Police abuse is one of the most chronic and widespread forms of human rights violations in Latin America today. Even in recent years, as democratic states have replaced dictatorships, and political targeting has diminished, police abuse has remained rampant throughout Latin America- in many cases, practiced with the same techniques, and by the same state agent, as before. Extrajudicial executions, torture, and arbitrary detention are common.
Protecting human rights and the rule of law presents serious challenges for these newly democratic states. In the face of high levels of crime, much of the public accepts police abuse. In part, the broad acceptance of police abuse is a consequence of the social exclusion of those sectors of Latin American society most likely to be targeted by official violence.
The International Human Rights Clinic has developed significant expertise in addressing police brutality, regularly working with local partner organizations in Latin America to document instances of abuse, advocate against the violence, and seek redress for victims. Currently, under the leadership of Clinical Instructor Fernando Delgado, we are working on a range of projects in Brazil that focus on extrajudicial executions, and in some cases, the involvement of death squads, as well as deficient investigations and official involvement in cover ups. The Clinic conducts fact-finding on police violence projects by gathering victim and witness testimony, interviewing government officials, reviewing forensics and investigatory reports, and analyzing official statistics and statements.
Before joining the Human Rights Program, Delgado authored a major publication on police abuse in Brazil for Human Rights Watch, and has continued that research at the Clinic.
In May 2011, he was the lead author of a book-length report documenting the central role of police brutality, corruption, and prison mismanagement in the widespread violence in São Paulo in May 2006. Jointly published with Brazil’s leading NGO, Justiça Global, São Paulo sob Achaque was released to significant media attention, making television and radio broadcasts, as well as the front pages of newspapers across the country.
In addition to the May 2011 release, two of the Clinic’s recent projects relating to police violence led to book publications in the Human Rights Practice Series: Security in Paraguay: Analysis and Responses in Comparative Perspective and No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador.