Authorities in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro have created a special court of “faceless judges” to prosecute cases involving drug trafficking, organized crime and money laundering, although providing such anonymity has generated controversy in other countries.
The new special court was approved by Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice (Tribunal de Justiça) on July 1 and will start working in August of this year, reported O Globo. The identity of its judges, who will rotate in and out every 60 days, will remain secret as a security measure.
The president of Rio de Janeiro’s Court of Justice, Claudio de Mello Tavares, said the special court is designed to take attention away from individual judges.
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“The expansion of the militias and drug trafficking motivated the creation of these special tribunals, and they will help guarantee the judges’ safety,” he told O Globo.
Rio de Janeiro has become the seventh state in Brazil to adopt “faceless judges,” which are already being used in Pará, Mato Grosso, Bahia, Roraima, Santa Catarina and Alagoas.
The “faceless tribunals” originated in Italy, where they were used to try members of local mafias. More controversially, these courts were also used in Colombia in the 1990s to try leaders of drug trafficking organizations.
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The use of anonymous tribunals might do more harm than good in a country already facing serious scrutiny for its policies aimed at tackling insecurity and organized crime.
Brazil — home to some of the most powerful and violent criminal organizations in the region, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho) — has seen gang members and militia groups attack and even kill judges.
Currently about two dozen judges in Rio are provided with 24-hour police protection as a result of death threats, according to the Court of Justice.
Judges in Brazil have praised the new “faceless courts” as an additional protection measure, but similar experiments in other countries have generated controversy.
“Faceless courts” were established in Colombia in the late 1990s to try drug trafficking and terrorism cases. Human rights groups, however, were critical of the practice.
While prosecutors at the time said violence aimed at judges and attorneys justified the use of these courts, human rights campaigners stated the system was overused and violated due process by not letting prisoners know who was judging them.
There was also ample concern as to whether these courts were simply for show, and if they had any real difference on protecting judges, who tended to be well-known in Colombia.