Ten police officers were charged yesterday in the murder and forced disappearance of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer and lifelong resident of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rocinha. The charges were announced months after Mr. Souza’s disappearance on July 14, which sparked public protests in Rio and São Paulo and led to the launch of a national social media campaign called “Quem Matou Amarildo?” (Who Killed Amarildo?).
Investigators say the murder was a coordinated effort by community police officers from the local Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (Pacifying Police Unit—UPP), who allegedly tortured Mr. Souza via electric shock treatment and asphyxiation before murdering him and hiding his body in an undisclosed location. The investigation also revealed that Maj. Edson dos Santos, commander of the Rocinha UPP at the time of Mr. Souza’s disappearance, bribed two key witnesses in the case to blame the murder on drug traffickers. The witnesses later disclosed details to investigators before entering Brazil’s witness protection program. Investigators expect an arrest warrant to be issued in the coming days, in what will likely result in a lengthy and highly publicized trial.
UPP’s were created in 2008 in an effort increase police presence in Rio’s crime-ridden neighborhoods prior to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. They have faced increasing criticisms from favela residents and human rights organizations, which began reporting abuses months prior to Mr. Souza’s disappearance. Brazilian Federal Human Rights Minister Maria do Rosario called yesterday for a public debate on police reform, calling the case a new precedent in holding security agents responsible for human rights abuses.