Guest post by Maria Carolina Bissoto (translated by Robyn Smith). Bissoto is a specialist in Constitutional Law. She studied at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Campinas, São Paulo, where she defended her thesis “Direito à Verdade: por uma interpretação democrática e constitucional da Lei de Anistia (Lei 6683/79),” or “A Right to Truth: Toward a Democratic and Constitutional Interpretation of the Amnesty Law.” She is an active member of the Núcleo de Preservação da Memória Política (the Center for the Preservation of Political Memory) and the Internationalization of Law and Transitional Justice (Internacionalização do Direito e Justiça de Transição, IDEJUST) policy group.
On 25 June, Judge Cláudia de Lima Menge handed down a verdict ordering Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra to indemnify the sister (Regina Maria Merlino Dias de Almeida) and the former life partner (Angela Maria Mendes de Almeida) of journalist Luiz Eduardo da Rocha Merlino, whose death resulted from the torture he experienced while imprisoned at the DOI-CODI of São Paulo. Merlino’s passing on 19 July 1971 occurred while Ustra served as commander there. According to witnesses, Merlino was tortured for a full 24 hours and consequently experienced severe pain to his legs due to loss of circulation as well as lack of medical attention, ultimately leading to his death.
Judge Menge maintained that her ruling does not contravene the prevailing interpretation of the Amnesty Law, which applies exclusively to criminal law. She also argued that her decision is valid even as pertains to criminal responsibility since it mirrors the sentence issued in the case of “Gomes Lund e Outros” (the case for the Araguaia guerrillas), which recognized that the Amnesty Law cannot prevent the state from investigating and punishing serious violations of human rights. Given this argument, it follows that the act of ordering the payment of restitution for damages ensuing from human rights violations is an inalienable duty as manifested in several Brazilian Supreme Court decisions.
Due to Merlino’s premature death, his sister and his life companion were deprived of both his company and their own dignity. Unfortunately, the grave violation of Merlino’s human rights can never be entirely brought to justice. It is hoped, however, that this verdict will be the first of many instances where members of the former military dictatorship are held responsible for their actions.