Activists, human rights defenders, and politicians remain appalled at the news of Marielle Franco’s murder last year in Rio de Janeiro. She was one of the first black, LGBTI, and disadvantaged women to take up a political position of relevance in Brazil when she was elected councillor of Rio. The 14th of March 2018 will remain an infamous day in the Brazilian callendar for decades to come.
Marielle was shot returning from a cultural event with her driver, and both died in the act. The crime shook the world, and one year later it has yet to be resolved. With the slow progress of the investigation one thing has become clear: Marielle’s murder was calculated, planned, and carried out with professional precision.
The evidence suggests that the bullets used are those that are used within the police force, and that this crime of a most likely political nature could imply the involvement of the Brazilian state.
Marielle’s legacy represents a crossroads for many activists and human rights defenders who have been shut down for years for standing up to those with political and economic power. Her death draws attention to the importance and the difficulty of the fight that many activists carry out every day in situations of risk, threats and agressions that occur in a context of absolute impunity.
In January of this year, the revelation that two military police officers accused of involvement have dark connections to Flavio Bolsonaro, the son of president Jair Bolsonaro, who is also currently a senator, came to light.
The political femicide of Marielle has become a political symbol in Brazil. Her death was recently commemorated in Rio’s carnaval where many samba schools made a homage to the murdered activist whilst demanding justice for this unforgivable crime.
For those reasons, we present to you what you need to know about the case of Marielle Franco 365 days after her brutal murder took place.
The case moves forward slowly
Three moments have been key in unravelling the truth regarding this political crime. The first, the detention in December 2018 of Marcello Moares Siciliano, also a counselor in Rio de Janeiro. He was identified as the supposed intelectual author of the crime and he is being directly accused of being involved in the murder.
The State Prosecutor and the Police searched his home and found material connected to the murder that also pointed towards two ex-military police officers who were also detained as possible complices.
The second, in January of this year, was the major revelation that these two military police officers have dark connections to Flavio Bolsonaro, the son of president Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently a senator. The accused are suspected to be members of the militia group ‘Escritório do Crime’, one of the most dangerous criminal groups currently in the west of Rio de Janeiro.
According to the investigation, they could be the material authors of the crime, given that Marielle’s activism could have limited their criminal activity in the region.
The third, is the unexpected arrest of a military police officer and another ex-police officer only a few days before commemorating one year since her murder.
One is accused of pulling the trigger, and the other of driving the vehicle used for the attack. These appear to be the first concrete results of a complex investigation that remains plagued with uncertainty that would confirm the Brazilian state’s role in the murder.
In 2017, Brazil registered around 60 murders of human rights defenders, which places the country in the same category as countries such as Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines.
What is certain is that the investigation has also suggested a link between Marielle’s opposition to the militarisation of Rio de Janeiro and her murder. She had discovered some worrying conexions, which could imply her death was caused by powerful mafias that wished to silence her. The complexity and the difficulty of clarifying the events surrounding her death show there are powerful interests impeding the investigation.
Marielle is not alone
The situation for other human rights defenders in Brazil is equally bleak. In 2017, the country registered around 60 murders of human rights defenders, which places the country in the same category as countries such as Colombia, Mexico, and the Philippines, where the largest proportion of murders of human rights defenders take place around the world.
Fear and silencing continue being used as strategies by those with economic and political power who wish to limit the advances in human rights these leaders are fighting for, whilst limiting their capacity to defend their territories.
In a country with more than 63,880 homicides in 2017, groups such as Afro-Brazilians, the indigenous, women, and the LGBTI community are exposed to many risks. Discrimination corrodes Brazilian society and ensures the country is ranked as the country that murders the most LGBTI people, with 445 murders in 2017.
The reality is that being a human rights defender in Brazil has become a dangerous exercise that has left a trail of violence in its wake.
It is more necessary than ever to reveal what happened with Marielle’s murder and to ensure those responsible are unable to shield themselves in impunity. Only then can we ensure an end to the use of violence against social activists and human rights defenders in Brazil and beyond.