Armed Forces members patrol during an operation against the organized crime in Lins slum complex in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 5, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

Human Rights Watch laments the decision by military prosecutors to close the investigation into eight killings during a joint civil police and army operation in the Salgueiro neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro in November 2017. Neither military investigators nor military prosecutors took crucial investigative steps, such as carrying out forensic analysis of the area from where, according to several witnesses, the killers opened fire. Nor did they interview key civilian witnesses in the case. And it took the army months to make personnel who participated in the operation available to talk with state prosecutors, who opened an investigation into the role of the civil police in the case. State prosecutors closed their investigation last October after concluding that there was no evidence that either the civil police or criminal gangs killed the eight men. The decision by military prosecutors to close their own investigation means that, unless the case is reopened because new evidence surfaces, the families of the eight victims and the wounded will never have justice and the crimes will remain unpunished.

The army acknowledged that four days before the killings, it had deployed personnel in the same forested area from where the killers allegedly opened fire.

Human Rights Watch interviewed two witnesses and reviewed witness accounts from case files indicating that the clothing and gear of the killers were the same as those of the army personnel who arrived on the scene minutes later. The head of the civil police unit that participated in the action said police lack the gear described by the witnesses.

 According to international standards, serious human rights violations in which the suspects are members of the armed forces should be investigated by civil authorities and tried in civilian courts. This case shows why Brazil´s Congress should repeal law 3,491 of 2017, which made the Armed Forces responsible for investigating cases like the killings in Salgueiro.

Human Rights Watch has sent a request to the Military Prosecutors´ Office to provide us with the decision to close the investigation so that its rationale can be subjected to scrutiny, but has not yet received a response.

Human Rights Watch laments the decision by military prosecutors to close the investigation into eight killings during a joint civil police and army operation in the Salgueiro neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro in November 2017. Neither military investigators nor military prosecutors took crucial investigative steps, such as carrying out forensic analysis of the area from where, according to several witnesses, the killers opened fire. Nor did they interview key civilian witnesses in the case. And it took the army months to make personnel who participated in the operation available to talk with state prosecutors, who opened an investigation into the role of the civil police in the case. State prosecutors closed their investigation last October after concluding that there was no evidence that either the civil police or criminal gangs killed the eight men. The decision by military prosecutors to close their own investigation means that, unless the case is reopened because new evidence surfaces, the families of the eight victims and the wounded will never have justice and the crimes will remain unpunished.

The army acknowledged that four days before the killings, it had deployed personnel in the same forested area from where the killers allegedly opened fire.

Human Rights Watch interviewed two witnesses and reviewed witness accounts from case files indicating that the clothing and gear of the killers were the same as those of the army personnel who arrived on the scene minutes later. The head of the civil police unit that participated in the action said police lack the gear described by the witnesses.

 According to international standards, serious human rights violations in which the suspects are members of the armed forces should be investigated by civil authorities and tried in civilian courts. This case shows why Brazil´s Congress should repeal law 3,491 of 2017, which made the Armed Forces responsible for investigating cases like the killings in Salgueiro.

 Human Rights Watch has sent a request to the Military Prosecutors´ Office to provide us with the decision to close the investigation so that its rationale can be subjected to scrutiny, but has not yet received a response.