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Rights court rules Brazil amnesty law invalid

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website, in Spanish] has ruled [judgment, PDF, in Portuguese; press release, PDF, in Spanish] that a 1979 Brazilian amnesty law [text, PDF, in Portuguese] is invalid and that Brazil is responsible for the disappearance of 61 people during its 1964-1985 military dictatorship. In a decision announced Tuesday, the court found that the law, which shielded military officials from prosecution, was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights [text]. The court ordered the Brazilian government to conduct a criminal investigation into an anti-guerrilla military operation in the Araguaia region between 1972 and 1974. The court also ruled that 42 direct relatives of the victims should receive USD $45,000 each in compensation for their suffering and that 28 indirect relatives should receive $15,000 each. The ruled that all 70 relatives should also receive $3,000 each for medical and psychological treatment. Brazil's president-elect Dilma Rousseff, who takes office on January 1, has pledged to bring human rights violators to justice [NYT report] and will be responsible for implementing the court's decision.

Other Latin American countries have recently taken steps to end amnesties for their military dictatorships. In March, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged government officials in El Salvador [JURIST report] to repeal [press release] a 1993 amnesty law that prevents any investigation [JURIST report] into killings committed during the country's 12-year civil war [PBS backgrounder], including the killing of respected Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero [BBC backgrounder, JURIST news archive]. Last year, the Uruguayan Supreme Court struck down [JURIST report] the country’s Expiry Law, which granted amnesty to military officials accused of human rights violations during the country's 1973-1985 dictatorship. In 2005, Argentina's Supreme Court struck down similar amnesty laws [JURIST report] adopted in the 1980s to protect potential defendants, prompting the government to reopen hundreds of human rights cases.

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