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“We Are From Maré. We Have Rights!” Legal Victory, Campaign Amid Intense Police Operations

Photo by Redes Desenvolvimento da Maré

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On July 2, the campaign “We Are from Maré. We Have Rights!” was launched in Vila do João, Complexo da Maré—the first in a series of three events to be held this month aiming to mobilize residents and bring visibility to human rights violations that frequently take place during police operations in Maré’s favelas.

Located in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro near the Rio-Galeão International Airport, Complexo da Maré is composed of 16 favelas that extend between the Avenida Brasil and Linha Vermelha highways. The group of favelas, home to approximately 140,000 people, is considered the largest complex in Rio by population size. 

The campaign is an initiative of Maré’s 16 Neighborhood Associations in addition to the following organizations: Redes da MaréObservatório de Favelas, Fight for Peace, Instituto Vida Real, Amnesty International, Actionaid, Religious Studies Institute (ISER), the Center for Study on Safety and Citizenship (CESEC), the Interdisciplinary Nucleus of Actions for Citizenship (NIAC) and Casa Fluminense.

The campaign launch began with a gathering on the main road in Vila do João, one of Maré’s southernmost favelas. Participants—residents of Maré’s favelas and activists from supporting organizations—stopped passersby on the street next to the open-air market to provide information about the campaign and hand out flyers. The event continued with music and dance performances by local youth groups.

Photo by Redes da Maré

Later, participants split up into teams—each assigned a few streets—and went door-to-door to speak with residents about the proper course of action in case of rights violations by police. Campaigners encouraged residents to post a sticker on their doors that reads: “I am from Maré. You and I are from the same city. We have the same rights. My house is my place of comfort and protection. It cannot be invaded. Respect this.” The sticker also contains telephone numbers for relevant public authorities should residents wish to denounce violations witnessed or experienced.

“I am from Maré. You and I are from the same city. We have the same rights. My house is my place of comfort and protection. It cannot be invaded. Respect this.”

The current campaign, reviving a movement first initiated in 2012 and ongoing throughout 2013, has been set into motion in the context of public security concerns in advance of the Olympics, particularly given recent intense police operations in Maré. In the period of ten days from June 20 to 29, three operations were carried out in Maré connected to the search for alias “Fat Family”—a drug trafficker who was freed from Hospital Souza Aguiar by armed accomplices on June 19.

In the search and apprehension process, home invasions have become so commonplace that the presidents of Neighborhood Associations from four of Maré’s favelas—with the support of public defenders and activists from Redes da Maré, Observatório de Favelas and Fight for Peace—took legal action after an operation was conducted in the middle of the night on June 29/30.

In response, that same day, Judge Angelica dos Santos Costa issued a court order stating that police are not permitted to conduct household searches at night in accordance with Article 5, Section XI of Brazil’s Constitution, which states: “The home is the individual’s inviolable asylum that nobody may penetrate without the consent of the resident, except in case of a crime caught in the act or disaster, or to provide emergency assistance, or during the day, by judicial determination.”

Yet more, the judge issued a subpoena, requiring Rio de Janeiro state authorities—namely, Commander of the Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Eduardo Sarmento da Costa, Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame, and Commander of the Riot Police Battalion Fábio Almeida de Souza—to provide information and issue ministerial statement in response to the allegations of abuse of authority. According to Public Defender Daniel Loyoza Constant Lopes, these allegations include “shots fired from high caliber weapons in crowded places, home invasions, false imprisonment, seizure of belongings from inside residences, swearing at residents, etc.”

Ernani speaks at Saturday's event

The decision was complemented by the judge’s denunciation of the current state of Rio de Janeiro’s security apparatus:

It’s impermissible that in the 21st century, a way has not been found to confront criminality without exposing good citizens. Many say that during the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro will be safe, however, society needs public security before, during, and after the said event. There is no doubt that it is necessary to carry out police operations with the aim of complying with arrest and/or search and apprehension warrants… On the other hand, public security authorities should adopt proper measure to preserve lives and the right for people to come and go, seeking—through intelligence and planning services—to minimize risk for a population who have suffered and are frightened by the cases of violence. The local population cannot remain hostage during rushed and poorly planned operations—let alone justified by the police with the fragile argument of capturing criminals. This is not the police that society needs and desires. It is absurd that Rio de Janeiro, given the violence in recent years, is living in a time of unrest and total public insecurity without the slightest decrease in crime rates.

The decision has been celebrated as a significant victory for residents of Maré, setting legal precedent that could lead to greater transparency with regard to short and long term public security plans for Maré. However, given the continued unrest and unfulfilled plans of installing a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) prior to the Olympics—Beltrame cited budget constraints at a public hearing in March 2016—residents and observers speculate that the Armed Forces may occupy Maré in anticipation of the Games.

As established by the 1988 Constitution, Brazil’s Military Police and Armed Forces serve interdependent functions: the Military Police can be called upon as reserve forces to provide support for (largely external) military activities, and conversely, the Armed Forces can be deployed in the internal, civil realm at times of public disorder. The constitutional foundation for “Operations for the Guarantee of Law and Order” (GLO) is found in Article 142, which states that the Armed Forces are intended for “the defense of the Country, the guarantee of constitutional powers, and by the initiative of any of these branches, of law and order.” During GLO operations in internal domestic—often urban—contexts, Armed Forces are vested with policing powers including patrol, search and arrest.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Armed Forces have occupied Maré. At the request of then-governor Sérgio Cabral, on March 28, 2014—two months prior to the World Cup—President Dilma Rousseff signed a decree authorizing the Armed Forces to enter Maré. June 30, 2015 marked the end of a 15-month long occupation.

Ernani Alcides da Conceicão, professor of philosophy and history and educator at community-based organization Redes da Maré, stated:

The State is present in the community in a very violent way—it’s not like this in other parts of the city. We want to affirm that we are from Maré and we have rights. We want to be treated like citizens in accordance with the Constitution. The right to public security is fundamental—but we want to participate in building the model of public security. There needs to be engagement.

Ernani continued to describe the importance of mobilizing and uniting residents through the campaign: “Firstly, we want to show residents that there are mechanisms of defense that can be activated—this is essential for bringing awareness to our rights. Also, we want to show that together we are much more powerful. It’s possible and necessary to change the situation.”

The next campaign launch will take place on July 16 at Piscinão de Ramos, Maré, followed by a third launch on July 30 in Nova Holanda, Maré.