Brazilian lawmaker seeks investigation into sniper killings

April 1, 2019

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian state lawmaker asked Monday that an investigation be opened into the police’s use of sharpshooters to kill alleged criminals.

Renata Souza, leader of the human rights commission in Rio de Janeiro’s lower house, said the death penalty isn’t allowed in Brazil and the use of sharpshooters is illegal. She requested the investigation a day after state Gov. Wilson Witzel told Brazilian daily O Globo that the police had been using snipers in the streets of Rio.

“The police officer is who decides whether to shoot in the head or another part of the body,” Witzel said in a Sunday interview with the paper.

He has vowed to target drug traffickers carrying rifles and treat such people as “narco-terrorists.”

Witzel was sworn in on Jan. 1 after campaigning on a promise to be tough on crime, a stance which often aligns with that of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Souza argued that the use of sharpshooters was “a crime against humanity” and “unconstitutional.”

“The governor is irresponsible, leaving it up to police officers to decide whether residents should live or die,” Souza said in a statement.

Rio On Watch, a community reporting project, says it has registered at least seven incidents since the beginning of the year in which helicopters were seen shooting at favelas.

In February, the Brazilian branch of Human Rights Watch warned that police might have used sharpshooters to kill at least two men and injure another in a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. It has also called for an independent and thorough investigation.

In 2018, Rio police killed a record 1,534 individuals, according to government data.