International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Brazil’s search for Quality in their Truth Commission

A lot of controversy surrounding truth commissions stems from the ability to effectively hand out justice expediently. However, Brazil’s tactic of delaying their commission almost 50 years has proved that there is a lot to be said for waiting. A recent article by Kathryn Sikkink outlined Brazil’s investigation into human rights abuses that happened under the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1988. An interesting aspect that she touched on was that by delaying the truth commission, which was created by the Brazilian legislature in 2011, the investigation was able to examine previous inquiries and gather all of the facts. An obstacle that stands in the way however, is the inability to repeal an Amnesty Act that has protected some of the perpetrators.

In examining the success of this commission, Sikkink notes that most of the effects are yet to be seen, but that it has been much more thorough, and has been of much higher quality than most other truth commissions that have taken place around the globe. It has also fueled a significant debate about whether a statute of limitations on human rights abuses should be allowed to exist in any scenario. Sikkink comments that amnesty laws have been “overturned or circumvented” in most of the surrounding countries in order to allow for criminal prosecutions, which may explain to some degree why truth commissions in Latin America have been generally more successful. In any case, it will be interesting to see how Brazil proceeds from here, and whether or not recommendations from its investigation will hold any weight.


One response to “Brazil’s search for Quality in their Truth Commission

  1. ep2015 April 7, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    As bconroy2015 notes, the Amnesty Act has created some considerable problems when pursuing justice for the crimes committed in Brazil during the military regime. Currently under the President Rousseff, Brazil hasn’t shown any strong inclinations towards following suit and completely overturning their Amnesty Act. But, developments towards justice, and more specifically prosecution, have recently been made by employing loopholes in the language.

    For example, in 2013, the Ministry of Public Affairs within Brazil was allowed to pursue criminal charges against state officials who have been, traditionally, protected by the Amnesty Act. They were able to try these agents by using the “argument that since since the victims’ bodies have never been found, the crimes are ongoing and the 1979 Amnesty Law does not apply”. Because forced disappearances and kidnappings were some of the main crimes committed during the military regime of 1964-1985, and many victims are still missing, this manipulation of the legal language can potentially offer a back channel to prosecution, even under the Amnesty Act. It doesn’t appear that this approach has gained much traction in Brazil following the 2013 case of Edgar de Aquino Duarte, who vanished in 1973. But, I agree with bconroy2015 that due to the relatively recent work of the Brazilian Truth Commission, it will be interesting to see how the recommendations manifest themselves, if at all.

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