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Viewing cable 09RIODEJANEIRO357, C) WAR BY ANY OTHER NAME: RIO'S "INTERNAL ARMED CONFLICT"

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RIODEJANEIRO357 2009-11-03 14:02 2010-12-07 09:09 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Rio De Janeiro
VZCZCXRO7589
RR RUEHRG
DE RUEHRI #0357/01 3071411
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 031411Z NOV 09
FM AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5151
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 1433
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 3554
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 0005
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RIO DE JANEIRO 000357 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/03/2019 
TAGS: SOCI SNAR PGOV ASEC BR
SUBJECT: (C) WAR BY ANY OTHER NAME: RIO'S "INTERNAL ARMED CONFLICT" 

REF: A. (A) RIO 329 
B. (B) RIO 346 Classified By: Principal Officer Dennis W. Hearne for reasons 1.4 (b, d ) 

1. (C) Summary: Rio Principal Officer, accompanied by PAO, met on 23 October with XXXX (strictly protect),  XXX for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Rio. XXXX has long ICRC experience in conflict zones. It is his assessment that the situation in many Rio favelas today is, for all practical purposes, a full-blown internal armed conflict, and not simply an urban crime problem. While XXXX recognizes he can say nothing of the sort publicly, and that the de jure definition in International Humanitarian Law for "internal armed conflict" may not describe precisely the violence in Rio, he makes a compelling case. The corollary is that the ICRC is quietly working in Rio favelas in much the way it does in other war zones - attempting to establish "humanitarian spaces" for treating or evacuating the wounded,facilitating release of captives, getting services and supplies to civilians isolated by violence, and requesting access (not yet granted) to gang members in prison populations. The dichotomy of extensive armed conflict raging in a celebrated and highly developed megacity in an economically powerful democracy may be becoming more than Brazilians can absorb, and frustration and the focusing effect of the 2016 Olympics in Rio seem to be galvanizing the public and state and federal governments to seek decisive action. End summary. 

2. (C) In a 23 October meeting with Principal Officer and PAO sought by ICRC XXXX in Rio de Janeiro, XXXX, XXXXX made a compelling argument that the continuing violence in Rio,s favelas constitutes, for all practical purposes, a full-blown "internal armed conflict." XXXX said he would never take such a position publicly, given Brazilian sensitivities, nor does he argue that Rio,s violence matches in every detail the de jure definition of "internal armed conflict" under International Humanitarian Law. (Note: The relevant definition is in Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions. End Note.) Nonetheless, in its main features -- i.e., organized factions holding the monopoly on violence in their areas while in an open conflict with rival factions or/and state forces, the humanitarian impacts on innocent civilians trapped by violence in favelas dominated by gangs, and the need for ICRC to operate as though in a war zone to create "humanitarian spaces" -- the gang warfare in Rio,s favelas resembles other situations worldwide that are formally recognized by governments and international organizations as internal armed conflicts, XXX said. XXXX speaks with conviction, reflecting his long ICRC experience in conflict zones, including in Haiti, in Uganda  and in Sierra Leone,s civil war. In the course of the discussion, XXX made the following specific observations: --Currently ICRC operates in 7 Rio favelas: Mare, Parada de Lucas, Cidade de Deus, Cantagalo, Pavao/Pavaozinho, Complexo de Alemao, and Vila Vintem. State Security Secretary Jose Beltrame is the ICRC,s senior interlocutor in Rio. ICRC also has asked for access to the state prison system, which has not yet been accepted (although he noted that there was support at federal level, including from Justice Minister Tarso Genro); --The ICRC works to create "humanitarian spaces" in favela conflict areas, proceeding cautiously, first using local NGOpartners such as AfroReggae and Luta Pela Paz. In concrete examples, this has meant trying to convince gang factions to recognize certain places -- e.g., schools, clinics -- as "safe areas," working to establish mechanisms to locate and negotiate release of hostages, bringing basic supplies (including food and water) to civilians who are regularly isolated by the most extreme violence inside areas XXX called "favelas within favelas." ICRC is also working with former staffers of Doctors Without Borders to address treatment and evacuation of wounded or deceased persons, XXXX said. He noted MSF closed its operation in the notorious Complexo de Alemao favela when it was not regularly able to fulfill its mandate of treating wounded citizens, owing to the grim fact that the lethality of the conflict in Rio,s favelas leaves mostly dead victims; --Now ICRC is building up its own network. Increasingly, its delegates speak directly with leaders of gangs and militias,  as well as with police. Contact with gang members is not direct initially, but word of ICRC interest in contacting specific gang leaders is passed through mediators, and mutually acceptable conditions are set for a meeting. ICRC uses clearly marked vehicles and communicates its movements in advance to all sides, just as in other war zones where it operates; --ICRC also works on health initiatives as well as education, but XXXXX allowed that such activities were, in part, "cover" for ICRC,s efforts to protect civilians from violence; --In prisons, ICRC is concerned primarily with the human rights situation, and with violence driven by gang dynamics. There is also an opportunity to meet with imprisoned gang faction leaders to emphasize that ICRC,s work in favelas is not political, and is intended to alleviate suffering of citizens. And there is the humanitarian issue of facilitating contact with prisoners by family members who may not be able to visit prisons because of factional violence (e.g., A family member from a favela controlled by one gang may put themselves and their incarcerated relative at risk if they attempt to enter a prison dominated by a rival gang.); --XXXX applauds the state Favela Pacification Program (FPP) and the community-based Police Pacification Units (UPP) and sees their value in extending government control and reducing the stigma of living in favelas, but does not believe that the plan is sufficient to fundamentally change the security situation, at least not for several years (ref A); --ICRC must be sensitive and low-profile in its work, and XXXX pointed out his staff is "hidden" in the basement of the historical headquarters building of the Brazilian Red Cross national organization. The Brazilian Red Cross is increasingly engaged by ICRC to assist in its efforts in the favelas. 

3. (C) Comment: One does not have to completely agree with XXXX assessment to concede that this battle-hardened ICRC professional makes a cogent case for viewing the situation in many of Rio,s favelas as one of sustained internal armed conflict, as opposed to simply urban criminal violence. The Rio combatants are, of course, rival criminal gangs, militia groups, and the police, as opposed to political or ethnic factions. But in the gangs, complete control of geographic areas (Rio Governor Sergio Cabral recently referred to gang-dominated favelas as "occupied territories"), their relatively elaborate command and control structures, their powerful military weaponry, and in the horrendous body count they leave behind, Rio,s gangs do resemble combatants in recognized internal armed conflicts worldwide. A signal distinction is that Rio,s internal armed conflict is not generalized throughout a national or even regional theater. Instead, it is occurring within relatively discreet urban pockets (though violence can spill outside favelas), spread throughout a celebrated and highly developed megacity, one of two (with Sao Paulo) in a democratic country with one of the world,s largest economies. That cruel and decades-old dichotomy may have become, finally, more than Rio residents and Brazil,s leaders can absorb, and their frustration and the focusing energy of the 2016 Olympics seem to be galvanizing state, municipal and federal government. There is a growing consenus that now is the time to confront the plague of violence in Rio in a decisive manner, but it remains to be seen whether Rio,s Favela Pacification Program, possible new federal-level public security initiatives, and additional funding for public security will be sufficient to help Rio de Janeiro quell its long internal armed conflict. HEARNE