HomeNewsBriefInter-American Court Sanctions Brazil over Police Violence for First Time

Inter-American Court Sanctions Brazil over Police Violence for First Time


A recent ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) marks the first time the court has condemned Brazil for police violence, in a decades-old case that highlights ongoing institutional failures among Rio de Janeiro’s security forces.

The IACHR ruling, announced May 12, is related to two separate incidents that took place in October 1994 and May 1995 in Rio’s Complexo do Alemão neighborhood, in which police officers raped three women and killed 26 people.

Dubbed the “Nova Brasília” massacres, more than 20 years has gone by without justice being served for the victims, the court found. The ruling holds Brazil responsible for failing to properly investigate and punish those who committed these crimes.

This marks the first time Brazil has been condemned by the IACHR for police violence, according to the Brazilian government news service Agência Brasil

The case was brought by two non-governmental organizations, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Institute for Religous Studies (Instituto de Estudos da Religião – ISER).

Beatriz Affonso, director of CEJIL’s Brazil program, said in a statement that “the ruling recognizes that the violence perpetrated by the public security agents of the state of Rio de Janeiro occurs systematically, and is frequently aided by omissions made by justice administrators.”

Amnesty International also released a statement praising the ruling, which noted that the court had ordered that “investigations into both massacres should be re-opened and the victims and their families adequately compensated and protected.” 

In addition, the court ruled that Brazil “must publish an annual report with data on deaths resulting from police intervention across the country and establish goals and policies for reducing violence and police killings in Rio de Janeiro,” Amnesty wrote.

“This judgement shines a long overdue light on the appalling human rights violations perpetrated by Rio’s police force against young, poor, black individuals who were unarmed,” Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, said in the statement.

“It’s been 20 years since the Nova Brasília massacres and so far no one has been held responsible for the homicides or the sexual violence perpetrated. This impunity fuels the rampant police violence that we are still witnessing on Rio’s streets today,” Werneck added.

The government will now have one year, until May 11, 2018, to reopen the investigations and pay compensation to about 80 people who were affected by the massacres in order to comply with the ruling, according to Agência Brasil.

CEJIL’s Affonso told Agência Brasil that the expectation is that the Brazilian government will be able to quickly comply with the court’s decision.

InSight Crime Analysis 

The ruling from the IACHR against police forces in Rio de Janeiro comes as police in the city are under increased scrutiny amid growing violence. And while it is unclear what exactly this specific case will mean in the long run, it adds to mounting international condemnation about the longstanding issue of brutality within Rio de Janeiro’s police force. 

Earlier this year, it was reported that the city’s police are continuing to use lethal force at high rates. Brazil’s Institute for Public Security (Instituto de Segurança Pública – ISP) found that Rio de Janeiro’s police forces had killed 84 people in February, which marked a 71 percent increase from February 2016, when they killed 49 people. 

Since January 2016, killings by police in Rio de Janeiro have generally increased, peaking in December 2016 with 105 killings. Cases of excessive use of force by police in Brazil often go unpunished.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profile

However, this pattern of abuse and impunity underscored by the IACHR ruling last week sheds light on broader institutional failures. 

While Rio de Janeiro’s police forces have killed a record number of people recently, they have also been killed themselves at a record rate in 2017. As of April, 51 police officers were killed in Rio de Janeiro so far this year. Since the statistic began being recorded 23 years ago, this is the highest number ever recorded. 

This trend could be a reflection of the poor training Brazilian police typically recieve, combined with a flawed overall security strategy that prioritizes heavy-handed tactics over potentially more effective social development and community policing initiatives. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Police Reform

Nevertheless, it appears that increased militarization will continue to be the response to upticks in violence in Rio de Janeiro. The federal government this week authorized 300 new agents from the Brazilian National Security Force to join some 125 agents already patrolling the city following recent outbreaks of violence, Agência Brasil reported.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content


A recent arson attack against an Argentine federal court famous for several high-profile drug cases may be the latest evidence…


A new report from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has called for a decrease in the Mexican military's role…

HONDURAS / 24 JUL 2015

Honduras has strengthened legislation to combat gang activity by enacting stricter prison sentencing guidelines and new legal tools for prosecuting…

About InSight Crime


We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.


InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area


Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…


InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…


InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …


InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas


In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…