By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The latest figures released last week show that the number of homicides in Brazil rose steadily between 2011 and 2012, with a 7.8 percent increase in the number of murders registered last year. The Statistics Yearbook, compiled by the nonprofit Brazilian Public Safety Forum, shows that 50,108 people were killed in Brazil in 2012 of which 47,136 were murdered, the highest in five years.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Impunity and low levels of convictions for murders, experts believe, drive criminality in Brazil, photo by Andréa Farias/Flickr Creative Commons License.

The numbers make Brazil the seventh most violent nation in the world, behind war-torn countries such as Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The data was drawn from police reports made available through the state security secretariats, but, according to Julio Jacobo Waisenfisz from the Latin American University of Social Sciences (FLACSO), the study’s conclusions are “uncertain” and the actual number of homicides may in fact be much higher.

“Registered homicides are probably 10-25 percent higher,” Waisenfisz claims, due to the fact that high numbers of deaths in several states like Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina remain classified as ‘unexplained’.

One of the states driving the rise in murders is São Paulo. The study shows that the country’s richest state saw a fourteen percent increase in murders between 2011 and 2012. At the end of 2012, the city experienced a bloody crime wave instigated by an organized crime cell, the PCC. São Paulo has, however, seen a slight decrease in murders and robberies followed by killings since the beginning of 2013.

It is in the poorer north and northeast states of Brazil, however, that murder rates remain highest. The small state of Alagoas still leads the list with a rate of 61.8 murders for every 100,000 people. Although this represents a 21.9 percent decrease on the year 2011, robberies followed by murder in Alagoas rose by 140 percent during the same time period. The states of Ceará and Goiás both saw homicides climb between 2011 and 2012, by 32 and 28.4 percent, respectively.

Homicide Rate Up 7.8% in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Homicide rates climbed by 7.8 percent between 2011 and 2012, photo by Andréa Farias/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Both Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco saw 5.6 and 6.5 percent drops in murders on 2012, however.

A spokesman from the Rio de Janeiro Public Safety Secretariat told The Rio Times that this decrease can be attributed to the state’s “visible public safety policy which is based on two pillars: the Pacifying Police Unit projects and the Goals System, which awards police stations and battalions that reduce indices of violence,” he said.

“The UPPs broke the logic of war that the city of Rio sent to the world and its effects can be observed in the neighborhoods of these communities, which have registered less crime and reduced weapon use.”

Julio Jacobo Waisenfisz, who is in charge of the Violence Map project, argues that while murders may have decreased in Rio, deaths where there is ‘no known cause’ rose between 2011 and 2012 from 2,456 to 3,619.

“The rise in the number of deaths to be clarified more than justifies the drop in killings in Rio de Janeiro, which may actually have registered a higher homicide rate in 2012 than in 2011,” says Waisenfisz.

According to the sociologist and researcher, Brazil’s “institutional tolerance to violence” and infamous culture of impunity, in which it is estimated that only three to four percent of those guilty of murder are convicted, encourage criminality. “The institutions that take care of society tolerate violence,” he said. “The institutions that protect us are the ones that end up becoming actors of violence in Brazil.”


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