By Pedro Widmar, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Lula Administration’s PNDH-3 (Programa Nacional de Direitos Humanos) – a polemic broad-spectrum Human Rights Directive ranging from abortion to labor laws – has caused quite a stir in recent weeks.

Nelson Jobim, National Defense Minister, photo by Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil.
Nelson Jobim, National Defense Minister, photo by Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil.

From civil protests, to religious manifestations, to Ministers and Military leaders threatening to resign from office, the 228-page text has stirred reactions from nearly all walks of Brazilian life.

But so far the most polemical proposal contained in the text has proven to be the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate human rights infractions committed during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship.

Since its ratification in 1979 the Brazilian Amnesty Law has been a controversial piece of legislation. While some Brazilians believe in total accountability for acts during the period of military dictatorship, others think a partial approach is more adequate.

According to the Human Rights Watch, the Brazilian military regime was responsible for systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and the curtailment of free expression.

Official estimates state that around 50,000 persons were detained just in the first months of the dictatorship and roughly 10,000 went into exile at some point during that period. Another report released by the São Paulo Archdiocese in 1985, described 1,918 accounts of torture from 1964 to 1979 and noted that its source material excluded an “incalculable” number of other cases.

Now with some institutions estimating the number of missing political prisoners from the dictatorship period to nearly 500, it’s easy to understand the popularity of the debate. Although the issue has remained current all these years, it was not until the Lula’s administrations last year in office that the topic reached the Planalto (office of the President).

The installment of “Truth Commissions” is a common practice in governments where lingering public resentment concerning a time period exists. Seen as a step towards reconciliation, the process of starting such a commission has always been difficult.

However, in this case the plan came to a screeching halt when heads of the military and the National Defense Minister, Nelson Jobim, threatened to resign over phrasing in the directive’s text. They were particularly concerned with wording of part of the plan that aimed to investigate human rights crimes during the period of “political repression”.

Critics feel the use of this term implies a one-sided approach to the commissions’ investigations. As famed right wing editorialist Luis Nassif recently stated, “Ex-torturers should be as exposed to public prosecution as the guerilla groups.”

Paulo Vannucchi, Special Secretariat for Human Rights photo: Elza Fiuza/ Agência Brasil
Paulo Vannucchi, Special Secretariat for Human Rights, photo by Elza Fiuza/ Agência Brasil.

Foreseeing actions to weaken the directive, the Special Secretariat for Human Rights, Paulo Vannucchi, cut his vacation short and returned to Brasilia where he announced that any such steps would lead to his immediate resignation. After 48 hours of cabinet meetings and a morning spent behind closed doors tweaking the original text, the Ministers arose seemingly appeased.

Having omitted the term “political repression”, and created a commission to evaluate the creation of the Truth Commission, a step that prolongs the creation of the commission by 3 months, the ministers pronounced their satisfaction with the new text.

On the brink of an election year and with parties looking to align their views, the ministerial dispute is likely to be only the first of many obstacles the PNDH-3 faces. With the OAB (Brazilian Order of Attorneys) calling for Jobim’s resignation and the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops publicly manifesting their dismay at some of the directives’ initiatives, the PNDH-3 is guaranteed to bring future disputes in Brazil.


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