Viva Rio: farewell to arms in Brazil

IssueSeptember - November 2003
Feature by Josephine

Although Brazil is not officially at war, the country has the one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with more than 35,000 firearm deaths every year. Brazilians are about four times more likely to die by firearms than the general world population.

Armed violence in urban Brazil is an epidemic, and we can think of guns as a vehicle of transmission that multiplies and aggravates violence; we can even identify the main risk group: young males from poor neighbourhoods (favelas). In 1999, in Rio de Janeiro, young males between 15 and 19 years of age were 24 times more likely to die by firearms than girls in the same age group. To this day, guns remain the most common cause of death in this population.

Viva Rio was born in 1993, in response to two episodes of particularly severe urban violence: the murder of eight street children in downtown Rio, and the massacre of twenty-one favela residents by police that same year. Led by a broad constituency, Viva Rio articulates safety as a fundamental right that conditions the implementation of every other human right, as well as of local development.

Campaigns for peace as well as projects aiming to reduce criminal behaviour and armed violence are the hallmarks of the organisation's work. Activities to confront problems associated with the proliferation and misuse of firearms are carried out at the local, national, and international levels. Viva Rio concentrates its work on three objectives:

  • Reducing the demand for guns: raising awareness of the risks involved with using or carrying firearms.

    One of Viva Rio's most successful public campaigns was launched on Mothers' Day 2001. “Choose gun-free! It's your weapon or me”brought together women from all sections of Brazilian society-- actresses, journalists, artists, and the relatives of homicide victims--to pressure their husbands, boyfriends and sons to give up their guns.

  • Improving stockpile controls: voluntary small arms collection campaigns, destruction of guns surplus, improvement of secure storage facilities.

    In June 2001, Viva Rio collaborated with the state government of Rio de Janeiro and the military to destroy 100,000 weapons under police custody--the largest weapons destruction in history. A further 10,000 weapons were destroyed on 9 July 2002, and 5,000 more on the eve of the UN conference on Small Arms Trafficking in 2003.

  • Curbing the supply of guns: stop illicit arms trafficking and control the production, sales, export and import of small arms and ammunition. Last July, the Brazilian Senate approved a new bill banning the carrying of firearms by civilians and severely restricting firearms possession. In addition, the bill proposes the complete prohibition of firearms and ammunition sales to civilians, to be decided in a plebiscite vote in October2005. The bill now moves to the Brazilian House of Representatives, where a vote is likely to happen by the end of the month. The time might have come for along-awaited victory!