President Dilma Rousseff, who was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s 1964-85 military rule, today pledged with tears in her eyes that a commission designed to probe rights abuses then would not seek revenge.
“What drives us is not revenge, hate or the desire to re- write history but the need to understand it fully without hiding or camouflaging it,” she said during the swearing-in ceremony for the commission. “If there are sons without fathers, fathers without tombs, tombs without bodies, there cannot be a history without a voice,” she added, near tears and sparking repeated standing ovations.
One of the seven commission members is the lawyer who represented Rousseff when she was tortured with electric shocks while jailed between 1970 and 1972 for belonging to the Marxist underground that fought the junta.
Rousseff’s push for the nation of 190 million inhabitants to come to terms with its past, caused tension with armed forces members already concerned about growing legal action to hold officers accountable for the disappearance and torture of dissidents. Hundreds of retired military officers signed a petition denouncing the commission in March.
More than 475 people disappeared after being detained during the dictatorship, and thousands were illegally arrested or tortured, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
A 1979 Amnesty Law exempts from prosecution both those who engaged in armed resistance and military officials who may have committed crimes prior to that date. The country’s Supreme Court approved the law’s wide scope in 2010.
While she honored those who fought and died for the return to democracy, Rousseff suggested she would also respect the Amnesty Law.
“I also recognize and value political pacts that led us to re-democratization,” she said in the presence of the country’s top brass.
Unlike several of its South American neighbors, Brazil has never sentenced a military officer for violence during the 21 years of dictatorship. In March, Federal prosecutors in Para state for the first time filed criminal charges accusing an officer of human-rights violations. After a court rejected the charges on grounds that they are barred by the Amnesty Law, prosecutors filed similar charges in April in Sao Paulo.
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