Thursday, December 11, 2014

Brazil’s Truth Commission Addresses Contemporary Problems

Much of the reporting on yesterday’s release of the Brazilian National Truth Commission (CNV) report has focused on the fact that it recommended overturning the country’s 1979 amnesty law. But the report does not focus exclusively on reconciling with the past.

In its 29 recommendations, the CNV showed a clear interest in addressing state violence that continues in present-day Brazil. As Carta Capital and BBC Brasil report, many of the recommendations directly involve changes in police operations, the justice system or the country’s prisons. Among other things, the CNV calls for:
  • Demilitarizing Brazil’s state military police forces, which the CNV referred to as an “anomaly” in an otherwise democratic country
  • Making state forensic offices independent of police structures, to ensure civilian oversight and document torture and extrajudicial executions
  • Guaranteeing detained suspects the right to see a judge within 24 hours of their arrest, in order to minimize torture and inhumane treatment
  • Amending the country’s penal code to specify punishment for forced disappearances committed by agents of the state
  • Ending the dictatorship-era practice of allowing police to register deaths of suspects in custody as the result of resisting arrest, or “autos de resistência”

While few of these proposals are new, some of them may see more progress than others. On the last point, for instance, Brazil’s lower house is preparing to vote on a bill that would eliminate “autos de resistência” and force prosecutors to investigate all deaths in police custody, as noted in Tuesday’s post.

Also worth noting in the media coverage of the report is the way in which the U.S. press made comparisons with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report. Both the Washington Post and New York Times commented on the timing of both reports being released within one day of the other.

Of course, the most important difference between the reports is the issue of naming those responsible. Brazil’s CNV directly identified 377 ex-military and police officials as human rights abusers, whereas the Senate report includes only the pseudonyms of CIA employees who carried out torture under the Bush administration.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday brought bad news for the genocide case against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Prensa Libre reports that the country’s Constitutional Court -- the same body that annulled his genocide conviction last year -- will decide at what point to restart the case on January 5 when it is slated to resume. El Periodico notes that this means that there is a risk that the case can be bumped back to the pre-trial stage.
  • The United States House of Representatives has voted to pass a bill that would level sanctions against Venezuelan officials linked to human rights abuses during this year’s wave of opposition protests. As Reuters reports, the bill was previously approved by the Senate and will now to go to President Obama, who has signaled his support for the measure in recent weeks.
  • Over at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde takes on a challenge by blogger Setty to present the case against targeted sanctions of Maduro government officials using previous examples of limited sanctions in recent years. In response, Smilde highlights the government reaction to these past sanctions, identifying the processes by which Chavismo has responded with nationalist, base-rallying tactics. While he concedes that the causal evidence is mixed, Smilde argues that there is no doubt that increased sanctions have accompanied a process of polarization and radicalization in Venezuelan politics.
  • Yesterday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Colombia was guilty committed forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial execution in the aftermath of a bloody 1985 hostage confrontation in the Colombian Supreme Court building between the military and M-19 guerrillas. As Semana reports, the court ordered the government to locate the remains of disappearance victims, continue a thorough investigation of the incident and compensate relatives of the deceased.
  • The AP reports on a forum held in Bogota yesterday on drug policy reform in the country, in which various Santos administration officials and ex-President Cesar Gaviria lent their support to a medicinal marijuana bill currently being debated by Colombian lawmakers. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica also offered a statement in favor of marijuana legalization via video, providing further proof that he is positioning himself to be an international advocate of drug policy experimentation after stepping down in March. Meanwhile, RCN Noticias and Caracol Radio today also report on the main arguments in favor and against the bill.
  • Yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo was disrupted by a young man carrying a red-stained Mexican flag. The incident has made headlines in Mexico -- see El Universal and Reforma -- as an apparent attempt to raise awareness for the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa.
  • BBC Mundo reports on protests in Managua, Nicaragua against a Chinese-funded plan to build a new inter-oceanic canal, noting that locals say they are being kicked off of their land without fair compensation for the project to move forward.
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has thrown his support behind a proposal by 15 lawmakers of his National Party to challenge a Supreme Court ban on debating presidential re-election. Reuters notes that the opposition has criticized this proposal as a bid to solidify the ruling party’s authority.
  • The New York Times reports on organized crime and drug trafficking in the Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus, which is seeing an uptick in violent turf wars between local criminal networks.
  • Harm reduction strategies to drug policy continue to make slight inroads in Brazil. Tuesday’s O Globo featured an interesting interview with Liz Evans of Vancouver’s PHS Community Services Society, which manages the only supervised injection facility in North America. In it, Evans praised the work of São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad and his “Braços Abertos” program, as well as rehabilitation efforts by Rio de Janeiro NGO Viva Rio.