Brazil today missed the opportunity to give its account of the more than 200 cases of abuse committed by police officers during the repression of protests that have been taking place in the country since June 2013. In a thematic hearing that lasted more than an hour in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS, in Washington, the government evaded the issue, ignored questions and touted a number of bureaucratic measures, but failed to convince petitioners or members of the Commission.
Although the 5 organizations present at the hearing, among them Conectas, presented video evidence and concrete cases of aggression, illegal detention, beatings, mutilations and other rights violations at the protests, the government representatives focused their statements on three points with little relevance to the topic: the existence of a torture prevention mechanism, new rules for fatalities at the hands of the police and the provisions of the Brazilian Constitution that recognize, in theory, the right to demonstrate.
The hearing was held at the request of 9 human rights organizations, among them Conectas.
“It was a disgrace for Brazil. Giving empty responses to the serious and concrete violations that are still taking place on the streets is the reaction of a deaf government that denies information on police conduct, conceals the progress of administrative inquiries and does not recognize its own deficiencies,” said Lucia Nader, executive director of Conectas. “It’s impossible to make progress in a debate on rights when the other side is evasive and displays contempt when confronted with the violence of reality.”
Carlos Antonio da Rocha Paranhos, Political Under-Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the representative of the Brazilian government at the hearing, failed to respond to the 12 recommendations made by the petitioners (the report submitted by the organizations to the OAS contains, in total, 25 proposals) or to clarify why, despite the limits imposed by the federative system of government, not a single police officer or authority had been investigated or held responsible for the violations committed against demonstrators, journalists and lawyers during the protests.
“It was very clear for the members of the commission and for all those present that the Brazilian State remains distant from the demands of civil society. There is no commitment to investigating and punishing the police abuse, much less any political will to halt the process of criminalizing the protests and the demonstrators. It is important for the IACHR to insist on more satisfactory answers from the Brazilian State,” said Rafael Custódio, coordinator of Justice at Conectas, who attended the hearing in Washington.
Watch the hearing:
See the 12 recommendations made by the petitioners during the meeting:
1. for an immediate ban on the imposition of conditions or limits on time and place for public meetings and demonstrations, except those limitations provided for in article 5, XVI, of the Brazilian Constitution;
2. for all audio and video recorded by the police during the protests to be made available in full, with no cuts or edits, for consultation by any civil society organization or individual;
3. for an immediate rule establishing that officers from the security forces may not prevent any citizen from recording audio or video of officers on duty, under penalty of administrative and criminal investigation;
4. for an immediate ban on officers bearing or using firearms when policing demonstrations; and for the use of tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and other similar weapons to be determined only by the commander of the operation, and never used against people in a confined area or in such a way that could cause permanent damage. Moreover, these less-lethal weapons should be used, as a last resort, when an imminent risk to the physical integrity of the demonstrators and bystanders is identified; they should be used proportionately and only out of necessity, whenever possible avoiding repressive actions that cause physical damage to the people involved, always starting with dialogue with those posing potential risks and progressively exhausting less harmful approaches;
5. for all police officers to be properly identifiable by name, in a way that is clearly visible from a distance, such as on their helmets. In the event that officers are not identifiable, the commander of the operation should be held responsible, and when the commander is informed about the lack of identification of an individual officer, they should act promptly, under penalty of being held liable for negligence;
6. for technical training to be provided to all military police officers who work in street policing and for emergency training to be received by officers who police public demonstrations, in accordance with established guidelines (those approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at its 108th regular session, held from October 16 to 27, 2000), in order to prepare them for these situations, so their actions serve to ensure that the demonstration proceeds smoothly, guaranteeing the participation of organizations acting as observers;
7. for a binding regulation to be produced defining standards for the actions of the Brazilian Military Police, in accordance with the previously mentioned technical guidelines. This regulation must be subject to prior analysis by the Public Defender’s Offices of each Brazilian state, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, non-governmental organizations acting in the area of human rights and other interested parties, with public hearings held in all the Brazilian states, and it must include mechanisms for monitoring police activity and holding the commanders responsible for their police forces and police officers,
8. for the Brazilian government to take a position in relation to a new architecture for the public security system, based on human rights.
9. for agents of the State to be held responsible for the abuses they commit, by creating independent and autonomous bodies to monitor and oversee public security;
10. in the event that demonstrators are detained, for them to be taken immediately to the police station closest to where the incident took place. The presence of a lawyer or a public defender should be guaranteed to accompany the police procedures, including searches of the demonstrators and testimonies taken at the police station, to guarantee them a proper defense. Moreover, police officers should be forbidden from arresting people for questioning, a practice that is already illegal according to internal and international law, and they should refrain from taking informal testimonies when detaining demonstrators;
11. in the event that a child or adolescent is detained, for them to be taken to specialized police stations, or at very least held seperately from adults, as determined by article 26.3 of the Beijing Rules, to which Brazil is a signatory;
12. for restorative justice processes to be established in cases of police violence and for there to be more dialogue between government, social movements and the demonstrators themselves.