Video as evidence in Brazil: New study by Article 19 and WITNESS shows potential is huge but untapped

*Leia este texto em português*

Videos caught on cell phone cameras have increasingly changed the outcome of many cases in Brazilian courts. These are cases where the truth would have Brazil_VaEResearch_3never come to light without video – the attempt to cover up an execution by police in the Morro da Providencia community, in Rio; a young man imprisoned for a crime he did not commit in São Paulo; a grenade being planted by a police officer into the backpack of a young protester during a demonstration.

With cell phones and cameras everywhere (or a little more everywhere each day), it’s a global trend: from Brazil to the United States, Sri Lanka to the Democratic Republic of Congo, video continues to prove to be a powerful weapon to expose lies that, in some places, have become an epidemic: for example the infamous “resistance” or “legitimate defense” claims that always surface when someone dies in confrontation with police in Brazil.

But despite this enormous potential, the Justice system –in Brazil and in the world– have yet to grasp or fully understand how to properly digest, analyze and process this new flood of evidence. The tools we have to collect evidence are 21st century, but the institutions responsible for receiving and investigating this evidence to ensure justice are still operating in the 20th century.

Brazil_VaEResearch_2Last year, we began to research this in partnership with Article 19’s Brazil office to examine how video has influenced decisions made in Brazilian courts in cases involving human rights violations. The research looked into specific cases at the federal level (Supreme Court) as well as the state level in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, seeking examples of how videos have succeeded (or not) in resulting in concrete impacts in human rights cases. We also brought together partners, lawyers and allies to share experiences in a Video-as-Evidence seminar held in São Paulo in December 2014.

Everything we learned throughout this process is summarized in the report we are launching today, International Human Rights Day. “Video as Legal Evidence for Human Rights Cases in Brazil” [PT] outlines this scenario and details seven emblematic cases marked by videos, from the Favela Naval case in São Paulo, in 1997, to the case of Claudia Ferreira, a mother and head of household who died while being dragged by a police car in Rio in 2014.

The research concludes, among other things, that:


  • the legal community still has considerable difficulty in analyzing and assessing the potential of video as evidence because judges say very little (or nothing) about the influence of videos in their decisions;
  • in cases of police violence in particular, the existence of a video stands out as a major tool to strengthen and accelerate the processes of justice, challenging the chronic impunity that often leads to cases ending without proper investigation;
  • video as evidence is a relatively new phenomenon and an important tool to be leveraged by human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, video activists and any citizen who may witness and film a violation of human rights.

The Brazilian report is part of a global initiative to better understand the role of video for evidence and help activists, lawyers and human rights defenders video more strategically, effectively and ethically in their human rights cases. To that end, we’ve also included a series of mini-guides with practical advice for people who want to make more strategic use of video in their actions. To explore the global research and guidelines, visit:

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