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African Union - Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus/New York (SRDC/NY)

War in Brazil Communities
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Maria Helena Moreira Alves, PhD   in  Political Science MIT (Massachussetts Institute of Technology), Professor of  Political Science and Economics (State University of Rio de Janeiro, UERJ), Author of 43 articles on human rights, social movements, authoritarianism and democracy.  Her book State and Opposition in Military Brazil (Texas University Press, 1984) is a classic for the period.  She lectures frequently in US universities and has been a Visiting Professor at the  University of Wisconsin Madison, University of New Mexico, Amherst College, Notre Dame University. 


The "War" in the community "Complexo do Alemao"  and in "Penha", completes  today 54 days.  By the government's own official record 24 people have been killed by stray bullets in the frequent shootouts and 76 people were severely wounded.  Among those at least 19 children.  A little two-year old girl died in her step-fathers arms while being rocked to sleep in the living room of her home.  A bullet in the head.  Another child, only three years old, died while playing at the doorstep of his home.  Such tragedies, and many testimonies of desperate mothers are multiplying.  Some describe how they sleep on top of their children, in the hope of protecting them from bullets with their own bodies.  The Military Police comes up the hills frequently, using the armoured vehicle dubbed "Big Skull".  They come in shooting.  For this, and other reasons, there are so many victims of stray bullets.  Until when?


This is happening in communities where, between 76,000 (government statistics) and 150,000  (community leaders estimate)  people live.  All these people have been without garbage collection and many times without electricity and even water.  On the 12th of May the electric company Light came into the "Complexo do Alemao".  They came in under the protection of community leaders to turn the electricity back on because it had been disconnected for six days.  Military Police of the BOPE (a special police battalion), partially destroyed the company car with mallets.  And the electric company was told that they could not re-connect the electricity.  Without water, without light, without garbage collection, the communities are at the verge of a true humanitarian crisis with possible serious consequences for public health.


Schools are closed.  A total of 4.800 children are impeded from studying.  Schools are closed for reasons of "security".  The "Big Skull"  vehicles come in shooting at any time, including during the hours that children are to coming and returning from their public schools.  The children are suffering, are terrorized by the shootouts, and their parents have now hidden them in their homes, with the hope of saving them from the never-ending confrontation between criminals and police.  Veritable hostages of this uncontrollable violence within their own homes.  And the solution employed by the state government of Rio de Janeiro?  To close all schools  and forcibly transfer 4.800 children to only one public school that has been kept open in a "secure" place.



In what country do we live in?  South Africa?  Are we describing Soweto?  In reality it is worth remembering Soweto.  It was partly because of this community, which was encircled by the military police of South Africa, that helped spur the international campaign that eventually ended Apartheid.  It is also important to ask, as Julita Lemgruber did in her article of   O Globo , on June 7, 2007, if this military siege, this policy of impeding basic services to the population,  of  making  survival difficult for residents, if this was occurring in a middle class district, how would Brazilian society react?  If this was happening, for example, in Copacabana.  This policy would be highly  repelled  by the population of Brazil and even of the world.  If this is the case, then, one may ask, why has this continued to be carried out and enforced as a state public policy, for over 50 days,   in the communities of  "Complexo do Alemao"  and "Penha"?  The answer is inevitable:  Because these are communities with a socially excluded population, of poor people, with a black majority.  It is impossible to avoid and disguise the racism behind a public policy of "security"  that attacks poor black communities in such a disproportionate manner and with a  level of police violence and brutality that would be totally unacceptable in  middle class and mostly white neighborhoods.


