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Brazil Government must intensify efforts to ensure racial justice and redress, UN expert panel says

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Non-official UN languages: Portuguese Português (Word)

RIO DE JANEIRO (8 December 2023) – Brazil’s Government must end the brutal violence being inflicted on people of African descent by the country’s police forces, and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes while ensuring justice for victims, the UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice in the Context of Law Enforcement said today.

During a 12-day visit from 27 November to 8 December, members of the Mechanism visited Brasilia, Salvador, Fortaleza, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. They met with representatives of civil society, families and victims, as well as Federal and State officials including Ministry officials, law enforcement, internal oversight bodies, prison officials and offices of public prosecutors and defenders.

The delegation took note of some positive practices implemented by the federal and local governments to guarantee the human rights of people of African in descent, such as the recognition of the existence of systemic racism and the mandate for implementing quotas to enhance representation at all levels and branches of government.

But “the heart-wrenching testimonies we heard from families and victims of police brutality, compounded by the agonizing delays in the justice system, underscore the urgent need for accountability,” said Juan Mendez, a member of the Expert Mechanism. “As justice delayed is justice denied, the State must address these issues promptly and transparently, ensuring that justice prevails.”

The Expert Mechanism listened to more than a hundred testimonies during their visit. They heard stories about husbands, sons, brothers and nephews killed in cold blood by police officers, alleging a pattern of planting evidence - including firearms or drugs - at crime scenes to frame victims and justify their killings.

Testimonies included cases in the context of recent police operations in Jacarézinho (May 2021) and Vila Cruzeiro (May 2022 and August 2023) in the state of Rio de Janeiro; the Shield Operation (Operação Escudo) in Baixada Santista, state of Sao Paulo (August-September 2023) and Operação Salvador in the state of Bahía (July-September 2023).

“In the unwavering pursuit of justice, victims and families are having to confront threats, intimidation, reprisals, and stigmatization. It is crucial that this cycle comes to an end,” said Tracie Keesee, member of the Expert Mechanism. “Guaranteeing sufficient access to justice and enforcing accountability for perpetrators throughout the chain of command is of utmost importance.”

The Mechanism recognized that crime rates in Brazil remain elevated primarily as a result of heightened levels of organised crime, which also affects people of African descent. It also acknowledged the challenging balancing act the Government and its security forces must navigate in addressing both public safety and combating criminality. “However, the legitimate task to promote citizens safety and security should not be construed as a licence to engage in extrajudicial killings of Afro-Brazilians,” Mendez said.

“Recognizing the valuable service of law enforcement officials in Brazil, it is imperative to acknowledge the toll of their work on their mental health and overall well-being and that of their family members. To foster effective collaboration and engagement, it is crucial to prioritize the mental health support for these dedicated professionals, ensuring they can work effectively and cultivate positive relationships, particularly with people of African descent,” Keesee said. “Addressing their well-being and their work conditions not only enhances their performance but also contributes to the collective efforts for a just and equitable society.”

“We are calling for system-wide transformative change. The government of Brazil must re-evaluate the current procedures of investigating law enforcement misconduct, dismantle systemic racial inequalities, and invest in addressing historical disparities at the root of these issues,” Mendez said. “Renewed commitment, financially, structurally and implementing decisions handed down by the Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on police action in favelas, is imperative. Focusing on people of African descent is crucial to demonstrate a sincere dedication to tackling these longstanding challenges.”

The Mechanism has shared some preliminary findings and recommendations with the Government and will draft a full report to be presented at the 57th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2024.

ENDS

Background: The International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement was established in July 2021 by the Human Rights Council to make recommendations, inter alia, on the concrete steps needed to ensure access to justice, accountability and redress for excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials against Africans and people of African descent. Dr. Tracie Keesee (United States of America); Professor Juan Méndez (Argentina) and Justice Yvonne Mokgoro (South Africa) were appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council in December 2021 to serve as its independent experts.

For media requests and queries, please contact: (traveling with the Experts in Brazil) Alan Mayo ([email protected] / +41 79 201 0123); In Rio de Janeiro: UNIC Rio - Ana Rosa Reis (+55) 21 98177-0682 / [email protected]; In Geneva: Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the UN Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions, [email protected] / (+41) 76 691 1761; or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer, [email protected] / +41 79 477 4411.

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