Brazil Senate Vote Could Shield Soldiers Charged With Abuses

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Brazil’s Senate approved a controversial measure that would transfer jurisdiction for alleged crimes committed by members of the armed forces to the military itself, a controversial move that has been linked to impunity for abusive security forces in other cases.

On October 10, the Senate passed a measure previously passed by the lower house of congress, which would see cases of abuses by members of the armed forces against civilians judged in military, rather than civilian courts.

According to the government-run media service Agência Brasil, the reform would apply to cases in which members of the armed forces commit alleged abuses against civilians in the course of “guaranteeing law and order” operations, which are domestic military deployments authorized by the president for the ostensible purpose of assisting civilian authorities with public safety.

The recently approved reform still needs President Michel Temer’s signature to become law. But local news outlets report that Temer is expected to veto a provision of the bill that would limit its application to “guaranteeing law and order” operations carried out during last year’s Olympics. According to O Globo, with Temer’s line-item veto, the reform “will become permanent.”

The move by the Senate to approve the bill drew strong criticism from human rights groups.

Noting that Brazilian authorities have been increasingly calling on the military to assist with public safety operations, Amnesty International said the passage of the reform “raises concerns about the possibility of offering impunity to military personnel who violate human rights.”

The international watchdog group also said that local human rights activists and civil society organizations have dubbed the plan a “license to kill.”

The armed forces have been carrying out large-scale security operations in Rio de Janeiro recently, and the northern states of Acre and Rondônia have reportedly asked Temer to approve military deployments there to help combat drug trafficking.

InSight Crime Analysis

Brazil’s military has a long history of abuses dating back to the period from the 1960s to the 1980s when the armed forces took power in a coup and ran the country as a dictatorship, torturing and assassinating numerous perceived enemies. This history is no doubt part of the cause for alarm among rights groups, especially given recent reports that soldiers are carrying out operations in Rio with their faces covered by skull masks.

In other countries where the military has been called on to perform duties typically associated with civilian police, the result has often been an increase in human rights abuses. And when those alleged abuses fall under military jurisdiction, the unsurprising result is that accused soldiers rarely face punishment, even in the most egregious cases.

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In addition to human rights concerns, the reform passed by Brazil’s Senate also has worrying implications for security. Militarized security strategies have failed to yield sustainable results in the past, in part because abuses — often unpunished — have eroded citizens’ trust in security forces.

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