Political Violence in Brazil: What is the Value of Black and Transgender Parliamentarians Lives?

Given the growing political-electoral violence plaguing the security of trans and black parliamentarians in Brazil, both in their daily lives and in the exercise of their mandates, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) makes an urgent call for international human rights and protective strategies.The imminent risk of death due […]

Political Violence in Brazil

Given the growing political-electoral violence plaguing the security of trans and black parliamentarians in Brazil, both in their daily lives and in the exercise of their mandates, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) makes an urgent call for international human rights and protective strategies.The imminent risk of death due to political violence led the black trans councilor, Benny Briolli (PSOL/RJ), to leave the country in May 2021. The severity of the threats and attacks directed at Benny caused her political party to seek shelter in another country for her safety.

The current fragility of Brazilian democracy calls into question the political actors who defend the guidelines for the guarantee of human rights, with political violence being the engine of hate speech and the spread of false news. We witness with great concern that the Brazilian State fails to respond to complaints, and in cases where it is obliged to respond when triggered by the press or public hearings, it uses dubious statistics. The States’ failures are in addition to tokenizing women, black people, and the LGBTI+ community to forge the inclusion of diversity in their government. However, the lack of protective measures for these groups displays that security is insignificant to those in power to stop the structures that feed political violence.

After the dictatorial period of extreme political violence, the struggle for power remained marked by threats and attacks, all culminating in the assassination of Councilwoman Marielle Franco in 2018. However, it is important to note that political violence was also strategic for President Bolsonaro’s election who, after allegedly being stabbed, managed to mobilize the whole country around the incident. One can see how political violence is key for a government to establish and maintain the culture of fear and repression.

The politics created out of fear and insecurity is only effective when representatives of the most vulnerable population are prevented from exercising their mandates because they question the status quo, either because of their political platforms, or because of their black bodies that perform femineity. Thus, for a government that was consolidated at the polls due to political violence, this domino effect that led city councilor Benny Briolli to leave the country is only the tip of the iceberg of virtual attacks, gender violence and the silencing of a nation.

Within the Bosonarist era, the 2020 elections took place amid tensions of political and electoral threats. Although in 2020 the black movement achieved success in passing the racial criterion [1] for time division and political propaganda on the radio and television, hate speech on social networks gained strength. Moreover, according to a survey conducted by the organizations Terra de Direitos and Justiça Global [2], Brazil recorded an act of political violence every 72 hours in the last elections. The polarized political climate continues to naturalize violence as a coercive ‘weapon’ towards underrepresented groups.

The report, “Political and Electoral Violence in Brazil: An Overview of Human Rights Violations from 20016-2020”, organized by the institutions mentioned above presents striking data. For example, an average of 27 cases of attacks per years are experienced by those elected, as well as candidates. Councillors and mayors are among the political posts with the most registered cases, and as we have repeatedly denounced, the report confirms that proportionally women suffer more violence. The research Mapping Political Violence Against Black Women [3] conducted by the Marielle Franco Institute in partnership with Justiça Global and Terra de Direitos, centralized their focus on gender-based political violence. According to the report, about eight out of ten black women in the 2020 elections experienced virtual violence, six out of ten experienced moral and psychological violence, and five out of ten suffered from institutional violence.

According to the survey conducted by the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals (ANTRA) [4] of the transgender candidates throughout Brazil in the 2020 elections, about 50% of them were direct victims of threats, including death threats, invasion of their private environment, work, and political spaces. In addition, 38% faced online attacks, and 12% endured direct physical violence. Additionally, as reported by the survey, virtual platforms were drenched in “transphobic insults, intimidation of the trans condition as incapacitating for political positions, transphobic racism, delegitimization of the gender identity of the victims, malicious comments related to the transition and physical attributes (…), dissemination of candidates’ degrading fake news and coordinated invasions of virtual campaign activities to hinder their progress, creating an unsafe environment and, in some cases, interruption due to virtual security issues.”

To contribute to the dissemination of denouncements taking place in Brazil, we spoke with Gisele Barbieri, Advocacy Coordinator of Terra de Diretos, and with an individual responsible for the coordination of the research cited.

