Press Release

IACHR condemns violent police actions in Brazil and urges it to adopt measures to combat social and racial discrimination

2 de agosto, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses deep concern about the historic numbers of violent police actions recorded during the first half of the year in Brazil and their link to racial discrimination, aggravated in the context of Covid-19. Thus, the IACHR calls on the State to adopt a security policy with a citizen focus, as well as to combat and eradicate the historical structural discrimination that results in disproportionate patterns of institutional violence against people of African descent and those exposed to poverty and extreme poverty.

According to data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum, from January to April 2020, there was a 31% increase in police lethality in the state of São Paulo compared to the same period in 2019, with 381 deaths reported at the hands of security agents in that period in 2020. In the state of Rio de Janeiro alone, according to data from the Public Safety Institute (ISP), the period from January to April 2020 saw an increase of approximately 9% in the police fatality rate, with 612 events. In addition, in both states, a critical increase was observed during the month of April, when the strictest confinement measures were implemented. While in the state of São Paulo, police fatalities increased 53% compared to April of the previous year, in Rio de Janeiro, there was an increase of approximately 43% in deaths caused by the police in the same period in 2019. The seriousness of the increase in violent police actions in Rio de Janeiro's favelas, territories with a social predominance of people of African descent and living in poverty, led the Supreme Court to issue a preliminary decision prohibiting police operations in these communities while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The IACHR also points out that the Rio de Janeiro Institute of Public Security noted that, in the last month of June, when the decision came into effect, the so-called "deaths due to the intervention by state agents" have fallen by 78%, as well as a drop in the general register of violent crimes and robberies in the state.

Data from the Brazilian Public Security Forum shows that nearly in eight out of every 10 Brazilian police fatalities victims are Afro-descendant. Although the Afro-descendant population represents 55% of the Brazilian population, blacks account for 75.4% of those killed by the police. In this context, so far this year, the Commission has had information on various acts of violence committed by the State police forces in the context of the implementation of the security policy. As an example of this, it highlights the case of a 51-year-old woman of African descent, who was seriously assaulted on July 12, 2020 by a police officer, an act recorded in a video that shows the police officer stepping on her neck with the intention of immobilizing her and then dragging her along the ground in the Parelheiros neighborhood in the city of São Paulo. The same practice was noted in a new video recorded July 14, which shows four police officers violently boarding and choking Jefferson André da Silva, a 23-year-old African-American motorcycle rider, as part of a protest for better working conditions by delivery drivers in the western part of the city.

In Rio de Janeiro, on May 18, the actions of the Federal Police in conjunction with the Coordination of Special Resources of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police (CORE) are said to have resulted in the death of João Pedro Mattos Pinto, a 14-year-old African-American boy, who was shot inside his home in the region of Salgueiro, Rio de Janeiro. The information indicates that, after his death, the alleged perpetrators of the shooting allegedly took the boy's body away in a helicopter, having been missing for about 24 hours when he was identified at the Instituto Médico Legal (IML). In the same vein, the IACHR was informed that at least 13 people were killed on May 15, in the favelas compound known as Complexo do Alemão, in Rio de Janeiro, following joint action by the state's civil and military police. According to public information, during the operation, a military policeman was wounded by shrapnel, but not seriously.

The IACHR has repeatedly expressed its concern about the excessive use of police force, particularly with regard to the high levels of police lethality and its disproportionate impact on persons of African descent. Likewise, during its November 2018 on-site visit to the country, the Commission identified that, in a context of structural discrimination, the police forces also carry out operations focused on poor communities with a high concentration of people of African descent, without observing international and inter-American human rights standards and without the issuance of judicial orders.

The American Convention on Human Rights establishes obligations regarding the right to life, to the integrity of all persons, as well as its duty to promote equality and non-discrimination in all spheres of action. Thus, it urges the State to adopt effective protection measures against interventions by State agents, and to adopt measures aimed at combating the use of racial profiling against persons of African descent and other explicit or implicit discriminatory practices on the basis of ethno-racial origin or socio-economic status, which results directly or indirectly in threats to the right to life.

With regard to the profile of the victims, the Inter-American Commission reaffirms that these are not isolated acts of violence but are part of a historical and structural process of discrimination based on ethno-racial and social origin, which manifests itself systematically. The Commission notes that these serious crimes are inserted into a context of historical impunity and insufficient accountability by the criminal justice system and police institutions, respectively.

The Commission notes that police racism is part of a context of historical impunity and insufficient accountability for abusive practices by the police, and also part of the criminal justice system as well as by the police institutions themselves. The Commission considers it necessary to strengthen the State's capacities in the criminal justice system and among law enforcement officials with respect to the prohibition of the use of racial profiling and the excessive use of force, in accordance with the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

The IACHR also emphasizes the importance for the country of strengthening the independence and autonomy of justice system actors and control bodies involved in the investigation of civil and military police’s actions. Finally, the IACHR strongly calls on Brazil to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Intolerance.

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 and to defend 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. 187/20