A most violent year: Brazil murder toll hits record 63,800

Gang crime and domestic violence fuel homicide tally ahead of presidential election

Brazil army
Brazil’s military took over public security in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year in response to rising violence
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Murder rates in Brazil rose by 3.7% to a record 63,880 killings last year, according to a new study released in the run-up to a presidential election dominated by the issue of violence.

So what is behind the nation’s steadily increasing homicide rates?

The director of the independent Brazilian Forum of Public Security (BFPS), which gathered the new data, said the problem had “been exacerbated by antiquated laws and police procedures and the growth in organised crime”.

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“The numbers show we have a serious problem with lethal violence,” continued Renato Sergio de Lima. “We have two persistent phenomena: violence against women and criminal gangs dealing in drugs and arms.”

Serious crime has flourished in the absence of capable policing, with few murderers ending up in jail and authorities focusing on repressing criminals rather than on preventing and tackling the root causes of crime, The Guardian reports.

With little government action to give deprived youth hope for the future, “a culture of ultra-violence has set in”, says news site Americas Quarterly. Torture and decapitation of members of rival gangs is commonplace and, indeed, often celebrated in music and on social media.

But deadly force comes from both sides of the criminal justice system. The new BFPS report says that an average of 14 people die at the hands of police officers every day, according to The Guardian.

Meanwhile, violence against women has skyrocketed in recent years, with almost a third of women claiming to have suffered such abuse, The New York Times reports.

Brazil has the “seventh-highest rate of femicide in the world, with 4.4 murders per 100,000 women, according to a 2012 Brazilian survey called the Map of Violence”, the newspaper says.

And only around a quarter of women who suffer violence report it to the police.

“There are many reasons - stigma, economic dependence or concern for children,” explains Maria Laura Canineu, the Brazil director of Human Rights Watch. “But often, it’s the conviction that the state won’t do anything.”

The police force’s lack of resources and training often means that perpetrators do not face any repercussions, Canineu adds.

Crime is expected to be a key voter concern in Brazil’s upcoming presidential election, in October.

The candidates include far-right lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro and jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wants to “loosen gun laws and toughen up policing to tackle the rise in violence”, according to Reuters. Bolsonaro has a similar stance on policing, and has said that he would give officers “carte blanche” to kill suspects who fire on them.