R & I In the report prepared by Terra de Direitos, the framework of political- electoral violence already presents data that indicates growth from 2016 to 2020. The data became even more frightening after the Bolsonaro election, from 2018 onwards. In last year’s elections we saw an expansive increase in hate crimes, with threats and attacks on networks, especially against trans and black women. Given the government’s refusal to see and combat these crimes, do you think it is possible to see an end to the political-electoral violence against women in Brazil? If so, in what way?

Gisele Barbieri Political violence, as we demonstrated in the survey carried out by Terra de Direitos and Justiça Global in 2020, carries several messages to and from society. Against women, this phenomenon exposes racism, misogynism, among other types of violence. Therefore, envisioning an end to violence will only be possible when resistance is seen as a necessary means to consolidate democracy. In addition, it is a serious violation of human rights, since these women already act in the defense of human rights when they assume their mandates, and yet are targets of constant violence. The responsibility to combat this violence lies not only with the government, but with society at large. In addition to revealing how violence delegitimizes the political agency of women, the research also points out that this violence occurs systematically and not only during electoral periods, but among political parties throughout Brazil. Using these analyses, we evaluate that the end of political violence will only occur when this phenomenon is accompanied, studied, combated, and punished through coordinated actions between various sectors of the State as indicated by Terra de Diretos e Justiça Global’s recommendations.

R & I – Black and trans women are fighting for greater political representation and, in the last elections, we had a record number of trans and black women elected for city council. Even with the support of society, exercising the mandates has been an arduous task. According to the Terra de Direitos and Justiça Global report, women account for 31% of the victim threats. Could you comment about gender violence within the specificities of political violence against trans and black women? How does it differ from political violence directed at other groups?

GB – The research conducted by the Marielle Franco Institute with the support of Terra de Direitos and Justiça Global draws together elements of how racism, which is structural in our society, also poses itself as the vector of violence against black women and trans political agents. This phenomenon for these women is present before, during, and after elections. These message to black and transgender women comes in the form of constant insults and threats, aimed at the elimination and dehumanization of these women by means of attacks ranging from the animalization of these women, insults about their hair and appearance, and even explicit death threats. Racism is the thread of systemic racial violence and hatred can murder the lives of these women at any point. This discourse is in the efforts to fortify representation in the political system, even though black women already represent almost 30% of the Brazilian population.

R & I – In Brazil, we have the recent case of Carolina Iara, who suffered a physical attack, but even so, her request for protection was denied by the city for being a co-councilor, and she was told to hire private security. The lack of protection for Marielle Franco is also a neglected case point. Moreover, the Human Rights Defenders Program does not protect them. Even through filing complaints, there is no response from the State. How do we best protect these women? [5]

GB – The fact that this violence is not monitored by the State creates an institutional gap on this subject. There is an urgent need to draw up a specific protection policy plan for the denouncements and victims when dealing with this type of violence. The National Program of Human Rights Defenders cannot respond to this phenomenon because, although it is directed at human rights defenders, it does not have the mechanism to address this specific type of violence. In cases of political violence, removing candidates from their mandate position to protect them is to comply with the will of the criminals who want to prevent them from exercising their political rights. This violence directly interferes with the democratic process and constitutes a very serious violation of human rights.

Given our work of incidence in Latin America, Race and Equality notes that the current political violence is one of the main factors of human rights violations in the region. Brazil, being a key country in political terms, must position itself and present effective strategies for respecting the lives of its parliamentarians and combating political violence. Therefore, we present the following recommendations to the Brazilian State:

  1. Security guarantee for cis and trans black parliamentarians with the implementation of policies aimed at combating gendered political violence, empowering public security agencies and judiciary and legislation to promote actions at a national level to combat such violence;
  2. Creation of specific legislation to prevent cyber-crimes and the consequent dissemination of fake news that has been one of the pillars for attacks related to political violence;
  3. Ratification of the Inter-American Convention Against all forms of Discrimination and Intolerance in order to punish and combat racism, as well as structural and institutional LGBTIfobia;
  4. Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Racism before the Brazilian legislation to assemble anti-racist public policies.



[1] https://noticias.uol.com.br/eleicoes/2020/10/03/stf-divisao-verba-candidaturas-negras.htm

[2] http://terradedireitos.org.br/violencia-politica-e-eleitoral-no-brasil/

[3] https://www.violenciapolitica.org/

[4] https://antrabrasil.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/dossie-trans-2021-29jan2021.pdf

[5] The interview took place before the recent case of councilwoman Benny Briolli

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