Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city known internationally for its fireworks show on New Year’s Eve on Copacabana beach and its carnival parades in the Sambadrome. The local violence associated with police repression and illicit drugs – known as Rio’s urban war – is also known well beyond Brazil’s national borders.

This article, written in collaboration with Viva Rio, presents the challenges of responding to the illicit drug market and its associated violence in Rio, highlighting the characteristics and dynamics of the markets, the impacts of the current drug policy approach adopted by the State of Rio on the scale of the illicit market, and its implications for the human rights and security of affected populations, in particular the favela residents.