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A police raid on suspected drug traffickers that left at least 25 dead in a shootout in a Rio de Janeiro slum has drawn criticism from the United Nations human rights office, which calls for an independent investigation, citing a story of “disproportionate and” unnecessary use of force by the police in Brazil.
Helicopters and a contingent of around 200 heavily armed police descended on the overcrowded, poor and mostly non-white community of Jacarezinho – one of the city’s largest slums, which is largely controlled by one of the main gangs the country’s criminals, Comando Vermelho. , or red command. Witnesses described the operation as a terrifying shootout, with suspects jumping from rooftops.
“We call on the prosecutor to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into this case in accordance with international standards,” Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a briefing on Friday. in Geneva.
He said Thursday’s police operation “fosters a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in poor, marginalized and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighborhoods in Brazil known as favelas.” .
The use of such force should only be a last resort, Colville said.
Police said at least 24 drug traffickers and a policeman were killed in the raid. They denied any wrongdoing and said they acted in self-defense. But residents of Jacarezinho say police shot dead suspects who wanted to surrender and broke into homes without a warrant. Two civilians were injured in a subway when a stray bullet smashed a car window, the Associated Press reported. Stray bullets also injured three police officers, according to the Rio Times.
Felipe Curi, a detective in Rio’s civilian police, denied that there had been any executions. “No suspects were killed. They were all traffickers or criminals who tried to kill our policemen and there was no other alternative,” said Felipe Curi, a civilian police detective from Rio, at a press conference Thursday, according to the AP.
Speaking to Reuters, Police Chief Ronaldo Oliviera described Thursday’s raid as “one of the biggest toll of a police operation in Rio.” A similar police raid in the northern suburbs of Rio killed 29 people in 2005.
Last year, Brazil’s Supreme Court banned police operations in favelas during the pandemic, except in exceptional circumstances. However, human rights groups say the decision has not stopped authorities from using indiscriminate lethal force against some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.
Human Rights Watch says that in 2019, 6,357 people were killed at the hands of police across the country, nearly 80 percent of whom are black. According to HRW, in the first half of 2020, police murders increased by 6%. Police have reportedly killed more than 450 people in Rio de Janeiro state in the first three months of this year alone.
The UN was joined by Amnesty International in condemning the raid.
“The number of people killed in this police operation is reprehensible,” Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, said in a statement. “The Rio de Janeiro State Prosecutor’s Office must conduct a prompt, comprehensive, independent and effective investigation into these atrocities, in accordance with international standards, so that the agents of the State who ordered, committed or participated in this massacre are held responsible and brought to justice. “
Philip Reeves of NPR in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.