Who killed Marielle Franco? Speaking up against violence and impunity in Brazil

By Magdalena Medley, Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group

This is the second installment in a series of blogs written as Amnesty International USA’s contribution tothe annual global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign. Each year the campaign extends from November 25 (International Day Against Violence Against Women) through December 10 (International Human Rights Day).

Marielle Franco was a black bisexual woman, a human rights defender, and a single mother from Maré, a favela in northern Rio de Janeiro. She was a human rights defender and combined her strong political activism with research. She used her time as a member of Rio de Janeiro’s State Human Rights Commission, almost 10 years, to publicly denounce extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed by state officials.

She was passionate about human rights and despite the opportunities denied to black women in Brazil, she managed to win an election for the Rio de Janeiro City Council and was appointed President of the Women Commission.

Early on, Marielle put forward a series of bills related to women´s rights, like a bill that included the right to abortion in public hospitals in the cases already allowed by Brazilian legislation (anencephaly — severe birth defects,- high risk to the pregnant woman, and rape) and a bill that guaranteed the offer of night care for children of mothers that work at night.

Given her experience denouncing and documenting violence by state officials, on March 2018, she was appointed Rapporteur in a Special Commission that the City Council created to monitor the ongoing federal intervention on Rio de Janeiro’s public security and the growing militarization of public security. She had publicly spoken against the measure.

Shortly after, on March 14th 2018, Marielle was shot deadin a drive-by shooting in Rio de Janeiro’s Estacio neighborhood, after having participated in a debate with a group of young black women, entitled “Young Black Women Moving Structures”. Her driver, Anderson Gomes was also killed.

Marielle’s death is not an isolated incident in Brazil. Dozens of human rights defenders (HRDs) are killed every year in the country. In 2017, at least 70HRDs were killed in Brazil, and this number represented an increase from the previous year,when at least 61 killings were registered. There is a pattern of lack of investigation of killings of HRDs in the country. The few cases that are investigated and eventually prosecuted are the ones that gain public notoriety and society is hugely mobilized around. Another big problem is that usually when the perpetrators face trial it is only the shooters and not the intellectual authors, and it can take years until all trials and appeals are concluded.

The crime investigation into Marielle’s death by the Homicide Division of the Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro State is under secrecy. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of the murder disclosed to the media about the ammunition and submachine-gun used to kill Marielle that, coupled with the dynamics of the killing itself, allow us to conclude that the killing of Marielle Franco was targeted, carefully planned, executed by people with professional / specialized training, and that some level of participation of state agents was necessary for the crime to happen.

Amnesty International has long documented and monitored attacks, threats and killings of human rights defenders that expose or denounce police violations, including extrajudicial executions in Brazil. Every day that goes by without an answer heightens the chances of impunity and increases the risks for other HRDs. Marielle was a human rights defender. Her murder represents an attack against all those who defend human rights, especially those that stand up for the rights of black women, LGBTI, and young people in the favelas, as well as those who work to stop abuses committed by security forces.

Take action and help Marielle’s case by signing the online petitionto urge the President of Brazil to bring Marielle Franco’s killers to justice, including those who ordered the crime, and to protect human rights defenders in Brazil from further threats and attacks.

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