudicial killings in the two states are a widespread problem.


Written by Isabela Vieira

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