The song “Mãe” (“Mother”), by rapper Emicida, echoed endlessly in the surrounding sounds of the comfortable auditorium of the Nova Iguaçu Diocese Training Center (Cenfor NI). Soon, the comfort gave way to a sensation of discomfort, sadness, and indignation. The screening of the documentary Nossos Mortos Têm Voz (Our Dead Have a Voice) brought out these emotions through the cruel narrative of the film, which was produced by Quiprocó Filmes and presented by Fórum Grita Baixada and the Center for Human Rights at the Nova Iguaçu Diocese with the support of Misereor and Brazilian Fund for Human Rights. It portrays the struggle of the mothers and women of the Baixada Fluminense whose children and family members were brutally murdered by government security agents. Along with the historical and legal context provided by specialists interviewed for the documentary, such as sociology professor José Claudio Souza Alves (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro – UFRJ) and lawyer João Tancredo, the mothers’ painful stories problematize the trajectories of the massacres, militias, extermination groups, and forced disappearances in the Baixada Fluminense. The impact of the film resulted in silence during the screening. Afterwards, hands clapped tentatively at first but, seconds later, with great enthusiasm.
As well as serving as a tool to denounce violations, the documentary helped to spark discussion, setting the scene for the Public Hearing on Human Rights Violations in the Baixada Fluminense that took place on Monday, June 25, with a focus on security and violence. The initiative was a collaboration among the Human Rights Commission of the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) represented by state representative Flávio Serafini, Fórum Grita Baixada Executive Coordinator Adriano de Araújo, and Fransérgio Goulart, member of the extended coordination team for Fórum Grita Baixada. As a member of the commission, Serafini has already engaged politically in this area as one of the members of the “Free Our Sacred” campaign, which denounced the desacralization of sacred Afro-Brazilian objects and resulted in an award-winning documentary about the campaign. The documentary Free Our Sacred was also the work of filmmaking duo Fernando Sousa and Gabriel Barbosa, the creators of Nossos Mortos Têm Voz.
With more than 100 participants representing nearly 50 movements, entities, and institutions from across the Baixada Fluminense, the municipality of Rio de Janeiro, and other regions in the state, the hearing was organized as an event for the population to call on the government to engage these groups’ demands for a reduction in violations, and to transform these demands into effective public policies against state violence.
The executive coordinator of Fórum Grita Baixada, Adriano de Araújo, said that the region is a synthesis of the country itself, alluding to the report, “A Brazil within Brazil Calls for Help,” which covers the history of violence in the Baixada in the last 50 years based on a meticulous analysis of data on violent deaths in various categories. “The Baixada is rendered invisible. We live in the context of a culture of violence that has existed for a long time, but the media ignores us, only paying attention when it’s convenient to them. Maybe because we’re the Baixada of low education levels, of poor people who take deficient public transportation, of black people and those from the Northeast [of Brazil], these [characteristics] tend to ‘justify ‘the invisibility, as much as we disagree with it,” said Araújo.
Percival Tavares, a member of the Pastoral Operária and of Fórum Grita Baixada’s extended coordination team said that, for those who live daily with violence in the Baixada, one concern is that the population fears exactly those charged with guaranteeing public security for the population, who should be guaranteeing security to all, regardless of citizens’ social class or race. “We don’t know, in the police departments, who is going to lead the investigations. What should be a government public service ends up becoming a risk for the poor, black, and peripheral population of the Baixada,” Tavares said.
Ramon Chaves, of the recently created Public Prosecutor’s Office Research Center, said that the demands raised at the public hearing were informative, especially those that referred to one of the themes featured in the documentary, and which is currently being investigated by his organization: forced disappearances. “It’s necessary to research, to create a database, evaluate the impacts that this phenomenon has on the Baixada and on Rio de Janeiro as a whole. Because all the [unofficial reports] of disappearances occur in violent places and the families don’t file official reports, often because of fear and the circumstances brought about by the disappearances,” Chaves explained. Another cruel facet of this scenario, the researcher explained, relates to the so-called “unclaimed bodies,” which have not been properly identified. “We’ve already counted more than 500 bodies in this category. The families don’t even know that their relatives are dead,” said Chaves.
