IACHR: Brazil Needs to Adopt Public Policies to Search for Victims of Forced Disappearance During the Dictatorship

January 12, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about the dissolution of Brazil's Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances (CEMDP). The Commission calls on Brazil to restore efforts to search for victims of forced disappearance during the country's civilian–military dictatorship, in the context of an integrated public policy that focuses on victims and their families.

On December 30, 2022, Brazil's previous government published in the official journal a normative document holding what was described as the final report of CEMDP activities. This report—approved by the CEMDP board with 4 votes in favor and 3 votes against on December 15, 2022—said that the Special Commission on Political Deaths and Disappearances had completed its work.

According to reports the IACHR has had access to, this decision was made although the report admitted that certain CEMDP activities had been held to a standstill in recent years and that various proceedings were yet to be conducted, including the identification of the bones of several people whose remains had been exhumed.

Several civil society organizations, victims, and specialists were outraged about the decision to shut down the CEMDP and noted a lack of evidence that efforts to search for and identify missing persons might no longer be required. These organizations and individuals further noted that the National Truth Commission had recommended that the State continue efforts to locate and identify human remains and to hand them over to victims' families so they could have a dignified burial, as well as to provide the relevant institutions with the resources they needed to do their work. The Federal Public Prosecutor's Office also stressed the recommendation it made in July 2022, that the State institutions in charge should refrain from suggesting or approving the CEMDP's dissolution and that they should instead ensure it could operate adequately by providing among others sufficient funds.

The IACHR stresses that the families of victims of serious human rights violations and society as a whole have the right to know the truth about everything that happened in the context of those human rights violations. In cases of forced disappearances, this entails the right of victims' families to know those victims' fate and where their remains are, which is a major form of reparation.

In December, the IACHR reminded the Brazilian State of its obligation to take all necessary action to establish the fate and whereabouts of missing persons for as long as the victims' final fate remains unknown. In efforts to monitor compliance with the decision in the case Gomes Lund et al. ("Guerrilha do Araguaia") v. Brazil, both the IACHR and the Inter-American Court found a lack of concrete results and noted the need for additional State efforts.

Further, in the country report it published in 2021, the Inter-American Commission recommended that search efforts be integrated into a comprehensive public policy on disappearance systematically and rigorously implemented by independent, impartial institutions with adequate human and technical resources, ensuring communication and coordinated action with victims' families.

The IACHR welcomes the commitment to restoring search efforts that was recently made by the Brazilian Ministry of Human Rights and Citizenship. The Commission calls on the State to promptly restructure its measures to search for victims of forced disappearance during the military regime, and to ensure adequate resources to establish victims' whereabouts, to locate and identify them, and to restore their remains to their families with dignity, where appropriate.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (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 and to defend 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. 004/23

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