In the News…

Posted by Vanessa Castañeda

On 14 October 2014, the minister of the Secretariat of Human rights, Ideli Salvatii, established a versatile group of researchers to accelerate the investigation of the exhumed bodies from a trench in the Peru Cemetery in São Paulo. It is believed that many of these bodies could be bodies of disappeared from the military dictatorship. The research team will have 36 months to finish the investigation.

The Museum of the Portuguese Language in São Paulo is showing an exhibition from the 14 October until 30 November 2014 called “This Newspaper is also a joke” (which is part of a larger exposition called “This Room is a Joke”, exhibited now for a number of years). The exposition is focusing on the terrible dictatorial years in honor of the 50th year anniversary since the ending of the dictatorship. The exhibition’s main objective is to offer a humorous reflection of the censorship, political persecution, and repression during the dictatorship.

At 10:30 am on 21 October 2014, the National Truth Commission (CNV) will visit and realize an investigation in the Ilha das Flores Navy Base in São Gonçalo in Rio de Janeiro. During this investigation former political prisoners as well as experts and researchers from the CNV and CEV-Rio will identify rooms in the island’s navy base that were used for torturing and imprisonment during the military dictatorship. Since November 2013, the CNV has visited several military locations that carried out torture sessions, deaths, and other violations of human rights.

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Elections Update: Speculations on the Future of Transitional Justice

Posted by Hilary Marie Johnson (with contributions by Rebecca Atencio)

The first round of elections, held on October 5th, showed current president Dilma Rousseff secure 41.4% of the vote and opponent Aécio Neves 33.7%, removing third contender Marina Silva. Rousseff’s inability to clench a majority will result in a second round of elections on October 26th. With Silva’s recent endorsement of Neves upon accepting her defeat and his recent momentum in the polls, an already very tight race could potentially become even tighter. While the campaigns have focused primarily on high inflation, recession, and corruption, it is curious to ponder what the election results could ultimately mean in regards to the process of transitional justice in Brazil.

Dilma rose to national prominence while serving the administration of Luiz Inácio (Lula) da Silva. One of the few high-ranking officials in the Lula administration not plagued by corruption scandals, Dilma was handpicked by the Lula himself to run for president on the Worker’s Party ticket. Rousseff’s candidacy for president in 2010 prompted the expected prodding into her involvement in opposition to and eventual imprisonment and torture by the military dictatorship, yet she mostly refrained from speaking in detail about those experiences during her campaign. Nevertheless, her inaugural presidential speech touched upon her dictatorship days, and were followed by pieces of legislation which aimed to broaden access to military-era documents. She signed the National Truth Commission into law on November 2011 by Congress and inaugurated the body the following May. In an emotional speech on the latter occasion, she proclaimed that “Brazil deserves the truth, new generations deserve the truth, and–above all–those who lost friends and relatives and who continue to suffer as if they were dying again each day deserve the truth.”

Aécio Neves, candidate of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, was appointed by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. One might expect that Aécio, as grandson of Tancredo Neves, who led the opposition to the military regime and was elected the first civilian president in thirty years (although he died before taking office), would be an advocate for the kind of memory, truth, and justice regarding the dictatorship period demanded by victims, families, and human rights groups.  Yet everything indicates that an Aécio presidency would be a step backward for transitional justice in Brazil. For instance, at an event last year, he referred to the coup d’état of 1964 as a “revolution,” employing the term regime apologists use to downplay the human rights crimes of the military dictatorship (when pressed on his choice of words, Neves attempted to justify himself by claiming that revolution and dictatorship were essentially synonyms). More recently, the Clube Militar (Military Club, a stronghold of regime apologists) has declared its support for Neves in the second wave of elections. While Neves has not formally commented on the implications of this endorsement, it certainly complicates his relationship with the military dictatorship.

It is difficult to predict how the outcome of the election will impact Brazil’s transitional justice process. Reckoning with the dictatorship has not been a major campaign issue, neither candidate has proposed new transitional justice policies as part of their platform. Moreover, the National Truth Commission is set to conclude its work and release its final report on December 16, well before the presidential sash could potentially change hands. Of course, the execution of any recommendations put forth in the final report would be up to whichever candidate takes office in 2015. It is safe to assume, however, that Dilma is much more likely to move forward on those recommendations than her rival. Yet even a Worker’s Party victory does not guarantee that transitional justice policy will remain unchanged, since Dilma will likely shake up her administration with new appointments.

 

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In the News…

Posted by Vanessa Castañeda

The Federal University of Espírito Santo’s (Ufes) Truth Commission organized a public hearing on 9 October 2014. Oral surgeon Laura Coutinho gave her testimony of having been a tortured prisoner during the military dictatorship. She was pregnant when she was kidnapped and miscarried during a torture session. Regarding Laura’s case, Professor Ernest Fagundes says “We want to emphasize this case because of the magnitude of human rights violations. The [truth] commission is making these violations public by incorporating memory into politics so that above all else, the new generations will understand what the period of the military dictatorship was.”  Additionally, Ufes’ Truth Commission has received research reports from the Amnesty Commission. These reports include profiles of people associated with the institution who have been given amnesty as well information on persecutions and detention centers.

Pedro Dallari, President of the National Truth Commission (CNV) traveled to Madrid, Spain this week to participate in a conference and talk about the current elections in Brazil. He said the biggest challenge in finishing the Commission’s report in December is “having the military acknowledge committed abuses”.

