Brazil: Spike in killings by Rio police as country faces UN review

Authorities in Brazil are increasingly turning a blind eye to a deepening human rights crisis of their own making, Amnesty International said in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council ahead of a review of the country on 5 May.

Since Brazil last faced scrutiny at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review in 2012, a spike in violence has seen killings by the police in Rio de Janeiro nearly doubled to 182 in the first two months of 2017, as well as soaring rates of killings and other human rights violations elsewhere in the country.

“Since the last review at the United Nations, Brazil has not taken enough steps to tackle the shocking levels of human rights violations across the country, including soaring police homicide rates that leave hundreds of people dead every year,” said Jurema Werneck, Executive Director at Amnesty International Brazil.

“Very little has been done to reduce the number of homicides, to control the use of force by the police, or to guarantee Indigenous rights as claimed in Brazil’s Constitution. UN Member States must make clear to Brazil that this has to change.

“What we see today is Brazil’s deep political, ethical and financial crisis being used as excuse to trample on well-established human rights.”
In January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78% increase in comparison to the same period in 2016, according to official figures.

In 2016, there were 920 killings by police documented in the city, up from 419 in 2012.

Brazil has a very high number of homicides overall with nearly 60,000 people killed in the country in 2015. The majority of victims are black young men. Police officers are responsible for a significant percentage of the total number of homicides in the country, and many of them may amount to extrajudicial killings – a crime under international law.

In 2015, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, police officers were responsible for one in every five murders, and in São Paulo, one in every four, according to official records.

Despite the fact that more than 70% of homicides in Brazil involve the use of firearms, it is troubling that Congress is currently debating the so called “Disarmament Statute”, which would loosen restrictions on bearing firearms, which have been in place since 2004.

Violence in rural areas has also increased in recent years, with a significant number relating to land conflicts involving Indigenous people and rural peasants. In 2016, the Land Church Commission (Comissão Pastoral da Terra) registered 61 murders, 200 threats and 74 attempted murders related to conflicts over land and natural resources. These numbers are the second highest in the last 25 years – the highest were in 2013 when 73 people were killed. Nineteen people have been killed so far in 2017.

In its report to the United Nations, Amnesty International also raised serious concerns about Indigenous Peoples’ rights, torture, and ill-treatment, prison conditions, freedom of expression and repression of peaceful protests.

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