Activist Fabbi Silva, from the Sponsor a Smile movement and also representing the Ombundsman of Rio de Janeiro’s State Public Defenders Office, emphasized how serious the issue of forced disappearances is in peripheral regions. Silva recounted that the local Public Defenders had gone into the communities of Mangueirinha in Duque de Caxias and Chapadão in Pavuna in order to hear reports of violations on the part of Military Police. “The place to hear and speak of these and other favelas must be respected. As soon as we enter these areas, we already hear of four deaths and four disappearances in the last months,” Silva said.
The demands raised at the hearing
The congressional advisor of state representative Flavio Serafini, Jorge Santana, read out the recommendations of the institutions that were present at the hearing. The next step is a meeting between Fórum Grita Baixada, the Network of Mothers and Relatives of Victims of State Violence in the Baixada Fluminense, and the ALERJ Human Rights Commission in order to systematize future actions to meet the presented demands through the legislative and executive branches. Here are a few of them:
- Investigation into the locations of hidden graveyards, along with the identification and proper treatment of the bones found there.
- Investigation of reports of bad treatment of the female prison population—reports that have included rapes and a lack of hygiene for prisoners.
- Approval of a proposed law to create permanent Centers for Psychological Support for Victims of State Violence.
- More rigorous investigations into assassinations of members of the LGBT community.
- Monitoring and sentencing of those who commit attacks on terreiros and other sacred sites of Afro-Brazilian faiths.
The documentary Nossos Mortos Têm Voz was also shown in the beginning of June at another public hearing titled “State Violence against Poor, Black Youth,” run by the Commission of Legislative Participation at the House of Representatives in Brasília. Fórum Grita Baixada, the Human Rights Center of the Nova Iguaçu Diocese, and the Network of Mothers and Relatives of Victims of State Violence in the Baixada Fluminense also participated in this earlier hearing.
At the “Human Rights Violations in the Baixada Fluminense” public hearing, participating institutions included: Visão Mundial, Cecom, MJPop, Áurea Pires da Gama Municipal School, Iramar Municipal School, Avicres, ONG Defesa, Paróquia São Franscisco de Assis (Queimados), Casa Fluminense, Coletivo Minas da Baixada, Aduff, Setorial LGBT PSOL Baixada Fluminense, Municipal Health Secretary of Nilópolis, CTBR, Aspas, Ecocidade, Conseg, ISER, UFRRJ, UFF, Rio de Janeiro Public Prosecutors Office, Rio de Janeiro Public Defenders Office, Quiprocó Filmes, the Sponsor a Smile movement, AMAR Rede de Mães, OAB, Queimados City Hall, Ocupa Nova Iguaçu, the State Culture Secretary, Pastoral Operária, Human Rights Center of the Nova Iguaçu Diocese, Ação Cidadania Nova Iguaçu, GCS, Fórum de Mulheres de Mesquita, LSR PSOL, Portal de Notícias Eu Rio, Movimento Negro Unificado (Duque de Caxias), the Network of Mothers and Relatives of Victims of State Violence in Baixada Fluminense, Rede Anarquista de Nova Iguaçu, CEDIM, NAPAVE, Conselho Regional de Psicologia, COMPIR (Mesquita), SEMAS (Nova Iguaçu City Hall), SEMPS (Mesquita), Movimento Cultura de Paz/CDHNI, Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos do Rio de Janeiro, Pastoral da Diversidade de Nova Iguaçu, in addition to journalists, social workers, and teachers.
This article was written by Fabio Leon and produced in partnership between RioOnWatch and Fórum Grita Baixada. Fabio Leon is a journalist and human rights activist who works as communications officer for the Fórum Grita Baixada. Fórum Grita Baixada is a forum of people and organizations working in and around the Baixada Fluminense, focusing on developing strategies and initiatives in the area of public security, which is considered a necessary requirement for citizenship and realizing the right to the city. Follow the Fórum Grita Baixada on Facebook here.