A Brazilian judge on Friday dismissed charges brought by four public prosecutors against a retired army colonel linked to the disappearance of five leftist militants during the dictatorship.
“The charges have been dismissed and the prosecutors are meeting to decide on the next step,” a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in the northern state of Para said.
Joao Cesar Otoni de Matos, the federal judge in Maraba in the Amazon state of Para, said the charges ran counter to the 1979 amnesty law protecting those who violated human rights during the 1974 to 1985 military regime.
“To try after more than three decades to dodge the amnesty law to reopen debate on crimes committed during the military dictatorship is a mistake which, in addition to lacking legal support, fails to take into account the historical circumstances, which in a major bid for national reconciliation led to its passage,” he noted.
The four prosecutors on Wednesday unveiled charges against Sebastiao Curio Rodrigues de Moura, also known as “Dr Luchini,” after a three-year probe.
The prosecutors said the five missing militants — then members of a Brazilian Communist Party splinter group — were seized by troops led by the accused between January and September 1974. They are still missing today.
The prosecutors argued that crimes such as kidnappings or hiding bodies are not covered by the amnesty law because they are still in effect.
Brazil has acknowledged 400 abductions and presumed deaths during the dictatorship.
The amnesty law opened the way for the return of political exiles, but it also protects the perpetrators of dictatorship-era crimes.
Last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights dismissed Brazil’s amnesty law as legally invalid, saying it was incompatible with the Inter-American Declaration of Human Rights, and on Friday a human rights spokesman said the charges were a “crucial step in fighting the impunity” surrounding Brazil’s era of military dictatorship.
“This is the first time that Brazil is prosecuting human rights violations committed during that period,” Robert Colville, a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesman, said, adding that “previous attempts have been blocked by interpretations of the 1979 amnesty law.”
Unlike other countries in South America that had right-wing dictatorships and political abuses and killings from the 1960s to the 1980s — Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile — Brazil has never put the perpetrators on trial.
Some families of the Brazilian victims have launched civil suits that got nowhere.
In November, President Dilma Rousseff, herself a former leftist guerrilla jailed and tortured during the 1964 to 1985 dictatorship, endorsed the creation of a truth panel to probe the rights abuses during the period.
The panel is to probe issues including politically motivated abductions in the Cold War-era, rights abuses and murders over a time span longer than the dictatorship — from 1946 to 1988.
However, it does not lift the amnesty for those who carried out the crackdown, in effect since 1979, and upheld in 2010 by the Supreme Court.
On Thursday, a retired army general slammed as a “form of ideological revenge” the charges leveled against de Moura.
Marco Antonio Felicio also dismissed the truth commission as a “panel of revenge” and urged the country “to look for the missing, if they exist, without touching the amnesty law.”