IACHR Concerned About Violence Against Children in Police Raids in Brazil

September 28, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the excessive use of force in police raids in Brazil and condemns the deaths of children and adolescents in those raids. The IACHR urges the State to prevent, investigate, and punish all acts of violence against children by law enforcement forces and any other stakeholders, and to punish anyone responsible for such violence. Concrete measures are urgently needed to eradicate structural discrimination, which disproportionately affects Afro-descendant children and adolescents, who are in turn more likely to live in poverty or extreme poverty.

According to data gathered by civil society, 12 children were killed and 19 were injured over the period January–September 2023 in raids conducted by law enforcement agencies in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco, and Rio de Janeiro. In six of these cases, the victims were not older than six. The latest case that has been reported involves three-year-old girl Heloísa dos Santos da Silva, who died on September 16. At the time of her death, she had been in hospital for nine days after being shot in a raid conducted by the Federal Highway Police in Rio de Janeiro on September 7.

The available data suggest that more than 70% of the children and adolescent victims in police raids during 2023 were Afro-descendant. The Commission finds that these are not instances of isolated violence, but rather reflect historical and structural discrimination based on ethnic-racial background and socioeconomic vulnerability. Brazil's National Council to Promote the Rights of Children and Adolescents noted that persistent police violence affects mainly communities whose members are Afro-descendant and/or poor.

In this violent context, children and adolescents face numerous violations of their rights that endanger their lives and integrity and also affect their comprehensive development. One example is the fact that, over the first half of 2023, 163,000 students were affected by shutdowns and lesson suspensions in 2,129 schools. In just six months, this figure is higher than the number of school shutdowns over the whole of 2022.

The IACHR notes the action taken by the Brazilian State and by the various states that make up the country in response to police violence. In the specific case of Heloísa dos Santos Silva, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security suspended the police officers involved and launched an investigation into their actions. Further, the Federal Highway Police said its own Human Rights Committee was following up on the case to provide psychological assistance to the young girl's family.

Generally speaking, the IACHR welcomes measures like the deployment of video cameras on the uniforms worn by the São Paulo Military Police, which reportedly led to a 66.3% reduction in the number of adolescent victims of police actions in that state.

However, the IACHR urges the State to extend measures of this type to the rest of the country and to take other action to ensure fast, independent measures by mechanisms to oversee and control police conduct, investigate the relevant events, and identify the people responsible for them, as well as ensuring access to justice for child and adolescent victims and their families. The IACHR further urges the State to provide training to law enforcement officers on matters concerning human rights and the rights of children and adolescents.

Finally, the Commission reminds the State of Brazil of the urgent need to take comprehensive action on a national scale to prevent and address the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. This requires implementing a public security policy that prioritizes the prevention of all forms of violence, the eradication of bias and of ethnic-racial and socioeconomic discrimination, and the constant consideration of each child's best interests.

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. 228/23

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