We are deeply disturbed by the killing of at least 25 people in a police operation in the Jacarezinho neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro yesterday (6 May).
The incident started in the early hours of Thursday when, reportedly, police officers on the ground and in a helicopter overhead opened fire into the neighbourhood – in an operation allegedly aimed at members of a criminal organization. At least 25 people, including one police officer, were reported killed during the operation. The precise number of people injured, including bystanders and people inside their houses, is still unknown.
This appears to have been the deadliest such operation in more than a decade in Rio de Janeiro, and furthers a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighbourhoods, known as favelas.
It is particularly disturbing that the operation took place despite a Federal Supreme Court ruling in 2020, restricting police operations in Rio’s favelas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We remind the Brazilian authorities that the use of force should be applied only when strictly necessary, and that they should always respect the principles of legality, precaution, necessity and proportionality. Lethal force should be used as a last resort and only in cases where there is an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.
We have received worrying reports that after the events, the police did not take steps to preserve evidence at the crime scene, which could hinder investigations into this lethal operation.
We call upon the Office of the Prosecutor to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into this incident in accordance with international standards – particularly in line with the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. This lays down that authorities must ensure the safety and security of witnesses and protect them from intimidation and retaliation.
We also urge a broad and inclusive discussion in Brazil about the current model of policing in favelas – which are trapped in a vicious cycle of lethal violence, with a dramatically adverse impact on their already struggling and marginalized populations.