Brazil: Assassination of Judge Patricia Lourival Acioli | Letter

Re: Assassination of Judge Patricia Lourival Acioli

To: President Dilma Vana Rousseff, and Attorney General, Roberto Monteiro Gurgel Santos

From: Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

Date: 2011-08-22

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) is deeply concerned to learn that on August 12, 2011, Judge Patricia Lourival Acioli of São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro, was shot dead in front of her residence in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

LRWC is writing with respect to two issues of concern. First, we want to know why Judge Acioli did not receied the protection that she asked for and required. Secondly LRWC is concerned that a properly effective investigation of Judge Acioli’s murder be commenced immediately.

It appears that Judge Acioli was murdered in reprisal for her adjudication in the prosecution and conviction of more than 60 members of the State police of Rio de Janeiro for their participation in the a quasi military group known as the “Milicias” engaged in murder and extortion.

A number of reported facts indicate possible involvement by state agents, at least in failing to prevent the murder, namely:

• Judge Acioli was named as an assassination target on a list of 12 people; and,

• Security for the 12 people targeted for assassination was withdrawn by the State of Rio de Janeiro prior to the Judge’s murder; and,

• Judge Acioli had requested reinstatement of protection; and,

• The State refused Judge Acioli’s request, claiming that it was not necessary for her to have security or even an armored car; and,

• The police of Rio de Janeiro had been warned that Judge Acioli would be killed during the week of August 12, possibly with the use of explosives; and,

• The murder weapons were 40 and 45-caliber pistols, the standard issue weapons for the State police and military, respectively; and,

• Newspapers report that the State police of Rio de Janeiro celebrated the death of Judge Acioli on the day following her assassination with a party.

LRWC is concerned that an investigation leading to the identification and trial of suspected perpetrators of the assassination of Judge Acioli may be blocked by the “Milicias“, who are reputed to have considerable political power in the State of Rio de Janeiro.

We understand that the Federal Government placed the Federal Police at the disposal of the Governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral Filho. However, the Federal Police refused to assist, leaving the investigation to the State Police, the same police who may be implicated in the murder. We note that the March 23, 2011 attempted murder of Ricardo Gama is being investigated by the same police force criticized by Mr. Gama and that the investigation has failed to identify any suspects.

Brazil has a positive legal obligation to ensure a prompt, transparent and competent investigation of extra-judicial killings in all cases. The duty to investigate is accepted as necessary to a state properly safeguarding the right to life and preventing and punishing violations. These obligations arise under many instruments including, the American Convention on Human Rights (Convention) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, requires, by Article 8 that:

Governments shall make every effort to prevent extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions through measures such as diplomatic intercession, improved access of complainants to intergovernmental and judicial bodies, and public denunciation. Intergovernmental mechanisms shall be used to investigate reports of any such executions and to take effective action against such practices.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has interpreted the duty to effectively investigate as mandatory,

In cases of extra-legal executions, it is essential for the States to effectively investigate deprivation of the right to life and to punish all those responsible, especially when State agents are involved, as not doing so would create, within the environment of impunity, conditions for this type of facts to occur again, which is contrary to the duty to respect and ensure the right to life. (emphasis added)

When, as in the assassination of Judge Acioli, the involvement of state agents is suspected, Brazil must also ensure that the investigation is independent. As stated by the European Court of Human Rights in Finucane v The United Kingdom:

“For an investigation into alleged unlawful killing by State agents to be effective, it may generally be regarded as necessary for the persons responsible for and carrying out the investigation to be independent from those implicated in the events.”

Protecting the independence of the judiciary entails providing security that adequately protects judges from interference and attack. The security required for a judge handling the prosecution of members of a powerful group requires a high level of security. These duties are set out in the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.

7. It is the duty of each Member State to provide adequate resources to enable the judiciary to properly perform its functions.

Article 11 of these principles requires that, “…security [for judges]…shall be adequately secured by law.”

It appears that the assassination of Judge Acioli may have been prevented had the security requested been provided. LRWC is concerned that Brazil may now be failing to ensure an effective investigation leading to the identification of suspects and to the identification and punishment of the perpetrators through prosecutions and trials. In order to effectively investigate the assassination of Judge Acioli, it is essential that the Government of Brazil ensure the investigation is independent of those accused of involvement in the crime.

LRWC therefore calls on the Government of Brazil:

1. To ensure a prompt, transparent, competent investigation at the Federal level, independent from the State, of the murder of Judge Patricia Acioli; and,

2. To provide adequate security for the Judge Acioli’s family; and,

3. To act in accordance with international law, including the requirements of the Convention, the ICCPR and the Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions; and,

4. To put in place adequate measures to protect other human rights defenders whose work risks exposing wrongdoing by government agents and the Milicias.

LRWC requests a response detailing the measures being taken by the Government of Brazil to ensure the safety of the victim’s family, in addition to an explanation outlining why Judge Acioli was denied security and was not receiving the protection of the National Programme for the protection of human rights defenders. LRWC awaits your response regarding these issues and thanks you in advance for your attention to our concerns.