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Awaiting Justice for Rio Human Rights Defender

Two Arrested, but No Answers to Why Marielle Franco was Killed

Marielle Franco. © Mídia Ninja

Rio de Janeiro police detained on March 12, two former military police officers for the killing of human rights defender and councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, two days before the one-year anniversary of their deaths.

The civil police officer in charge of the investigation said retired sergeant Ronnie Lessa executed Franco and Gomes from a car driven by Élcio Vieira de Queiroz. De Queiroz was expelled from the military police in 2015 for moonlighting as a security guard for an illegal gambling business.

“There’s no doubt that that Marielle Franco was summarily executed for her political activity in the defense of the causes she defended,” prosecutors said in the charging document.

Those causes were the rights of Afro-Brazilians, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and people living in the impoverished neighborhoods perched on hillsides known in Brazil as favelas. Franco, a black, bisexual, former favela resident, also assisted the families of slain police officers.

In a press conference, prosecutors said they are investigating whether Lessa acted as a killer for hire in other homicides and whether he is a member of a paramilitary group.  

In November, the then minister of public security asked the Federal Police to investigate allegations that public officials were hampering the investigation. 

In December, the then secretary of public security of Rio said a paramilitary group killed Marielle. Police and prosecutors did not go that far today, saying the motivation for the crime is the object of the second phase of the investigation.

Paramilitary groups, known as “militias,” are gangs linked to current and former law enforcement agents and firefighters who extort security taxes from businesses, control cooking gas sales, transport routes, and pirate cable TV and internet services, and are also involved in drug trafficking.

Impunity is rampant in Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, prosecutors filed charges in only 12 percent of homicide cases in 2015, a recent study  reports. We do not know how many resulted in convictions because Brazilian courts do not regularly publish that data. 

If the two former police officers are in fact guilty, their trial will be an important step in the fight against impunity. But we need to know not just who pulled the trigger, but who ordered the killing, and why.

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