Press Release

UN Human Rights and IACHR Condemn Excessive Use of Force during Social Protests and during Security Operations in Brazil

May 26, 2017

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Santiago, Chile / Buenos Aires, Argentina — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the South America Regional Office of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemn the excessive use of force on the part of the Military Police to quell protests and demonstrations in Brazil. They also condemn the police violence in security operations in urban areas and in the context of the land conflict.

On May 24, 2017, social movements and union federations convened protests in Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil, in which some 35,000 demonstrators participated. Acts of violence occurred during the demonstrations, including the burning and destruction of public property. In this context, at least seven individuals were arrested and 49 were injured, some of them seriously and at least one with a firearm. It was also reported that the Military Police used pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets to suppress the protest. It was reported that the Federal District Military Police was going to launch an investigation into the use of a firearm.

In response to these protests, on May 24, 2017, the government issued a decree authorizing the use of the Armed Forces to ensure law and order in the Federal District from May 24 to 31. That same day, the government announced that 1,200 members of the Army and 200 naval riflemen had been mobilized to protect public buildings. That decree was revoked on May 25, 2017.

“We urge the Brazilian State to redouble its efforts to promote dialogue and protect the right to peaceful protest,” said the OHCHR Representative for South America, Amerigo Incalcaterra. “Peaceful protest is a form of participation characteristic of democratic societies, where people can demand their human rights and actively exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” he added.

The two human rights bodies condemn all acts of violence and urge the demonstrators to exercise their right to free protest in a peaceful way. They also reaffirm that the conduct of the security forces must at all times respect international human rights norms.

In addition, the IACHR and the South America Office of OHCHR express their deep concern regarding the excessive use of force by security forces of the Brazilian State in the context of the land conflict as well as in operations to remove illegal drug users from urban areas.

For example, troubling information has been received regarding the repeated use of violence in the context of the agrarian conflict, especially against landless workers. Along these lines, 10 people died on May 24 during a violent eviction carried out by members of the police and the military on a farm in the state of Pará. The IACHR and the South America Office of OHCHR call on the authorities to investigate these incidents and other acts of violence, in order to identify and punish those responsible and thereby combat impunity and keep such incidents from happening again.

In addition, several people were injured on May 24 in the area known as Cracolândia, in the city of São Paulo, during a security operation to take illegal drug users off the streets. According to the information received, the operation included the demolition of an occupied building, the eviction of residents and merchants, and the use of gas bombs and rubber bullets against the residents of Cracolândia.

The IACHR and the South America Office of OHCHR urge the State to adopt mechanisms to ensure strict adherence to the general principles of legality, proportionality, and absolute necessity in the use of force in contexts of social protest. Moreover, firearms must not be used to control social protests. The use of these types of weapons is an extreme measure, and firearms should not be used except on those occasions in which the police institutions cannot reduce or detain, by less lethal means, those who threaten the life and integrity of others.

Both organizations urge the authorities to carry out the appropriate investigations and prosecute and punish those responsible. They also call on the State to guarantee and protect the physical integrity and safety of the demonstrators and to provide sufficient guarantees for the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, within the framework of its international human rights obligations.

The Inter-American Commission and the South America Office of OHCHR further urge the State of Brazil to regulate police procedures that involve the use of force and respect international human rights standards, complying with the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality that should guide the use of force by security agents of the State. In accordance with international standards, the use of force by law enforcement officials must be defined by exceptionality and must be planned and proportionally limited by the authorities.

“We call on the Brazilian authorities to guarantee the full exercise of human rights in the framework of the democratic rule of law, which is an essential condition for the effective promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” Incalcaterra said.

“We are seeking to guarantee democratic rights in a very delicate situation in Brazil right now,” said the IACHR Rapporteur for Brazil, Commissioner James Cavallaro. “We urge the Brazilian government to fulfill its international human rights obligations. This includes upholding the right to protest and adopting public policies that place a priority on respecting and ensuring the right to life, to personal integrity, and other fundamental human rights,” he added. Commissioner Cavallaro expressed his interest in carrying out a visit to the country soon, in his role as Rapporteur for Brazil.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties. OHCHR is guided in its work by the mandate provided by the General Assembly in Resolution 48/141. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The South America Regional Office of OHCHR is located in Santiago, Chile, and covers the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

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. 069/17