Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 7 News List

UN envoy decries killings in police crackdown in Rio


Thousands of killings by Brazilian police are going largely unpunished because of public approval for a perceived crackdown on crime, a UN envoy said on Sunday.

Officials have often turned a blind eye to extrajudicial executions by police in crime-riddled Rio de Janeiro state because of “policing by opinion poll,” UN special envoy Philip Alston wrote in a preliminary report.

Alston investigated the killings in November and was to present his findings to a UN Human Rights Council session that opened in Geneva yesterday.

Clashes with police killed a record 1,260 civilians in Rio de Janeiro state last year — nearly the same number of all people murdered in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where a combined 1,328 homicides occurred last year. The tally includes killings reported only by police stations that have computers — omitting about one-third of precincts.

Most police killings occurred during “acts of resistance” — police jargon for armed confrontations with civilians, a January report by Brazil’s Institute of Public Safety said.

Alston said the deaths were “politically driven” because they are “popular among those who want rapid results and shows of force.”

Police officials in Rio de Janeiro state did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Many of the deaths are tied to a new, more aggressive police approach against drug traffickers who control most of Rio’s 600-plus shantytowns, police have said. Rio de Janeiro state officials have praised many of the actions.

Alston’s report sharply criticized those tactics, which include large police invasions into Rio slums that caused scores of civilian deaths.

An operation in June last year that killed 19 civilians was “declared a model for future action,” he said.

On Jan. 30, six people were killed in a large police operation; on April 3, 11 were killed; and on April 15, 14 were killed.

“These recent events highlight the continuing and urgent need for reforms to policing approaches and the criminal justice system,” Alston wrote.

Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sergio Cabral has defended the tactics, accusing the media of sympathizing more with criminals than with their victims.

But Alston’s report said Rio police themselves become criminals at times.

They “all too often engage in excessive and counterproductive violence while on duty, and participate in what amounts to organized crime when off duty,” he wrote.

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