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IACHR Takes Case Involving Brazil to the Inter-American Court

May 5, 2016

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María Isabel Rivero
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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case 12.879, Vladimir Herzog and others, regarding Brazil.

The case concerns the international responsibility of the State of Brazil for the arbitrary detention, torture and death of journalist Vladimir Herzog at an army facility on October 25, 1975, during the military dictatorship; and for the ongoing impunity for these acts, due to the amnesty law enacted during the Brazilian dictatorship. 

The Commission established that journalist Vladimir Herzog was detained, tortured and killed by state agents while he was in custody in an Army facility. The IACHR concluded that these events took place in a context of serious violations of human rights during the dictatorship, and particularly, within a systematic pattern of repressive actions against the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), in which dozens of members were detained and tortured, and at least 12 journalists were detained because of their activism or suspected activism in the PCB, the IACHR determined that Brazil is responsible for the violations of the right to life, liberty and personal security of the journalist.

The Commission also concluded that the actions of the State aimed to prevent the political activism and the journalistic activities of Vladimir Herzog, which constituted unlawful restrictions of his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association for political purposes. Additionally, these violations had an intimidating and chilling effect on other journalists who were critical of the military regime and on his coworkers, as well as on the community of people who were active in the PCB or sympathetic to its ideas.

In the Merits Report, the Commission recommended the State of Brazil to determine, through the ordinary courts, the criminal responsibility for the arbitrary detention, torture and death of Vladimir Herzog, with a thorough and impartial judicial investigation of the facts in accordance with due legal process, in order to identify those responsible for such violations and punish them criminally; and to publish the results of that investigation. Pursuant to this recommendation, the IACHR requested the State of Brazil to take into account that these crimes against humanity are not subject to amnesties or statutes of limitations. Moreover, the IACHR recommended the State to take all necessary measures to ensure that Law No. 6.683/79 (Amnesty Law), as well as other criminal law arrangements, such as statutes of limitations, res judicata, the principles of non-retroactivity and no bis in idem (the right not to be tried again for the same crime), do not continue to represent an obstacle for the criminal prosecution of serious human rights violations, as such of the instant case. It also asked Brazil to grant reparation to the next of kin of Vladimir Herzog, including physical and psychological treatment, as well as holding events of symbolic importance that guarantee the non-repetition of these crimes and the recognition of State responsibility for the arbitrary detention, torture and murder of Vladimir Herzog and the suffering of his relatives. Lastly, the Commission requested Brazil to grant adequate reparation for human rights violations, both materially and morally.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on April 22, 2016, because it found the State of Brazil had not complied with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report. The Commission submitted the State’s actions and omissions that occurred and continued to occur after December 10, 1998, date of acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court by the State of Brazil. The facts that were submitted to the Inter-American Court include the violations to the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, derived of the acting of State authorities in the context of the processes that ended in the 2009 decision to archive the criminal investigation for the killing of the journalist, in application of the Amnesty Law, statutes of limitations and other criminal law arrangements. The IACHR also submitted to the Court the violations to human rights related to the right to personal integrity of the family members of Vladimir Herzog as a consequence of the situation of impunity and denial of justice.

This case offers an opportunity for the Inter-American Court to amplify and consolidate its jurisprudence in regards of reach and content of the State’s obligations in the investigation and reparation of serious human rights violations practiced by state agents during military dictatorships. In particular, the honorable Court will be able to reaffirm its jurisprudence on the incompatibility of the American Convention on Human Rights with implementation of the Amnesty law and other criminal law arrangements such as statute of limitations and res judicata in cases such as this one. The Inter-American Court will be able to analyze and rule on different impediments that in practice, have been preventing a timely and effective implementation of the Inter-American standards in these subjects in the context of Brazil.

In addition, the Inter-American Court will be able to analyze the detrimental effects in the rights to freedom of expression as a consequence of impunity and lack of integral reparation in cases of violence against journalists connected with certain political sectors in the context of the dictatorship.

A principal, autonomous body of the OAS, the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 061/16