Justice

One year after Marielle Franco’s death, Brazil's human rights activists demand answers

Marielle Franco speaks on a mic

One year after activist Marielle Franco's death, her partner, Monica Benicio, along with her many followers, seek justice as they continue to grieve her loss. 

Credit:

Mídia Ninja/Wiki Common

On March 14, 2018, Brazilian councilwoman, feminist and human rights activist Marielle Franco was brutally murdered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, less than two hours after she delivered a speech the same day. Her driver, Anderson Gomes, was also assassinated. 

Raised in Maré favela, Franco, 38, was a staunch critic of police abuse against disadvantaged communities and gender violence. At the time of her death, she was one of Brazil’s most prominent advocates of reproductive, gay and civil rights. 

A year on, Franco’s followers continue to grieve her loss and demand answers from the government as to the murky circumstances of her death. 

At this year’s politically-charged Carnival festivities, Franco’s followers celebrated her memory while lamenting a lack of resolve with her case. Her life partner, Monica Benicio, spearheaded the parade in Franco’s honor. Hundreds of students and supporters wearing shirts that read “Fight like Marielle” paraded through the mythical Sambadrome exhibition space designed by Mangueira Samba School, the winner of this year’s carnival. 

“I think now is the time for the Brazilian government to respond who ordered the killing of Marielle, because it sends a message that any advocate of human rights, whether it’s a woman, a black person or a member of the LGBT community can be killed in this country."

Monica Benicio, human rights activist and partner of Marielle Franco

“I think now is the time for the Brazilian government to respond [to the question of] who ordered the killing of Marielle, because it sends a message that any advocate of human rights, whether it’s a woman, a black person or a member of the LGBT community can be killed in this country,” Benicio told The World.  

Related: Dozens of cities across Brazil canceled Carnival in 2018

A woman raises her fist and shouts near a woman wearing dazzling green dress.

Monica Benicio, partner of late human rights activist and councilwoman Marielle Franco, is seen during the second night of the Carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 5, 2019.

Credit:

Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Unresolved questions

According to Amnesty International in Brazil, there are more than 20 unresolved questions drawn from the information available by public authorities or released by the local press. The questions focus on seven areas of investigation: shots and ammunition, the weapon used, security cameras and cars, investigative procedures, progress and accountability. 

Their biggest concerns include the disappearance of ammunition and weapons owned by the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police, the shutdown of crime scene security cameras days prior to the murder and investigation delays. 

Over a 12-month period, authorities have continually stated that the investigation is reaching its end, but in reality, according to Amnesty International, there is still a long road ahead. 

“Authorities from the Rio de Janeiro city and state, as well as the executive power, have a responsibility to have the right results. It’s been a year after her demise and all we hear is declarations and some information that comes from journalists, which generate even more questions than answers,” Jurema Werneck, executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, told The World. “Authorities must demonstrate that they can expedite this investigation and that can tell us who is responsible for the death and why.”  

A recent report from Veja magazine found that three state parliamentarians from the Brazilian Democratic Movement are allegedly linked to Franco’s murder. This week, a police raid in Rio led to the arrests of two suspected killers who have alleged ties with Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro and his sons

“It is undisputed that Marielle Francisco da Silva Franco was summarily executed because of her political actions in defense of the causes she defended. The barbarism practiced on the night of March 14, 2018, was a blow to the Democratic State of Law."

written complaint against Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, former police sergeant arrested in connection to Marielle Franco's murder

“It is undisputed that Marielle Francisco da Silva Franco was summarily executed because of her political actions in defense of the causes she defended. The barbarism practiced on the night of March 14, 2018, was a blow to the Democratic State of Law,” read a complaint against Elcio Vieira de Queiroz, one of the former police sergeants arrested in the raid. 

But conclusions about the cause of Franco’s death are far from over. 

Related: Social divisions linger after Brazil's elections

Marielle Franco.

Portrait of Marielle Franco. 

Credit:

Mídia Ninja/Wiki Common

Brazil’s rights movement gripped with fear 

Franco’s death comes at a time of political changes in South America’s largest country. 

With conservative Bolsonaro as Brazil’s new president, female activists and some members of the LGBT community — groups Franco championed throughout her life — fear their rights movement is in peril. 

“Brazil is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for human rights advocates.  ... Only Colombia has a problem of this magnitude. People are killed and nobody is held accountable for these actions. People who want to guarantee land and human rights to their constituencies are being killed."

Jurema Werneck, Amnesty International Brazil 

“Brazil is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for human rights advocates,” Werneck said. “Only Colombia has a problem of this magnitude. People are killed and nobody is held accountable for these actions. People who want to guarantee land and human rights to their constituencies are being killed,” Werneck told The World. She referenced an Amnesty report that revealed 62 human rights defenders were killed in 2017 alone. 

Related: Will Brazil's women writers lose progress under far-right President Bolsonaro?

Bolsonaro has been referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics” for his anti-establishment stance and controversial comments. In 2011, Bolsonaro said that he would prefer “a dead son” over a son who is gay. He also told a fellow congresswoman in 2014 that she’s not worth raping because she was “too ugly,” and once said that “Brazilian society does not like homosexuals.” As Bolsonaro’s chances of winning the president became evident, women in Brazil adopted the hashtag #EleNão (#NotHim in Portuguese). 

“I think women have increased their representation in [Brazilian] congress, so it’s all the more important to fight against the ultra-right policies of Bolsonaro."

Fernanda Melchionna, federal congresswoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party

“I think women have increased their representation in [Brazilian] congress, so it’s all the more important to fight against the ultra-right policies of Bolsonaro,” Fernanda Melchionna, federal congresswoman for the Socialism and Liberty Party, told The World. “#EleNao was Brazil’s largest manifestation, and now that we’re approaching the first anniversary of Marielle and Anderson’s death, it’s all the more important to uphold the struggle for civil rights today.” 

Members of Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party were not available for commentary. 

Benicio, Franco’s partner and an activist in her own right, believes their parade victory at Carnival was somewhat of a stepping stone to achieving justice for Franco. The win sends a message of hope to younger women of color — particularly those who live in the favelas — that they too can occupy spaces of power in Brazilian society, Benicio told The World. 

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, went out of his way to discredit Carnival this year. The subject of jokes and criticism over alleged money laundering accusations, Bolsonaro revolted by posting an explicit video of a man urinating on another person’s head at a São Paulo street party. 

“I don’t feel comfortable showing it, but we have to expose the truth so the population can be aware and always set their priorities. This is what many street carnival groups have become in Brazil,” Bolsonaro tweeted on March 5. 

His controversial tweet was ridiculed for mischaracterizing the spirit of carnival and ignited calls for his impeachment. 

“The message I’m sending to this conservative government of Bolsonaro is that we’re a resistance and will fight for our cause.”

Monica Benicio, human rights activist and partner of Marielle Franco 

Meanwhile, Benicio, along with Franco’s followers, persist with an urgent message of resistance: “The message I’m sending to this conservative government of Bolsonaro is that we’re a resistance and will fight for our cause.” 

Robert Valencia reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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