It’s only a year until the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and with the Brazilian city already under scrutiny for its safety and health problems, Amnesty International has added another headache to the list.
The civil rights organization has denounced an epidemic of police abuse in the city, releasing a report saying that police killings accounted for almost 16%—1,519 in total—of the city’s homicides last year. Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
In a detailed 90-page report titled You killed my son, Amnesty International says that the “war on drugs” has become an excuse for military police to use excessive and sometimes lethal force, and even carry out extrajudicial executions, especially in the poor neighborhoods of the city known as favelas.
Researchers studied the homicide numbers over almost a decade (from 2005 to 2014) and found that there were 8,466 police killings in the State of Rio de Janeiro, 5,132 of them within the city. The victims were predominantly male (95%), black (79%) and young (75% were between 15 and 29). They mostly lived in favelas and other marginalized slums.
“The authorities often use the legal term of ‘resistance followed by death’ as a smokescreen to cover up killings committed by the police officers,” according to the report.
The organization based its research on data from the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Public Security (ISP), as well as field visits and interviews with victims and their families, witnesses, and local organizers. The researchers looked closely at 10 cases in the Acari favela, which came first in police killings last year. Of those, four victims had surrendered when police officers opened fire, another four were shot with no prior warning, and another one was running away when attacked, Amnesty says.
The civil rights group also say that the law enforcement officers operate with ”total impunity.” The study found that only one of the 220 investigations opened because of police killings in 2011 led to an officer being charged.
State security secretary José Mariano Beltrame has criticized Amnesty’s report, calling it “reckless and misleading.” The local government itself tells a very different story: According to official figures for the city, police killings dropped 85%—from 136 to 20—between 2008 and 2014.