Rio de Janeiro’s paramilitary police have killed more than 1,500 people in the last five years, driving up the Olympic host city’s already high violent death rate,Amnesty International said Monday.

“At least 16 percent of the total homicides registered in the city in the last five years took place at the hands of on-duty police –- 1,519 in total,” Amnestysaid.

The scathing report — “You killed my son: Killings by military police in Rio de Janeiro” — alleges police have a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy and act with near impunity in slums known as favelas.

Victims range from people hit by stray bullets fired from military grade weapons in the densely packed favelas to suspects subjected to what Amnestydescribes as extrajudicial executions.

The report, investigating a string of specific cases, reflects the intense violence in many favelas where heavily armed drug dealers and paramilitary police struggle with little regard to the safety of non-combatants.

In a country where more than 50,000 people are murdered every year, there is significant, if quiet support for rough justice by police and even for impromptu street lynchings by civilians of suspected criminals.

But Amnesty said it wants to highlight the way the state has itself become a major killer, while evading responsibility.

One of the cases mentioned in the Amnesty report is the fatal shooting in 1996 of two-year-old Maicon during a clash between police and drug dealers.

Maicon’s mother, Maria da Penha de Souza Silva, told AFP that she is still waiting for justice.

“There’s a policeman who accepts that he opened fire, but he was not condemned,” Silva, 57, said. “There was a crime, there was a death, but there was never any conviction.”

– Police anger –

The security forces for Rio de Janeiro state angrily rejected the findings, which appeared exactly a year before the opening of the Rio Olympics.

Pedro Dantas, spokesman for the state security department, which oversees the military police, calledAmnesty‘s claims “prejudiced.”

According to Dantas, the city of Rio is becoming more peaceful thanks to intensive policing, with an 85 percent drop in fatalities as a result of operations between 2008 and 2014.

“It is reckless and unjust to publish the study of these cases at a time when we are seeing crime levels drop in Rio,” he told AFP in an email.

He conceded that “there are still areas in Rio where there is war,” but said the police were improving training and reducing their use of powerful rifles.

Crime in Rio has gone down slightly over the last year, with June murder numbers their lowest in 24 years.

However, the city still sees more than three people murdered every day and there are frequent clashes in the favelas, while even parts of the supposedly safe city center are plagued by muggers.

To ensure safety during the Olympics, security officials say they will deploy some 85,000 police and soldiers — double the number needed during the 2012 London Games. Most of the forces will focus on a relatively small zone of Rio where the sporting sites, hotels and beaches are located.

– ‘Executions’ –

Amnesty said that investigating the details of fatal shootings by police is difficult. However a study of the Acari favela found at least nine out of 10 killings by police in 2014 “strongly suggest the occurence of extrajudicial executions.”

“Rio de Janeiro is a tale of two cities: on the one hand, the glitz and glamor…, on the other, a city marked by repressive police interventions that are decimating a significant part of a generation of young black and poor men,” said Atila Roque, director atAmnesty International Brazil.

“Brazil’s failed war on drug strategy to tackle the country’s very real public security crisis is backfiring miserably,” he said.

The human rights group also accused police of systematic cover-ups.

“Such killings are barely investigated,” Amnestysaid. 

“In practice, many cases are filed as ‘resistance followed by death,’ which prevents independent investigations and shields the perpetrators from the civilian courts.”

In some instances, police tamper with the evidence, moving bodies or placing weapons next to them, in order to escape further investigation, the report claimed. – Agence France-Presse

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