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29 years of the Nova Brasília Case – a history of violations

#JusticePorNovaBrasília – The reduction of police lethality, the confrontation of racism as a central axis for the fight against State violence, the denunciation of State sexual violence as a form of torture and other fundamental issues for the fight for Human Rights are at stake.

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What happened in the Nova Brasília favela case? 

The central issue of the case is the lack of an adequate state response in relation to the massacres carried out by police officers from the State of Rio de Janeiro, in Favela Nova Brasília, Complexo do Alemão, on October 18, 1994 and May 8, 1995. 

In the police operation carried out in October 1994, State security agents executed 13 (thirteen) people, including teenagers, most of whom were black. This police raid was also 

marked by State sexual torture: three young people, two of them teenagers, were victims of acts of sexual violence by police agents, recognized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IDH Court) as acts of torture. In the 1995 police operation, State agents killed another 13 (thirteen) people. Family members and victims are represented in the Inter-American Court by ISER and CEJIL. 

In its sentencing ruling, the Inter-American Court states that the two massacres are part of the structural context of police violence in Rio de Janeiro, highlighting that police lethality is distributed in a brutally unequal manner in terms of race and class, predominantly affecting young, black people. , poor and unarmed. This context is driven by the complicity of various State bodies, which legitimize a violent and racist public security policy. Despite the abundance of information on the two massacres and episodes of State sexual violence, internal investigation actions were not able to present effective responses for the identification and accountability of State agents, as well as adequate reparation measures for family members and victims of state violence. 

What are the biggest absurdities of the case?

  • To date, the State has not complied with the operative points of the sentence in a minimally adequate manner; 
  • Police lethality in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, in general, continues to grow, without the State presenting concrete measures to reduce it, disobeying the determinations of the Inter-American Court and the STF, in ADPF 635; 
  • Victims of State sexual torture continue to have their right to specialized and quality psychosocial assistance violated, with a gender, race and class perspective that permeates this violence and its social repercussions;  

What are the survivors and families of victims of the case demanding?

The victims and families of victims were decisive for the Brazilian State to be condemned by the Inter-American Court. Their work as human rights defenders was fundamental to the outcome of the sentence and is an essential part of the current process of supervising compliance with the sentence. 

In this context, family members, victims and representative organizations (ISER and the Center for Justice and International Law – CEJIL) and other organizations and movements in the field fight for memory, justice and reparation, through compliance with the operative points of the sentence, including the specific reparation measures, such as effective accountability of State agents responsible for massacres and sexual torture, individual reparation and psychosocial care; but also, and with great emphasis, through non-repetition measures, in the fight for public policies to reduce police lethality and promote social rights in favela territories.  

What is at stake in the Nova Brasília favela case?

At stake is reducing police lethality, confronting racism as a central axis for the fight against State violence, reporting State sexual violence as a form of torture, the recognition of broad institutional responsibility for violations produced by the State, including the Judiciary and Public Prosecutor's Office, among other topics. 

The sentence in the Favela Nova Brasília Case is an instrument of collective struggle, which adds to the political repertoire built by movements of family members of victims of state violence, various social movements and civil society organizations.  

What is the current status of the Case?

October 18, 2023 marks 29 years since the first massacre in the Favela Nova Brasília Case. 

The case is currently under sentence enforcement supervision. The representative organizations and the State periodically send information to the Inter-American Court about the State of (non)compliance with the international sentence, on the part of the Brazilian State. In the course of monitoring the implementation of the sentence, the Inter-American Court may convene public hearings, whether public or private. In 2021, a public hearing took place on non-repetition measures, in which the State's systematic non-compliance with the Inter-American Court's determinations was addressed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBhpuJlRroE&t=176s 

The 29th anniversary of the first case is an important opportunity to: (i) denounce non-compliance with the international sentence by the Brazilian State; (ii) create a national mobilization to maintain and deepen the processes of violence reported in the case; (iii) pressure the Brazilian State to take responsibility and move forward in complying with the operative points of the sentence, in the terms demanded by civil society and social movements; (iv) address the perspective of social movements and civil society on the paths to compliance with the international sentence (e.g. how do we understand that independent expertise should be implemented in Brazil? ex2. what the victim assistance program should be like of sexual violence?)

How was the Inter-American Court’s judgment?

On February 16, 2017, the Inter-American Court handed down a ruling in the Favela Nova Brasília Case, declaring the international responsibility of the Brazilian State for violating the right to judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality of the investigation, due diligence and reasonable time, and the right to judicial protection , and the right to personal integrity of family members of murdered people and victims of State sexual torture. 

The case discusses facts and omissions by the State that occurred after December 1998, when Brazil recognized the contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court. The previous facts, recognized at different moments in the process by the State, are mobilized as part of the context and background to better understand the case. 

What did the Inter-American Court determine in its ruling?

Among other resolutive points: a) reparation measures for victims and families; b) reopening of police and judicial procedures for investigation, prosecution and punishment of those responsible for rights violations, in accordance with international human rights standards; c) reception and psychological and psychiatric treatment of victims; d) public act of recognition of responsibility and commemorative plaques; e) adoption of public policies that guarantee the non-repetition of State violence, with an emphasis on reducing police lethality; f) adoption of normative mechanisms that guarantee serious, effective and independent investigations in cases of police violence, with emphasis on the autonomy of technical expertise bodies; g) adoption of measures that enable the effective participation of victims and family members in the investigation process of crimes committed by the State. (Access the full sentence: https://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_333_por.pdf

What is and what are the activities of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights?

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an autonomous judicial body of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its main objective is to promote and protect human rights in the region of the Americas through the interpretation and application of the American Convention on Human Rights. Among other functions, she works to judge cases of human rights violations presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and OAS member states. After issuing sentences, there is a monitoring procedure through written reports and public and private hearings. 

Determinations that the Inter-American Court made to the Brazilian State that need to be reinforced at this time:

1) continue with the investigation into the facts related to the deaths that occurred in the 1994 incursion, identify, prosecute and, if applicable, punish those responsible, and initiate or reactivate an effective investigation regarding the deaths that occurred in the 1995 incursion (point operative tenth of the Judgment);

2) investigate the facts of sexual violence (resolutive point eleven of the Judgment);

3) offer psychological and psychiatric treatment to victims (operative point twelfth of the Judgment);

4) annually publish an official report with data relating to deaths caused during police operations in all states of the country (fifteenth operative point of the Judgment);

5) establish the necessary normative mechanisms so that, in the event of alleged deaths, torture or sexual violence resulting from police intervention, in which prima facie police officers appear as possible accused, from the notitia criminis the investigation is delegated to an independent body different from the public force involved in the incident, such as a judicial authority or the Public Prosecutor's Office, assisted by police, criminalistic and administrative technical personnel outside the security body to which the possible accused, or accused, belongs (sixteenth operative point of the Judgment);

6) adopt the necessary measures for the State of Rio de Janeiro to establish goals and policies to reduce lethality and police violence (seventeenth operative point of the Judgment);

7) adopt the legislative or other measures necessary to allow victims of crimes or their families to participate in a formal and effective manner in the investigation of crimes carried out by the police or the Public Prosecutor's Office (nineteenth operative point of the Judgment), and

8) adopt the necessary measures to standardize the expression “bodily injury or homicide resulting from police intervention” in reports and investigations by the police or the Public Prosecutor's Office in cases of deaths or injuries caused by police action (twentieth operative point of the Judgment).