United Nations Calls For Investigation Into Brazilian Police Violence

The United Nations has called for an independent, in-depth investigation into police violence and operation in the Jacarezinho neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. The statement, published on 7th May 2021, was created in response to police within the city firing bullets throughout the neighbourhood at citizens. Police agencies stated that the operation was to target drug trafficking within the area. The actions of the police included uniformed officers opening fire on foot and from helicopters above, resulting in many deaths and many injuries amongst citizens. At least 25 people have reportedly died as a result of the police violence, including a police officer involved in the operation.

The High Commissioner of the United Nations Human Rights Division, Rupert Colville, called for Brazilian police to “use violent force only when strictly necessary, and that they should always respect the principles of legality, precaution, necessity, and proportionality”. He determined that the actions performed by Brazilian authorities were “particularly disturbing” despite a Federal Supreme Court ruling last year, which restricted police operations in Rio’s low-income neighbourhoods during the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation proposed by Mr. Colville would identify and investigate the incident by international standards. He emphasized that this would guarantee that authorities will “ensure the safety and security of witnesses and protect them from intimidation and retaliation.”

The high-density, often impoverished neighbourhoods of Brazil are known as favelas. These areas attract a vast number of financially unstable individuals who could not afford the cost of living in other areas. Along with ethnic enclaves, these favelas are often viewed as crime hotspots within large cities. As Brazil, experiences extremely high rates of violence and crime, public surveillance was introduced as a means to combat crime. However, these efforts were not overarching and rather were localized in areas of the city that are often overpopulated, such as the favelas and ethnic enclaves. This can be seen in an incident that occurred in Jacarezinho. A high police presence is most often not indicative of a true high crime rate. Rather, over-policing is often a result of social perception and misjudged authoritative practices.

The police operation in question has been criticized by international actors, who question the use of violence against citizens in attempts to curb a drug-trafficking gang that authorities claim is recruiting women and children within the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood itself is said to be the home of Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, one of Rio de Ginerio’s largest drug trading gangs. This however has been deemed an inappropriate use of force by many. As the neighbourhood has a high-density population, many of the victims were citizens who were not the target of the raid. The use of widespread gunfire placed all those within the area at risk, including women and children, who authorities originally intended to protect from gang violence. This has further led to international criticism of Brazilian authoritative practices and their methods of surveillance and control.

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