The Brazilian authorities must immediately stop the lethal police operations in which 45 people have been killed in the last few days in the states of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Amnesty International said today.
“These highly lethal operations are further evidence of the Brazilian state’s systemic inability to put an end to unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations committed in the context of police work. The nation’s governors and police chiefs need to reshape their security policies to ensure that the use of force is compatible with guaranteeing human rights, starting with the right to life, protection from injury and personal safety,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
In the state of Bahia, police operations carried out in the cities of Salvador, Itatim and Camaçari between 28 July and 1 August resulted in the deaths of 19 people. In Rio de Janeiro state, a police operation launched on 2 August left 10 people dead and four injured in Vila Cruzeiro, a neighbourhood associated with one of the deadliest operations in the state that left 25 people dead in May 2022.
“These highly lethal operations are further evidence of the Brazilian state’s systemic inability to put an end to unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations committed in the context of police work.Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International
In turn, according to official information, in the Baixada Santista region of São Paulo state a Military Police operation launched on 28 July in response to the death of soldier Patrick Bastos Reis the previous day (“Operation Escudo”) resulted in the arrest of 181 people up to the morning of 4 August. In addition, according to information from the São Paulo Police Ombudsman, the deaths of at least 19 people are being investigated, allegedly as a result of the same police operation.
As residents of the Baixada Santista report episodes of torture, threats and intimidation, break-ins, assaults, executions and other abuses, the announcement that Operation Shield will continue for a period of 30 days raises concerns about further deaths and escalating abuses.
“In the face of such abuses, we must never forget the episodes known as the May 2006 Crimes in São Paulo and the Baixada Santista, where in a two-week period 564 people were killed in a revenge operation in response to the killing of police officers,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil. “Our organization has documented and followed this case, and after 17 years the victims’ families have still not been guaranteed the right to truth, justice and reparation.”
Need for external monitoring of police activity
The recurrence of these highly lethal operations is also indicative of the lack of external control over police activity in the country. State prosecutors’ offices, which have a constitutional duty to exercise this control, must urgently take all the necessary measures to ensure prompt, effective and impartial investigations into the killings in order to identify all those involved and ensure that the perpetrators, including chains of command, are properly accountable. They should also take urgent steps to end abuses, in addition to preventing repetitions, and provide full and effective reparation for victims and their families, as well as for the affected communities.
In the face of such abuses, we must never forget the episodes known as the May 2006 Crimes in São Paulo and the Baixada Santista, where in a two-week period 564 people were killed in a revenge operation in response to the killing of police officers.Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil
For this reason, on 4 August, Amnesty International, the Vladimir Herzog Institute, Conectas Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the São Paulo State Public Prosecutor’s Office requesting an investigation into the deaths due to police actions that occurred during Operation Escudo.
The lethal impact of the ‘war on drugs’
According to local authorities, the motive for the actions carried out in these three states is the “fight against factions linked to the drug trade”. Amnesty International has expressed concern for two decades about serious human rights violations committed in the context of the so-called “war on drugs”, the impact of which, driven by racism, is disproportionate and discriminates against predominantly young black men living in favelas and peripheral areas.
According to data collected by the Brazilian Forum for Public Security, 17 people per day died in police operations in Brazil in 2022: a total of 6,429 deaths. The states of Bahia and Rio de Janeiro are among those with the most killings in the country, ranking second and third respectively. In the state of São Paulo, despite a downward trend in deaths in recent years, including the adoption of cameras on the uniforms of military police officers, violence has increased in recent months: according to data published by the state’s Secretariat of Public Security, 171 people died as a result of police operations in the state between January and June 2023, an increase of 26% over the same period last year.