Rio de Janeiro residents protest man's disappearance 2013


Bring government officials and police officers responsible for Amarildo's disappearance to justice.

Time period notes

Protests continued until mid/late August, however, officers were not charged until October 2013. The case was re-opened June 2015 and officially concluded February 2016.

Time period

14 July, 2013 to August, 2013



Location City/State/Province

Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, State of Rio de Janeiro

Location Description

Rocinha is a favela, or shantytown, located in Rio de Janeiro's South Zone. Amarildo's disappearance and a majority of the protests took place here.
Jump to case narrative


not known


not known

External allies

Amnesty International
NGO Rio de Paz (Rio of Peace)
Anarchist group Black Bloc

Involvement of social elites

Actors Thaila Ayala, Fernanda Paes Leme, and Wagner Moura
Director Paula Lavigne


Police Pacification Unit (UPP)
Rio de Janeiro state government

Nonviolent responses of opponent

not known

Campaigner violence

vandalism by small faction of extremist groups on 1 August 2013 protests

Repressive Violence

1 August 2013 police responded to protesters using police batons. Some were arrested.


Human Rights



Group characterization

favela residents

Groups in 1st Segment

Rocinha residents

Groups in 4th Segment

Amnesty International
anarchist group Black Bloc

Groups in 5th Segment

president of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights of the Legislative Assembly of Rio; Deputy Marcelo Freixo; Film Director Paula Lavigne; Actors Wagner Moura
Thaila Ayala
and Fernanda Paes Leme
and Fernanda Paes Leme

Groups in 6th Segment

NGO Rio de Paz

Segment Length

5-6 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

8 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

Although Amarildo's body was not found, the court confirmed Amarildo's torture and subsequent death. Half of the twenty-five officers involved in Amarildo's disappearance were sentenced while the other half was acquitted. Additionally, a Rio civil court ordered the state pay Amarildo's family for damages.

Database Narrative

Starting in 2008, the Brazilian government began commissioning nearly forty police pacification units (UPP) in over two-hundred of Rio de Janeiro’s shantytowns, known as favelas. This pacification project aimed to maintain security in territories after Rio’s special police unit (BOPE) cleared the communities of gang leaders and drug traffickers who, for decades, controlled the favelas and inspired their violent reputations.

Rocinha, located in Rio’s South Zone and considered Brazil’s largest favela, played a crucial role in Rio’s drug trade. The favela sold and bought  R$2 million, well over $600,000 USD, worth of cocaine each week. To clamp down on drug trafficking. BOPE special security forces occupied Rocinha in November 2011. In September 2012, the UPP permanently established itself in the community.

On Sunday 14 July 2013, UPP officers, during Operation Paz Armada (Armed Peace), a two-day raid campaign in Rocinha, picked up 42-year-old bricklayer Amarildo de Souza on suspicion he was involved in drug trafficking. After officers took de Souza in for questioning, the father-of-six Rocinha resident was not seen again. Police said he was released, but nearby surveillance cameras could not confirm their claims. His family officially reported his disappearance on 16 July 2013.

The Wednesday (17 July 2013) and Friday (19 July 2013) immediately following his disappearance, Rocinha residents took to the streets in protest demanding answers and police accountability. Protesters carried candles to honor Amarildo’s disappearance and wore shirts and held signs printed with the missing man’s portrait. The protests shut off the Lagoa-Barra highway, an important road connecting Rio’s tourist-popular South Zone and the West Zone’s Barra da Tijuca. Viral campaigns on social media asking, “Where is Amarildo?” accompanied these protests. This question became a central slogan of the campaign that targeted police corruption in the state. Amarildo’s wife, Elisabete Gomes de Souza  declared the question “our main war cry.”

Residents, including Amarildo’s family and friends, also took matters into their own hands and conducted their own physical searches, separate from those of the police investigation.

A week following the submission of the missing persons report, the UPP suspended four of the officers who took Amarildo to the station. Records revealed that these four freshman officers had previously been accused of abuse and police brutality.

