Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil to charge army officer over military rule abuses

Dilma Rousseff
Image caption Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has approved the creation of a panel to probe abuses during military rule

A former Brazilian army officer is to become the first to be charged for alleged rights abuses during the 20-year military dictatorship.

Prosecutors say Sebastiao de Moura, a former colonel, faces criminal charges over the kidnap of five guerrillas in the 1970s.

At the time, he commanded troops fighting the leftist Araguaia movement.

An amnesty law bans army officers from being tried for abuses during the 1964-85 dictatorship.

Prosecutors concluded that there was enough evidence linking Col De Moura to the kidnapping and suspected torture of the five members of the communist guerrilla group in the northern state of Para.

All five - three men and two women - are still missing. The charges still have to be approved by a judge before the case can go to trial.

'Landmark step'

Prosecutors argue that the 1979 amnesty law, enacted before the return to civilian rule, does not apply to the case, as the bodies of the five guerrilla fighters have never been found.

They say as the case is still open, it falls outside the 1961-79 amnesty period.

In November last year, President Dilma Rousseff signed a law creating a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses, including those committed during military rule.

More than 400 Brazilians were killed in the period, although correspondents say Brazil's military dictatorship was less brutal that those in neighbouring Argentina and Uruguay.

Military figures have voiced opposition to the panel, saying it is a way to circumvent the amnesty law.

Between 1966-74, the Araguaia movement fought a guerrilla war aimed at bringing about a communist revolution.

Government troops fought a campaign to suppress the uprising on the banks of the Araguaia river between 1972 and 1974.

The campaign group Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision as a "landmark step for accountability in Brazil".

"This is tremendous news for the families who lost loved ones in the brutal repression that followed the 1964 military coup," Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of HRW's Americas division.

The moves makes Brazil the latest Latin American country to prosecute alleged human rights violations committed under military rule.

In January, it was announced that former Guatemalan military leader Efrain Rios Montt would be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity during his time in power from 1982-1983.

In April 2011, Argentina's last military ruler, Reynaldo Bignone, was given a life sentence for the torture and murder of political opponents more than three decades ago.

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