In what is considered a historic ruling the Inter-American Court of Human Rights from the Organization of American States held the Brazilian state responsible for the forced disappearance of 62 alleged members of the Araguaia guerrilla movement- a small armed band of communists and Trotskyites crushed by military operations between 1972 and 1974.
Only about 20 members of the group survived. One of them is Jose Genoino, who later headed the ruling Workers' Party of President Lula da Silva and President-elect Dilma Rousseff, herself a survivor of torture in the dictatorship's prisons.
The ruling also points out that the Brazilian Amnesty Law can’t impede the investigation and punishment for the grave violations of human rights committed at the time.
Brazil's amnesty law, passed in 1979, barred prosecution of both government agents and leftist militants who committed politically related crimes during the 1964-1985 military regime. The law was recently upheld by Brazil's Supreme Court. However the Costa Rica-based court found the law incompatible with Brazil's commitments under the American Convention on Human Rights.
The court found the amnesty law impedes the investigation and punishment of serious violations of human rights, and said it cannot continue to be a hurdle to the investigation of the fate of the suspected Araguaia guerrillas.
The Brazilian government must investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators involved in the Araguaia case, find and identify the bodies of the disappeared, and make amends to their surviving relatives, the court concluded.
It also said authorities should release archived information about Araguaia, and information on other human rights violations that took place during the military regime.
The ruling from the Inter-American Human Rights Court follows the presentation in the name of the families of the Araguaia guerrillas dead and disappeared by three Brazilian NGOs: Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), Torture Never Again Group from Rio do Janeiro (GTNM-RJ) and the Families committee of the Sao Paulo political dead and disappeared (CFMDP-SP).
The 126 page ruling calls for a public international responsibility acknowledgement act referred to the facts described in the case and demands attendance from “Brazilian national authorities and victims”. Furthermore in a reasonable space of time a mandatory and standing course on human rights must be complied at all levels by Brazilian Armed Forces.
Another chapter calls for Brazil to adopt legislation including the crime of forced disappearance of people, in conformity with inter-American parameters, which means not only presenting Congress with the bill but also its approval and sanction in a reasonable period of time.
The ruling established a 3.000 US dollars payment for each relative of the victims as compensation for the expenses incurred in the search for the disappeared. Similarly 45.000 US dollars for each direct relative and 15.000 for non direct relatives, considered victims of the case ruled. The compensation is given for “immaterial harm”. Relatives are also entitled to the necessary psychological and clinic support. The three NGO are also to be granted 45.000 US dollars to cover costs incurred so far.
The head of the Brazilian government's National Human Rights Secretariat, Paulo Vannuchi, said in a press conference Wednesday that authorities understand the ruling must be obeyed. Brazil is also taking other steps to clarify what happened under military rule, Vannuchi said, noting that Congress is considering a bill to create a truth commission
Earlier this week President Lula da Silva asked Defence Minister, Nelson Jobim, for an update on the search for bodies of those who disappeared in Araguaia. The army so far has not revealed their location.