Marielle Franco: killed for fighting for human rights

She was born in the favela da Maré, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was black, she was bisexual. She dared to get into politics to fight for human, women, black people, and LGBTQIA people’s rights. City councillor Marielle Franco was brutally killed four years ago in an attack in the heart of the city she loved and wanted to help to make better.

Thirteen shots were fired at her car on the evening of 14 March 2018 in downtown Rio. She had earlier left the venue where she participated in a workshop about empowering young black women. Hit by four shots to the head, she died on the spot along with her driver, Anderson Gomes, who was shot at least three times in the back.

Reporting police abuses and human rights violations against residents of poor communities in Rio was the central theme of her political agenda.

Reporting police abuses was the central theme of her political agenda. Photo: Facebook/Marielle Franco

A year later, in March 2019, two former policemen were arrested, one for shooting the gun and the other for driving the car. In July 2021, a militiaman was arrested accused of being the mastermind of the crime. They have not been taken to the court yet.

They were members of elite gunmen and killers’ militia called Escritório do Crime (Crime Office) that operates in the west zone of Rio de Janeiro. Born from illegal real estate exploitation, the organisation’s main activity is murder for hire. The group is composed of former and retired policemen.

Justice for Marielle and Anderson!

Despite the arrests, Marielle’s family, supporters, left-wing and opposition politicians, organisations, and social movements do not believe that her femicide is really solved and justice has been done.

“It’s already been four years and until today we are crossed by shots that nobody tells us where they came from,” PSOL city councillor Chico Alencar stated on his Facebook page.

“For four years, we have been asking who is interested that the Marielle Franco case is not solved. Which people today have no interest in arriving at the answer? There is either a greater force that prevents it or clear incompetence of all the powers involved in the investigations”, PSOL city councillor and Marielle’s partner for 13 years, Mônica Benício, says.

Who ordered the killing of Marielle?

Militia involvement in the crime is suspected, but nothing has been proven yet. So far, investigators have not concluded whether the crime was politically motivated. They have also not discovered the whereabouts of the murder weapon, a submachine gun.

Over these four years, the investigations went through three different prosecutors and five detective inspectors. Two prosecutors asked to leave the case because they identified “external interference” in their work.

Police investigations had identified that several militiamen suspected of involvement in the crime had had a connection with the far-right wing president of the Republic of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, before and after he took office. Bolsonaro denies.

Among the suspicious facts is Bolsonaro’s familiarity with some of the neighbours that are militiamen, photos of him with militiamen, special passports issued to suspects, and the release of suspects who were close to him and his wife.

Some of those militiamen are also related to Bolsonaro’s sons, such as family members of a girlfriend and political advisory positions given to family members of militiamen. Tributes to militiamen were also held by Bolsonaro and one of his sons in Parliament.

Victimised after death

Marielle’s assassination sparked protests in the streets all over Brazil in 2018. The then President of the Republic, the National Congress, and the Federal Supreme Court (STF) issued letters of repudiation and held ceremonies.

Protests in Brazil In 2019 demanded justice. Photo: Mídia NINJA

Meanwhile, far right-wing groups spread fake news, linking Marielle to narco-traffickers, while right-wing public figures accused the left of politically exploiting Marielle’s murder.

In the following weeks, the Court ordered the removal from Facebook and YouTube of publications with libellous or false content about her.

International recognition

International human rights organisations, politicians and academics expressed outrage in several countries. This assassination was linked to the “existing impunity in Rio de Janeiro” and the “failed security system” of the state, Human Rights Watch declared at the time.

One year later, experts from the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated that “the killing of Marielle Franco is an attack on the heart of a democratic society and an emblematic case of the threats faced by human rights defenders in Brazil”.

“Marielle’s legacy lives on to this day, and she continues to be an important symbol of resistance and calls for change in communities across Brazil”, Amnesty International UK stated on this 14 March.

Fight like Marielle

Killed at the age of 38, Marielle had become the mother of a girl at the age of 19. She soon lost a female friend to a stray bullet in a shootout between police and traffickers in the favela da Maré.  Granted a scholarship, she managed to study Sociology and, later, she got a master’s degree in Public Administration.

These life facts pushed her to debate feminism in the favelas. She denounced violence against women, advocated for the guarantee of abortion in the cases provided for by law and for an increase in the participation of women in politics.

Affiliated to the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL), she was elected a Rio councillor in 2016 with the fifth-highest vote in those elections: 46,502 votes. She soon took the presidency of the Women’s Commission of the City Council.

Her last effort was to empower young black women. Photo: Aline Lourena

Marielle, ever-present!

Marielle and Anderson’s families, the Marielle Franco Institute, and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Global Justice have performed a series of events to mark this date and to demand justice.

“Feminism, LGBT, favela, blackness. Marielle’s body and voice breathed struggle”, her sister Anielle Franco posted on Twitter.

Worker Party MP, former Rio de Janeiro governor, and black woman Benedita da Silva posted on her Instagram: “We will be resistance!!!”

According to a study released by the project Violence Monitor, 75% of women murdered in the first half of 2020 in Brazil were black – 650 out of a total of 884. Furthermore, in the ranking of women’s participation in national politics carried out by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Brazil is 142 out of 192 countries.

Marielle lived for changing this, and her fight is not over, not only in Brazil but everywhere.