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Brazil: New report shows police killings rife ten years after massacres

The report documents consistent evidence that ten years on from the massacres at Candelária and Vigário Geral, in 1993, little has changed. Statements made in public by elected officials even appear to support the killing of civilians, presenting the killings as an acceptable and necessary product of crime control.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'Ten years on from the brutal killings of sleeping Children's rights by military police in Candlaria and Vigario Geral, little has changed. Police brutality, 'justified' by wars against drug gangs, is rife. 'Hundreds of civilians each year get caught in the crossfire between armed drug gangs and over-zealous, under-trained police. Particularly worrying are reports that suggest continued, deliberate police executions.'

The report, Rio de Janeiro 2003: Candelária and Vigário Geral 10 years on, documents the prevailing sense of impunity surrounding the two horrific police massacres that took place in Brazil during 1993 and reports on dramatic increases in police killings in Rio today.

Lesley Warner said: 'Even though there have been some successful prosecutions, particularly regarding the Candelária killings, ten years after the massacres many of those responsible remain unpunished. Survivors, witnesses and relatives of those who died continue to seek truth and justice.'

Only two of the fifty policeman accused of involvement in the Vigário Geral massacre are in prison. None of the survivors or relatives of the victims of either massacre has yet received full compensation from the state, including Wagner dos Santos, who miraculously survived both the Candelária massacre and a further attempt on his life in December 1994.

Ten years on, Amnesty International found that any positive attempts to reform policing methods in the city have been largely abandoned.

In 2001 a deputy in Rio's state legislative assembly said: 'Today with the question of human rights protection, some think that they can do what they want…. Electors have to understand my position and vote for me, knowing that as for that 17-year-old who died in Candelária, as I've said before and I say again, if any more die, I'll pay for the coffin and reward whoever kills them.'

Lesley Warner concluded: 'Rather than proclaiming about how many 'criminals' the police have killed, the authorities in Rio should be unequivocally condemning all cases of unlawful killing. Violent crime must of course be tackled, but it is imperative that it is done within the rule of law. 'Police killings must be fully and fairly investigated. This means independent forensic examinations, comprehensive witness protection for those who testify, and the setting up of a well-resourced body to oversee the police. Police training should be completely reformed to prevent abuses happening in the first place.'


In 1993 Brazil and the international community were appalled by two massacres of unarmed and defenceless civilians that took place within weeks of each other in Rio de Janeiro city. Eight 'street Children's rights' and young adults were attacked and killed as they lay sleeping outside a church in central Rio in what became known as the Candelária massacre on 23 July 1993. Little over a month later on 29 August 1993 twenty one residents of Vigário Geral, a poor community on the city's outskirts, were slaughtered by a group of heavily armed and hooded men.

The shock of these brutal and senseless killings was made all the worse when evidence emerged that both massacres had been carried out by members of Rio's military police force, the very individuals paid, trained and equipped by the state to protect society from crime and violence.

In June 2003 Amnesty International visited Rio to speak with relatives and representatives of those who died, and to reflect on the situation in the city today. The organisation conducted meetings with human rights organisations, representatives of various sectors of civil society and the state authorities.

Further information

For a full copy of the report Rio de Janeiro 2003: Candelária and Vigário Geral 10 years on in English, see:

An interview with a victim of police brutality in Rio de Janeiro is available at: /p>

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