SAO PAULO – President Jair Bolsonaro should address Brazil’s public safety crisis using measures that respect human rights, a senior representative of Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
“Encouraging police to kill and packing more suspects who haven’t yet been tried into Brazil’s overcrowded prisons will undermine, not enhance, public safety,” HRW’s director for the Americas, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in Sao Paulo as he presented the organization’s latest report on the South American nation.
Vivanco met this week with members of Bolsonaro’s government to HRW’s concerns about developments in Brazil under the far-right president, who took office Jan. 1.
As a candidate, Bolsonaro promised to give police “carte blanche” to kill suspected criminals, and two days ago he issued a decree liberalizing Brazil’s strict gun laws to make it easier for private citizens to obtain firearms.
While the president, an avowed admirer of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime, says people need guns for self-defense, HRW contends that making firearms more available is not a serious response to violence, especially violence against women.
“If Bolsonaro is concerned about the safety of women, he should improve legal, psychological, and other support for women and the police response to domestic violence,” Vivanco said.
HRW also cited statements by Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Wilson Witzel, a Bolsonaro ally, who said that anyone carrying a rifle should be shot on sight by police.
“Instead of pursuing policies that violate human rights, the Bolsonaro government should embrace reforms that are consistent with Brazil’s obligations under international law and will ultimately be more effective at reducing crime,” HRW said.
Bolsonaro has also called for adding to the 840,000 inmates packed into prisons built to house half that number.
HRW pointed out that 40 percent of the people already behind bars are awaiting trial.