IACHR Condemns the Violent Deaths of at Least 16 People in Police Operations in Brazil

August 8, 2023

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the violent deaths of at least 16 people during a police operation in the Baixada Santista region of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The IACHR urged the State to investigate these events promptly, diligently, and exhaustively, taking into account the entire chain of command, to punish those responsible, and to provide full reparations to the victims and their families.

The deaths occurred during a police operation known as "Operation Shield," which began on July 28 in the municipality of Guarujá following the murder of a police officer by organized crime operating in the region. One of the victims was reportedly walking to the market, while the other was allegedly taken from her home with her baby in her arms and executed. Despite the loss of human lives, local authorities stated that the operation in Baixada Santista will be extended for 30 days.

The Public Defender's Office of São Paulo urged the state Public Security Secretariat to cease the police operation immediately and to temporarily withdraw the officers involved in the deaths from these operations. It also requested information on the exceptionality of the operation under the 2020 guidelines issued by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) regarding police raids in communities. Likewise, the ombud for the São Paulo police force reported that these events will be investigated by examining the images captured by the body cameras that make up part of the police uniforms.

At the federal government level, according to information provided by the State, the Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship stated that the allegations around the operation described above "are serious and must be rigorously investigated." It also reported that "the National Human Rights Office and the National Secretariat for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights were contacted to supervise the investigations and monitor the measures taken by the authorities in connection with this incident, in addition to engaging in dialogue with other authorities to understand what happened." Minister Silvio Almeida "emphasized that a horrific crime was committed. Respect for the human rights of public security agents and the populations of the areas in which they operate must be guaranteed."

These serious events are part of an increase in police violence in São Paulo. According to official data for the state, the number of deaths caused by on-duty military police officers increased by 26% in the first half of 2023, going from 123 deaths recorded in the first six months of 2022 to 155 in the same period of this year. According to a study published by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation of São Paulo, this increase represents a reversal of the 57% decrease observed after the introduction of body cameras between 2019 and 2022.

Such actions point to a pattern of extrajudicial executions by security forces, which have claimed several lives in Brazil in recent months. This was the case with the massacre of 28 people in Favela de Jacarezinho, and 23 in Vila Cruzeiro in May 2022. In recent weeks, at least 10 people have died in Rio de Janeiro and 19 in Bahia as a result of security force operations.

In connection with the deaths in Bahia, the State announced that Minister Silvio Almeida has "formally ordered the National Human Rights Office to supervise the investigation and listen to the authorities and civil society." He acknowledged that "police operations that result in a high number of deaths are incompatible with a country that seeks to be democratic and human rights-oriented."

The IACHR noted that, as it observed in its Report on the Human Rights Situation in Brazil, police violence in the country stems from a context of systemic racism, in which State security forces carry out operations in socioeconomically vulnerable communities with a high concentration of people of African descent without respecting international human rights standards.

On this occasion, the IACHR reminded the State of its duty to comply with international standards on the use of force, based on the principles of legality, proportionality, and absolute necessity, with a view to reforming its public security forces. Finally, it noted that, in a state governed by the rule of law, it is the responsibility of the regular judicial system to investigate serious human rights violations committed by police officers.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 177/23

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