Brazil: Five decades on, a key step towards truth and justice for dictatorship’s crimes

Today’s presentation of the final report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission (Comissão Nacional da Verdade, CNV) marks an historic step in the country’s efforts to obtain justice for crimes against humanity and other violations during the military dictatorship that took power five decades ago, Amnesty International said.

The commission spent two years investigating the thousands of cases of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other violations dating back to the period of military rule in Brazil from 1964-1985.

Since 1979 an Amnesty Law covering political crimes has been used as a means of protecting members of the former military government from being put on trial for serious human rights violations.

“By showing the widespread nature of human rights violations committed by state agents during the military dictatorship and recognizing them as crimes against humanity, the National Truth Commission’s final report paves the way to ensure the Amnesty Law will not be an obstacle to investigating these crimes,” said Atila Roque, Director of Amnesty International Brazil.

Unlike many of its South American neighbours, Brazil has not brought to justice those accused of gross human rights violations committed during past periods of military rule. Coming almost three decades after the dictatorship ended, the CNV report is one of the country’s most important transitional justice initiatives so far.

“Fifty years after the coup that set up the authoritarian regime, it’s vital that Brazil brings to justice those responsible for the serious human rights violations of the past. We must break the past cycle of impunity that fuels ongoing torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances in the present,” said Atila Roque.

“Brazil’s armed forces must acknowledge their responsibility for the abuses committed during the military dictatorship. The CNV’s investigations have clearly established that there was an apparatus of repression as part of state policy that spanned several governments and was devised at the highest levels of the armed forces and the executive branch. The commission’s decision to hold the authoritarian regime’s leadership responsible is an important milestone towards obtaining justice for this period.”

The CNV’s findings reinforce a 2010 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling and shine a light on Brazil’s failures to comply with its obligations. It makes important recommendations about the demilitarization of Brazil’s military police, the independence of legal expertise and medical institutes relied on for public security, the strengthening of public defenders and improvements in the prison system to guarantee prisoners’ rights.

The report also recommends the further development of Brazilian legislation to codify crimes against humanity and enforced disappearance, important milestones in international law to protect human rights.

“The National Truth Commission’s report shows clearly how impunity for past violations has fueled the cycle of violence today and amplifies the country’s collective response of ‘Never Again’ to the mass violations of human rights during the authoritarian regime,” said Atila Roque.