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Brazil’s death squads shame a nation that demands progress on human rights

13 October 2003

Gunmen have killed two witnesses who gave testimonies about Brazil’s death squads to UN special rapporteur, Asma Jahangir, visiting to investigate gross rights violations and allegations of police collusion. In a shocking demonstration of their apparent impunity, reminiscent of the worst days of ‘disappearances’, torture and arbitrary executions in Central and South America, the death squads have shamed a nation struggling to improve its human rights record. Those responsible must be brought to justice in order for Brazil to move beyond this brutal practice, which Brazilian rights groups claim kills thousands each year.

In a gesture of contempt, the second killing came only a day after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged to protect those who came forward to provide information and testify against those committing rights abuses. In September Mrs Jahangir had spoken to the two men, whose relatives had allegedly been executed by death squads, during her three-week investigation. Many within Brazil believe the death squads’ activities, including summary executions, torture and killings of civilians, directly involve members of the police, or are carried out in the full knowledge and with the approval of the police. Death squads have targeted a number of victim groups including members of poor shanty-town communities, Afro-Brazilians, petty criminals and most notoriously, Brazil’s numerous street children.

Asma Jahangir is UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions and a member of the International Council of Minority Rights Group International. Over the coming weeks, Mrs Jahangir is due to produce a report on the current situation in Brazil for the UN Commission on Human Rights. Reports suggest that some senior Brazilian judges have reacted negatively to her offers of UN advice and assistance. This assistance would allow the Brazilian legal system to become better equipped to prosecute members of the death squads. MRG fully supports the work of Asma Jahangir in bringing Brazilian and world attention to this very grave and urgent situation.

Director of Minority Rights Group International, Mark Lattimer, stated: ‘The targeting of those who bring human rights violations to light must never be allowed to weaken or discourage rights defenders, on the contrary, this must strengthen the resolve of individuals, states, NGOs and the international community. MRG extends its deepest respect and sympathy to the families of those including Gerson de Jesus Bispo and Flavio Manoel da Silva, who have so courageously sought justice for their loved ones, and for all of the many victims of these atrocious crimes.’

Minority Rights Group International has welcomed recent human rights progress in Brazil including work in regard to issues of racial discrimination against Afro-Brazilian communities and other minority groups. MRG urges the Brazilian government to work with the assistance of the UN to take immediate steps to address the death squads and extrajudicial killings, and to bring those responsible to justice. Unless and until this is achieved, all human rights in Brazil are threatened.

Notes for editors

For interviews or further information, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].