Amnesty Int. Calls for End to Police Violence in Brazil

Fabíola Ortiz

HAVANA TIMES, April 28 (IPS) — The Brazilian government must “put its house in order” and take a firm stand on respect for human rights if it wants a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, said Amnesty International (AI) secretary-general Salil Shetty.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has declared she will priorities policies of respect for human rights, “but it’s one thing to say the right words, and another to take concrete action,” said Shetty on a break during his visit to this country, where the London-based AI will be opening an office in the next few months.

The activist from India met with relatives of persons killed by police violence, and received complaints of evictions happening in poor communities.

“There has been a long history of police violence in Brazil. For almost four decades we have been working on Brazilian human rights issues, and now we are going to have a permanent presence in Brazil, including a staff team,” he said.

AI statistics indicate that “trigger-happy” use of guns is responsible for killing an average of 1,000 people a year in Rio de Janeiro alone.

“The people who are suffering from police atrocities and injustice in the ‘favelas’ (shanty towns) are mostly Afro-descendants, women and the poor,” said Shetty. “These are people who don’t have a voice, they are invisible and overlooked by society.”

“There is no question that there has been big progress” in terms of the fight for human rights in Brazil since the end of the 1964-1985 dictatorship, the last military regime in the country, he said.

Nevertheless, there are still causes for concern, especially in regard to public security; there is clearly a delay in purging the police; and the prisons are overcrowded with 500,000 inmates, he said. Much work needs to be done to correct these serious problems if the country aspires to a permanent place on the U.N. Security Council.

There is a “very unfortunate” attitude in Brazil, as well as in other countries, where the public perception is that “you have to choose between human rights and public security,” Shetty said.

“No one has the right to take the life of any other person,” echoed Joelma, the aunt of Júlio César Menezes Coelho, who was killed at the age of 21 in a Sept. 18, 2010 police raid during an operation in the favela of Cidade Alta, which Shetty visited this week. “The pain that remains is the motivation that impels you to keep going and fight on,” Joelma added.

“Please don’t kill me, I live here!” were Júlio César’s last words before he was gunned down by six militarized police officers, Joelma said.

“This has become my routine. I am going to fight for as long as my strength lasts. I’m fighting for all the mothers who lost their children in cowardly ways,” Joelma declared when she told the AI head about the loss of her nephew.

The untimely death of Júlio César, who was innocent of any crime and wanted only to study to be a chef, is linked to many others, like Andreu Carvalho, the son of Deize da Silva de Carvalho, who was arrested Dec. 31, 2007, when he was 17.

“The next day they told me my son had been tortured to death,” Silva de Carvalho told Shetty. “Because they know they can commit crimes with impunity, the police just go on massacring poor black people” she complained.

Brazil is still the Latin American country where the most police abuses occur, Maurício Campos dos Santos, a representative of the Networks of Communities and Movements Against Violence and the organizer of the meetings of victims’ relatives with AI, told IPS.

“The families are fighting for justice and the meetings with Amnesty International’s secretary-general gives their cases visibility,” he said. “We know that prejudice is rife in Brazil, and without a doubt, reporting these murders abroad will carry more weight.”

Psychologist Cristiane Fraga, who studies the effects of violence at the Fluminense Federal University, told IPS that one way of dealing with abusive violence is to channel the pain into activism and the search for answers and justice.

“It’s extremely hard to lose a family member. The pain and suffering will never go away, but people react in ways that can restore meaning to their lives,” Fraga said.

As well as giving professional care and advice to relatives of victims of police violence, AI intends to denounce to the justice authorities the compulsory evictions of poor families squatting on land set apart for buildings and other kinds of infrastructure for the 2014 World Cup football championship and the 2016 Olympic Games.

At least 750 families are living on land that has been earmarked for building freeways.

“We don’t want to cancel the World Cup or the Olympics, or hinder the building of the roads. What we want is the right to a decent home,” said Luiz António Pereira Lopes, a priest with the Roman Catholic Pastoral das Favelas.

“Displacement is a violation of human rights, and so are the miserly indemnities the authorities are proposing to pay, which range from 8,000 to 10,000 reals (5,100 to 6,400 dollars), Pereira Lopes said.

“Brazil is a signatory of international human rights treaties and conventions that commit it to guarantee adequate housing,” said Shetty, who accompanied President Rousseff Thursday at a session of the World Economic Forum on Latin America. “They need to follow through on their promise. The examples we have heard show that human rights are still not being respected.”