Last week, I mentioned a story about Brazilian prosecutors attempting to finally charge those who ordered or conducted torture during the military dictatorship of 1964-85. While I expressed hope that the cases might lead Brazil to finally confront its past, I was also privately fearful that the issue may not get off the ground, and it turns out, those fears were not unfounded:
A federal judge on Friday blocked prosecutors’ efforts to hold the first trial of a military man for abuses committed during the nation’s dictatorship.
Judge Joao Matos ruled that kidnapping charges filed earlier this week against retired army Col.Sebastiao de Moura would go against Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law. The amnesty bars prosecutions for politically motivated crimes that were committed during the 1964-85 military regime.
Prosecutors said in an emailed statement that they would appeal. Their decision to pursue the case was applauded this week by the United Nations and humans rights groups.
This doesn’t mean that Brazilian prosecutors’ efforts are finished; as the cases of Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, and El Salvador have all shown, the process of seeking justice against human rights violators is a tortuous path. That said, while the sheer effort to circumvent the 1979 amnesty law has fueled debate and public discussion about Brazil’s military dictatorship and its legacies, debate and public discussion are not the same thing as convictions, and this is a discouraging step. Time will only tell if it’s a temporary roadblock, or yet another failure for Brazil to substantively and directly confront its authoritarian past.