25 per 100,000: Brazil’s Per-Capita Homicide Rate Is Three Times the World Average

Police violence in Brazil Earlier this year, in September, the United Nations released a report on Brazilian arbitrary, summary, or extra-judicial executions, elaborated by the special investigator Philip Alston, who visited Brazil for 11 days in November 2007.

The investigator covered cities in the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Pernambuco to examine security politics, police violence, the prison system, the actions of extermination groups, rural violence, and violence against indigenous peoples.

According to the report, approximately 48,000 deaths occur in Brazil each year, making the country's homicide rate one of the highest in the world.

Data from 2006 shows that the homicide rate per capita is much higher than the world-wide average, with 25 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. The world-wide average is 8.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, not including deaths related to wars.

The special investigator recommends reforms in the Civil Police, the Military Police, police internal affairs office, medical jurisprudence, ombudsmen, public prosecutor's office, judiciary, and in the prison administration.

"Oftentimes, the members of police forces contribute to the problem of extra-judicial executions instead of helping to resolve it. In part, there exists a major problem of on-duty police using excessive force and practicing extra-judicial executions in illegal and counter-productive efforts to combat crime. But there also exists the problem of out-of-service police who gather to form criminal organizations which also participate in these assassinations."

In accordance with the text, active police are responsible for a significant proportion of the total number of deaths in Brazil. Data from the report reveals that while the official homicide rate in São Paulo decreased in recent years, the number of deaths caused by the police increased, in fact, in the last three years.

In 2007, the active police forces killed one person per day. In Rio de Janeiro, active police forces are responsible for almost 18% of all deaths, killing three people per day.

The report also criticizes "bicos" (odd jobs) practiced by police: "It is a fact known to the highest levels of the government, the police, and the police commanders, that the prohibited practice of having a second job – mainly as security – is fairly widespread. However, while efforts are made in Pernambuco, it was clear to me that in São Paulo and in Rio de Janeiro, nothing is being done to deal with this problem."

On the issue of militias, the investigator affirmed that "for the residents, life under the dominion of a militia is, oftentimes, as violent and insecure as it is to live under the dominion of a drug faction. The militias execute extra-judicially those suspected of being traffickers to force their withdrawal from the area, they execute those suspected of other crimes, they intimidate the residents and threaten and kill those who speak against the militia or those who are considered allied with other groups who are vying for control."

In relation to the death squads (esquadrões da morte), Alston says that these extermination groups are formed by police and others with the objective of killing, mainly for financial gain. "Such groups sometimes justify their actions as an illegal tool of 'combating crime'. In cases where the groups are being contracted for money, the contractors sometimes integrate other criminal organizations, such as traffickers or corrupt politicians who feel threatened and are looking to dominate that threat, gain advantages over the other rival group, or to take revenge."

According to the report, data from the Public Ministry of Pernambuco indicates that approximately 70% of the assassinations in Pernambuco are carried out by death squads.

"One CPI (Parliamentary Inquiry Commission) of the national congress found that the majority of extermination groups are made up of government agents (police and prison agents) and that 80% of the crimes committed by these extermination groups involve police or ex-police," it added.

In conclusion, the UN investigator made a series of recommendations to the Brazilian public powers on policing strategies, involvement of police in organized crime, police accountability, expert evidence, witness protection, attorney generals, the judicial structure, and the prison system.

On the issue of the prison system, the report advises that the government take measures which end the control of factions in the penitentiaries, eliminating cell phones, and decreasing overcrowding.

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