Brazil police have killed 11,000 people since 2003, report says
Tuesday, December 8, 2009; 4:10 PM
Police in Brazil's two-largest metropolitan areas have killed 11,000 people since 2003, many of them extrajudicial executions that were later covered up by officers, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.
The report -- two years in the making -- said investigators for the New York-based group examined 51 fatal shootings in which "credible evidence" contradicted official accounts given by officers about the circumstances of the killings. Authorities classify nearly all fatal shootings as "resistance" killings, legitimate acts of self-defense in dangerous slums.
Dan Wilkinson, who authored the 122-page report, said the killings are indicative of a serious problem that is marring Brazil's image as a modern, democratic country. He said that although state and local officials acknowledged the problem in meetings with Human Rights Watch, there is pressure in Brazil to give the police "carte blanche" to fight violent crime.
Wilkinson said that has only made violence worse.
"The crime problem continues," he said by phone from Rio. "The problem is that they've been relying for years on a police force that's ineffective and brutal, and in the poorer neighborhoods out of control."
In an interview with The Washington Post in October, Jose Mariano Beltrame, Rio's secretary of public security, acknowledged a problem but said he could not simply dismiss officers suspected of rights violations.
"We only have one way to do this and that is to develop proof that the officer has committed a crime," he said. Police are trying to control the problem by creating special community policing units staffed by new officers, Beltrame said.
Many residents of the favelas, as Brazil's slums are known, question whether anything will change.
Thiago Firmino, an activist in one favela in Rio, recently said that residents have long been accustomed to seeing police enter "with their guns blazing."
"Sometimes people didn't do anything wrong and the police shot them anyway," he said.
The report said the sheer number of killings in Rio and Sao Paulo was alarming. In the state of Rio, for instance, police killed 1,137 people in 2008, while police in all of the United States recorded 371 killings.
With Rio just awarded the 2016 Olympics, Human Rights Watch is concerned that killings could increase as authorities try to control crime, Wilkinson said. He noted that ahead of the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, police killed 19 people in just one day before the event kicked off.
Human Rights Watch said the police cover up the killings by manipulating evidence. In some instances, the bodies of people shot dead were rushed to the hospital to make it appear as if officers were trying to rescue them.
At the moment, most investigations are handled by the police.