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24/05/2021

The errors made by the Civil Police in the Jacarezinho massacre

From non-compliance with a Supreme Court ruling to extrajudicial killings, the conduct by security agents violates national and international laws and rules

Foto: Fabiano Rocha/Divulgação Foto: Fabiano Rocha/Divulgação

The operation by the Civil Police in the Jacarezinho favela was marked by a series of illegalities, according to 64 civil society organizations and social movements that, in a complaint to national and international bodies, are demanding clarifications and measures to guarantee an investigation, accountability and reparations for the 27 killings in the deadliest massacre in the history of the city of Rio de Janeiro, according to the Study Group of New Illegalisms of the Fluminense Federal University (UFF).

In addition to the high lethality, the raid by at least 200 police officers into the favela violated several other rights, as shown by the Public Defender’s Office, activists and residents, but the security agents claim the operation was successful and that it occurred within legal parameters. This narrative was echoed by several authorities, including the governor of Rio de Janeiro Claudio Castro and President Jair Bolsonaro. Police officers and authorities also attacked human rights activists who criticized the operation. 

In the complaint submitted to the United Nations, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) on the case, civil society organizations say that police violence is routine and widespread in Brazil, mostly affecting poor and black people. 

See below the errors and illegalities of the operation in Jacarezinho that need to be investigated:  

Non-compliance with the Supreme Court ADPF Case 635

The operation violated several points of the injunction granted in 2020 by Justice Edson Fachin of the Supreme Court. The decisions taken as part of the Allegation of Violation of a Fundamental Precept (ADPF) Case No. 635, known as the ADPF Favelas Case, place restrictions on police operations in communities in Rio de Janeiro while the Covid-19 pandemic persists, permitting them only in exceptional circumstances with sufficient justification and requiring prior notice given to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The ruling by Justice Fachin also states that, in the exceptional cases that police operations occur, they should “avoid the undue removal of bodies under the pretext of providing medical assistance” in order to preserve the crime scene for forensic analysis. In the Jacarezinho Massacre, however, the security agents took at least 20 dead bodies to the Souza Aguiar Hospital, according to the Rio de Janeiro Department of Health, indicating that the police officers removed the bodies of the victims from the scene. The Public Defender’s Office also claims that there was “tampering with the crime scene”.  

The use of at least two helicopters in this operation also defies the ruling by Fachin, who banned the police from firing their weapons from rotary-wing aircraft. Another fundamental point is the recommendation for special care to be taken in areas near schools, day care centers, health clinics and hospitals. Information shows that one health unit that provides vaccines against Covid-19 had to be closed due to the presence of police officers. Humanitarian assistance activities, such as the distribution of food staples and meals, were also suspended due to the operation. 

In the complaint sent to the human rights bodies, the organizations point out that this was “not just a one-off disregard for the rulings of the highest court in the country. In actual fact, we are faced with a complete incomprehension, both by the state of Rio de Janeiro and by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, of the real weight of the important decisions made by the Supreme Court within the scope of ADPF Case No. 635”.

On Friday, May 21, a virtual session of the Supreme Court started to judge a petition filed by the PSB (Brazilian Socialist Party), NGOs and social movements engaged in the ADPF Favelas Case. The petition is for the state government of Rio de Janeiro to prepare a plan to reduce police lethality. But the judgment was suspended on Monday, May 24, after Justice Alexandre de Moraes requested an adjournment. 

Extrajudicial killings

Residents reported that people were executed without being given a chance to surrender. Furthermore, medical reports show that some of the dead were shot in the head, back or stomach, which suggests they may have been executed. These facts led Supreme Court Justice Fachin to send official letters to the Office of the Federal Prosecutor General and the Office of the Rio de Janeiro State Prosecutor General recognizing the possibility of “arbitrary execution” in Jacarezinho. 

The complaint submitted by the social movements and organizations also claims that “information from the press also suggests that the Civil Police already had the identity of twenty-one people allegedly involved in illegal activities. If they had already been identified, the facts indicate that the operation was not carried out with the intention of letting them live.”

To justify the deaths, the police have alleged that the fatal victims had criminal records or were involved in crime, which does not justify the massacre, since extrajudicial killings are unconstitutional in Brazil. This same argument was used by the police to justify deaths in the Favela Nova Brasília massacre in the 1990s, a case that resulted in the IACHR condemning Brazil and the state of Rio de Janeiro. The Human Rights Committee of the Brazilian Bar Association in Rio de Janeiro (OAB-RJ) has also said that some of those killed did not have police records and others had already served prison sentences, criticizing the statements by the Civil Police for further violating the right to memory of the victims and their families.  

Torture of detainees 

In pre-trial custody hearings, those arrested during the operation reported that they suffered physical aggression and threats and that they were forced by the police to carry bodies, according to information released by the Public Defender’s Office. The reports show that the violence occurred not only in the community of Jacarezinho, but also during the transfer to the police station.

According to standard procedure, the people detained in the operation are examined in the Forensic Medical Institute, but the presence of police officers in the room may have prevented them from reporting assaults. As a result, the courts requested new examinations that have yet to be scheduled. 

Non-compliance with a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council  

The Jacarezinho massacre violated several international treaties and resolutions, including the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that condemns racist conduct by security forces. Passed in June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, the measure is considered historic and makes Brazil a pariah in the antiracist struggle. Specifically on Jacarezinho, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights asked the Public Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation in accordance with international standards. 


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