After two weeks investigating human rights abuses in six
Brazilian states, the UN’s special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir’s
verdict is highly critical. It’s appalling that the military police kill
she said, and even sadder that some government
officials will look you in the eye and say all is well
Justice, Law and Equality. At Rio de Janeiro’s Magistrates School (EMERJ) these are key values, embodied by
three towering statues outside. Yet according to one senior UN official, speaking inside the building, such principles are
virtually non-existent in Brazil.
"With the system that I saw here it will be very difficult to get justice," said Asma Jahangir, the UN’s special
Rapporteur on summary executions in the country.
"It is quite appalling that extra-judicial killings have been carried out by Polícia Militar with impunity in Rio de
Janeiro [and] it is even sadder that there are government officials who will look you in the eye and say all is well," she told a
group of mothers whose sons were killed by Rio’s Polícia Militar (PM).
After two weeks investigating human rights abuses in six states, Jahangir’s verdict is highly critical. "There have
been some very agonizing moments," she explained, after interviewing inhabitants of the Borel and Jacarezinho
favelas (shantytowns) in Rio over the weekend. "To listen to so many cases and incidents when so many precious lives could have been saved."
The Pakistani activist, who was supposed to meet with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brasília, had harsh
words for the authorities and singled out three officials for particularly scathing criticism.
"I had a discussion with the head of the public prosecutor and we discussed everything but the problem [itself]. I
really am wondering if he has ever gone and visited the families in the
favelas," she said, adding: "I wish he would, so he
would know that there are people there crying out for justice."
She was also scathing about the police ombudsman, Maria do Carmo Alves.
"Apart from greeting us for about 20 seconds she did not say a word throughout our meeting. It was her advisors
Jahangir said many of the facts and figures provided by the authorities did not correspond. She also suggested the
police ombudsman was nothing more than a "window dressing".
Despite this, the human rights lawyer admitted "there was change in the air".
"I am of the impression that Brazil will bring about change. And despite those who think in old time thinking there is
a momentum of the people and of some politicians that will take you forwards."
Jahangir might have been referring to Chico Alencar. The PT (Workers’ Party) deputy yesterday said he would
demand an explanation from Rio’s Assembly for the continuing abuses and fight for compensation for families of those killed by police.
"We have to look our tragedy in the eyes. If not the criminals will think they can carry on doing anything," he said.
Also at the meeting, organized by the Commission of Human Rights, were relatives of Chan Kim Chang, the
Chinese businessman killed in police custody last month. Speaking earlier Chang’s aunt rejected the police version of his death.
"The police said that that it happened because he broke a pipe and refused to have his photo taken," she said. "The
family don’t believe in this, in any way. There is no reason for this."
Chang’s cousin, Daniel, later told the meeting: "In my view, our view, he was arrested, judged, sentenced and killed
by incapable people. There aren’t words to express what we feel for these people."
All So Common
New figures released show Chang’s case is far from exceptional. Astério Pereira dos Santos, the head of the prison
authority, reportedly said Mr. Chang was the only person to have died in custody in the last 3 years. Yet Jahangir rejects this.
"I wonder if this tragic incident had not taken place, what would he have had to say to me," she asked.
"Nada (nothing)," was the response from many of those present.
Data presented to the Commission by Rio-based human rights group Justiça Global painted a similarly bleak
picture. According to the NGO’s figures, there has been a steady rise in the number of those killed by police in Rio since 1998.
Last year some 900 were killed compared to 289 in 1999.
"[There is] a definite tendency in the intention to kill," said the group’s Marcelo Freixo.
Ivan Santiago, a professor at Rio’s Catholic University (PUC) who has been helping the UN commission, said it was
time to rethink human rights in Brazil. "We need to remind ourselves of the Constitution: `Everyone is equal within the law."
The UN representative agreed. Asked what her message to President Lula would be Jahangir was blunt. "Time to get
Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. He writes for a variety of publications on politics
and current affairs, as well as various aspects of the
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