Brazilians have been asking such questions as: Is there a difference between a “political crime” and a “common crime?” Should an amnesty law pardon both types of crimes? The reason is the Brazilian 1979 Amnesty Law pardons all.
The federal Bar Association (OAB) questioned that reasoning as follows in a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court (STF): an amnesty is political and as such can only forgive political misdeeds, not common crimes, such as rape and kidnapping.
Therefore, those who committed common crimes in the name of the state, that is, agents of the state: the police and military personnel (translation: torturers) should not have amnesty. The Supreme Court (STF) decided to leave the 1979 Amnesty Law as it stands, by a vote of 7 to 2.
Even so, the head of the Secretariat of Human Rights, minister Paulo Vannuchi, says he believes a bill to create a Truth Commission could be successful even after the Supreme Court decision. There are a lot of people in favor of the idea of “a right to memory and the truth” that is at the heart of the Truth Commission, he declared.
Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is expected to send Congress a bill that proposes to create a National Truth Commission that will investigate human rights violations during the military dictatorship (1964-85).
As proposed, the commission will not be a court, but will only seek to clarify exactly who did what and when (who tortured who), along with what happened to people who disappeared during that period.
There has been a lot of discussion about who should be on the commission. In Argentina, a similar commission was led by the writer, Ernesto Sabato. In South Africa, the Nobel Peace winner, Desmond Tutu.
According to Fábio Konder Comparato, one of the jurists who drew up the OAB suit, the decision is an “international scandal.”
“This makes Brazil the only country in Latin America that continues to respect amnesty legislation of this type,” said Comparato.
In Peru and Chile, similar amnesty laws were changed after rulings in the Inter American Court of Human Rights at the Organization of American States (Argentina overturned its amnesty laws and at the moment is trying military personnel who tortured and killed people during the dictatorship there).
The OAS court is set to examine Brazil’s amnesty law on May 20. Comparato says he expects a ruling against Brazil. “This is unfortunate because it means Brazil’s intentions of occupying a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council will no longer be viable.”
As for the Supreme Court decision, Criméia Almeida, a member of the Commission of Families of the Dead and Disappeared, declared that the result was expected. “The Brazilian judiciary favors impunity,” she declared.
“What this ruling does is what the last military dictator, general João Batista Figueiredo, did not have the courage to do: he let the torturers off the hook with vague language. The ruling today makes it clear that the torturers are not considered criminals in very clear language.”
On the other side of the argument, the president of the Military Club, where retired officers gather, general Gilberto Barbosa de Figueiredo (no relation to the former president), says that the Court had to do what it did. “Otherwise things would become very complicated. Any changes to the Amnesty Law would be an unacceptable turnaround.”