Brazil: Authorities have abandoned poor to violence, says major new report

It concludes that a new public security plan – that focuses on issues such as prevention of homicides, delivery of justice and control of small arms – is the only way to tackle violence and crime across the country.

There were over 50,000 homicides in Brazil in 2002 alone.

Tim Cahill, Amnesty International’s researcher on Brazil, said:

“Brazil’s public security strategy has abandoned the country’s poor and sentenced all Brazilians to crime and violence.

“Despite the fact that people living in Brazil’s poor communities are many times more likely to be victims of violent crime, Federal and State authorities invest little to nothing in their protection.

"The public security budget allocation has been done on the basis of repression and discrimination effectively ‘criminalising’ poor communities as a whole.”

According to Amnesty International’s findings, far from reducing crime, discriminatory public security policies have concentrated criminal violence and human rights violations in Brazil’s shanty towns.

The report reveals policing on the basis of “invasions” of poor communities or favelas, often using collective warrants discriminating whole communities at a stroke; extreme levels of human rights violations, including extra-judicial executions and torture; and widespread corruption at the hands of elements within the police.

Tim Cahill added:

“The poor of Brazil’s main urban centres are crying out for state protection and what they often receive, if anything, is violent and corrupt police officers. Security based on social division and repression will not bring the peace the population demands.”

The report highlights numerous case studies. In April 2005 Amnesty met Elizabete Maria de Souza, sister of a 13-year old boy reportedly executed by police in January 2004.

A witness said that police had rushed, shooting, towards the boy and his four friends while they were sitting in a bar. The boys tried to identify themselves to no avail. A day later their bodies were found in a mud pit, located behind a garage near the community.

Elizabete told Amnesty that police patrols slow down outside her home, causing her to fear for her safety.

The lack of an effective public security policy has not only failed poor communities but the police as well. For many police officers, being sent to a favela is seen as a punishment.

Police officers working in Brazil’s shanty towns are often inadequately trained and resourced, while military style operations place them at high risk of attacks by criminal gangs and drug factions. In 2004 alone, 52 police officers were killed while on duty in Rio de Janeiro.

Amnesty International recognises that the federal governments have made some efforts to address public security through the creation of the national public security plan and through efforts to disarm the population.

Amnesty International has also seen how at municipal level effectively targeted social investment combined with community security projects have resulted in notable reductions in levels of homicides.

Tim Cahill said:

“Short term political and financial objectives can no longer justify successive governments’ negligence in this area. The devastation of a generation of Brazil’s youth and the ever growing social divide that plagues Brazil must be addressed by authorities at all levels.”

Key Statistics:

  • Official statistics show that between 1999 and 2004, police in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo killed 9,889 people in situations registered officially as “resistance followed by death”.
  • Murders are concentrated in areas of greater socio-economic exclusion and reduced police presence.

    In São Paulo’s, socially-deprived Jardim Ângela district, there were 309 homicides or 123 per 100,000 in 2001, while the middle class district of Moema, only a few kilometres away, suffered two homicides or three per 100,000 in the same year.

  • There are around 17 million small arms held in Brazil of which 15 million are held privately.

    Of those around 9 million are held illegally; 4 million are believed to be held by criminals.


  • 2005 Baixada Fluminense, Rio - 29 people killed by a “death squad”.
  • 1997 Eldorado dos Carajás - land activists murdered.
  • 1993 Candelaria Cathedral, Rio - Children's rights sleeping on the steps of the church are murdered.
  • 1993 Vigário Geral, Rio - favela dwellers murdered
  • 1992 Carandiru prision - unarmed detainees in São Paulo’s detention centre are murdered.
  • Countless other killings have gone unreported.

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