Prosecutors Announce Investigation into Disappearances during the Brazilian Military Dictatorship


NEW YORK, March 15, 2012—Brazilian federal prosecutors announced yesterday that they have opened a criminal investigation against a military officer accused of the enforced disappearance of civilians during the 1964–1985 military dictatorship. “This is a welcome blow against the use of a 1979 amnesty law to shelter government agents who committed horrific crimes against civilians from accountability,” said Eduardo Gonzalez of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

The 1979 amnesty was originally introduced to benefit opponents of the military dictatorship who had been imprisoned. But it has also been used to provide legal shelter to military perpetrators of crimes such as extrajudicial killings and torture. Prosecutors argue that crimes committed since the enactment of the amnesty—and ongoing crimes—can be prosecuted: this includes enforced disappearances, as the fate or whereabouts of victims remains unknown. This argument has been used successfully by prosecutors elsewhere in Latin America to end the legacy of impunity left by authoritarian regimes.

This is a significant step for Brazil towards complying with the terms of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision in Gomes Lund v. Brazil (“Guerrilha do Araguaia”), that asserted Brazil had not complied with its obligations to investigate and punish members of the military responsible for the arbitrary detention, torture, and enforced disappearance of 70 people. The court ruled that using the 1979 amnesty to shelter the perpetrators violated Brazil’s international obligations under the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.

ICTJ has supported prosecutors in Brazil for several years, including presenting expert testimony to support previous civil actions and facilitating exchanges with other prosecutors in the region. It also supported the creation of the National Truth Commission, signed into law by President Dilma Rousseff on November 18, 2011. Together, criminal inquiries and historical investigation offer an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen democracy as Brazil assumes a greater leadership role on the international stage.

For more information on the announcement in Portuguese, please see the Ministério Público Federal announcement.

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Eduardo Gonzalez, New York (English, Spanish, Portuguese) Office +1 917 637 3812 Cell +1 347 244 0106

Kelen Meregali, New York (English, Spanish, Portuguese) Office + 1 917 637 3911