On December 9, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will formally announce the establishment of a Brazilian Truth Commission. Brazil is the only country in Latin America that has not yet held trials or investigated deaths, disappearances and torture under military rule.
While there were fewer abuses in Brazil under dictatorship than in Argentina or Chile, nearly 500 people were killed by security forces or disappeared between 1964 and 1985.
A 1979 Amnesty Law has effectively prevented any Brazilian officials from being criminally charged for human rights abuses, though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded on April 9, 2009, that amnesties and statutes of limitations cannot be applied to crimes against humanity committed by the dictatorship.
Although there has been no formal investigation, Catholic and Protestant priests covertly wrote and released “Brasil: Nunca Mais” in 1986. Once released, the report led to city-based inquiries, local reparations programs and communities honoring victims. President Lula's government also released a report based on an 11-year investigation in 2007, but has done little to hold human rights violators accountable.
President Lula, who was jailed for union organizing efforts under the dictatorship, announces the commission with just one year remaining in office. Some members of the coalition government are reportedly opposed to reopening the past. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim has called the prior efforts of families and torture survivors to obtain justice merely seeking "revenge."
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense, EAAF) made a breakthrough this week by identifying 42 corpses pertaining to Argentine citizens who had disappeared during the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. The findings were made possible by matching the DNA of 598 different remains with 5,000 blood samples.
The identification of the 42 bodies is part of the Iniciativa Latinoamericana para la Identificación de Personas Desaparecidas (The Latin American Initiative for the Identification of Missing People) project launched in 2007, which has the financial support of the Argentine government and the collaboration of other Latin American forensic organizations and the Bode Technology Group.
For over 20 years the EAAF has devoted itself to finding people that went missing during the dictatorship (estimated at more than 30,000 people), and has identified over 300 victims.
*** Read more expansive coverage of this topic in a forthcoming article on forensic anthropology by Matthew Aho, to be featured in the Summer 2009 edition of Americas Quarterly. Check with your local newsstand for availability.