Posted by Rebecca J. Atencio
In a landmark for transitional justice in Brazil, prosecutors yesterday initiated the country’s first criminal trial of state security agents in a federal court in São Paulo. The case pertains to the disappearance of Edgar de Aquino Duarte, who vanished in 1973 after being detained at the DOI-CODI and DEOPS torture centers in São Paulo. Those accused are Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, Carlos Augusto, and Alcides Singello. Ustra has already been brought to civil court multiple times, which have resulted in the issuing of declaratory sentences regarding his participation in torture and other human rights crimes as well as in orders to indemnify his victims. Nevertheless, as Pedro Venceslau writes in a blog for the Estado de São Paulo, this latest development marks the first time that “agents of the military dictatorship sat in courts as defendants facing accusatory testimony in a criminal trial.”
Until now, all attempts in Brazil to try accused dictatorship-era torturers have been blocked by the 1979 Amnesty Law. In 2010, the country’s Supreme Court upheld the interpretation of the law as extending to state agents who engaged in human rights crimes. Yet there are indications that the Amnesty Law’s protection of accused human rights violators may be crumbling. Brazil’s new Attorney General recently indicated a possible change in interpretation of the controversial law. Moreover, the current criminal trial of Ustra is the result of the Ministry of Public Affairs (Ministério Público) being able to make the case for pursuing criminal charges against state agents involved in political disappearances using that argument that since since the victims’ bodies have never been found, the crimes are ongoing and the 1979 Amnesty Law does not apply.