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Brazil: Truth Commission details ‘Dirty War’ Atrocities, Calls for Prosecutions
an article by Human Rights Watch

The release of the final report by Brazil’s National Truth Commission is a major step toward addressing the atrocities committed during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), Human Rights Watch said today.


A native Indian walks over pictures of people disappeared during the military dictatorship in Brazil at a protest against the 49 year anniversary of the 1964 military coup, in Rio de Janeiro on April 1, 2013. © 2014 Reuters

click on photo to enlarge

The report identifies 377 individuals, close to 200 of them still alive, as responsible for human rights violations during that period, which it considers constitute crimes against humanity, including torture, killings, and enforced disappearances. The commission found that the violations constituted “widespread and systematic actions” and were carried out as part of a “government policy” planned and ordered by officials at the highest level.

“The commission has made a major contribution by providing an authoritative and long-overdue account of the horrible crimes that took place during the dictatorship,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “Just as important, it has pointed the way to the next crucial step that Brazil needs to take: making sure that those who committed atrocities are finally brought to justice.”

The Truth Commission increased the count of people dead or disappeared during the “Dirty War” years to 434, whereas the official number previously stood at 362. The new figure includes 191 people killed, 210 disappeared, and 33 who were disappeared but whose bodies were later recovered. The commission only included cases it could corroborate, and concluded that the actual number of victims would have been higher if it had access to Armed Forces documents that the Defense Ministry says have been destroyed.

The report contains harrowing accounts of the suffering of hundreds of Brazilians detained and tortured by members of the Armed Forces and police, many of whom were never seen again.

One was Joaquim Alencar de Seixas, a leader of an armed group, the Tiradentes Revolutionary Movement, who was detained along with his wife and three of his children. Seixas and his 16-year- old son were tortured side by side in a military installation in São Paulo, where officers applied electric shocks to their genitals and other organs, and subjected them to the infamous pau de arara, a torture technique that causes severe pain in which the victim is suspended from a horizontal pole. The report says that Seixas must have died during one of the torture sessions. The authorities said at the time that he was killed when he tried to escape.

Official reports routinely covered up the killings, instead attributing the deaths to suicides, accidents, or casualties in exchanges of gunfire, the commission said.

The document also reports cases of rape; torturing of pregnant women, some of whom had miscarriages as a result; the use of insects, like cockroaches, introduced in the victim’s bodies; and psychological torture, such as threats against family members.

The dictatorship targeted not only members of armed groups, but also critics, academics, clergy, trade unionists, rural workers, military officers who advocated a return to democracy, and members of minority and vulnerable groups.

(This article is continued in the discussionboard)

( Click here for a version in Portuguese.)

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Truth Commissions , Do they improve human rights?

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LATEST READER COMMENT:

The following is excerpted from an article by Ernesto Semán, professor at the University of Richmond in the U.S.   He looks at the recent torture report to the U.S. Senate in the light of the history of U.S. implication in the torture that took place in previous decades in Latin America.  As he points out, the torture is only the most recent expression of American policies that amount to a form of state terrorism.

. . . instead of accepting the significance of the war on terror in undermining the rule of law, the report has served the Obama administration as another component of an ideological spinning wheel. . ...more.


This report was posted on December 19, 2014.