Washington D.C, December 14, 2010 – In a historical ruling announced today, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Brazil guilty for the forced disappearance of at least 70 peasants and militants of the resistance movement known as the Araguaia Guerrilla between 1972 and 1974 under the military dictatorship. Brazil is a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights; the ruling is therefore binding.
This first ruling against Brazil for crimes committed under the dictatorship will contribute to ensuring the non-repetition of the violations and to open up a public debate around the legacy of the authoritarian regime.
Since 1995, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) has been advocating on behalf of the victims and their families before the Inter-American system of human rights protection, together with the Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais [‘No More Torture Group’] and the Sao Paulo Commission of Family Members of the Persons Killed and Disappeared for Political Reasons.
Throughout the process they proved Brazil´s international responsibility for the forced disappearance of the victims, for the total impunity of these crimes and for the lack of effective procedures to establish the truth. They requested various reparation measures which ranged from integral reparation for the victims and their families, to wider measures affecting Brazilian society as a whole, including the right to truth and justice. Highlights of the facts, violations and reparations established by the ruling are listed below:
The Inter-American Court dictated that the victims were disappeared by State agents. The judgment establishes that Brazil violated the right to justice with regards to its international obligation to investigate, process and punish those responsible for the forced disappearances, in virtue of an interpretation of the Brazilian Amnesty Law, which allowed for crimes to remain totally unresolved for over 30 years.
The ruling also established that this interpretation of the Law, reaffirmed recently by the Federal Supreme Court, is contrary to international law. In the words of the Court “The provisions of the Brazilian Amnesty Law that prevent the investigation and sanctioning of severe human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention, have no legal effects and cannot continue to stand in the way of investigating the facts of this case."
The ruling therefore requires the State to remove all practical and judicial obstacles to investigating the crimes, to establishing the truth as well as the responsibility of those involved. The Court also reaffirmed the general implications of its decision by ordering that the provisions of the Amnesty Law, that represent a barrier to criminal investigations, cannot present an obstacle to hearing other severe cases of human rights violations.
With regards to the absence of official information, the Court significantly advanced the requirements for the protection of the right to access information, including the principle of maximum disclosure and the need to justify any refusal to provide information. The Court also ruled that Brazil must put its legislation on access to information in line with what is established by the American Convention.
Finally, regarding the State´s refusal to guarantee the families of the victims´ right to truth for over thirty years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that, in light of their suffering, the State was responsible for psychological torture and determined the following reparations, among others: the obligation to investigate the facts, to hold a public act recognizing its responsibility, to actively search for and locate the mortal remains of those disappeared, the organisation and publication of all information on the Araguaia Guerilla and the violations of human rights which took place under the military dictatorship in Brazil.
The Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling in the case of Gomes Lund (Guerrilla de Araguaia) and others is paradigmatic. Not only will it contribute to reconstructing historical memory for future generations and establishing the truth but above all, to building new democratic standards and practices.
According to Votoria Grabois, family member and Vice President of the No More Torture Group in Rio de Janeiro: “The lack of information over more than 30 years caused the families of the Araguaia Guerrilla members anguish, suffering and mistrust towards the Brazilian institutions. The Court´s judgment renews our hope in justice.”
In the words of Beatriz Affonso, program director for CEJIL in Brazil: “We hope that Dilma Roussef´s administration will demonstrate that democratic governments cannot ignore the crimes of the past and that she will take positive steps to address this situation. The Judiciary, part of the Brazilian State, must implement the decision to promote and investigate the crimes committed under the dictatorship. All Brazilian citizens must know that under today´s democracy, nobody is above the law, not even the public and private agents, civilians and military, involved in the crimes against citizens in the name of repression.”
According to Crimeia Schmidt de Almeida, family member and President of the Sao Paulo Commission of Family Members of the Persons Killed and Disappeared for Political Reasons: “ This judgment might represent an important step towards a renewed democracy in our country, eliminating dictatorial hindrances that still persist in the practices of State agents. As a family member I hope that this can put an end to so many uncertainties and anguish that have marked our lives for almost 40 years.”
In light of this, Executive Director of CEJIL, Viviana Krsticevic said: “Latin America has made significant progress in solving the crimes against humanity committed under dictatorships. Yet, Brazil has not fulfilled its outstanding obligations towards the families of victims as well as society with regards to the establishment of truth and justice related to this issue. This judgment represents a unique opportunity for Brazil to demonstrate that it is able to take the lead on human rights and democracy. For this to happen, Brazil must render ineffective the aspects of the Amnesty Law that represent a barrier to justice regarding crimes against humanity.”
Milli Legrain, Communications Coordinator, Washington D.C (1) 202 319 3000, email@example.com, www.cejil.orgBeatriz Affonso, Director of CEJIL Brazill, (55-21) 2533-1660, firstname.lastname@example.org