It is notable that in 2004 homicide numbers reportedly dropped by 8.2%, the first such drop since 1992, according to health department figures published by the federal government. The federal government attributed the drop to its widely welcomed ‘Disarmament Statute’, which has controlled the carrying of guns. Amnesty International has also been informed of alternative and community based security projects, by both municipal authorities and civil society, which have also contributed to the decline in homicide rates through systemic, multi-sectoral approaches to criminality and violence without resorting to repressive means. According to reports, in the city of Diadema, on the outskirts of São Paulo, the municipal government managed to reduce homicide rates by 47% through targeted policies aimed at violence “hot-spots”. In Jardim Angela, a region in the south of São Paulo, visited several times by Amnesty International, government statistics show that homicide rates dropped 73.3%. In Jardim Angela, the persistent efforts of civil society and the Catholic Church to ensure the authorities find alternative means to address the problem have been emblematic and undoubtedly contributed to this reduction.
Killings in Rural Areas (paragraphs 126-129)
Similarly in rural areas, patterns of killings against land activists and indigenous peoples as a result of their fight for land continues to be of extreme concern. In 2003, killings of land activists and indigenous peoples increased notably. These killings often occur either with the participation, knowledge or acquiescence of state law enforcement officials. The majority of perpetrators remain unpunished. According to the Pastoral Land Commission figures, in 2003 only five people were in prison for 976 killings of land activists committed between 1985 and 1996. Causes for the sudden increase in killings are varied. However, long term impunity, slow and controversial land reform procedures and complicity of state authorities with powerful land owners have contributed to the levels of these killings.
On 12 February 2005, Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun who had long campaigned on ecological and land issues in the Amazonian state of Pará, was killed by hired gun men. Sister Dorothy was killed only two days after having met the then Special Secretary for Human Rights of the federal government informing him of death threats against her. (See section on federalization of human rights crimes).
Killings by “death squads” continue to be of major concern in Brazil. Prior to the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial and Summary Executions in September 2003, the federal government published figures which stated that there were indications of “death squad” activity in at least 15 of the country’s 27 states. “Death squads”, largely made up of police officers and former police officers, are believed to be involved in the killing of criminal suspects on the request of small business owners, but many reports indicate their involvement in organised crime, including drug and gun trafficking as well as assassinations.
On 31 March 2005, 29 people were shot and killed by a group of people believed to be members of Rio’s military police force. The group drove around the areas of Queimados and Nova Iguaçu in the Baixada Fluminense district in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Members of the group, who in some cases wore masks and hoods, reportedly fired indiscriminately from their cars on passers-by. The victims were aged between 13 and 64 years old and included numerous school children. In the wake of the killings, the state secretary of public security stated publicly that corrupt members of the military police were involved. A joint federal and state police investigation was initiated, which led to the preventative detention of ten police officers and one former police officer. By checking records of “records of resistance” the civil police investigation has linked at least 15 prior killings to the massacre suspects. The Baixada Fluminense has suffered a long history of “death squad” activity, and while there are no clear indications as to why the shooting took place, they clearly fit the long pattern if not the scale of similar crimes attributed to them.
A major victory against “death squad” activity was achieved in November 2004, following a decision by a federal court to prohibit the Escuderie Detetive Le Cocq organization, officially a police benevolent fund, but believed to be the front for a “death squad” which dominated organized crime in the state of Espírito Santo for many years. However, joint federal and state investigations into organised crime, assassinations and extra-judicial executions in the state of Espírito Santo, following reports that sections of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state were involved in organised crime, have been slow. Most notable have been the failures by the authorities to make headway with the investigations into several high profile murders, such as that of lawyer Marcelo Denadai, killed in April 2002. According to information received by Amnesty International, several of the witnesses in this case have been killed.