Amnesty International Reports on the State of Human Rights in Rio and Worldwide

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An annual report from Amnesty International on the global state of human rights released this week pointed to increasing levels of police brutality against civilians. The State of the World’s Human Rights Report documented the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories in 2015. Amnesty reports that “serious human rights violations continued to be reported” and emphasized Brazil’s continuing impunity and rising levels of police violence overall, particularly in Rio de Janeiro state.

The report was launched in Rio at the Casarão Ameno Resedá in Catete in the South Zone on Wednesday February 24 and featured a debate chaired by journalist Flávia Oliveira and included speeches from Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil, journalist and political scientist Leonardo Sakamoto and filmmaker Yasmin Thayná.

The launch of Amnesty's annual report was met with a full house in Rio de Janeiro

Last year, more than 3,000 people across the country were killed by on-duty police, representing an increase of 37% from 2013 according to Amnesty International. In particular, Amnesty said that there has been “a significant increase” in police killings in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, following a trend that started in 2014. The majority of these killings have remained uninvestigated, with only one case out of 220 between 2011 and 2015 in Rio resulting in a police officer being charged. The report found that by April 2015, “183 of these investigations remained open.”

Young, black, male residents of favelas and marginalized communities were found to be the group facing the most serious risks, including “killings by police and the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.” Public security is failing young black Brazilians, with Amnesty’s report announcing that “high rates of homicides among black youth remained a major concern” owing to failures by Brazil’s central government to present a concrete plan to tackle the country’s homicide rate.

The report also listed “frequent reports that the officers involved sought to alter the crime scene and criminalize the victim” and claiming “the killings as acts of self-defense, claiming the victim had resisted arrest.” Among the examples given were the cases of Cristian Andrade, a 13 year-old killed during a police operation in Manguinhos while playing soccer, and the five young men machine-gunned in their car by police in Costa Barros in late November. It also cited 10 year-old Eduardo de Jesus Ferreira, killed by Military Police in Complexo do Alemão who then attempted to remove his body.

Families of the five youths killed by police in November 2015 and children killed in other attacks

Amnesty’s report also emphasized forced evictions in Rio de Janeiro to make way for the 2016 Olympic Games, estimating thousands of people had been evicted including 600 families from Vila Autodrómo. By the end of 2015, Amnesty observed that Vila Autodrómo’s “remaining residents were living in the shadow of ongoing demolition work and without access to basic services such as electricity and water.” It also concluded that the City’s Minha Casa Minha Vida housing projects placed low-income families at greater risk, with the “majority of condominiums […] controlled by militias or organized criminal gangs.”

Activism and work by human rights defenders was also found to be under attack, with police and armed forces using increasingly harsh measures to dissuade protestors across the country. Amnesty reported use of tear gas, rubber bullets and arrest, as well as a prospective law that could see peaceful protestors categorized as “terrorists.” Activists in Rio de Janeiro faced similar measures, such as peaceful protests against Vila Autodrómo’s forced evictions resulting in a “broken nose” for resident Maria da Penha and injuries for four others in June.

Roque speaks about rising levels of police violence across Brazil

At the launch discussion in Rio, Amnesty Brazil director Atila Roque warned: “Democracy is being manipulated against itself. During the dictatorship unconstitutional acts were legislated against freedoms, but we can now see the constitution being manipulated to restrict the rights of individuals in marginalized sectors of society. Public security policies, guided by the war on drugs, and selective outrage at violations have resulted in a high number of deaths mostly of black youths living in favelas and suburban areas.”