Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Arrests and Attacks on Demonstrators and Journalists during Protests in Brazil

June 20, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression express their concern over the acts of violence that reportedly took place against demonstrators and journalists in Brazil during the social protests held in June in several cities across the country. The Commission urges the authorities to investigate the potential excessive use of force and, where applicable, to prosecute and punish those responsible. In addition, the Commission calls upon the State of Brazil to guarantee the physical welfare and safety of the demonstrators and journalists during the protests.

The information received indicates that the protests began on June 6 in the city of São Paulo, following an increase in public transportation fares. During the demonstrations some isolated acts of violence were reported, such as the burning and vandalism of buses, looting and damages to public buildings. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the demonstrations has been peaceful, and has expanded to other regions of the country, in response to different complaints. The Commission notes with concern that these demonstrations, particularly on June 13, may have involved abuses by law enforcement officers against demonstrators and journalists.

According to the information received, at least 200 people were detained on June 13 in the city of São Paulo. According to the information released by demonstration organizers, more than 100 people were reportedly injured by rubber bullets and police batons or affected by tear gas and pepper spray. According to reports, during one demonstration held on June 16 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, military police officers fired tear gas canisters at a group of demonstrators who had taken refuge in a park, also affecting families and children who were not participating in the demonstrations.

The IACHR also received information concerning arrests and attacks against journalists who were reporting on the demonstrations. On June 11, three journalists were arrested. One of them, Pedro Ribeiro Nogueira, of Portal Aprendiz, spent three days in custody. The IACHR was also informed that on Thursday, June 13, at least fifteen reporters were assaulted by alleged members of the Military Police and two other journalists were reportedly detained. Seven reporters from Folha de São Paulo sustained injuries from rubber bullets or were affected by pepper spray. Two of them, journalists Fábio Braga and Giuliana Vallone, were reportedly shot in the face with rubber bullets. Photographer Sérgio Silva of theFutura Press agency is said to be in danger of losing sight in his left eye as a result of having been injured by a rubber bullet. Photographer Filipe Araújo, of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, was reportedly struck by a police vehicle while photographing the demonstrations. On June 16 and 17, two journalists were injured while covering demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. On the other hand, three journalists were reportedly attacked during other demonstrations by protesters.

According to the information received, Brazilian authorities have supported the right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully, and have maintained that the potential abuses by law enforcement officers must be investigated. President Dilma Rousseff stated that, "the size of the demonstrations [.] shows the vitality of democracy" in Brazil. For his part, São Paulo Mayor, Fernando Haddad, stated with respect to the June 13 demonstrations that, "there is no doubt that the image that remained was one of police violence, and so I understand that the secretary [of public safety] acted correctly by opening an investigation to rigorously ascertain the facts."

The Inter-American Commission welcomes these statements of the Brazilian authorities, which are in agreement with the relevant inter-American standards. The rights of assembly and freedom of expression are fundamental rights guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights, and are essential for the existence and functioning of a democratic society. A State may impose reasonable limitations on protests with the objective of ensuring that they are peacefully carried out, or to disperse those that turn violent, so long as such limits are governed by the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. Moreover, dispersion of a protest may only be justified by the duty to protect people, and the methods to be adopted must be those that are the safest and that cause the least harm to the protesters. The use of force in public demonstrations should be exceptional and strictly necessary in accordance with internationally recognized principles.

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. 44/13