“Truth Commission” to investigate torture crimes during 21-year military dictatorship Brazil’s Human Rights Minister Paulo Vannuchi announced this week that President Lula da Silva will send a bill to Congress to create a “truth commission” to investigate torture crimes committed during Brazil’s 21-year military dictatorship (1964 – 1985).
When making his announcement, Vannuchi quoted words recently spoken by Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet about her nation’s own human right legacy: “We don’t want more bleeding from old wounds; we want them to heal, and only injuries thoroughly cleaned can heal.”
Both Bachelet and da Silva were tortured during the U.S.-backed military regimes that ruled each country in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when military juntas ruled in most South American countries. Chile, Argentina and Uruguay created truth commissions to investigate human rights abuses during that era, notwithstanding amnesty laws propagated by the military regimes.
Bachelet, as president, supported creation of Chile’s Historic Memory Museum and will sit on the museum’s board of directors after stepping down as Chile’s president in March 2010.
Brazil’s effort to dig into its unhappy past will be modeled after successful human rights investigations in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, said Vannuchi, but depends on a soon-to-be-announced decision from Brazil’s highest court that is expected to allow torture investigations despite Brazil’s 1979 Amnesty Law. Studies in Brazil have documented 400 killings and 160 forced disappearances during the military dictatorships, but no number has yet been given to the torture cases.
In Chile, official, government-sanctioned studies put the number military-era murders and disappearances at about 3,000 and the number of torture victims at 27,000. Vannuchi noted that Brazil’s 1979 Amnesty Law allowed the return of political exiles and their resumption of political activities in Brazil, but quashed all legal actions against police and armed forces involved in human rights crimes.
The 1979 Amnesty Law, however, may not have excluded investigation of torture crimes. “If Brazil’s Federal Supreme Tribunal does not allow legal action against torture cases, this would contradict the U.N. and OAS human rights conventions, to which Brazil is a signatory,” he said. “Brazil can walk away from those conventions, as some banana republics have threatened to do, but Brazil is moving in the opposite direction.
(Such an investigation) has never happened in Brazil, so it’s going to be big step forward.” Vannuchi noted that Brazil is now lobbying for a seat in the UN Security Council and that, unless the country addresses past human rights crimes, it will be difficult for other Latin American countries to support Brazil’s candidacy.