ADPF Favelas Case: understand, in 5 points, the case in the Supreme Court to reduce police lethality in Rio de Janeiro

Engagement of civil society organizations and social movements demonstrates to the Supreme Court how police action in Rio de Janeiro violates the fundamental rights of the people who live in favelas

The Supreme Court will open its schedule of cases for 2022 on Wednesday (February 2), with the resumption of the judgment of an appeal submitted by the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and by NGOs and social movements engaged in ADPF (Allegation of Violation of a Fundamental Precept) Case No. 635, better known as the ADPF Favelas Case. 

The expectation is for the Court to clarify the scope of the precautionary measure issued to restrict, to extremely exceptional cases, police raids in Rio de Janeiro communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. The case has been suspended since May due to an adjournment requested by Justice Alexandre de Moraes.

Classified as a historic case, the ADPF Favelas Case has rallied a number of social movements and organizations around the combating of police violence. Understand, in 5 points, the case that is saving the lives of black people in the urban peripheries. 

What is ADPF Favelas Case?

The ADPF Favelas Case is a citizens’ initiative to tackle police violence in Rio de Janeiro. The case was submitted to the Supreme Court in November 2019 by the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB). The petition, in general, challenges two state government decrees that regulate Rio de Janeiro’s security policy and calls for recognition of the serious human rights violations committed by the police forces in the state’s favelas, as well as the implementation of concrete measures to reduce lethality and guarantee justice for the victims. 

Who is behind the case?

The case was drafted filed by several organizations, social movements and groups on the front line of the resistance against police lethality. It was drafted by the Public Defender’s Office of the State of Rio de Janeiro and the organizations Educafro, Justiça Global, Redes da Maré, Conectas, Movimento Negro Unificado, ISER, Iniciativa Direito à Memória e Justiça Racial, Coletivo Papo Reto, Coletivo Fala Akari, Rede de Comunidades e Movimento contra a Violência, Mães de Manguinhos, Observatório de Favelas, GENI/UFF, Maré Vive, Instituto Marielle Franco, the National Human Rights Council and CESeC. More recently, the Mothers of May Movement also joined the case as an amicus curiae. 

What are the demands of the organizations in the ADPF Favelas Case? 

Considering that the main victims of police violence in Rio de Janeiro are black and poor people, the case is calling for concrete measures to reduce lethality and guarantee justice to the victims. The main demands are:

 – The implementation and monitoring of a plan to reduce police lethality with broad participation from civil society and public institutions committed to the promotion of human rights. 

– A ban on firing guns from police helicopters. 

– More rigor in the issuance of search and seizure warrants, in order to avoid random and illegal incursions, and in the preservation of crime scenes resulting from police operations and of documentation, with a view to avoiding the improper removal of bodies of victims or tampering with the crime scene for any reason. 

– Police operations around schools, day care centers, hospitals and clinics only permitted in absolutely exceptional circumstances, and the preparation of protocols for restricted action in these cases. 

– Suspension of the secrecy of all police action protocols and a requirement to prepare, store and release detailed reports on each police operation. 

– Installation of cameras and GPS equipment in police vehicles and on police uniforms. 

– Requirement for the cases of killings and other violations caused by police officers to be properly investigated, with the involvement of the victims and the families of the victims and prioritizing cases in which the victims are children and adolescents. 

– The unconstitutionality of the rule that excluded from the calculation of police bonuses, indicators of reduced killings resulting from resistance to police intervention. 

What has the Supreme Court decided so far? 

In 2020, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizations that are participating in the case as amicus curiae requested the temporary suspension of all non-essential police operations. In a historic ruling, the rapporteur of the case, Justice Edson Fachin, accepted the request and this decision was later confirmed by the full bench of the court – the only dissenting vote was from Justice Alexandre de Moraes. 

The Supreme Court also banned the police from firing guns from helicopters, restricted police operations around schools and hospitals, ordered the preservation of crime scenes and forbade the removal of bodies from the scene for forensic purposes. However, the justices did not reach a majority decision on requiring the state of Rio de Janeiro to develop a plan to reduce police lethality and to control rights violations by the state’s security forces. 

How did the Rio de Janeiro state government receive the decisions? 

Although research conducted by the Crossfire Institute and GENI (Study Group of New Illegalisms) of UFF (Fluminense Federal University) has shown a year after the Supreme Court decision that lives have been saved, the behavior of the police did not actually change. They were just less active during the period. 

The massacres in Jacarezinho and Salgueiro, caused by police operations in May and November 2021, respectively, expose how the Rio de Janeiro state government has ignored the decisions of the Supreme Court. Although emblematic, these two events were not isolated incidents. Despite the ADPF Favelas Case, the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro recorded 61 massacres in 2021, with police operations responsible for three of every four such incidents over the year, killing 195 civilians. In 2020, there were 44 massacres, with 170 dead, according to data from the Crossfire Institute. In addition to the killings, other violations are recorded in these police operations. 

Also in 2021, the government of Rio de Janeiro implemented the “Integrated City” project, which in theory enables social interventions through the occupation of communities. These interventions, however, have already started with the public security forces occupying the favelas of Jacarezinho and Muzema, but the project has not resulted in any measures to reduce police lethality in these communities.

In the assessment of the organizations that work on combating institutional violence, the implementation of the project will not affect the judgment of the ADPF Favelas Case, but it does reinforce the need for a specific plan to reduce deaths caused by law enforcement officers – one that includes the active participation of the communities and does not permit any backsliding from the achievements obtained with the case so far or that ignores the requests already made in the case, nor any repetition of the mistakes of previous interventions, such as the UPPs (Police Pacification Units) that were set up in 2008.

The organizations engaged in the case have already addressed this issue, questioning the implementation of the project in its current format and asking that the Supreme Court, when it resumes its judgment, requires the Rio de Janeiro state government to use cameras on the vehicles and uniforms of officers involved in the police operations in the favelas and poorest communities, including those involved in the “Integrated City” project in order to curb rights violations by these same officers.

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