Human Rights Defenders Institute

At the Front Line: Strategic Actions to Contain the Mass Imprisonment in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Objectives and target audience

To contribute, through institutional advocacy and strategic litigation, to the reduction of mass incarceration, focusing on the abusive use of provisional arrest and its association with drug policy, especially in cases included in territories where Pacifying Police Units are acting.

Main activities

Advocacy within the Criminal Justice System

The central axis of the project comprises advocacy and institutional advocacy activities within the Criminal Justice System. It is a strategy that advocates action with the Federal and State Legislative Branch, in the face of the trivialization of the precautionary prison and the warlike drug policy.

Liason with civil society institutions

In addition to working in spaces such as the Criminal Justice Network, State Front for Disencarceration, State Front for Drugs and Human Rights, as well as State Committee for Prevention and Fight against Torture, there will be articulation with relevant partners to strengthen the initiatives established by the project.

Strategic Litigation

Regarding strategic litigation, the project intends to adopt as amicus curiae initiatives in the STF, as well as to file a Public Civil Actions, Habeas Corpus collective on issues relevant to pre-trial detentions, drug policy and UPPs.

Research and production of knowledge

Thus, we intend to carry out empirical and documentary research on violations in the criminal procedure, as well as to ensure the publication of an information booklet on the rights of pre-trial detainees.

Communication Policy

This line of action aims to give visibility to the causes, campaigns and emblematic cases assumed by the project, as well as those most relevant to the Institute of Human Rights Defenders. It is a central strategy for the promotion of human rights. Although we have a good audience in social networks and on the website, we lack professional management in the area, as well as the production of more content and audio-visual materials, the dissemination and accountability regarding the work developed, and better communication with the press).


Since the reopening of democracy, in Brazil, notably in Rio de Janeiro, the implementation of a model of public security guided by a war pattern has been observed. In this sense, a criminal policy based on the “War on Drugs” is carried out in which fundamental rights and guarantees are routinely violated in the name of a supposed efficiency in the “fight against crime”, resulting in high rates of lethal violence and mass incarceration. According to data from the National Survey of Penitentiary Information of the Ministry of Justice (Infopen 2014), Brazil occupies the 4th largest prison population in the world, behind only the USA, China and Russia, with 607,731 people incarcerated, reaching the incarceration rate of 300 for every 100,000 inhabitants. It is noteworthy that this mass incarceration is selective, reaching preferentially those accused of trafficking narcotic substances – more than 25% of the prison contingent – being the majority people of color. One of the most acute side effects of this repressive agenda is the excessive use of provisional arrest: one in three Brazilian detainees await the day of their trial in prisons. Thus, although the constitutional principle of the presumption of innocence (article 5o, LVII, CRFB / 88), as well as several international human rights standards with which Brazil undertakes, such as the American Convention on Human Rights, the imposition of provisional arrest as an early penalty, it is applied as a true “procedural penalty”. In the current context of criminal security policies in the state of Rio de Janeiro, it is possible to identify, therefore, in the tripod “War on Drugs”, “Trivialization of Pre-trial Detention” and “UPPs (Pacifying Police Units)” the leitmotiv of systematic violations of criminal proceedings guarantees of the most vulnerable segments of the population, notably young, Black and suburban residents. It is precisely at the intersection of these factors that the Rafael Braga Case is located: he is a young, Black, street-dweller (and later resident of the Complexo do Alemão), arrested in June 2013 (carrying a bottle of cleaning product and charged with explosive material possession) and, more recently, provisionally arrested, in the case of a forged flagrant arrest, charged with drug trafficking, by police officers working at the Pacifying Police Unit of the Complexo do Alemão. The Rafael Braga case is, therefore, an emblematic case of institutional violence trivialized in the urban outskirts in the daily life of the War on Drugs.

About the organization

The role of the Human Rights Defenders Institute – HRDI is to develop programs for the promotion and defense of human, economic, social and cultural rights, offering free legal assistance in paradigmatic cases of violation of these rights. The main focus is the victims of police operations in peripheral communities.

Funding Line

Criminal Justice (2017-2018)



Total Granted

R$ 219.440,00


20 months

Main Themes

Guaranteeing the rule of law and criminal justice

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