Brazil must bring the killers of one of the country’s most courageous human rights defenders to justice – 25 years after her death – as a key step towards reversing a growing trend of police killings, Amnesty International said today.
On 15 January 1993, Edméia da Silva Euzébio, 47, who waged a fierce struggle for justice on behalf of her disappeared son, was murdered in a car park in Rio de Janeiro. Twenty-five years later, seven people reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for her killing – six of them military police officers – have yet to be prosecuted.
Edméia´s case is emblematic of the state´s failure to properly investigate all suspicious police killings. Amnesty International said that bringing the suspects to justice would be a vital demonstration of the state’s commitment to ending unlawful police killings, which have risen sharply in Rio de Janeiro in recent years.
“It is unacceptable that after 25 years Edméia’s killing remains unpunished. Meanwhile, in the past two and a half decades, those reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility for her murder have walked free and even progressed in their careers as police officers, some achieving the highest ranks in the military police,” said Jurema Werneck, Amnesty International’s Brazil Executive Director.
“The impunity surrounding cases of killings by the police fuels the cycle of police violence in Rio de Janeiro. It sends a message that the authorities tolerate illegal behavior by the police. Police officers who are involved in extrajudicial executions do so with the certainty that they will never be held accountable. As a consequence of the state’s failure to guarantee justice, the number of killings by the police in Rio de Janeiro remains extremely high and is increasing,” Jurema Werneck said.
After decreasing between 2008 and 2013, the number of people killed by the police in Rio de Janeiro state has almost doubled in the past three years, according to data from the Institute for Public Security. In 2014, 580 people were killed by the police. In 2017, there were 1,048 police killings in the year to November. In the past 10 years (2008-2017), the total number of police killings exceeded 7,500.
“The police officer does not pull the trigger on his own. There is a chain of command behind him, and there is the criminal justice system which is not fulfilling – to say the least – its duty to investigate and prosecute unlawful killings by the police. The State and the criminal justice system, in particular the Public Prosecutors Office, must exercise their mandate and implement urgent and definitive measures to end killings by the police and guarantee justice and reparations for the families of the victims,” said Jurema Werneck.
Edméia’s son, Luiz Henrique, was 16 years old when, along with 10 other people, he was forcibly disappeared on 26 July 1990. The case became known as “the Acari killings” (”Chacina de Acari”) because most of the victims were residents of Acari, a favela in Rio de Janeiro city. The group of friends, mostly in their teens, had been staying at a house in the neighbouring city of Magé before they were taken to an unknown location by a group of men who identified themselves as police officers. Following their disappearance, their families began their struggle for truth and justice and the “Mothers of Acari” group was born.
Edméia was one of the most active and vocal members, fearlessly dedicated to uncovering the truth about what had happened to her son and his friends. She was killed in the car park of Praça Onze metro station after visiting a prisoner in Hélio Gomes Prison, in Rio de Janeiro’s Estácio neighborhood. The official investigations suggested that she was killed for having obtained new information that would reveal the location of the disappeared youths.
Proceedings related to Edméia’s murder have dragged through the criminal justice system since 1998 without yielding any conclusive answers. Charges against her alleged killers – including a high ranking official in the Military Police and a former Rio de Janeiro state congressman – were not filed until 2011. In late 2014, a judge ruled, during the pre-trial phase of the case, that seven men accused of her killing should face trial by jury for murder (homicídio doloso). The accused appealed the judge’s decision, but there has as yet been no decision on whether the appeal will be upheld. Twenty-five years after Edméia’s death, nobody has faced trial.
In 1994, Amnesty International reported in “Beyond Despair: an agenda for human rights in Brazil” that the Military Police intelligence service had identified military and civil police officers suspected of carrying out the “Acari Killings”. The investigation revealed that the officers had been involved in extortion rackets targeting some of the victims, whose remains have never been found.
A book entitled “Mothers of Acari: the story of a fight against impunity” states that some of those responsible for the disappearances were linked to a death squad known as “Running Horses” (“Cavalos Corredores”), a connection that was corroborated by testimonies collected by Amnesty International at the time. Amnesty International also learned that the authorities may have hindered investigations through their clumsy search for the bodies in possible dumping grounds In 2010, the case of the “Acari Killings” was closed without any charges having been filed.
Amnesty International reports about killings by the police in Rio de Janeiro:
BRAZIL: BEYOND DESPAIR: AN AGENDA FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN BRAZIL: SECTION LEVEL ACTION: APPEALS CASES CIRCULAR
13 September 1994, Index number: AMR 19/016/1994
BRAZIL: RIO DE JANEIRO 2003: CANDELARIA AND VIGARIO GERAL 10 YEARS ON
27 August 2003, Index number: AMR 19/015/2003
BRAZIL: “THEY COME IN SHOOTING”: POLICING SOCIALLY EXCLUDED COMMUNITIES
2 December 2005, Index number: AMR 19/025/2005
BRAZIL: “WE HAVE COME TO TAKE YOUR SOULS”: THE CAVEIRÃO AND POLICING IN RIO DE JANEIRO
13 March 2006, Index number: AMR 19/007/2006
BRAZIL: YOU KILLED MY SON: HOMICIDES BY MILITARY POLICE IN THE CITY OF RIO DE JANEIRO
3 August 2015, Index number: AMR 19/2068/2015
The eleven forcibly disappeared in the “Acari killings”