Rio de Janeiro, host city of the Olympics, branded ‘one of the deadliest cities’ on earth

Scolded by Amnesty International for policing tactics, Rio is trying to quell new wave of violence

David Usborne
New York
Thursday 02 June 2016 17:30
Police operation in a Rio favela
Police operation in a Rio favela

Rio de Janeiro, which is preparing to host a surge of visitors to the Olympic Games, is “one of the deadliest cities on earth” because of excessive police violence, Amnesty International has claimed.

In a scathing report released just weeks ahead of the opening ceremonies, the human rights group accuses the Brazilian authorities of unleashing a protracted law enforcement crackdown in Rio de Janeiro that has killed more than one hundred mostly black and young residents this year alone.

The policing spree has been a “recipe for disaster,” the report says, leading to a spike in police homicides and serial violations of human rights all in the name of making Rio de Janeiro safe for the impending, and already troubled, games, which are set to open on 5 August.

“When Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games in 2009, the authorities promised to improve security for all,” the Brazil Director for Amnesty International, Atila Roque, remarked on Tuesday. “Instead, we have seen 2,500 people killed by police since then in the city and very little justice.”

According to the report, called Violence has no place in these games! Risk of human rights violations at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, homicides from police operations rose 40 per cent in 2014 and an additional 11 per cent in 2015, with 645 people killed by police in Rio de Janeiro alone. It said that one in five killings in the city were committed by police.

The ongoing civil rights disaster, it contends, reflects a failure by the authorities to learn from similar mistakes that were made during the soccer World Cup in Brazil in 2014, which saw dozens injured and hundreds arbitrarily detained during police operations in the various host cities.

“Brazil seems to have learned very little from the great mistakes it made over the years when it comes to public security. The policy of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ has placed Rio de Janeiro as one of the deadliest cities on earth,” Mr Roque added.

“The country’s historic ill-conceived public security policies, coupled with the increasing human rights violations we have documented during major sports events and the lack of effective investigations, are a recipe for disaster.”

The Amnesty report threatens to create just one more headache for the city’s leaders, who are already dealing with serial problems associated with the Olympics, including the country’s twin economic and political crises, questions about the readiness of some of the infrastructure for the myriad Olympic events, pollution levels in venues for outdoor aquatic competitions like sailing and rowing, as well as the fear stirred by the Zika virus.

Last week a group of 150 top medical experts from around the world pleaded with the World Health Organisation to order the summer Olympics delayed or relocated because of the threat posed by Zika, including the possibility that it will be contracted by visitors who will then inadvertently spread the disease further around the globle.

The WHO responded tersely to the open letter saying the risks had been overstated.

The Amnesty scolding also comes just as the city has come under pressure from other quarters to quell an upsurge of violence, including recent attacks against tourists - including the mugging at gunpoint of members of the Spanish sailing squad earlier this month - and bouts of shootings in areas frequented by international visitors like the bohemian Santa Teresa district.

Amnesty highlights plans by Brazilian authorities to deploy some 65,000 police officers for the duration of the games and, in addition, 20,000 military officers. “This will include the deployment of military personnel to direct operations in favelas (slums), which in the past has resulted in a catalogue of human rights violations that are yet to be properly investigated,” the group said.

It expressed the hope that it may not be too late for the city to change tack to ensure human rights are respected, however urgent the need for security. “As the global sports community gathers in Rio in two months, the question remains: will the authorities respect and protect human rights and deliver the promised legacy of a safe city and country for all,” Mr Roque said.

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