IACHR refers case on Brazil to the Inter-American Court

June 9, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On May 28, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed the case of José Airton Honorato et al. (Castelinho), regarding Brazil, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case concerns the international responsibility of the State for a series of acts that culminated in the murder of José Airton Honorato, José Maia Menezes, Aleksandro de Oliveira Araujo, Djalma Fernandes Andrade de Souza, Fabio Fernandes Andrade de Souza, Gerson Machado da Silva, Jeferson Leandro Andrade, José Cicero Pereira dos Santos, Laercio Antonio Luis, Luciano da Silva Barbosa, Sandro Rogerio da Silva and Silvio Bernardino do Carmo by police officers in 2002, and the situation of impunity.

On September 9, 2001, the Public Security Secretariat of the State of Sao Paulo created, as part of the fight against organized crime, the Grupo de Represión y Análisis de los Delitos de Intolerancia (GRADI), which began to act with the intelligence service of the military police. Several illegal practices were allegedly initiated, among them the recruitment of convicted prisoners, through promises of protection to their families and even early release, who were released by judicial decisions to act as informants in criminal organizations, using resources provided by the police itself.

On March 5, 2002, in the vicinity of the city of Sorocaba, Sao Paulo, the Military Police carried out an operation against the "Primeiro Comando da Capital" (PCC), the main criminal organization in the city. The operation, known as "Castelinho", the name of the locality where it was carried out, was planned and executed by GRADI, who instructed former prisoner informants to deceive the PCC about the existence of a plane containing money arriving at the Sorocaba airport. The Military Police surrounded the place with approximately one hundred policemen and, without the presence of witnesses who could question the official version, a shooting took place which was justified as an act of resistance to a group traveling in a bus. The operation, in which more than 700 gunshots were fired, resulted in only one policeman wounded with minor injuries and the death of the twelve victims of this case.

In its Merits Report, the Commission analyzed whether the State complied with its obligations under Article 4 of the American Convention in relation to the use of force. Considering the applicable rules of the burden of proof, the Commission concluded that the State did not demonstrate that the operation had been adequately planned and that it was in accordance with a legal framework compatible with the use of force. Nor did it prove that the intervening personnel had been trained in accordance with international standards. In addition, the Commission observed that the evidence pointing to a disproportionate use of force has not been sufficiently refuted by the State, which has not offered adequate justification.

Regarding the proceedings initiated as a result of the operation, the Commission noted that the outcome of the administrative proceedings is unknown. Regarding the civil proceedings, it indicated that some have been resolved and others are still pending. Regarding the case against two judges who allegedly authorized the transfer of prisoners for infiltration and the Secretary of Public Security under whose administration the events occurred, the Commission noted that the Court of Justice of the State of Sao Paulo considered it unnecessary to refer the case to the Prosecutor and declared the case closed. The only criminal proceeding with a final judgment was one brought by the Public Prosecutor's Office, whose acquittal was confirmed in the second instance on December 4, 2003.

Regarding due diligence in the investigation, the IACHR observed that the State did not demonstrate that it had carried out certain essential steps to clarify the facts, in accordance with Inter-American standards and following the Minnesota Protocol. The Commission also determined that the conclusions reached by the court resulted from the impossibility of attributing criminal responsibility due to the absence of a diligent investigation. Based on this, the Commission concluded that the State did not conduct an adequate investigation in light of due process standards, nor did it clarify the facts within a reasonable period of time, nor did it provide reparations to the victims' next of kin. Finally, considering the manner in which the victims were deprived of their lives and the way in which the investigations were conducted, the IACHR considered that the anguish had an impact on the integrity of their next of kin.

Based on these findings, the Commission concluded that the State of Brazil is responsible for the violation of the rights established in Articles 4 (right to life), 5 (right to personal integrity), 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights, in relation to the obligations established in its Articles 1.1 and 2.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission recommended that the State:

  1. Make full reparations for the human rights violations declared in the report, both in material and non-material aspects. The State shall adopt measures of economic compensation and satisfaction.
  2. Carry out a complete, impartial and effective investigation of the facts by authorities independent of the civilian police/military jurisdiction, in order to establish and punish those responsible for the facts stated in the report and to fully clarify the facts that led to impunity. Considering the gravity of the facts and the Inter-American standards in this regard, the Commission emphasizes that the State cannot invoke the guarantees of ne bis in idem, res judicata or statute of limitations to justify its failure to comply with this recommendation.
  3. Provide the physical and mental health care measures necessary for the rehabilitation of the next of kin of José Airton Honorato, José Maia Menezes, Aleksandro de Oliveira Araujo, Djalma Fernandes Andrade de Souza, Fabio Fernandes Andrade de Souza, Gerson Machado da Silva, Jeferson Leandro Andrade, José Cicero Pereira dos Santos, Laercio Antonio Luis, Luciano da Silva Barbosa, Sandro Rogerio da Silva and Silvio Bernardino do Carmo, if they so desire and with their consent.
  4. The State should take all necessary legal, administrative and other measures to prevent the recurrence of similar events in the future; in particular, the State should have in place a legal framework on the use of force that is consistent with the standards outlined in the report. In addition, it should have permanent human rights education programs for members of the National Police, as well as periodic training and education at all hierarchical levels, with special emphasis on the legitimate use of force.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 146/21