Study underpins decision by Inter-American Court of Human Rights in case of discriminatory approach by police officers
In early October, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights announced that it had found the Argentinean state guilty of discriminatory police approaches justified only by a “suspicious attitude.” The ruling against the state was made after analyzing the details of two unlawful arrests made in 1992 and 1998 in Buenos Aires (the Fernández Prieto & Tumbeiro vs. Argentina case), and it serves as a benchmark for all the countries under the court’s jurisdiction, including Brazil. The Institute for the Defense of the Right to Defense (IDDD) also testified as an impartial advisor before the ruling was issued. IDDD based its testimony on a study by undergraduate students at the Fundação Getulio Vargas Sao Paulo Law School as part of the “Who Polices the Police?” multidisciplinary project, which took place in the first half of 2019. This study showed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Brazil’s context, marked by a selective manner in which police approach suspected criminals.
In its ruling, the Inter-American Court established parameters to be followed by the countries under its jurisdiction, which implies the end of the discriminatory “justified suspicion” criterion when the Brazilian police approach suspected criminals. The court said that the Argentine state had violated the rights of liberty, protection of honor and dignity, equality before the law and non-discrimination of the two arrested citizens and ordered the government to compensate them for the way the police approached them illegally.
The research project developed by FGV Sao Paulo Law School students, coordinated by professors Thiago Amparo and Maria Cecília de Araújo Asperti, was aimed at studying, in an interdisciplinary way, external police control, the role of ombudsman offices, the way police approach suspects, and compensation for victims of state violence. The project had several partners, including IDDD, the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP), the local Public Defender’s Office and mothers of victims of police violence. The students were able to interact with institutions such as the Barro Branco Police Academy and the Sao Paulo State Police Ombudsman.
The study that was mentioned in IDDD’s testimony in the Inter-American Court was based on an analysis of 137 criminal appeal sentences between 2016 and 2019 in the Sao Paulo Court of Appeals. The study’s conclusion was that “justified suspicion” for approaches by police officers, provided for in article 244 of the Criminal Code, is based on subjective criteria such as race and social class in most cases. The American Court’s ruling now bans this kind of selective approach.
The students who participated in this study were mentioned in IDDD’s testimony, which can be seen in full here.