From Fri Dec 8 09:33:50 2000
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 2000 22:33:26 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Police Violence on the Rise
Article: 110691
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Police Violence on the Rise

By Mario Osava, IPS, 6 December 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 6 (IPS)—Brazil's human rights record has suffered a setback this year due to an upsurge in police brutality and the government's failure to act against it, the non-governmental Global Justice Centre (CJG) warned Wednesday.

The military police in the state of Sao Paulo killed 489 civilians in the first half of this year, 77.2 percent more than in the same period in 1999, reported CJG director James Cavallaro.

At that rate, the total number of civilian deaths at the hands of the military police in Brazil's most populous state will climb to 1,000 by year-end, up from 664 last year and 525 in 1998, the activist indicated.

In the past 10 years, the Sao Paulo military police have killed 6,672 civilians.

A study by the Sao Paulo police internal affairs unit revealed that 51 percent of the victims were shot in the back, while 23 percent had five or more bullet wounds—clear signs of summary execution, according to Cavallaro.

The same tendency is seen in Rio de Janeiro, where efforts aimed at bringing about a less violent and corrupt public security force policy were abruptly brought to an end in March when police pressure led to the cutting off of reforms designed by sociologist Luis Eduardo Soares.

Another area of concern to rights activists was the government's strong-armed treatment of protests and social discontent, said Cavallaro, who cited the example of the violent Apr 22 crackdown on 3,000 indigenous protesters demonstrating in the eastern state of Bahia against the official commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese to Brazil.

Two landless peasants were also killed this year while participating in peaceful demonstrations, one in the south and the other in northeastern Brazil, said the report presented by the CJG, which was drawn up by several local human rights groups.

The government's tendency to respond with repressive tactics to social problems was also revealed by a rise in the number of activists from the landless movement thrown into prison, who totalled 258 from January to September.

That figure is higher than the annual average posted in recent years, with a total number of 1,898 rural activists imprisoned since 1989, according to the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic Church body.

Meanwhile, workers are still submitted to virtual slavery conditions in Brazil. In the first half of this year, the Labour Ministry freed 418 people subjected to forced labour in rural areas, prohibited—under threat of death—from leaving the property until they paid off what were generally found to be spurious debts, and living in often appalling conditions.

Last year 1,099 people were identified in that situation, up from 614 in 1998. These figures, however, fail to reflect the real extent of modern-day slave labour in Brazil, said Ricardo Rezende Figueira, a Catholic priest who lived in a violent, conflict- ridden rural area in northern Brazil for 20 years.

Labour Ministry technicians estimate that for every freed bonded labourer or modern-day slave there are three who have not been discovered. But there could be as many as 10 or 20, and there is no way to obtain more precise data, said Rezende Figueira, who is now drawing up a study on rural slavery in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Even less widely known is the phenomenon of urban slavery, whose victims are mainly undocumented foreign immigrants and poor Brazilians who fall prey due to their irregular situation or because of fictitious debts, said Rezende Figueira.

Racial discrimination is another problem underlined by the rights groups, whose report began to focus as of this year on economic, social and cultural rights as priority issues.

Several studies released this year have clearly demonstrated that the myth of Brazilian racial democracy obscures the real situation of discrimination and inequality suffered especially by black women, said Josina Maria da Cunha, with the non- governmental organisation (NGO) Criola.

Da Cunha's hope is that the World Conference Against Racism, to take place next year in South Africa, will help expose discrimination in Brazil and contribute to the design of policies to combat the problem.

Police violence, for example, mainly targets blacks, who account for 70.2 percent of the victims of police in Rio de Janeiro, according to a study by another local NGO, the Institute of Studies on Religion.

The latest official census indicates that the average income of whites is 2.41 times that of blacks.

According to calculations by the Federation of Organs of Social and Educational Assistance, Brazil, which ranked 74th out of 174 countries taken into consideration by the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) annual human development report, would rank 49th if only the white population was taken into account, and 108th if only blacks were counted.

Cecilia Coimbra, the founder of the group Torture Never Again, also underlined that the question of people disappeared for political reasons by the 1964-85 de facto military regime remained unsolved, while the government attempted to hush things up by claiming it was a question of the past that had been resolved.

Coimbra pointed out that many of the bodies were never found, and that the government was doing nothing to help clarify the circumstances under which the victims disappeared, even refusing to declassify military documents that would shed light on the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their remains.

In the meantime, many of the 27,000 people involved in the military dictatorship's politically-motivated repression remain in top government posts, she pointed out.

Two military officers were recently exonerated of charges connected with cases of torture dating back to the dictatorship, by the Ministry of Justice and the Presidency, before the cases even went to court, activists complained.