Josué De Oliveira Rios
Fellow Since 1990
IDEC- Instituto Brasileiro de Defesa do Consumidor
This profile was prepared when Josué De Oliveira Rios was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1990.
The New Idea
Josue's legal colleagues often ask him how many lawyers work at IDEC, so impressed are they by the group's capacity. Inevitably, they are amazed to discover that only four lawyers and four interns comprise the core staff.A sharp sense of both what areas offer the greatest social opportunities and of legal strategy clearly help. Josue picks his cases carefully. He looks especially for consumer issues that are ripe and those that affect a great number of people. He seeks always to have at least ten IDEC members serve as individual complainants before he will start a case.The key to Josue's ability to press a significant number of major cases all at once with only a small staff is how he engages his clients as central actors. They are not passive beneficiaries; rather, they do most of the work and are involved at each step and in each decision. They emerge from each case as trained and confident users of the legal system as well as better-protected consumers in the marketplace.The complainants meet regularly to discuss the case. They get involved in the research, learn the mechanisms and language of the legal system, and organize collateral campaigns to mobilize public opinion.Josue's approach works. For example, when the government suddenly froze the public's bank accounts through a March 15, 1990 Presidential decree, IDEC immediately mobilized 500 complainants to challenge the constitutionality of this action. With nothing in the constitution directly defining the legality of such a move, the issue is being decided in the courts. IDEC divided its 500 complainants into ten cases, hoping that at least one would gain a critical, precedent-setting success. In fact, the IDEC suits have already brought important gains for suddenly cash-stripped savers.In other cases, IDEC is representing a group of citizens who are suing the federal government for reimbursements of a temporary sales tax on gasoline that is promised in the law. Another suit seeks to oblige the state to regulate the use of a carcinogenic hormone that is widely used to fatten livestock.All of these legal services are provided pro bono to citizens who become members of IDEC. There are now approximately 2,000 members, each paying an annual fee of about U.S. $20.