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Rio 2016: Surge in killings by police sparks fear in favelas 100 days before Olympics

Residents in many of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas are living in terror after at least 11 people have been killed, including a five-year-old boy, in police shootings since the beginning of the month, Amnesty International warned on the 100-day countdown to the Olympic Games (27 April).

There has been a surge in the use of excessive force by police in Rio de Janeiro state in recent years, and the majority of victims are young black men from favelas and marginalised areas. In 2015, at least 307 people were killed by the police in the city, accounting for one in every five homicides there.

Meanwhile,the authorities have failed to hold those responsible to account and they have taken an increasingly hard-line approach against mainly peaceful street protests.

Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty Brazil, said:

“Despite the promised legacy of a safe city for hosting the Olympic Games, killings by the police have been steadily increasing over the past few years in Rio. Many people have been severely injured by rubber bullets, stun grenades and even firearms used by police forces during protests.

“Until now, killings by police have for the most part not been investigated, rigorous training and clear operational guidelines for the use of ‘less-lethal’ weapons have not been established and the authorities still treat protesters like a ‘public enemy’.

“Over the next 100 days, there is a lot that the authorities and the organising bodies of Rio 2016 can and must do to ensure that any public security operations will not violate human rights. We expect Rio’s police forces to take a precautionary and consultative approach to public security instead of continuing with their ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ strategy.”

In 2014, when Brazil hosted the FIFA Men's World Cup, police in the state of Rio de Janeiro killed 580 people, a 40% increase on the previous year. The number in 2015 was even higher at 645.

Although it is not possible to link this rise in police killings directly to the preparations for the Olympic Games, the statistics reveal a clear pattern of excessive use of force, violence and impunity that taints public security institutions. Many of these killings take place in the state of Rio, which will host the Games.

In August 2015, Amnesty  launched the report You Killed My Son: Homicides Committed by Military Police in the City of Rio de Janeiro”, detailing “trigger-happy” police practices in Acari, a favela in the north of the city, in the aftermath of the World Cup. It found that in the vast majority of killings by the military police documented by the organisation, there were strong indications of extrajudicial executions. Despite the exposure and public pressure, so far no one has been brought to justice.

Meanwhile, police repression of protests is another concern in the run-up to the Olympics. Two years after hosting the World Cup, when Amnesty also denounced cases of excessive and unnecessary use of force by the police during protests, including the misuse of less-lethal weapons including rubber bullets, stun grenades, chemical irritant sprays, tear gas,no effective measures have been taken to prevent further police abuses. The only new legislation related to public security around the Olympics is an anti-terrorism law that in practice could be used to curb and criminalise protests.


Police officers were responsible for one in five homicides in Rio de Janeiro city during 2015.

At least 11 people were killed during police operations in the first three weeks of April 2016. On 2 April, a five-year-old boy was killed and two others were injured in a military police operation in Magé, a municipality of the greater Rio area. On 4 April, five people were killed in Acari during a joint federal and civil police operation. On the same day, a young man was killed in the favela of Manguinhos during a military police operation. On 7 April, at least two people were killed in Jacarezinho, also in a military police operation. Between 16 and 17 April, a major police operation resulted in two killings and nine injured as residents faced 36 hours of intense shootings in Alemão. On 23 April, one mototaxi driver was killed during a military police operation.

Homicides resulting from police intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro increased by 54% in two years. In 2014, the year Brazil hosted the World Cup, there were 580 killings amid police operations in the state of Rio, an increase of around 40% on the previous year. In 2015 the trend continued, with 645 killings by police, a 54% increase in the two years since 2013. Source: “You killed my son” report and Brazil’s Public Security Institute (Instituto de Segurança Pública).

Anti-terrorism Law: Thousands of activists and protesters are now at risk of arrest under Brazil’s new anti-terrorism law. The approval of a new federal anti-terrorism law in February 2016 threatens protesters and social movements by criminalising actions linked to exercising the right to freedom of assembly.

Arrested during the protests in 2013 in the run-up to the World Cup: Rafael Braga, who was detained in a protest on 20 June 2013 and sentenced to five years in prison, remains in jail. Rafael was carrying a bottle of a cleaning product and was found guilty of the crime of carrying explosive material, despite the fact that the forensics analysis of the material affirmed that they were not explosives. The case was documented in Amnesty’s report “They use a strategy of fear”.

No regulation of the use of the so called “less-lethal” weapons, including operational guidelines, rigorous training and standards for equipment selection and testing, has been developed. These weapons – including rubber bullets, stun grenades, chemical irritant sprays, tear gas, and others – have been widely used to repress peaceful protests in Brazil. Their misuse and abuse resulting in unnecessary and excessive use of force, as well as injuries, some life-changing, have been documented by Amnesty in “They use a strategy of fear” report.

Thousands of military police and soldiers deployed to residential areas. - In 2014 the Brazilian army was deployed to Rio de Janeiro’s Maré favela complex ahead of the World Cup. Thousands of troops and military police remained in the community for over a year and multiple abuses were reported, such as the case of Vitor Santiago Borges, now 30, who was shot by the army last year and had to have his leg amputated.

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