Brazilian activists urge crackdown on 'death squads'

Human rights officials aim to make contract killing a federal crime in Brazil after two journalists are killed.

By , Guest blogger

• A version of this post ran on the author's site, Insightcrime.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

A top human rights official in Brazil's government said that Congress should push through a bill which makes contract killings a federal crime, after two journalists were shot to death in less than a week.

Maria do Rosario, head of the office of the President's main human rights commission, said Congress should pass a bill allowing the federal government to investigate and prosecute contract killings. The bill would also increase the penalties for murders committed by militias and death squads, including increasing jail time for militia members from four to eight years, Agencia Brazil reports (in Portuguese).

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The minister said that the deaths of two journalists the past week should prompt Congress to pass the bill quickly. Online journalist Mário Randolfo Marques Lopes was shot and killed alongside his wife on Feb. 8 in Rio de Janeiro state. Four days later Paulo Cardoso Rodrigues, editor-in-chief of the Jornal de Praca, was killed in the state of Matto Grosso do Sul near the border with Paraguay. In both cases, police said the deaths appeared to be politically motivated.

InSight Crime Analysis

Brazil's death squads are primarily made up of former or active police officials. Especially in rural areas, these groups contract themselves out as security to local business interests. They carry out extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals or other so-called "undesirables" like addicts or prostitutes. Other times, their target includes those deemed a threat to other powerful economic or political actors. These death squads have also expanded their activities into organized crime, including running kidnapping rings and trafficking weapons.

The proposed law in Congress is recognition that regional authorities frequently do not do enough to investigate the death squads, either out of fear or tolerance. But it is worth questioning the political will of the federal authorities as well. When reports emerged of city death squads killing street children in 1993, Congress denounced the deaths and attempted to pass a bill targeting the military police active in such organizations. But the bill was greatly watered down by the time it made it through the Senate, stating that military police charged with such crimes should be tried in military rather than civilian courts. This has helped keep the impunity rate for death squad killings high.

–Elyssa Pachico is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region find all of her research here.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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