Brazilian Army Destroys More Than a Million Weapons Linked to Crimes

The agreement between the Brazilian Army and the Brazilian National Justice Council stimulated the destruction of more than one million weapons.
Patrícia Comunello/Diálogo | 9 March 2018

Transnational Threats

The Brazilian Army destroyed 2,000 weapons in Rio de Janeiro in the presence of the command of the 1st Military Region and Justice Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha, chair of the Brazilian National Justice Council and the Federal Supreme Court. (Photo: Tânia Rêgo, Agência Brasil)

Between 2010 and 2017, the Brazilian Army (EB, in Portuguese) destroyed more than one million weapons held by the Brazilian Justice Department. The weapons were seized during criminal activity primarily linked to violent crimes and narcotrafficking. According to the Oversight Department for Controlled Products (DFPC, in Portuguese) 2017 logged the greatest volume with 282,721 weapons destroyed. The amount seized in 2017 marked a record year since the implementation of the 2003 Disarmament Statute that defined the EB as the entity responsible for destroying those weapons. The second largest amount of weapons destroyed was 2012, with 273,122 units. 

Operation Volcano (Operação Vulcão) kicked off the initiative to destroy weapons. Volcano was the first operation carried out after Minister Cármen Lúcia Antunes Rocha, chair of the National Justice Council (CNJ, in Portuguese) and the Federal Supreme Court, and General Eduardo Dias Villas Bôas, commander of EB, signed the Technical Cooperation Agreement on November 21, 2017. Volcano accounted for 112,768 of the total number of weapons destroyed in 2017. The operation, conducted all over Brazil, included judiciary districts and sites used as deposits for weapons no longer needed for forensic analysis or legal custody.

“These sites are not secure to store such arsenals,” said EB Colonel Walter Augusto Teixeira, head of the Center for Controlled Products Operations for the DFPC, based in Brasília. “The weapons include very modern assault rifles and machine guns, as well as other types of armaments and munitions. Burglaries were reported at some of these deposits.” Col. Walter highlighted the speed with which the agreement was implemented. “In addition to Volcano, new operations are planned up to November 2018, when the current term, which is set to be renewed, expires,” he added. 

Tatiane da Costa Almeida, director of the CNJ Department of Institutional Security for the Judiciary Branch, said the operation was the “first concerted effort by the council and EB to destroy weapons not required for criminal convictions.” Almeida said the Inspection System for Controlled Products already included this procedure. “Once a weapon has been forensically analyzed, it should not remain on the Justice Department premises.”

New procedures

“After the agreement between the CNJ and EB commands, it was necessary to adopt a series of measures to organize the flow, with procedures for the completion of forms and logistics to ship to the relevant EB units,” explained Almeida. The 12 military regions (RMs, in Portuguese) thoroughly surveyed sites that held the material to schedule deliveries and other initiatives until destruction. The initial forecast was for 100,000 units, but the number rose to 112,768. 

The Brazilian National Justice Council and the Brazilian Army destroy 4,000 weapons at a unit of the 11th RM, in Brasília. (Photo: Marcelo Camargo, Agência Brasil)

Almeida said the intention is to institute a routine to send material to military organizations (OMs, in Portuguese), units under the RMs, to avoid continued accumulation of weapons and munitions at courthouses. “Each courthouse is different; many try to maintain secure deposits. But the best solution is for judges to order weapons destroyed or donated to other security agencies, after forensic analysis of the weapons,” said Almeida. “The volume sent to the Army between 2010 and 2017 is an indication of the escalating level of violence in the country. The quantity of weapons seized daily is impressive. As such, we need to manage this volume. We can also prevent weapons from going back onto the streets and reduce violence,” Almeida said. 

Col. Walter said weapons’ firepower was surprising. “Many of the weapons are exclusive to the Armed Forces in combat situations. That's why criminal elements are very interested in the deposits.” The cooperation, Col. Walter said, is a milestone for aligned procedures, such as training court employees to complete technical forms and expedite delivery to EB. The activities will be managed digitally. “We have prepared teaching material to provide guidelines on how to identify model and serial numbers of weapons,” said Col. Walter. The weapons undergo several procedures rendering them useless before being melted down at iron works. 

Minas Gerais led the destruction of weapons

Of the 12 RMs in Brazil, the 4th RM that covers the state of Minas Gerais sent the largest volume of weapons for destruction in 2017. It amounted to 45,444 units. In second place was the 5th RM, covering Paraná and Santa Catarina, accounting for 22,778 weapons. Rio de Janeiro, which is part of the 1st RM, and currently the focus of intense action by the Armed Forces following federal intervention to reduce violence, emptied its weapons stocks held in courthouses.

“About 95 percent of the material comes from criminal activity,” said EB Lieutenant Colonel Alexandre de Almeida, head of the Inspection Department for Controlled Products of the 1st RM, during a destruction ceremony for more than 2,000 weapons in December 2017. “We managed to destroy 100 percent of the armament available for destruction in Rio de Janeiro. This partnership could contribute to public security by taking these weapons out of circulation,” Lt. Col. Almeida added.

Thiago Colnago Cabral, assistant judge for the head of the Justice Department of Minas Gerais, explained that the existence of almost 290 judicial districts in the state led to accumulation of the material. Only three OMs receive the weapons. “The notary offices of judicial districts undertake management of weapons, which created a lot of bureaucracy and little security,” said Cabral. Numbers are estimated at 750 weapons per week for each OM. 

According to Cabral, conversations with EB and the Civil and State Police branches throughout 2017 indicated solutions that reinforced cooperation between CNJ and EB. Now, seized weapons are sent to the Judiciary Police soon after forensic analysis. Only weapons used as evidence in murder and attempted murder cases remain at the notary offices. “We are doing with weapons what we already do with narcotics. The report is drafted within 48 hours and we send them to be destroyed,” said Cabral. “Weapons and narcotics do not go back out onto the streets,” he concluded.

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