A human rights court said that a Brazilian amnesty law covering crimes during the country’s 21-year dictatorship was invalid and that the country was responsible for the forced disappearance of at least 70 peasants and militants who were part of a resistance movement.
The ruling was announced on Tuesday by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; the court adheres to the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Brazil is a signatory.
While Argentina and Chile have begun more vigorously investigating and prosecuting human rights violations committed during those countries’ dictatorships, successive Brazilian governments have refused to investigate and find those responsible for crimes committed during the dictatorship that ended in 1985. And Brazil’s Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the amnesty law, which protects military officials from prosecution for abuses committed during the military regime.
However, the Inter-American Court, based in Costa Rica, found that Brazil was responsible for the actions of state agents who carried out disappearances of members of the Araguaia guerrilla movement.
The court said Brazil must conduct a criminal investigation into the Araguaia case, bring the guilty parties to justice, search for those who have disappeared and provide medical and psychological treatment to their surviving relatives. It also said 42 direct relatives of the victims should receive US$45,000 each in compensation for their suffering.
“This is a turning point in the search for truth and justice in Brazil,” said Viviana Krsticevic, executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law, a human rights group involved in the case. “Brazil, unlike other Latin American countries, has not found a way to investigate or even partially punish those responsible for the most egregious human rights violations committed during its dictatorship.”
The responsibility for deciding how to deal with the Inter-American Court’s decision will fall to the Brazilian president-elect, Dilma Rousseff, a former resistance fighter who was imprisoned and tortured by the military regime. Rousseff, who takes office on Jan. 1, vowed in the campaign to bring human rights violators from the dictatorship to justice.