Human rights in Brazil: It isn’t even past

The Economist – from the print edition, 11/19/2011

DILMA ROUSSEFF was tortured; Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was jailed; Fernando Henrique Cardoso was forced into exile. Brazil’s president and her two most recent predecessors all suffered under the country’s 1964-85 military regime. Yet only now is the country planning a closer look at the crimes committed in those years. By November 23rd Ms Rousseff is expected to sign a law setting up a truth commission, passed by Congress in late October. Its seven members will have two years to examine murder, torture and “disappearances” perpetrated by both the government and the resistance between 1946 and 1988.

A law on freedom of information will strengthen this shift towards openness. First proposed in 2003, it was given a shove in September, when Ms Rousseff agreed to lead an international “open government initiative” with Barack Obama. Brazil’s constitution is strong on the right to information. But it had no legislation to flesh out the details, making winkling out facts a matter of persistence and luck. Documents can remain secret indefinitely.

In October Congress passed laws to make the constitution’s promise a reality. Soon the secrecy of sensitive documents will be limited to 25 years, renewable once. Those to do with human-rights abuses will have to be released immediately, and most material will have to be handed over within 30 days of a request, barring a valid reason for continued secrecy.

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