Press Release

IACHR Takes Case involving Brazil to the Inter-American Court

June 12, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 11.566, Cosme Rosa Genoveva, Evandro de Oliveira et al. (Favela Nova Brasília), with regard to Brazil.

The case involves the extrajudicial executions of 26 individuals—including six children—in the context of police raids carried out by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police on October 18, 1994, and May 8, 1995, in the shantytown of Nova Brasília. The police authorities justified these deaths by means of affidavits alleging “resistance to arrest.” In addition, in the context of the raid on October 18, 1994, three victims—C.S.S. (15 years old), L.R.J. (19 years old), and J.F.C. (16 years old)—were victims of torture and acts of sexual violence at the hands of police officers. The Commission established that these events occurred within a context and pattern of excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions carried out by police in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro. Moreover, the Commission found that the context in which the events in this case took place has been tolerated and even fostered by State institutions. The Commission also established that this context includes a lack of accountability mechanisms and a situation of impunity surrounding these violations. In fact, the investigations were conducted for the purpose of stigmatizing and re-victimizing those who died, as they focused on blaming them and not on verifying whether the use of force was legitimate. Both the deaths of the 26 individuals and the acts of torture and sexual violence have remained unpunished, and to date the criminal actions related to the majority of the incidents of the case—the acts of torture and sexual violence in the 1994 raid and the deaths in the 1995 raid—are barred by statute of limitations in domestic law.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State of Brazil conduct—by means of judicial authorities independent from the police—an exhaustive, impartial, and effective investigation into the violations that were found, in order to determine the truth and punish those responsible, taking into account the pattern of excessive use of lethal force by the police and the possible omissions, delays, acts of negligence, and obstructions of justice caused by agents of the State. It also recommended that the State guarantee proper and full compensation; immediately eliminate the practice of automatically recording deaths perpetrated by the police as “resistance to arrest”; and put an end to impunity with regard to police violence in general, adapting its domestic laws, administrative regulations, and operational plans and procedures. The IACHR also recommended that the State establish internal and external oversight and accountability systems to enforce the obligation to investigate, within a gender and ethnic-racial perspective, all cases in which law enforcement agents use lethal force and/or sexual violence; that it implement plans to modernize and professionalize police forces; regulate police procedures involving legitimate use of force; and train police personnel on how to effectively deal with people from the most vulnerable segments of society, including, children, women, and residents of shantytowns, in order to overcome the stigma that all poor people are criminals.

On May 19, 2015, after granting multiple extensions and making a number of efforts, the Commission determined that the State of Brazil had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. Consequently, the Inter-American Commission submitted to the Inter-American Court the State actions and omissions that occurred or continued to occur after December 10, 1998, when the State of Brazil accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. This includes the improper conduct of the investigations, which sought to blame the deceased victims and not to meet the burden of proving whether the use of lethal force was legitimate. It also includes the failure to fulfill the obligations of due diligence and reasonable time with regard to the investigation and punishment for the deaths of the 26 individuals in the context of both police raids, and with regard to the acts of torture and sexual violence suffered by three victims during the first raid. The case also involves the State’s omission in failing to reopen the investigations into the acts of torture and sexual violence, which were covered by statute of limitations even though they involved serious human rights violations.

This case offers the Inter-American Court the opportunity to expand its case law concerning the obligation to properly investigate violent deaths as a result of the use of lethal force by State agents. Among many other impunity-related factors, the Court will be able to rule on the issue of stigmatizing victims, which is reflected in investigations carried out for the purpose of determining the responsibility of those who died at the hands of State agents due to alleged “resistance to arrest” and not for the purpose of determining the legitimacy of the use of force by police officers. The Court will also be able to rule on whether statutes of limitation apply to events such as those in this case, taking into account the nature of these events as serious human rights violations as well as the context in which they occurred. In addition, the Court will be able to rule on the obligation to investigate acts of torture and sexual violence committed by police officers against women and, in particular, girls. On this last point, the Court will also be able to rule on whether the concept of statute of limitation applies to acts of sexual violence characterized as torture.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 068/15