Amnesty International has researched and documented police practices which have led to what many human rights groups in Brazil have described as the “criminalisation of poverty”. These are practices which have been shown to specifically target socially excluded communities, dismissing whole communities as criminal while conversely also contributing to levels of criminality and violence within them. These include the use of generalised warrants which allow police to search whole communities at one go, thus making all residents automatically suspects contrary to their legal rights. In its report on police killings in Rio de Janeiro, Global Justice underlines the illegality of these warrants when citing a ruling by Judge Domingos de Almeida Neto, of the 29th Criminal Court of Rio de Janeiro, who stated, “ You cannot give the investigator a blank cheque [generalised warrant], especially when you are dealing with constitutional guarantees. All evidence derived from such a warrant will be void.” However, many judges continue to issues such warrants. Under articles 240 and 340 of the Criminal Penal Code, a search warrant entails a “residence or personal” search, and, “as precisely as possible the house where the search will be conducted, or in the case of an individual search, the name of the person who is to be searched or signs that identify him,” in addition to “mentioning the motives and ends of the search.”
Other police practices include mounting intimidatory patrols or entering communities shooting randomly, often leading to the killing of innocent bystanders. Also of concern are the extreme levels of corruption, which have contributed to the levels of criminality and violence in the communities. This can range from petty extortion and verbal abuse, through sexual intimidation and harassment, to direct involvement in drug and gun trafficking. Academic studies consistently show that socially excluded communities suffer much higher levels of violent crime, especially homicides, as a result.
At five o’clock in the morning of 28 August 2005 members of São Paulo’s military police invaded Jardim Elba, a favela in Sapopemba in the east of São Paulo. According to reports the police entered by helicopter, cars and on horse-back, blocking the narrow alley ways and hindering people from going to work. According to press reports the authorities later informed community leaders that the operation, codenamed Saturation, was aimed at combating drug trafficking in the community and ensuring closer links between residents and the police. Amnesty International has been informed by the Sapopemba human rights centre, that as part of this operation numerous discriminatory acts and human rights violations have occurred, including: entering houses without proper warrants; abusive and violent searches of women; and the confiscation or discarding of residents’ packed lunches. Amnesty International was also informed that a five year old girl had her leg broken after being reportedly trodden on by a military police officer. Members of the Sapopemba human rights centre also informed Amnesty International that the operation appears to follow a pattern of similar operations taking place in favelas across the city of São Paulo over the last few weeks. Human rights activists from Sapopemba expressed their concern, to Amnesty International, at the abusive and discriminatory methods of security being imposed on socially excluded communities which failed to address the needs of its residents.
Several studies have also shown, as an extension of this, that Afro-Brazilian communities are more likely to be victims of homicide and especially killings by the police. UNICEF’s fourth report mapping violence in Brazil, for example, has shown that on national average in 2002 whites suffered a homicide rate of 39.2 per 100,000, while the country’s Afro-Brazilian population had a homicide rate of 68.4 per 100,000. A recent study by Candido Mendes University in Rio de Janeiro, based on national census figures, stated that the number of Afro-Brazilian homicide victims was 87% higher than those of white Brazilians. Further analysis showed that the number of black Brazilian homicide victims was 21% higher than that of mixed race. Studies by both São Paulo’s police ombudsman’s office as well as the Rio de Janeiro based research centre ISER of police lethality cases show that Afro-Brazilians make up the majority of the victims in these cases.
Most Afro-Brazilians suffer discrimination on two levels, both as a result of their race and by the fact that they make up the largest percentage of Brazil’s poorer socio-economic groups. As such, they are more likely to suffer human rights violations at the hands of the police. There are also indications that indigenous peoples and internal immigrants from the north-east of the country are treated differently by the police forces. The following cases indicate these reported trends.
On 3 February 2004, Flávio Ferreira Sant’Ana, a black dentist from São Paulo, was shot in the head and killed after being detained by military police officers searching for a thief. The victim of the theft resisted attempts by the police to coerce him into covering up the killing, and refused to identify Flávio Sant’Ana as the alleged thief. The officers involved were reported to have planted a gun by his body, stating that he was killed while resisting arrest. There were strong indications that the killing was racially motivated. However, it is also apparent that it was Flávio Sant’Ana’s position as a dentist that differentiated his case from so many other similar ones, reportedly contributing to the public’s strong reaction to the killing. This highlighted how a combination of both social and racial discrimination underlies many of the human rights violations perpetrated by members of the police. In August 2005, three police officers stood trial, accused of the murder of Flávio Sant’Ana.
In August 2005, a jury acquitted the military policeman accused of killing the indigenous man Raimundo Silvino of the Shanenawa people in Feijó, Acre state in July 1996. According to two other indigenous men who witnessed the incident, Raimundo Silvino was killed because the off-duty policeman saw him hugging a non-indigenous child, the son of a woman who worked with the Shanenawa. Despite attempts to move the case to a federal court, it was heard locally. CIMI, the indigenist missionary council, has appealed against the decision.
Second Optional Protocol of the ICCPR
In relation to the death penalty, Brazil is abolitionist for ordinary crimes. However, it is amongst a list of countries which is still to ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol of the ICCPR. Amnesty International believes that it is essential for a country like Brazil to take the lead by signing and ratifying the only international treaty of worldwide scope to prohibit executions for ordinary crimes at least, and thus help strengthen the growing global consensus against the death penalty as an unacceptable violation of human rights.