The landmark decision to punish dictatorship crimes in Brazil

For decades, Brazil has failed to reckon with its dictatorship past. One court decision tries to go in the other direction

military dictatorship brazil
People show photos of family members who were killed or disappeared during the 1964-1985 dictatorship. Photo: Paulo Pinto/FP

The Brazilian Amnesty Law of 1979 represented a huge step on the country’s re-democratization process in the 1980s, bookending a 21-year military dictatorship. It allowed politically exiled militants to return to the country without fearing prosecution and sought to create a blank slate in Brazilian politics, as the Armed Forces prepared to hand the reins of power back to civilians.

But the amnesty also swept the murders, torture, persecution, and censorship perpetrated by dictatorship agents under the collective rug. As a result of the legislation, the military was never cajoled into issuing a mea culpa for its crimes. Indeed, until...

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