Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brazil Prosecutes Retired Colonel Over Disappearances, in Challenge to Amnesty Law

Brazil is bringing the first charges for crimes committed by government officials during the military dictatorship, which ended in 1985, with a prosecution against a retired army colonel accused of carrying out forced disappearances of leftist guerrillas.

Sebastiao de Moura, known as “Dr Luchini” will face charges of aggravated kidnapping, relating to five victims of the government crackdown on the Araguaia guerrilla movement in the 1970s. The five victims were detained in 1974, and were last seen in military custody in the Amazonian state of Para. Some 62 members of the group disappeared in total.

The Brazilian Bar Association said that the prosecution would only go forward if the Supreme Court reconsidered its position on upholding a much-criticized 1979 amnesty law, which blocks prosecutions for politically motivated crimes committed under the regime.

However, prosecutors argued that the disappearances fall outside of the period covered by the law, as the guerrillas' bodies have never been found, and so the crimes continue to this day, reports the Associated Press. They also referred to Supreme Court decisions to extradite Argentine and Uruguayan soldiers to Argentina to face trial for crimes committed during the dictatorship era, despite arguments that they should be covered by Brazil’s amnesty.

In November 2010 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Brazil's amnesty law was invalid, as it was incompatible with the Inter-American Declaration of Human Rights. Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out that Brazil ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance the same month, and that this obliges them to investigate and prosecute all such cases.

The NGO says that more than 475 people were disappeared during the 1964-1985 dictatorship, with thousands more illegally detained or tortured. President Dilma Rousseff, then a guerrilla, was one of those who faced torture while in custody.

Brazil set up a Truth Commission in November last year, charged with investigating crimes from past goverments including during the dictatorship. However, some relatives of victims have accused the body of being powerless while the amnesty still holds. Retired Colonel Pedro Ivo Moezia de Lima, himself facing torture allegations, has filed a lawsuit to prevent the commission’s work.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of HRW's Americas Division, said in response to news of the charges that;
Since political leaders have failed to repeal the amnesty law, it is up to prosecutors and courts to ensure that Brazil fulfills its international obligation to bring to justice those who are responsible for past atrocities.
In October, neighboring Uruguay overturned a 1986 amnesty law which shielded police and military officials from prosecution for crimes committed under that country’s military dictatorship. Argentina has no such amnesty, and has moved forward with numerous prosecutions of crimes during its dictatorship.

News Briefs
  • Colombia has arrested the man accused of masterminding the attack which killed Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral in Guatemala in July last year. Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez, a Costa Rican citizen, allegedly ordered a hit on his business partner Henry Fariñas Fonseca, but the gunmen mistakenly shot dead Cabral, who was traveling in a car with him. Jimenez was arrested after the Colombian Navy stopped his boat off the Pacific coast, and has been sent to Guatemala. He is wanted on drug charges by 190 countries round the world, according to Caracol Radio, and the Colombian police said he was a link between Colombian gang the Rastrojos and Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel. InSight Crime notesthat it would be a victory for Guatemala’s justice system if it convicts Jimenez, as so many crimes in the country go unsolved and unpunished.
  • The Associated Press reports that Mexico’s Senate has approved constitutional changes to make attacks on journalists a federal crime. This would mean that they would be investigated by the Federal Attorney General’s Office. The move still has to be approved by a certain proportion of state legislatures and by the president before it becomes law. A similar step was recently proposed in Brazilfollowing the killings of two journalists in one week, with a government human rights official saying contract killings should be made a federal crime.
  • Argentina’s Supreme Court has ruled to allow abortion for women who have been raped, while considering the case of a 15-year-old impregnated by her stepfather. Previously, the procedure had been allowed only in cases where the woman’s life was at risk, or if she had been raped and was mentally deficient. The BBC reports that the judges consider the ruling a matter of clarifying existing law, not altering it, as the law says that abortion would not be punished "if the pregnancy stems from a rape or an attack on the modesty of a woman of feeble mind."
  • Two generals from Colombia’s Armed Forces told El Tiempo that a ceasefire with the FARC would only allow the guerrilla force to strengthen itself, arguing that Colombia is “now arriving at the final stage of the conflict” -- one that has already gone on nearly five decades.
  • Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed as Honduras’ president in 2009, has established a political party to compete in the 2013 presidential elections, reports the AP. Its candidate will be his wife, Xiomara Castro.
  • Banners have appeared on main streets in Guatemala City calling on President Otto Perez to legalize drugs, signed in the name of a local Zetas commander. InSight Crime says that the banners are unlikely to have been the work of the Zetas drug gang, and could be the work of forces that want to discredit Perez’s work to bring the legalization issue to the table.
  • Los Tigres del Norte, a Mexican Norteño group, have been banned from Chihuahua city in north Mexico after playing “narcocorridos,” or ballads about drug traffickers, in a concert, reports the AP.
  • The NYT has a piece on prison conditions in Latin America, looking at rates of overcrowding and failure to bring inmates to trial.
    With a photo slideshow on El Salvador’s prisons.
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the Wall Street Journal has a piece about the case of a former Haitian official who was shot dead after reports said his son was cooperating with US prosecutors. She says that the case could cast a light on the dealings of US-based Fusion Telecommunications in Haiti during Jean Bertrand Aristide’s presidency, hinting at corruption within the Democratic party as being behind what she calls President Bill Clinton’s “inexplicably tolerant” attitude to Aristide.
  • The US Coast Guard seized more than 3,500 pounds (1.6 metric tons) of cocaine from a speedboat in the Caribbean, reports the Miami Herald, in what officials said was a success for Operation Martillo, which aims to stop drug shipments long before they arrive in the US, by working with law enforcement bodies in the region. Meanwhile the Christian Science Monitor reports on the US policy of building military bases in Central America and the Caribbean to stop drug shipments, with a new based planned in the Dominican Republic that will not have any US staff. The article describes the policy as a way of stretching resources in the fight against trafficking.
  • Lawyers for former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega are arguing for him to be placed under house arrest on the grounds that he has a benign brain tumor and heart problems. He returned to his home country in December after being in prison in France and is serving a 60-year sentence for crimes including murder and corruption, reports the AP.
  • The Associated Press has a long piece on the history of the Falklands Islands (Malvinas). It says that some on the islands feel the conflict with Argentina can only be resolved if they move towards complete independence from both the UK and Argentina.

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