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Brazil president creates truth commission to probe human rights abuses

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff [BBC profile] on Friday signed a law [press release, in Portuguese] establishing a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by the military from 1946 to 1988. The bill does not, however, overturn the 1979 Amnesty Law [text, PDF, in Portuguese] which shields military officials from prosecution for crimes committed during the country's 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Nearly 500 people were killed or abducted [AP report] by the military-controlled government, and others, including political leaders, were tortured. Brazil's Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Portuguese] approved the bill [JURIST report] in October. The seven commission members, appointed by Rousseff, must complete the report within two years. Rousseff also signed a law that limits the amount of time certain documents can be kept from the public to 50 years, allowing Brazilians the right to obtain undisclosed government information.

In August Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged Brazil to repeal its amnesty law [JURIST report]. In December the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) [official website, in Spanish] ruled that the amnesty law was invalid [JURIST report] because it was incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights [text]. Other Latin American countries have also been working to revoke similar amnesty laws. In October, Uruguay's legislature voted to repeal the 1986 amnesty law [JURIST report] which prevented investigations, adjudications and human rights prosecutions of military junta officials during their regime between 1973-1985. In March 2010, AI urged government officials in El Salvador to repeal a 1993 amnesty law that prevents any investigation [JURIST reports] 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]. 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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