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In the News…

Posted by Vanessa Castañeda

On the 30th September 2014 former colonel Paulo Rubens Pereira Diniz asked for amnesty from the National Truth Commission (CNV) at a hearing with the Minas Gerais Bar Association (OAB-MG) in Belo Horizonte. During his questioning he admitted to having trained a group of indigenous to fight against guerillas in the Black River Amazonian highlands. Also, he admits he would have followed through with orders to raid the Goiânia plaza, had they not been cancelled. The former colonel also claims to have helped political prisoners and states that he suffers from trauma.

This week, the Amnesty Commission and fifty educational institutions will be showing the cinematic project Mostra in Brazil, with hopes of reaching 10,800 spectators. Mostra will be showing three films: “500-os Bebês Roubados pela Ditadura Argentina” (500-the Kidnapped Children from the Argentine Dictatorship) by Alexandre Valenti, “70” by Emília Silveira and “Duas Histórias” (Two Histories) by Angela Zoe. The project, besides showing films, is creating a space to talk about Brazil’s military dictatorship within schools throughout Brazil.

Peter Ho Peng has been given the chance to vote for the first time. He was born in Hong Kong in 1949 but gained citizenship through marriage. Ho Peng was involved in student movements against the military dictatorship in the early 70s. He was imprisoned for 10 months and was on the list of disappeared for four months, in addition to being tortured in two centers in Rio de Janiero and Porto Alegre. He was stripped of his citizenship but regained it in 2012 after filing for amnesty.

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In the News…

Posted by Vanessa Castañeda

In a federal court in São Paulo, substitute judge Rubem David Müzel rejected charges brought by prosecutors of the Federal Public Ministry against Colonel Alberto Ustra in the case of the 1971 death of journalist Luiz Merlino. Following the lead of some other judges, Müzel ruled that Ustra cannot be tried because of the 1979 Amnesty Law. During some of the harshest years of the dictatorship, Ustra served as head of the São Paulo DOI-CODI, a joint military and police command center and major torture center. Ustra has already lost a civil case; however, the ruling on that occasion did not involve punishment, but rather resulted in a declaratory sentence recognizing him as a torturer because the case was tried in civil rather than criminal court.

On 30 of September 2014, four former political prisoners (imprisoned from 1969-1971), along with researchers from the National Truth Commission (CNV) and the Minas Gerais Truth Commission visited a former torture center in Belo Horizonte. Maria Celina Pinto Albano, the coordinator of the Minas Gerais Truth Commission said, “it’s difficult, and often times it’s very painful, but we are unraveling, discovering and showing what actually happened during this period of our history.”

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“Norm Diffusions from the Global South” by Kathryn Sikkink

Posted by Vanessa Castañeda

Kathryn Sikkink at her Norm Diffusion talk at Tulane University

Kathryn Sikkink at her Norm Diffusion talk at Tulane University

Last Thursday, the 25th of September, Dr. Kathryn Sikkink gave a lecture entitled “Norm Diffusions from the Global South” at Tulane University. Sikkink is Professor of Human Rights and Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The approach to international human rights has been widely conceptualized as a concept or norm that emerged from the Global North and West. However, Dr. Sikkink presented  a more nuanced approach to the unique historical role of Latin America in the development of international human rights norms.

Within popular imaginary as well as political and scholarly spheres, the origins of human rights often times dates back to 1948 and the drafting of the core human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The popular notion is that the UN general assembly was mostly made up of countries from the Global North since the meeting predates the latest era of decolonization. Yet 20 of the 50 countries involved were from Latin America, or 40% of the total.

Moreover, often forgotten is an important meeting that took place a few years earlier–in 1945–in San Francisco. At that meeting, which essentially created the United Nations, a group of countries including Panama, Uruguay and Mexico put forth a strong call for a declaration of human rights in the UN Charter. As we know, that battle was lost. Furthermore, a full draft of the American declaration of Human Rights was written by the Inter-American juridical committee in December of 1945 and circulated in the spring of 1946. The “right to remedies,” the idea that victims have rights to remedy that is the basis for human rights prosecutions all over the world today, was formulated in the American declaration of Human Rights.

This side of history has been silenced for various reasons. Understanding this aspect of history can therefore clarify Latin America’s position in human rights today. It also reveals that norm diffusion of human rights has occurred not only from north to south, but also from south to north. Indeed, in some ways, Latin American countries have been models for other countries all over the world.

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In the News…

Posted by Vanessa Castañeda

The army has critiqued Minister of Defense Celso Amorim’s formal recognition of the state’s responsibility in committing human rights violations during the dictatorship. The document, signed by more than 20 military reserves—including four-star generals and three former ministers—asserts they never approved such a claim. Additionally, the document states that “the army will not ask for forgiveness. We will always believe with conviction that we saved Brazil.”

Attorney Rosa Cardoso from the National Truth Commission (CNV) has promised to advocate for the inclusion of the case of nine tortured Chinese victims in the final report (scheduled for December of 2014). The victims had been invited to Brazil by then President Jânio Quadros in 1964 with the intention of establishing commercial ties and bilateral agreements between Brazil and China, but all were then held hostage and tortured while in Rio de Janeiro. Five of the nine are still alive.

On 25 September 2014, São Paulo created the Municipal Commission for Memory and Truth (Comissão da Memória e Verdade da Prefeitura de São Paulo). This commission is part of the Municipal Secretary of Human Rights and Citizenship (SMDHC) and will investigate the role of municipal public agents and administration during 1964–1988 regarding the disappeared.

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