‘June Journeys’: five years on
A summary of Conectas actions to expose abuse by Brazilian police forces and to wholeheartedly defend the right of all Brazilians to freedom of assembly, expression and movement and to protest.
The corner of the roads Maria Antônia and Consolação was the scene of the worst incident of police violence during the June Journeys.
Five years ago, in June 2013, the violent repression of a demonstration about the increase in the São Paulo public transport fare triggered a series of protests around the country, which became know as the June Journeys. Since this time Conectas has been reinforcing its activities to defend the constitutional right to meet and gather in public spaces, denouncing the use of abusive strength by the police and demanding that the Public Prosecution take a firmer role in terms of exerting control over police activity.
Among the actions organised by Conectas in this period was its participation as amicus curiae in a public civil action by the São Paulo Public Defender’s Office calling for the prohibition of the use of less-lethal weapons, such as rubber bullets and tear gas grenades by the Military Police. The request, that was attributed a first degree sentence and establishes solid limits on police action in protests, has been suspended by the São Paulo Court of Justice and is awaiting appeal.
According to Henrique Apolinário, Assistant on the Conectas Institutional Violence Programme, the decision was praised by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of assembly. “This decision is a landmark in the construction of standards in police action at protests, that acknowledge a citizen’s right to demonstrate peacefully. It is unacceptable that this continues to be suspended at the direct request of the Governor at the Sao Paulo Court of Justice meeting.”
In addition, in 2013 Conectas presented an urgent appeal to five different UN rapporteurs, denouncing aggressive police activity and calling for investigations into the disproportionate use of force against protesters, such as violations of freedom of assembly, of expression and of movement and for inquiries into arbitrary detentions, torture, cruel degrading treatment and violence against journalists.
The lack of a structured Military Police protocol on the use of force was also the target of Conectas action. The organisation presented international standards for the use of non-lethal weapons that, if complied with, would not cause serious injuries to demonstrators. Since 2013 five people have gone blind after being hit in the face by rubber bullets, although the protocol recommends that this type of shot should be aimed at waist-level or below.
The intensification of violence in police actions is constantly monitored by Conectas. After the ‘June Journeys’, the Military Police’s methods for repressing protests and demonstrations have become more sophisticated and extensive. Notably, after this period, the method of ‘enveloping’ started to be employed (this consists of fencing protesters in and controlling the flow and the direction of demonstrations) as well as the harassment of people outside the context of a protest.
“Five years on from the ‘June Journeys’ the number of protests has gone down, but the will of the people to participate in the direction the country is taking and their understanding of the potential and limitations of public protest has only increased. Nowadays there are more initiatives for direct democratic participation than ever before and the people are demanding that their voices should be heard in all decision making. Sadly, the legislative, executive, judiciary and public prosecution are increasingly focusing their activities on limiting the right to protest on the most sensitive points, such as access to certain public arenas and restricted control of the content and format of protesting about political agendas. Public authorities are seeking new ways to restrain messages that are not in their interest.” Said Henrique.
At a time when militarisation is a reality in Brazil, with a series of statutes for the Guarantee of Law and Order and Federal Intervention in public security in Rio de Janeiro, June 2013 is brought to mind. Conectas is reiterating its commitment to monitoring and denouncing abuse of power by Brazilian police officers and to defending wholeheartedly all Brazilians’ right to freedom of assembly, of expression and of movement and to protest, with no distinction of any kind. The street is one of the arenas of democratic expression and of establishing human rights. It is the state’s role to ensure that this expression can be carried out safely, without the use of the apparatus of violence.