Rio police killings ‘claim more lives than war’

December 9, 2009.
BRAZILIAN police in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo ”routinely” carry out unlawful executions, worsening a spiral of violence in the cities, the group Human Rights Watch alleges.

A forensic study of 51 suspect deaths by police found at least 33 were likely examples of unjustified lethal force, the New York-based rights group has said in a 122-page report to be released at a Rio press conference.

Seventeen of the cases ”show that police shot their victims at point blank range”, it says.

”The 51 cases do not represent the totality of potential extrajudicial killings, but are indicative of a much broader problem,” the report adds.

The study was released yesterday amid rising international concern about rampant crime in Brazil and the reliability of law enforcement as Rio prepares to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

In October, Rio police launched a big operation against drug gangs that rule many of the city’s slums after one of them shot down a police helicopter, killing three officers.

A report published last month by a Brazilian sociologist, Ignacio Cano, suggested Rio police had killed more than 10,000 people over the past 11 years, mostly in the lawless slums.

Most of those killed were classified by officers as suspected drug traffickers who were ”resisting police”.

By comparison, more than 6000 people were killed in Sao Paulo in police clashes over the same period.

Rio’s statistics are ”higher than those of many wars”, said Professor Cano, who conducted his study at the request of the state legislature.

Human Rights Watch said more than 11,000 people had been killed by police in Rio and Sao Paulo since 2003.

Some were legitimate acts of self-defence by police, but many were not, it said.

”The notion that these police killings are committed in self-defence, or justified by high crime rates, does not hold up under scrutiny,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.

”Extrajudicial killing of criminal suspects is not the answer to violent crime,” he said.

Mr Vivanco called for ”more effective policing, not more violence from the police” in the two cities.

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