By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Thousands of Brazilians are taking part in a vigil to honor a politician who was brutally murdered, Marielle Franco. In the days leading up to her death, Franco campaigned heavily against police brutality.

Marielle Franco in Rio. Image Courtesy of Midia Ninja.

The 38-year-old Rio city councilor for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party was shot dead in her car on Wednesday evening. After leaving a meeting about empowering black women, a car pulled up alongside hers. Attackers sprayed her car with bullets which fatally injured her and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes. Additionally, a press officer working for Franco was injured while sitting in the back seat.

The Brazilian director of Human Rights Watch, Maria Laura Canineu, described Franco as “an outspoken and courageous advocate for victims of police abuse and a tireless defender of the rights of women and Afro-Brazilians.” She added, “Brazilian authorities need to respond decisively by identifying those responsible for the killing of Marielle and Anderson, and bringing them to justice.”

Franco grew up in an impoverished community in Rio. She became an activist and was elected to city council in 2016 as the only black female representative and one of seven women in the council. She became president of the women’s commission and was recently appointed to rapporteur of a municipal commission to monitor the federal intervention in policing Rio.

This federal intervention began in February when President Michel Temer handed over control of the state police and prisons to the armed forces. Franco had been a vocal critic of the measure, pointing out that it threatened to raise bloodshed without addressing the root cause of violence. In the days leading up to her death, she posted several tweets about police killings and assumed responsibility for conducting oversight of the military intervention.

As of Thursday afternoon, no suspects have been taken into custody. Rio’s civil police is responsible for investigating the killing. If needed, it is supposed to collaborate with federal police. Human Rights Watch asks that the army general in charge of the military intervention makes sure that investigators have the necessary independence and resources to find the killers. Also, Amnesty International urged that the investigation be rigorous and focus on the context, motive, and responsibility for the killing.

Canineu says, “The climate of near total impunity in Rio de Janeiro needs to end once and for all. Marielle and Anderson are the latest victims of a security system that has long failed to stop violence, or to ensure justice for the victims.”

On Thursday, thousands of Brazilians marched to the Rio state assembly to protest Franco’s murder. Many wore black and chanted against the police. One woman, Ilona Szabo, said that Franco “represented hope for so many women who never felt like they had a voice.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Brazil: Vigil held for Rio politician killed in drive-by shooting – 15 March 2018

Human Rights Watch – Brazil: Assassination of Rights Defender, Driver – 15 March 2018

New York Times – Killing of Rio de Janeiro Councilwoman Critical of Police Rattles Brazil – 15 March 2018

The Guardian – Protests held across Brazil after Rio councillor shot dead – 15 March 2015

The Citizen – Thousand of Brazilians mourn slain Rio councillor, rights activist – 15 March 2018

Author: Emily Green