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LATIN AMERICA | 13-11-2018 12:00

'Killings must stop' - Rights commission concerned by police violence in Brazil

In 2017, an estimated 5,012 people were killed by police, which represents a 19 percent increase from the previous year.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed deep concern over human rights in Brazil, saying it will closely monitor what happens when the government of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro assumes office January 1.

After a one-week visit to eight states in Latin America's biggest country, the commission released a report highlighting violence suffered by indigenous people, the growing exclusion of those living on the streets, threats against freedom of expression, the vulnerability of minorities, and a culture of impunity among police.

"Killings committed by security forces must end. They must protect people, not kill them," the commission's president, Margarette May Macaulay, said at press conference. "The focus must be on the protection of life."

Macaulay blasted Bolsonaro's past statements as "atrocious" and said the commission was "concerned" about the future of Brazil's most vulnerable communities.

In 2017, an estimated 5,012 people were killed by police, which represents a 19 percent increase from the previous year. Brazil is one of the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world, with 30.8 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

Macaulay told reporters that the IACHR had identified "impunity in relation to extrajudicial killings, unlawful arrests and unlawful detentions," as one of the main human rights abuses affecting Brazil.

"The impunity relating to violence against women and against afro-descendants and indigenous persons" was another major worry, she added.

The far-right leader triggered uproar even before his election when he stated that security forces accused of killing criminals "should be decorated and not have to go to court" to be held accountable for their actions.

"We think it is atrocious that anybody, especially somebody looking to be the highest political power in the country, would make a statement like that, and we're hoping that it was just a statement," said the Jamaican official.

Bolsonaro's words were compounded by Rio de Janeiro's conservative governor-elect Wilson Witzel stating he would deploy police marksmen to shoot suspects even when officers' lives weren't in danger.

"I don't know whether they appreciate the position Brazil would be in in relation to their record, their practise and status as a country if that was to go ahead," said Macaulay about policies such as those suggested by Bolsonaro and Witzel.

"It cannot possibly be serious, that's the way we look at it. It's so extreme that we cannot countenance it happening."

'Hate speech'

Bolsonaro has come under fire for a variety of comments he's made on different subjects leading to accusations of racism, misogyny and homophobia.

"We're concerned because of these statements that we in the international human rights community designate as clear hate speech," said Macaulay.

IACHR Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren urged the Brazilian government to provide extra resources to FUNAI, the national body that protects indigenous people's rights.

"The main problem in the Amazon region is related to land and the protection of [indigenous] land and the environment," said Eguiguren.

Many tribes of indigenous people have made claims to the government to have their ancestral lands officially recognised to protect them from speculators, mostly from the farming and mining industries. But those claims often get bogged down in interminable red tape.

"FUNAI is very weak, it has no economic resources or human resources" to push through the indigenous people's claims, said Eguiguren.

Summing up the IACHR's report, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola said Brazil "has not managed to address its main historical debts with its citizens" due to "a structure of inequality and deep discrimination."

That, she said, had left the issue of human rights in the country in a "critical" situation.

Urrejola also said Brazil is a country where "intolerance and hate speech affect the freedom of expression, protests and meetings of LGBTI communities, women, Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples."

During their visit, commission members met with members of the current government of President Michel Temer, in addition to social organisations and activists. They did not meet with anyone from Bolsonaro's future team.

"If there had been any interest, we were available," the report said.

Brazilian officials did not make any immediate comment about the commission's report.

Bolsonaro, a far-right former Army captain, in the past have had harsh words for the commission, which is a permanent body of the Washington-based Organisation of American States (OAS).

Gustavo Bebbiano, an incoming Cabinet member, has called the commission "leftist" and said it has "zero credibility."

The report expressed veiled criticism at some of the core proposals of Bolsonaro's government, including its hardline approach to security and its campaign promise to institute greater legal protections for police officers who commit crimes.

"Experience shows that the escalation of 'zero tolerance' speech strengthens the risk of higher numbers of extrajudicial executions," said, Antonia Urrejola, a member of the commission.

Bolsonaro names general as Brazil's minister of defence

Brazil's president-elect on Tuesday announced the appointment of reservist general Fernando Azevedo e Silva to the post of defence minister.

Azevedo e Silva is the third ministerial appointment that Jair Bolsonaro has drawn from the military, following that of retired general Augusto Heleno as minister of institutional security, and astronaut and air force pilot Marcos Pontes as minister of science and technology.

Azevedo e Silva entered the Army reserves in September before he was controversially named as special advisor to Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli. That move sparked consternation from those worried about an army general operating at the head of the Judiciary.

Azevedo e Silva was in charge of the Olympic Public Authority in 2016 when Rio de Janeiro hosted the summer Games.

Like Heleno, he previously headed Brazil's United Nations peace mission to Haiti, which was launched in 2004. He was trained at the same military academy as Bolsonaro in the 1970s, where Heleno was an instructor, and like the new Brazilian president was also a paratrooper.

He replaces general Joaquim Silva e Luna, who was the first military appointment to the post since the defense ministry was created in 1999.

Bolsonaro has vowed to reduce Brazil's ministries from 29 to 15 and has so far named six ministers, as well as his chief-of-staff.

He previously announced the merging of the environment and agriculture ministries before backing down under protest from environmentalists.

The military presence in Brazil's Congress grew in October's general election, with 35 former military personnel voted into Congress – 31 deputies and four senators – compared to just 18 in the previous parliament.

It has led to concerns in many quarters that Brazil is heading back towards authoritarian rule, evoking painful memories of the brutal 1964-85 military dictatorship under which Bolsonaro served in the Army.

The new supremo, who will take office on January 1, has spoken openly of his admiration both for the military dictatorship and its use of torture, mostly against left-wing political opponents.


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