Brazil Hides its Crimes Through Inhumane Legislation

December 23, 2010

It has been 25 years since Brazil’s military regime ended.  Yet, the crimes and violence enforced by the country’s authorities from 1964 to 1985 have failed to see the light of justice.

Military Dictatorship in Brazil
Brazil's Military Regime

As a condition to allow the restoration of democracy in Brazil in 1979, the military regime enacted legislation designed to provide blanket amnesty for ”political or political related crimes” committed since 1961.  The law has been used since then, to provide state agents with immunity from crimes they committed during the country’s military era.  Because of it, state officials were able to get away with torture, enforced disappearances and killings.  These crimes are so grave, that they  fall under the jurisdiction of international law.

A few months ago, in April of 2010, the Brazilian Supreme Court had an opportunity to repeal the amnesty law.  Many of us hoped that the “new Brazil” would show maturity and respect for human rights.  Instead, they decided to uphold the old interpretation, indicating that crimes committed by members of the military regime were political acts and therefore they were protected by the amnesty law.

Brazil is the only country in South America that has failed to address human rights violations of past regimes. While the country still debates issues surrounding the interpretation of the law, countries like Argentina, Peru and Chile have gone a long way to bring to justice those who oversaw the human rights violations of thousands of victims, under their past governments.  As the most recent example, a few days ago Argentina’s Court sentenced the country’s first military dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla, for life in prison.  He was found guilty for committing crimes against humanity between 1976 and 1981, when he was head of the country’s military regime.

In an effort to uphold justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had to step in, in what is known as the Araguaia Case.  After a long and careful review of the facts and circumstances, the Court found Brazil responsible for the enforced disappearance of sixty-two people, between 1972 and 1974. Importantly, the international court stated that Brazil violated the right of truth when its authorities failed to investigate the disappearances and when they decided not to prosecute those responsible for the ruthless acts.

Although the Court’s decision demonstrates that Brazil’s Amnesty Law violates its international human-rights obligations by standing in they way of truth, the President of Brazil’s Supreme Court, Mr. Cezar Peluzo, affirmed that the decision of the international court does not change to way the country’s judiciary power will continue  interpreting and applying the amnesty law.

It is incredibly disappointing to see the legislative, judicial and executive powers of Brazil continue to rely on a law that places greater importance on lies and lawlessness than on truth and justice.  Why is it that such a promising country fears facing its own past? Why is it that even after decades after the crimes, the victims and their families still haven’t seen justice?

I may not have the answers to those questions, but for a country that has huge aspirations in the international scenario and is extremely proud for its peaceful character, Brazil should face its past to avoid the same mistakes going forward. Brazilian people deserve better.  They deserve justice.  They deserve to know the truth and to see those responsible for this shameful and sad past, to be accountable for their acts!