Young, Black, Alive: Breaking the silence on Brazil’s soaring youth homicide rate

The new “Young Black Alive” campaign is aimed at tackling the underlying human rights issues behind Brazil’s soaring youth homicide rate. © Anistia Internacional Brasil

The new “Young Black Alive” campaign is aimed at tackling the underlying human rights issues behind Brazil’s soaring youth homicide rate. © Anistia Internacional Brasil

By Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil

Earlier this week, many people around the world waited with bated breath for a grand jury’s decision in a case where a police officer shot dead an unarmed young black man on the street. While the 9 August shooting of Michael Brown took place in the US suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the case has a deep resonance here in Brazil. The tragic course of events leading up to the teenager’s death could just as easily have played out on the streets of our cities orfavelas.

Of the 56,000 homicides in Brazil every year, 30,000 are young people aged 15 to 29. That means that, at this very moment, a young person is most likely being killed in Brazil. By the time you go to bed, 82 will have died today. It’s like a small airplane full of young people crashing every two days, with no survivors. This would be shocking enough by itself, but it’s even more scandalous that 77 per cent of these young people are black. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

UN Security Council: Stop Bickering And Vote For Human Rights In Syria

Will member states of the United Nations Security Council finally stop their bickering and start supporting the human rights of the Syrian people?

We might find out over the next 24 to 48 hours, as European member states circulated a new draft resolution to be voted on shortly. The new resolution was naturally watered down to appease opposition from Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, who so far have opposed tough actions against the regime in Syria.

Death in custody case shocks the world

The human rights situation in Syria continues to be dire, most recently expemplified by the shocking story of eighteen-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs who was decapitated, apparently while in custody of Syrian security forces. While an extreme case, her story is unfortunately hardly unique.

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Rule of Law Under Attack in Rio de Janeiro

Judge Patricia Acioli

Judge Patricia Acioli

Militia groups in Rio de Janeiro are gaining ground, while one of the state’s most effective enforcers of rule of law is now dead.

On Thursday, August 11, 2011 Judge Patrícia Acioli was in her car outside of her house in Níteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, when hooded gunmen approached her in several vehicles and shot her at close range 21 times.

Judge Acioli had been “marked for death”.  She, along with 12 other judges and prosecutors, had received threats from former police officers and criminal gangs who were threatened by her effort to uphold the law.  The judge had previously convicted several former police officers with charges of corruption.

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Will UN Finally Act On Syria Atrocities?

© Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

The situation in Syria further escalated over the weekend. Yesterday alone, more than 100 people were reportedly killed across the country and the death toll is feared to be increasing.

In a by now familiar pattern, Syrian authorities used tanks and snipers to attack civilians. We believe that the crimes committed in Syria constitute crimes against humanity.

I just learned that the UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Syria later today and I urge you to sign our online petition to call on Brazil, India and South Africa to end their opposition to a Security Council resolution condemning the grave human rights violations.

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Rural Families In Northern Brazil At Risk Of Violence

While violence in Northern Brazil is frequently ignored, local families have no other option but to live in fear.  People are being threatened and guns are being shot.

At this very moment 40 families in the settlements of Assentamento Santo Antônio Bom Sossego and Acampamento Vitória, both located in the state of Tocantins, are being threatened by eight gunmen hired by a local farmer.

On the night of June 6, the gunmen fired shots over the encampment. On June 4, gunmen were overheard arguing about whether to carry out an execution. On May 29 one gunman told a resident: Lá vai morrer gente (people are going to die there). The rural workers have also complained of men with torches walking around the perimeter of the settlements. Five community members are said to be on a hit-list of people targeted by the gunmen.

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Environmental Activists Shot to Death in Brazil

Many people think of Brazil as a land full of resources and promise.  However, environmentalists face a terrifying reality.  While they are only trying to preserve and protect the beauty and nature of the nation’s land, they are frequently subject to blatant threats and attacks.

Since May 24, 2011, the described menace turned not into one, but four cold-blooded killings in the northern states of Pará and Rondônia.  Although the killings were anything but unannounced, the authorities shamefully failed to protect these brave citizens.

Environmental activists José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva were ambushed and shot dead at a bridge in Nova Ipixuna, Pará.  According to reports from local NGOs, one of the gunmen cut off José Cláudio’s ear to keep as proof of the killing. The killings took place at a reserve where three hundred families earn their living from harvesting Brazilian nuts and cultivating tropical fruits. As a respected community leader, José Cláudio had denounced incursions into the reserve by illegal loggers and cattle ranchers. His bravery was soon met by threats and right before his death, he said he was living with the threat of “a bullet in the head at any moment”.

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Urgent Action Network: Saving Lives Through Fast Action

“Please act as quickly as possible. This may be crucial in locating Professor Rossi, or even in helping to save his life.  Others have disappeared in this manner, and never been found again…We must do all we can to prevent another similar case.”

Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi

Those were the closing words of a brief but urgent message received by Amnesty International supporters on March 19, 1973. It was the first-ever Urgent Action, issued on behalf of Professor Luiz Basilio Rossi, who had disappeared after his arrest on February 15th, 1973 in São Paulo, Brazil.

A prisoner of conscience in Brazil under the military regime, then a human rights activist – his story has set a powerful model for the tens of thousands of Urgent Actions that have followed. It was not until the letters started to pour in that Rossi’s relatives were allowed to visit him. Although many people taken into police custody were never seen again, Rossi was eventually freed in October 1973.

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Relief Tempered By Sadness: The World Is Still A Dangerous Place To Be LGBT

© Getty Images

It’s been a week of incredible ups and downs for LGBT people around the world. We hardly had time to feel joy for the legalization of same-sex civil unions in Brazil, when we learned that the Ugandan parliament was getting ready to vote on a law that would have outlawed homosexuality and imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts.

Amnesty International and many others called on the Ugandan parliament to reject the bill, and we all felt great relief today when the parliament dissolved without debating or voting on the bill. It’s entirely possible that the bill could be reintroduced when new members of parliament are sworn in next week, but at least it wasn’t passed today, as had been feared.

But the feeling of relief is mixed with sadness, because LGBT people continue to be killed because of who they are in many countries, regardless of what the laws say. On May 4th, Quetzalcoatl Leija Herrera, an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in Mexico, was attacked and killed when he was walking home in the evening, in what appears to have been a homophobic attack. Police are investigating, but as so often happens in these kinds of cases, their inquiries are strangely focused almost exclusively on Herrera’s friends in the LGBT community.

This isn’t the first instance of police being less than sympathetic toward LGBT people that Amnesty International has documented: in 2009 we issued an Urgent Action on three transgender women in Honduras, two of whom were killed, and one of whom was beaten by police.

So while it’s great that we can celebrate progress like the legalization of same-sex unions in Brazil, it’s clear there’s a long way to go, and a lot more action needed, before the world will truly be a safe place to be LGBT.