Truth and Politics: The Case of the Truth Commissions in Brazil

Friday, July 18, 2014: 3:42 PM
Room: Booth 46
Oral Presentation
Mariana POSSAS , Sociology, Federal University of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil
Cristina BUARQUE DE HOLLANDA , Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Alexandre WERNECK , Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This presentation will seek to clarify the underlying principles as well as the routines and different sources of tensions surrounding the politics of truth commissions that are currently convened in Brazil by systematically cataloguing them and presenting reports from their public sessions and interviews with commission members and deponents. Unlike similar initiatives convened in other countries that have transitioned from authoritarian regimes, the truth commissions in Brazil did not occur at the onset of the emerging democratic regime. Instead, they are a recent phenomenon, appearing in the context of an already mature democracy, and acquiring a multiplicity of forms, as they are established at different levels of governments, legislatures, universities and many other forms of organization of civil society. Established by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in May of 2012, the National Truth Commission (NTC) forms the main axis of a large net of independent commissions. Through the NTC, the Brazilian State takes upon itself the responsability of investigating the human rights violations that were perpetrated by its own agents during past military governments (1946 to 1988), but does so without revoking the Amnesty Law of 1979, which explicitly prevents any criminal investigation or punishment of any transgressions of human rights that may have occurred during this period. Therefore, the NTC holds the clarification of the historical human rights record as a value in itself, and not as a means of informing judicial action. However, this paradigm is not uncritically accepted by all the auxilliary commissions, which, despite operating under the same legal framework as the NTC, often question the general amnesty principle. The value of historical truth as either a goal in itself or as a potential instrument to legal reform and judicial action remains the topic of much controversy, and forms the main analytical thread of this presentation.