IBAHRI expresses concern over chronic police abuse in Rio de Janeiro state in an open letter to the state's attorney general

Friday 11 June 2021

Luciano Oliveira Mattos de Souza
Attorney General of Rio de Janeiro state
Office of the Attorney General
Av. Marechal Câmara, 370 – Centro,
Rio de Janeiro/RJ – CEP 20.020-080

11 June 2021

Open letter to Luciano Oliveira Mattos de Souza, Attorney General of Rio de Janeiro state

Dear Attorney General,

We are writing to you on behalf of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) to express our concern over chronic police abuse in Rio de Janeiro state, your dissolution of the Group of Specialized Action in Public Security (GAESP) within the Prosecutor’s Office and the resulting impact on holding law enforcement officials responsible for abuses to account.

The International Bar Association, established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. It has a membership of more than 80,000 individual lawyers, and 190 bar associations and law societies, spanning over 160 countries. The IBAHRI, an autonomous and financially independent entity, works with the global legal community to promote and protect human rights and the independence of the legal profession worldwide.

According to reports received by the IBAHRI, on 6 May 2021, approximately 200 police officers undertook an operation in Rio de Janeiro’s Jacarezinho favela, reportedly aimed at arresting drug traffickers, which resulted in the deaths of 27 residents and one police officer. There are also reports that the police beat detainees and evidence suggesting that officers removed bodies to destroy evidence. Due to historical challenges and the lack of independence in civil police investigations under such circumstances, as underlined by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Favela Nova Brasília case, we note that on 11 May you announced that you had established a working group of four prosecutors to investigate the killings.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson noted that “the operation furthers a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighbourhoods…”. Since 2003, it is reported that over 17,000 people have been killed during police operations in Rio de Janeiro state. In 2020, Rio state police reportedly killed more than 1,200 people, despite a June 2020 Federal Supreme Court ruling restricting police operations in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The IBAHRI is deeply concerned about police officers’ disproportionate use of force in Brazil. As a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), Brazil has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil, inter alia, the right to life and to prevent torture and ill-treatment. Furthermore, as per Article 3, United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, police officers may only use force when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duties.

The Jacarezinho favela operation follows your dissolution of the GAESP in March 2021, which, despite limited resources, brought a heightened degree of independence, expertise and specialisation, contributing to documenting and prosecuting police abuse in Rio de Janeiro. As the only body exclusively mandated to investigate and prosecute police abuse, this decision has weakened external oversight of the police. Your announcement of the return to the prosecutorial system in place before the GAESP’s establishment in December 2015 risks reintroducing issues that Human Rights Watch noted “contributed to the failure of successive Rio attorneys general to effectively supervise the police”.

Furthermore, your proposed office of a General Coordinator of Public Security with the Prosecutor’s Office lacks the authority to, inter alia, investigate and prosecute individual cases. It is our understanding that none of the former GAESP prosecutors are among the said proposed office, despite their experience and training on this challenging issue.

We respectfully remind you that Brazil must ensure the right to a remedy for victims. This includes the obligation to investigate allegations of human rights violations ex officio, promptly, thoroughly and effectively through independent and impartial bodies. A failure to investigate allegations can in and of itself amount to a separate breach of the ICCPR. Where relevant, States must also prosecute and punish perpetrators. This is crucial to overcome cultures of impunity.

We also respectfully recall that, as per the UN Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors, “Prosecutors shall, in accordance with the law, perform their duties fairly, consistently and expeditiously, and respect and protect human dignity and uphold human rights, thus contributing to ensuring due process and the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system”. Additionally, “Prosecutors shall give due attention to the prosecution of crimes committed by public officials, particularly corruption, abuse of power, grave violations of human rights and other crimes recognized by international law and, where authorized by law or consistent with local practice, the investigation of such offences.”

Considering the above, we respectfully request you to:

  1. Reinstate the GAESP and ensure adequate resources for it to conduct independent, impartial, prompt, thorough and effective investigations into alleged human rights violations.
  2. Ensure that said investigations are carried out in accordance with international human rights law, standards and norms, including the Revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (Minnesota Protocol) and the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Istanbul Protocol).
  3. Hold perpetrators to account before independent and impartial courts or tribunals; and
  4. Publish regular reports on police abuse in Rio de Janeiro state and corresponding investigative and prosecutorial action by your office.

We would be grateful to receive your assurances that you have received our letter and that our concerns will be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Yours sincerely,

The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG
IBAHRI Co-Chair ​​​​​​​
Anne Ramberg, Advocate, Dr jur hc
IBAHRI Co-Chair ​​​​​​​


Mr Luciano Mariz Maia
Head of the 7th Criminal Chamber on Coordination and Review
Federal Prosecutor's Office
Av. Nilo Peçanha, 31,
Centro, Rio de Janeiro - RJ. CEP: 20040-000

Mr Marcelo de Figueiredo Freire
Coordinator of the Interinstitutional Working Group on the Defence of Citizenship
Federal Prosecutor's Office
Av. Nilo Peçanha, 31,
Centro, Rio de Janeiro - RJ. CEP: 20040-000

Join the IBA

Expand your international network, gain new business and learn about the latest legal developments through IBA digital content and events, with IBA membership. Available for individuals, students, law firms, bar associations and corporations.

Find out more