By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Human Rights Watch reported that Brazil’s army will not make its personnel available to talk with state prosecutors about the Rio de Janeiro killings that are under investigation. The joint raid with civil police occurred on November 11th, 2017 and left 8 people dead.

Brazilian marines stand guard during a surprise operation in Kelson’s slum in Rio de Janeiro. Image Courtesy of Leo Correa.

On November 7th, army helicopters dropped personnel in a forested area within a neighborhood near Rio. The soldiers hid and waited for the chance to intercept suspects. However, the mission failed because someone tipped off local gang members. Then on November 11th, the army conducted another operation in the same area. The civil police elite unit later found that 8 people had been shot and killed. Witnesses reported shots coming from the forested area by men wearing all black with highly advanced weapons. The equipment identified the killers as military special forces.

However, the army claims that they did not fire their weapons during the operation and therefore refuse to open an investigation into the killings. The federal military prosecutor opened an inquiry anyway, but has to rely on the army to handle the investigation. In October, Congress approved a law that allows the military to handle investigations of civilian killings during police operations by members of the armed forces. Any potential trial would be held before a court of military officers, virtually guaranteeing that there would be no impartial or independent investigation.

This law was passed in spite of the international norm that human rights violations should never be tried before military courts. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights explains that, “when the State permits investigations to be conducted by the entities with possible involvement, independence and impartiality are clearly compromised.”

Even though state prosecutors can’t investigate army personnel as suspects, they can interview them as witness to find out what happened. It has been almost three months since state prosecutors met with General Walter Braga Netto, chief of the Eastern Military Command. The prosecutors called the meeting to learn about the army’s involvement in the case. Immediately afterward, prosecutors requested a copy of transcripts of statements made by members of the army who participated in the operation. They also requested interviews with the participants. Still, the army has yet to provide either.

Brazil’s director at Human Rights Watch, Maria Laura Canineu, remarked that, “the stonewalling by General Braga Netto shows a lack of any serious commitment to justice for the victims in this case and a flagrant disrespect for civilian authorities. This does not bode well for regular citizens during his tenure as head of public security in Rio de Janeiro.” She insisted that the general show he is not trying to bury the case by doing his duty to find the killers and ensure justice.

For more information, please see:

News 18 – Military Takeover of Rio de Janeiro police Stirs Dictatorship Ghosts – 24 February 2018

The Brazilian Report – Under intervention, Rip relives problems of 200 years ago – 24 February 2018

US News – Life in a War Zone – 23 February 2018

Human Rights Watch – Brazil: Army Stonewalls on Rio Killings – 23 February 2018

Author: Emily Green