Amnesty International, and other international organizations, have published serious denunciations about police violence in Brazil. In December of 2005, Amnesty International published an important report about the question of  security in Brazil.  With the suggestive title  "They Come in Shooting:  Policing Socially Excluded Communities", this report describes in detail the workings of a "security" policy  based upon  repression and force in poor communities of Rio de Janeiro.  The report describes each incident of invasion of the communities by the Military Police, with numbers of dead and wounded by stray bullets during shootouts.   A new report of Amnesty International, recently made public, cites a community leader who, in a meeting with Coronel Ubiratan Angelo, Chief of Police "of the state of Rio de Janeiro, expressed the despair of his community:  " we have reached a point in which we must scream for help.  We cannot stand anymore to lose our friends, family members and children to the armed violence.  It is urgent to change this general scenario."(See Amnesty International report "Brazil:  They come in Shooting:  Policing Socially Excluded Communities  AMR 19/025/2005. 

Also see the 2007 report "Brazil:From burning buses to caveiroes:  searching for human security"  at: ).


In this context it is important to emphasize that the new policy that is being implemented by the government of Rio de Janeiro, that is, the military siege of specific communities, geographically defined, with a majority black population, elicits an international debate about genocide.  The question to consider is if  what is  happening in Rio de Janeiro, for more than 50 days, can be considered, within international law, as a "pattern that can lead to genocide".  This question is well defined in international law.  That is, actions that are deliberate and continued, and a public policy that brings about death, serious injury, impediments to general conditions of survival, mass transfers of children, of a specific human group.  A human group in a particular geographical area, easily encircled by a military siege, vulnerable to police repression, with a specific identity, be it a religious, an ethnic or a racial identity.


The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is included in Articles II and III of the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, of 1948.  Article II describes what constitutes a crime of genocide:


  1. The mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such".
  2. The physical element, which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e.   To be called a crime of genocide both elements must be present.


Article III of the Convention describes five punishable forms of the crime of genocide:  i.e., genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity. 


To cite directly from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide:


"Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:


a)  Killing members of the group;

b)  Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

c)  Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to 

     bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

d)  Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

e)  Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


Article III:  The following acts shall be punishable:


a)  Genocide;

b)  Conspiracy to commit genocide;

c)  Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

d)  Attempt to commit genocide;

e)  Complicity in genocide."


According to the subsequent agreements and interpretations to further define these acts, the following are genocidal acts when committed as part of a policy:


   1.  Killing members of the group, including direct killing and actions 

        causing death.

   2.  Causing serious bodily or mental harm, which includes inflicting

        trauma on members of the group through widespread torture,

        rape, sexual violence, forced or coerced use of drugs, and


   3.  Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a

        group, which includes the deliberate deprivation of resources

        needed for the group's physical survival, such as clean water,

        food, clothing, shelter or medical services. 

   4.  Forcible transfer of children, may be imposed by direct force or by

        fear of violence, duress, detention, psychological oppression or

        other methods of coercion.  The Convention  on the Rights of the

        Child defines children as persons under the age of 18 years.


In addition it is important to analyze what groups are protected under the law:


A national group is  a set of individuals whose identity is defined by a common country or nationality, or national origin.  An ethnical group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by common cultural traditions, language, heritage.  And finally, a racial group is a set of individuals whose identity is defined by physical characteristics. 


Brazil has signed and ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.    Brazil has also signed and ratified other international legislation pertaining to human rights and genocide, as is the case of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which in its Article 6 includes the entirety of Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.    Because Brazil has signed and ratified international agreements on human rights, that include the recognition of the crime of genocide, it may also be denounced by other nations that are signatories and members of the international system, including in the United Nations.   Any  Human Rights organization,  and even any group of victims, could potentially formalize a denunciation against a country that is considered to be carrying out serious crimes against human rights. 


It is extremely important that authorities seriously consider this international debate  as to whether or not Brazil is establishing a "pattern that may lead to genocide".  The consequences of a formal denunciation are extremely serious for the country and also for the individuals, be they government officials or not, who may be included in the denunciations.  It is time for the government of  the state of Rio de Janeiro to sit down with community leaders, with human rights specialists, with representative of human rights organizations and with NGOs that work on the question of human security in order to draft a long term public security policy that can in fact provide safety to all Brazilian citizens.


A good beginning would be to consider and follow the recommendations of Amnesty International in its two reports about security in Brazil.