By Alex Sanchez and Lauren Paverman
Brasilia has been making great strides toward securing a prosperous future, but one of its recent actions has centered on resolving a troubling aspect of the country’s past. On October 27, state officials announced a plan to establish a truth and reconciliation commission that will investigate crimes against humanity from 1946 to 1988, which encompasses the period during which the South American giant was run by a military junta. Like other post World War II Latin American nations, Brazil had previously been under military rule, and once President Dilma Rousseff signs the legislation into action, it will become the ninth country in the region to carry forth such a provision of self-scrutiny.
A number of human rights organizations have applauded the Brazilian government’s move. In a press release, the International Center for Transnational Justice, an international non-profit based in New York, commented that “[t]he Government of Brazil now has the opportunity to acknowledge a painful past and to implement an effective tool to establish the facts about past abuse, to help victims heal and to allow Brazilian society to understand a painful period of their history, therefore preventing recurrent violations.”
However, not everyone is satisfied with the establishment of the commission, claiming it does not go far enough in laying the groundwork to punish those responsible for forced disappearances and other human rights atrocities committed during the forty-two year period. Reportedly, nearly five hundred people were either killed or disappeared under Brazilian military rule, and they and their families deserve to see justice served. The seven members of the Brazilian truth commission will have a two-year window to investigate such alleged abuses, but no trials will occur, regardless of their findings. “It’s a timid commission, much less than those set up in Uruguay and Argentina,” Brazilian Senator Randolfe Rodrigues was quoted as saying by the Brazilian newspaper Folha.
Additionally, Brazil passed an amnesty law in 1979 stipulating that no military officer could be tried for any alleged human rights abuses that occurred during the era of military rule, thereby weakening the prospect that the commission’s report will be allowed to have any meaningful impact. By comparison, other countries that established truth commissions, like Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, have put some perpetrators behind bars. In one of the most recent high-profile cases, an Argentine court sentenced a former navy intelligence officer Alfredo Astiz, also known as the “Angel of Death,” to fifty-nine years in prison for his crimes during the tenure of the Argentine military government. He was accused of participating in the “disappearance, torture and murder of a number of innocent civilians, including two French nuns, a journalist and three founders of a human rights group that he infiltrated while spying for the dictatorship.”
There is little doubt that Brazil’s President Rousseff will promptly sign this legislation, which she has been urging Congress to approve, especially since she herself is a former guerilla who was imprisoned for three years and tortured during the period of military rule. The commission certainly represents progress on the issue, but any potential findings must immediately lead to retribution if justice is to be dispensed to the victims and their families.