The NGO Justiça Global, responsible for a devastating analysis of extra-judicial killings by the police of São Paulo in 2006, has now taken the case of the killing of twelve men in the Cabula neighbourhood of Salvador, Bahia, to the office of the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.
As I reported in previous posts, investigators from the Bahia Ministério Público found evidence of extra-judicial killings in the case, along with evidence of witnesses having been threatened, which prompted them to urge preventative custody for the accused officers.
But despite these recommendations a judge, Maridalva Almeida Moutinho, subsequently determined that the officers had acted in legitimate self-defence. The hearing of the case took place during a period in which the regular judge in charge of this tribunal, who had responded favourably to the recommendations of the MP, was on holiday. The grounds of the substitute judge’s decision were subjected to considerable debate and criticism.
Justiça Global is deeply critical of the role of the PT state governor, Rui Costa, in these proceedings. As I pointed out earlier, the governor is strongly in favour of a “tough approach to the crime” and his first instinct was to defend the police rather than wait for the evidence to be gathered.
There is, however, no doubt that the governor’s position is a politically popular one, and Salvador’s police are continuing to approach the combatting of crime with a “firm hand”. The neighbourhoods of Valéria and Fazenda Coutos are currently under police “occupation”, killing six men in the initial stages of this operation.
A violent dispute for control of local drug trafficking has been going on in this area, in which a police sergeant recently died trying to defend his twenty-four year old son, after four heavily armed men entered the bar while they were celebrating the birthday of a friend with the apparent intention of killing the young man. Two other men in their twenties died with them. So, as in the Cabula case, a certain element of settling scores may lie behind the vigour with which the military police are approaching their mission of rooting out suspected criminals.