International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Truth Commissions as Political Tools

Like much of Latin America, Brazil experienced many political crises and transformations from the early 1900s through to the late 70’s. Pseudo republican governments, military dictatorships, and full dictatorships all held power at some time in the country. It was during these periods that torture, disappearances, unjustified jailing, and killings were all committed by those in power. The current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was an activist that was jailed and tortured in 1970. Intellectuals were jailed and many fled the country in fear of their government. In May, president Rousseff created a truth commission made up of seven people to help bring to light the truth of what happened to the more than 9000 people that were tortured and killed. The commission promises amnesty for those who come forward and is intended to give closure to many generations affected by these brutal regimes.

I find myself doubting whether this initiative will be truly helpful to those affected by the crimes committed; many are in their 60s and 70s now and even more have already died. Is this is more of a political move to boost the popularity and image of the current political system, particularly for a political party in an election year? We talk about the role of transitional justice being necessary and incredibly useful for helping a country that has just experienced awful atrocities move past these awful occurrences, but is a country as advanced, rich, and powerful as Brazil in a transitional period from oppression to democratic government forty years later? Can the purpose of truth commissions be perverted into a political tool for strengthening the leaders that came out of opposition movements? How important is the intention behind different forms of transitional justice?

Sources:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/02/world/americas/brazil-truth-commission/index.html

http://ictj.org/news/brazilian-truth-commission-has-historic-responsibility

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/world/americas/president-rousseffs-decades-old-torture-detailed.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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One response to “Truth Commissions as Political Tools

  1. Alex Davis October 15, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Gabe, you bring up many interesting points that I think really highlight the tensions and difficulties that nations face in addressing past atrocities. Most importantly, I think, you raise the question of whether or not there should be a statute of limitations for transitional justice.

    I would argue that there should not be. Fundamental to my argument is the idea that justice is timeless, and that pain that does not heal, lingers. As Orientichler writes in Settling Accounts, the most basic logic behind establishing some sort of transitional justice is that it sends a message to the people of nation that injustice “will not be tolerated again.” Similarly, truth commissions are used as a means of facing the past, and of disallowing pain and anger to linger.

    In the case of Brazil, there should be concerns raised over the legitimacy and timing of the proposed truth commissions, however I firmly believe that this is the first step in establishing norms of justice in a nation that still has painful memories of political injustice. Norms are important, and I think these truth commissions, whether or not they are being used in a political manner, can at least attempt to heal some of that pain, and begin to create institutions of political justice, and oversight that can only strengthen a nation and a people.

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