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A World Campaign to Get Rid of the Big Skull, Brazil’s Military Van

Rio's Caveirão military vehicle

Rio's Caveirão military vehicleEleven-year-old Carlos Henrique was on his way home when police stormed the Vila do João favela in July 2005, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. According to eyewitnesses, he was shot in the head by a bullet fired from a military-style vehicle, popularly known as the caveirão (big skull).

Between May and September 2005, 11 people were killed in operations involving the caveirão.

"The caveirão has become a powerful symbol of the failings of public security policies in Rio de Janeiro. It typifies the police’s confrontational and divisive approach to Rio’s public security crisis," said Marcelo Freixo of Global Justice at the launch of a campaign against the use of the caveirão in Brazil’s favelas.

The campaign, organized by Amnesty International, Global Justice, the Rede de Comunidades e Movimentos contra a Violência, and the Centro de Defesa de Direitos Humanos de Petrópolis will call on Rio’s state governor, Rosângela Rosinha Garotinho de Oliveira, to take forward a comprehensive reform of Rio’s security policies, particularly around favelas.

Specifically, the NGOs are calling on the state authorities to stop using the caveirão to kill indiscriminately, to intimidate whole communities and to mount operations involving the excessive use of force.

"Using violence to combat violence is fundamentally counter-productive. Not only does it lead to tragic deaths of innocent bystanders, but it does not solve the problems of escalating criminal violence in Rio de Janeiro," said Marcelo Freixo.

The caveirão has become the scourge of Rio’s favela communities. Painted black, and emblazoned with a skull impaled on a sword – the emblem of Rio’s elite police force, the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, (BOPE) – the caveirão is feared by residents in the areas it operates and has been involved in a string of human rights abuses.

Local human rights organizations have received a series of shocking eyewitness reports of caveirões entering communities firing at random, while using loudspeakers to intimidate the population.

"By deploying a vehicle to aggressively and indiscriminately targets whole communities, the authorities are using the caveirão as a tool of intimidation. The police have a legitimate right to protect themselves as they go about their work but they also have a duty to protect the communities they serve," said Tim Cahill, Amnesty International’s researcher on Brazil.

The overall police strategy when dealing with Rio’s security crisis has polarized its population, and lead to a collapse of confidence in the state’s ability to protect all the city’s citizens.

Security for all will never be achieved through violence and intimidation. An inclusive public security policy based on respect for human rights must be introduced without delay. Only then will there be an end to the cycle of violence in Rio de Janeiro.

Background Information

In October 2005, Global Justice launched the report "Police Violence and Public Insecurity", which examines the root causes of violence in Rio de Janeiro today. The report concluded that state policy effectively "criminalized poverty", concentrating violence in the city’s most vulnerable communities.

In December 2004, Amnesty International launched its report, "They come in Shooting: Policing socially excluded communities in Brazil" which places human rights abuses in the context of state neglect and social exclusion.

People from around the world – from Mongolia to Norway, India to Chile – will be joining with local NGOs to campaign against the use of the caveirão in the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro.

For a copy of Global Justice’s report "Police Violence and Public Insecurity", please see:
http://www.global.org.br/english/arquivos/rio_report1.pdf (English)
http://www.global.org.br/portuguese/arquivos/relatorio_rio1.pdf (Portuguese)

For a copy of Amnesty International’s report "They come in Shooting: Policing socially excluded communities in Brazil", please see:
http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engamr190252005 (English)


  • Show Comments (5)

  • Guest

    error, this habit of blame only hinders progress, instead of tackling what needs to be done.

  • Guest

    To the above post, completely correct and spot on.

    Brazil must stop diverting its problems elsewhere and confronts its own problems as this approach is damaging to the social development of this country.

    A human life is life no matter the colour or nationality of the person.

    Brazil does have this habit of blame which only seems to hinder progress or what needs to be done.

  • Guest

    How embarrassing
    Gee, one Brazilian dies in London and you never hear the end of it. But as thousand are murdered every year in our own country at the hands of the police and criminals alike, few Brazilians seem the least bit concerned.

    I beleive it is the the attitude and ignorance of fellow citizens like ‘But Obviously’ that this country still has a long uphill way to go before our social problems see any sign of betterment.
    In general, Brazilians are very defensive as soon as you point to anything negative about Brazil, particularly the overwhelming violence and social probelms. Typically you will hear the arguement that it happens in Paris, NY, and London, as if that makes it acceptable in BR.
    Brazil must stop diverting our problems, welcome help and ideas from wherever they come from, and confront our probelms openly and honestly, without shame. The only shame is in placing the blame on others.

  • Guest

    This use of the ‘Big Skull’ military van which is used to intimidate residents in these fervelas is intimidating and at the very least disrespectful.

    Not all people living in these fervelas are criminals, and this indiscriminate shooting of innocent citizens does nothing to help solve these crimes or improve race relations.

    Does Brazil not have ‘Community Police Officers ‘ who integratewith the public which would be a better way of getting to know the people in the fervelas?

    Respect is something which is earned not forced. Show respect, respect will be giving back in return.

    Back to the ‘Big Skull and its use of patrol. It reminds one of something one would see in a Terminator Movie. Is this where they got this idea from? I can’t see how this menacing appearance could ever assist to restore faith or build trust in any community at all and only instills a feeling of fear and uncertainty.

  • Guest

    But obviously….
    …this innocent will not have the same treatment and care…as Jean Charles Menezes.

    Because what happened to Carlos is in fact the daily life….in Brazil !

    You love justice….as long as it is not applied in your own country !!!!

    SHAME ON YOU !!!!!!

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