Death toll of police operation in Rio de Janeiro’s poor community rises to 28

Operation led by the Civil Police is considered the most lethal in Rio’s history; UN demands answers

Translated by: Julia Abdalla

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
The so-called “Operation Exceptis” intended to dismember a drug gang suspected of recruiting minors - Mauro Pimentel/AFP

The confirmed number of deaths resulting from the police operation in Jacarezinho, Rio de Janeiro, has increased to 28, according to information provided by the Civil Police this Saturday, May 8. The only victim whose identity was disclosed by the corporation is the 48-year-old policeman André Leonardo de Mello Frias. The other 27 people killed in the operation were described by the police only as “criminals”.

The operation led by the Civil Police last Thursday, May 6, is considered the most lethal in Rio de Janeiro’s history. The so-called “Operation Exceptis” intended to dismember a drug gang suspected of recruiting minors for criminal activities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the United Nations (UN) required that the Brazilian state sets up an independent probe to investigate the police operation in Rio de Janeiro.

According to OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville, the request is for “the Office of the Prosecutor to conduct an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the incident in accordance with international standards”.

The spokesperson also declared that the operation reaffirms “a long-standing trend of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by police in Brazil’s poor, marginalized, and predominantly Afro-Brazilian neighborhoods, known as favelas”.

“We have received worrying reports that after the events, the police did not take steps to preserve evidence at the crime scene, which could hinder investigations into this lethal operation”, Colville stated in a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

In a joint statement, Amnesty International, the organization Justiça Global, the Marielle Franco Institute, and the Unified Black Movement (MNU) classified the operation as a massacre. Along the same lines, residents of Jacarezinho and human rights defenders protested on the night of Saturday, May 7, in Rio de Janeiro’s capital.

The Federal Supreme Court (STF) minister Edson Fachin demanded that the Public Prosecutor’s Office (PGR) investigates the case. In June 2020, Fachin issued a decision forbidding federal agents’ incursions in Rio de Janeiro’s poor communities during the pandemic. Last week, he also sent the PGR videos his cabinet received from the Center of University Juridical Assistance for the Population (Núcleo de Assessoria Jurídica Universitária Popular Luíza Mahin) of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

In the official letter sent to the Attorney-General, Augusto Aras, Fachin affirms that “the related facts seem serious and one of the videos includes evidence of actions that might constitute arbitrary executions”.

Residents of the region protested on the night of Friday, May 8. In São Paulo, a protest also demanded that justice is served in the case.

“That is the largest massacre in the history of Rio de Janeiro, that happened illegally after the decision by the Supreme Court forbidding such actions during the pandemic, in 2020. We cannot stay quiet! São Paulo protests in solidarity and demands justice. Come to the manifestation wearing a mask and maintain social distancing”, highlights a bulletin by the Black Coalition for Rights.

In an interview with Brasil de Fato, criminal lawyer André Lozano Andrade held the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office accountable for the “complete disaster” in Rio de Janeiro’s capital, as he named it.

“The Public Prosecutor’s Office usually fails to act in such cases, especially when the murder is by a police officer. Jacarezinho's deaths leave blood on the hands of the Office”, criticizes Andrade, who is also a professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure.

Edited by: Daniel Lamir