RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s president will propose a truth commission this month to investigate torture during the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship.
The move by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could mark a rare step by Brazil towards tackling the thorny question of dictatorship-era abuses.
Unlike neighbouring countries such as Argentina and Chile, Brazil has never tried anyone for the murder and widespread torture of dissidents during its dictatorship, which pushed an amnesty law through a weak Congress in 1979.
The human rights minister, Paulo Vannuchi, said in an interview over the weekend that Lula will sign a decree next week to create the truth commission, which must be approved by Congress. A spokesperson for the minister confirmed those details to Reuters on Monday.
Brazil would be unable to tackle its modern-day human rights problems, which include widespread abuses by police, without addressing past abuses, Vannuchi said in the interview with the UOL Noticias Internet news site.
“We believe there is a relationship between torture today and the impunity of all the torture that went before, including during the dictatorship,” he said.
The truth commission proposal would be released next Monday, he said.
Brazil’s Supreme Court is now considering a case that argues that torture is not covered by the amnesty law.
The popular Lula, who by law may not run for a third term next year, has emphasized forgiveness over prosecution. Former union leader Lula and several members of his Cabinet were arrested and tortured during the dictatorship.
A justice ministry commission toured Brazil this year, asking victims and their families for forgiveness and awarding many financial compensation.
But some members of Lula’s government have pushed for trials against former military officers. Brazil’s still-influential military strongly opposes further torture investigations or revising the amnesty law.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said a truth commission was a welcome step but it remained to be seen what kind of process it would begin. A commission aimed at reconciliation rather than justice could be a means to prematurely draw a line under the past without accountability, he said.
“In general, truth commissions are very much welcome as long as they are understood as the beginning of a process that no one really controls,” he said.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)