The far-right governor-elect of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, met with criticism Tuesday after announcing he would deploy snipers to take down armed criminal suspects, even if officers’ lives are not in danger.
Witzel, a vocal backer of Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, was elected alongside him Sunday after both campaigned on hardline platforms that tapped outrage over violent crime.
Following through on a campaign pledge, the governor-elect said he would instruct police and soldiers to open fire on armed suspects, even if it meant shooting them in the back unprovoked.
He also proposed deploying snipers in helicopters to shoot suspects from above during police operations against drug traffickers.
“If you have five criminal elements shooting at a policeman, all of them can and should be taken down,” he said in an interview Monday night with TV network Globonews.
Asked if his plan included shooting suspects in the back, he said: “Gun in hand? He’s a threat. He’s going to use that gun to attack anyone who’s in front of him.”
Brazil: incoming defense minister Heleno supports elected Rio governor Witzel's proposal to use snipers against armed gang members in favelas https://t.co/CYZT0Jlim8
— Sam Cowie (@SamCowie84) October 31, 2018
Rio de Janeiro’s impoverished “favela” neighborhoods are regular scenes of combat-style confrontations between heavily armed drug traffickers and security forces.
In February, President Michel Temer deployed the army to Rio to try to gain the upper hand. Witzel said he wants to extend that 10-month emergency deployment by another 10 months.
In a country that registered a record 63,880 murders last year, many Brazilians are fed up with violent crime — a big factor in Bolsonaro’s victory, and those of 12 far-right governors swept to office with him.
But rights activists said Witzel’s proposals were not even legal.
“Giving prior authorization to automatically kill anyone who may be armed when there is no imminent risk to life is an affront to Brazilian and international law,” Amnesty International said in a statement sent to AFP Tuesday.
“It would only result in an escalation of violence and put hundreds of thousands of people’s lives at risk, including those of the officers themselves.”
Witzel, a little-known federal judge, surged to victory in Brazil’s “Bolsonaro wave” after declaring his fervent support for the far-right former army captain.
Bolsonaro’s crime-fighting proposals include relaxing gun-control laws so “good people” can take justice into their own hands.