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Brazil Social Justice Philanthropy Network speaks out against Marielle Franco assassination

Marielle Franco, August 2016, ©Mídia Ninja (CC BY-SA2.0)

On the evening of 14 March 2018, Marielle Franco - a Rio de Janeiro city Councillor widely known for her support of grassroots social movements and social justice causes - attended an event entitled “Young black women who are changing power structures.” On the way home, she was assassinated along with her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes. Tragically, this is not a one-off occurrence, but is rather part of a consistent pattern of violence and murders that seem to be increasingly common in Brazil, perpetrated against individuals speaking and acting against the status quo (there were 61 killings of Brazilian land rights campaigners in 2017 alone). The Rede de Filantropia para a Justiça Social (Brazil Social Justice Philanthropy Network), in protest and dissent, has released a statement on the matter (see bottom of page), and the GFCF spoke with Graciela Hopstein, Coordinator of the Network, to learn more about how the Network and its members are reacting.


GFCF: Tell us about what happened and the statement that the Network is making.

Graciela Hopstein (GH): The murder of Marielle Franco is a symbolic assassination that will have, and is already having, an unprecedented impact on human rights activists and movements in Brazil. The murder took place against a fraught backdrop of mounting violence in the country, and as the Brazilian military took charge of Rio's police. This measure was decreed by the federal government that took power after the process of impeaching and removing the former President, Dilma Rousseff. This military presence has been particularly heavy in low income communities, where militias and cartels operate, and the result has been violence against those living in these communities, and heavy oppression of the human rights of these inhabitants.

Marielle was a black, female human rights defender, born in the community of Maré. She was passionately outspoken about many causes - notably feminist and LGBTQI+ causes - but recently, she mainly fought against the systematic deaths of black youths from low income communities. "How many more are going to die?" was one of the questions posed by Marielle just a week before her murder.

The Brazilian Social Justice Philanthropy Network brings together funds and community foundations that support organizations and groups fighting on the frontlines for human rights issues. The Network unanimously decided to make a statement now (see bottom of page), because the death of Marielle represents a clear threat for those who work in the human rights and social justice fields. We have also joined several manifestations and protests, requesting justice for Marielle, in the hopes that this terrible crime does not go unpunished.​


GFCF: Why is the Network making this strong statement?

GH: In this moment, we thought it was important for the Network to come together, and to speak out loudly, with one voice. At the same time, individual members of the Network are also mobilizing their own constituencies as an act of rejecting this tremendous violation of human rights. This assassination has directly attacked the causes that the civil society organizations and movements we support (our grantees) fight for daily. The statement is a way of expressing our collective indignation and deep sorrow, while also asking that justice be served.


GFCF: Who does the Network represent, and why is this work so important? 

GH: The Brazil Social Justice Philanthropy Network is made up of ten members - seven funds and three community foundations - that act in the areas of social justice, human rights and citizenship. Our members make grants as a way of building ​institutions, civil society groups, and social movements that contribute to the process of social transformation in different regions of the country. 

​The Network was created with the purpose of promoting and diversifying the philanthropic culture in Brazil, in order to: encourage the provision of more financial resources for human rights and social justice issues; highlight and support transformative projects; and, strengthen civil society organizations and social movements by building collective voice and action. Our mission is to strengthen Brazilian civil society organizations that work in the areas of human rights, racial, gender and socio-environmental equality, as well as community development.

​​Between 2000 and 2016, the Network members granted a total of $30 million USD (more than $90 million BRL) to 9,210 organizations and social movements in Brazil. This data makes it clear how significant the Network is in terms of scope and size.  


GFCF: What has been the broader response to this recent killing in Brazil? What will it take to stop this kind of incident?

GH: Brazil has the ninth highest homicide rate on the planet, according to the World Health Organization, and this lethal violence has a clear target: young black individuals represent ​

70% of Brazil’s 60,000 victims per year. This means that entire generations are decimated, and shockingly many of these deaths are perpetrated by the State’s security arm - the Military Police. In fact, according to Global Witness, Brazil is the most dangerous country in the world for these defenders. In total for 2016, Global Witness documented 185 murders of activists. As noted above, murders of environmental defenders and indigenous people are particularly common, representing 26% of this number, while a significant 15% of these killings were linked to the defense of LGBT​QI+ ​rights. Most crimes are not investigated and this situation of impunity opens up loopholes for further killings to continue.

So there is anxiety, but also resolve and a determination to fight, on the part of human rights actors in Brazil. This is why our Network has released our statement requesting justice and the investigation of Marielle​´s death. We need to put an end to this kind of systematic violence and we all must speak up if a change will ever happen.

GFCF: What role do social justice funders in Brazil see themselves as playing and why is their / your work so important?

GH: The roles of our members, and by extension our Network, is now more critical than ever. Work on human rights and social justice cannot stop because we are afraid - all the opposite, it must be broadened, strengthened, and more connected. We need more attention and resources to be devoted to these critical causes. This is why we need the international philanthropic community to be aware of what is happening within our borders. And while these atrocities are playing out at our local level, we truly believe that what we are fighting for are global concerns, which transcend borders. ​Para​phras​ing the political theorist Hannah Arendt, "having rights to rights" is an issue that is not limited to a country or a region, it is rather a human issue that touches us all.


Statement from the Brazil Social Justice Philanthropy Network

Marielle Franco, murdered on the night of 14 March in the city of Rio de Janeiro, was an activist committed to the causes of social justice, LGBTQI+ and human rights. A black female feminist, born in the community of Maré, and a current Councillor of Rio de Janeiro, she was a young political leader, an inspirational figure for activists (from younger generations in particular), and a reference point for social leaders and movements. The Brazil Social Justice Philanthropy Network lends its solidarity to the friends and family of Marielle Franco, and expresses its condemnation of, and indignation at, the event. We demand justice so that this type of episode does not go unpunished, and is NEVER repeated again!

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