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Brazil president swears in truth commission to investigate dictatorship-era rights abuses

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff [official profile, in Portuguese] on Wednesday swore in seven members of a truth commission [press release, in Portuguese] who will investigate alleged human rights violations that occurred under the country's military dictatorship. On the same day, the commission held its first meeting [Estadao report, in Portuguese], which dealt primarily with bureaucratic matters. The commission is authorized to investigate abuses that occurred under Brazil's military dictatorship, which reigned the country from 1964 to 1985, but its findings will not lead to any trials [Al Jazeera report] due to a military-era amnesty. During the swearing-in ceremony, Rousseff, who was herself imprisoned for three years [BBC profile] during the military dictatorship, said "Brazil deserves the truth, new generations deserve the truth, and—above all—those who lost friends and relatives and who continue to suffer as if they were dying again each day deserve the truth." Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] applauded the creation of the commission [statement] but also urged "the Commissioners to ensure that this Truth Commission works in an impartial, thorough and transparent way to guarantee the full disclosure of past crimes."

Brazil's truth commission was established on the basis of a law that Rousseff enacted [JURIST report] in November, and it will have two years to complete its work. Despite the existence of an amnesty law, this past March Brazilian prosecutors announced plans to charge a retired colonel [JURIST report] for his actions during a military dictatorship [investigation materials, PDF, in Portuguese]. In August AI urged Brazil to repeal its amnesty law [JURIST report]. Other Latin American countries have recently taken steps to end amnesties for their military dictatorships. In March AI 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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