Global Insider: Under Rousseff, Brazil Finds Opening to Address Past Abuses

Global Insider: Under Rousseff, Brazil Finds Opening to Address Past Abuses

In May, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff formally inaugurated a truth commission to examine human rights abuses that occurred during Brazil’s period of military rule. In an email interview, Par Engstrom, a lecturer at the University College of London Institute of the Americas, discussed Brazil’s process of transitional justice.

WPR: What are the major steps Brazil has taken to account for the abuses of the dictatorship era?

Par Engstrom: Brazil remains a regional laggard in South America in terms of transitional justice. This is largely due to the 1979 Amnesty Law, adopted as a measure to facilitate a political opening in Brazil, but which was subsequently interpreted to include military and police officials who had committed human rights violations. Successive Brazilian governments have broadly accepted the conditions imposed by the military. The Cardoso government created a Special Commission, which offered some monetary compensation to victims. The Lula government extended the compensation policy and offered some support for the creation of a National Truth Commission. Yet, efforts to prosecute individuals for human rights violations committed under the military regime have been resisted. The election of Dilma Rousseff offers therefore an exceptionally opportune moment with a president who herself is a victim of human rights violations under the military regime. The recently created truth commission is a political triumph for Rousseff, as it has a fairly robust mandate to investigate the truth about military abuses. But, crucially, it does not have a mandate to support prosecutions of individual perpetrators.

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