Protests continued on Wednesday 31 July 2013 at Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach and spread across multiple cities in Brazil on 1 August 2013. In Rocinha, over six-hundred residents marched in the protest, shutting down the Lagoa-Barra highway for more than two hours. This demonstration was the highway’s third closure due to protests related to Amarildo’s disappearance. Meanwhile in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, an anarchist group named Black Bloc held a solidarity march to the city center. Demonstrators in both cities demanded the demilitarization of the police in addition to the resignation of their respective politicians, Rio Governor Sergio Cabral and Sao Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin. However, organizers focused on bringing government officials and police officers responsible for Amarildo’s disappearance to justice

Similar to the campaign’s past protests, demonstrators held candlelight vigils and carried flags or banners that displayed photos of Amarildo. Their banners featured  the same war cry message that they also fervently chanted, “Where is Amarildo?” A heavy deployment of armed police units followed the Sao Paulo march at a distance. When protesters passed police lines, or when officers enclosed the protesters, people began to cry out Amarildo’s name as if they were looking for him. This taunting and calling out of Amarildo’s name became not only a reference to the thousands of others who disappeared under the corrupt state, but also a resistance tactic used in other campaigns against Brazil’s police and government.

Amarildo’s disappearance came at a time of popular discontent with the government, particularly on the heels of the Movimento Passe Livre (MPL or Free Fare Movement) protests against the price hike in Sao Paulo’s bus and metro tickets. Similar to the June 2013 MPL protests, small factions of the 1 August 2013 protests involved groups who resorted to acts of vandalism, triggering violent police response. Officers batoned and detained some protestors, confirming the public’s perception of the police as violent and corrupt. Instead of quelling the protests, the repression fueled residents’ discontent towards the government.   

The day following these protests, on 2 August 2013, Amnesty International released a call for urgent action. This announcement demanded authorities order a prompt, thorough, independent investigation of Amarildo’s disappearance that would bring those responsible to justice. The call also insisted on surveillance cameras outside UPP buildings to oversee police activity. Amarildo’s disappearance drew more attention on 10 August 2013 when actor Wagner Moura recalled the case while accepting an honor at the Gramada Film Festival. Moura asked that Rio de Janeiro authorities give the de Souza children a truthful explanation about the disappearance of their father.

On Father’s Day, 11 August 2013, friends, relatives, and artists gathered in Rocinha to protest once more, drawing the attendance of film director Paula Lavigne, and actors Thaila Ayala and Fernanda Paes Leme. NGO Rio de Paz (Rio of Peace) organized the last demonstration of the campaign on 13 August 2013 in front of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro (Alerj) during a public hearing on the cases of disappeared victims in the state. While this demonstration highlighted Amarildo’s case, the rally stressed the terrifying prevalence of disappearances in Brazil, noting Amarildo as one of over thirty-thousand people missing. Actors, wearing blood stained clothing, symbolically demonstrated the practice of incinerating the bodies of disappeared victims inside rings of burning tires.

In October 2013, investigators concluded that UPP officers tortured Amarildo de Souza and confirmed the location in which the crimes took place. Subsequently, a Brazilian court indicted the twenty-five officers involved with charges varying from torture to procedural fraud.

Over a year later on 11 November 2014, a Rio civil court ordered the state to pay Amarildo’s family for medical and mental treatments and to provide monthly stipends for income lost directly as a result of the police officers’ actions.

In June 2015, the Ministerio Publico (Public Prosecutor’s Office) re-opened the case to examine why ten police officers of the BOPE entered Rocinha on 14 July 2013. By 2 February 2016, Judge Daniella Alvarez Prado ruled de Souza’s case was not a disappearance, stating, “Unfortunately we know he did not disappear. Amarildo died. He couldn’t resist the torture used against him. He was murdered.” Judge Prado sentenced thirteen of the original twenty-five police officers for their involvement. Their jail sentences ranged from 9 years to 13 years. The court acquitted the remaining twelve. Although authorities never located Amarildo’s body, his disappearance became a major symbol of political corruption and brought to light Brazil’s issues of rampant police brutality.


This campaign came after the June 2013 Free Fare Movement (MPL) in Brazil that initially fought for the reversal of transportation fare hikes, but later evolved into a movement also against government corruption.


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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Juli Pham 09/02/2017