Brazil: Six Critical Steps for Truth Commission Success


NEW YORK/BRASILIA, September 22, 2011—The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) applauds Brazil’s momentous step toward the creation of a truth commission and notes opportunities to ensure its success.

Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies approved on Wednesday a bill creating the National Truth Commission to establish the facts and responsibilities about crimes committed under the country’s military regime. The bill moves now to the Brazilian Senate, where it is expected to be approved expeditiously, as a sign of consensus among political forces.

“The prompt establishment of a truth commission can contribute decisively to the realization of the rights of the victims and their families, and help Brazilians understand a painful period of their history,” said ICTJ president, David Tolbert, “but it must be implemented with great care to reach these goals successfully and to contribute to preventing future violations, strengthening democracy, and consolidating the rule of law.”

The bill has significant strengths, including explicit recognition of victims’ right to the truth, a commitment to investigate the whereabouts of forcibly disappeared people, and to clarify the responsibilities and structures behind torture, forced disappearances and arbitrary executions. But there are also serious challenges ahead.

Based on experience supporting the work of truth commissions around the world, ICTJ points out the following critical opportunities for the bill’s success:

  • President Rousseff has the opportunity to select the members of the commission on the basis of careful, transparent consultation with civil society, ensuring all commissioners are widely respected and regarded as politically independent, capable, and impartial.
  • With its significant experience implementing ambitious reparations policies, Brazil now has the opportunity to create a strong model for the application of the right of victims and society to know the truth. The commission, acting in coordination with reparation boards and the national archives, can bring clarity to conducts that have remained in the shadows for far too long.
  • Brazil has significant institutional resources to mobilize in support of a strong, effective truth commission. A strong commission, provided with adequate resources will be able to implement the bill, which authorizes a wide investigation of serious human rights violations suffered not only by political opponents, but also by human rights defenders, religious communities, landless peasants, indigenous peoples, community organizers, intellectuals, and artists.
  • Brazil has a vibrant civil society—including victims’ organizations—which is engaged in a broad range of human rights issues. The commission can draw on its strengths and critical insights in order to strengthen its own work and make a greater contribution to the country’s future.
  • Brazil has a strong academic community, with world-class universities and researchers that can constitute a powerful partner in the search for the truth and the dissemination of historical lessons learned. Both during and after the work of the truth commission, the academic community should become a bulwark against denial and for truth, justice, and reparation.
  • Building on its strong commitments to truth and reparation, Brazil can now move forward developing an appropriate prosecutorial policy, following the guidance of specific decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concerning disappearances and arbitrary executions.

“Given its international leadership, Brazil can add a powerful voice to the nations that have decided to confront the past and affirm the right to know the truth,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, director of ICTJ’s Truth and Memory Program. “Brazil can take advantage of the best practices and lessons learned from previous experiences, many of them in Latin America, and at the same time innovate and develop its own model.”

ICTJ stands ready to accompany and support the government and civil society of Brazil as they implement this important legislation.

Press release also available in Portuguese.

About ICTJ The International Center for Transitional Justice works to redress and prevent the most severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote accountability and create just and peaceful societies. For more information, visit

Contact Refik Hodzic (New York) Director of Communications International Center for Transitional Justice Phone +1 917 975 2305