As Brazil’s Amnesty Law is Challenged, Accountability for Crimes of the Past at Stake

4/1/2013

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Relatives of tortured and disappeared people holding a banner with pictures of the victims shout slogans during a protest in front of the Military Club where the military celebrate the 48th anniversary of the 1964 military coup, on March 29, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images


With the Public Archive of São Paulo revealing a huge archive of nearly a million documents dating back to the military dictatorship, and Brazil's Truth Commission investigating past abuses, the country seems to be intensifying efforts to face the truth about the violations committed by the junta between 1964 and 1985. At the same time, the criminal cases for crimes committed during the dictatorship are only now beginning to move forward in Brazilian courts. The Amnesty Law—passed by the military regime in 1979 and upheld by Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2010— has continued to shield perpetrators from prosecution for kidnappings, disappearances, and torture.

In this episode of ICTJ’s podcast, São Paulo-based prosecutor Marlon Weichert provides an overview of how Brazil is dealing with the crimes of the past, through both criminal trials and a truth commission.

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Brazil's Struggle for Justice

In 2010, case of Gomes Lund v. Brazil, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Brazil’s 1979 Amnesty Law – which pardoned anyone involved in political crimes or human rights violations between September 2, 1961 and August 15, 1979 – was in conflict with the American Convention of Human Rights.

Weichert explains how, in his view, criminal accountability for these cases is important to prevent repetition of human rights violations.

“Impunity goes against the meaning of having a state,” he says. “In the modern age, a state[‘s] main purpose is to defend, it’s to guarantee human rights, not to violate them.”

After the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Brazil’s Amnesty Law conflicted with international law, it is unclear what actions Brazil’s Supreme Court will take next. But with an increasing number of investigations being opened by Weichert and his fellow prosecutors, it appears to be evident that the crimes of Brazil’s past will not remain hidden for long.


ICTJ is assisting Brazil to confront its legacy of state-sponsored violence by supporting civil society and state institutions in their work to achieve justice. Since 2007, ICTJ has worked with the São Paulo Attorney-General’s office, the Ministry of Justice, and other key stakeholders. Learn more about ICTJ's work in Brazil here.