Page last updated at 07:31 GMT, Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Brazil to probe its military past

By Jan Rocha
Sao Paulo

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - file photo from 4 October 2009
President Lula is set to make a formal announcement on 9 December

Twenty four years after the military left power in Brazil, the government is to create a Truth Commission to investigate crimes committed by the security forces between 1964 and 1985.

Brazil is the only country in Latin America which has not investigated deaths, disappearances and torture which took place during its dictatorship, or put alleged perpetrators on trial.

Although the number of victims is far smaller than those who died during military rule in neighbouring Argentina and Chile, nearly 500 people were killed or disappeared in Brazil. Thousands more were tortured, exiled or deprived of their political rights.

All attempts to bring people to justice have foundered on the blanket provisions of the 1979 Amnesty Law.

This not only authorised the release of political prisoners and the return of exiled opponents, but amnestied all political crimes and "connected crimes", which was understood to mean torture.

Now, just a year before he leaves office, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has decided to set up a commission to investigate crimes committed during the dictatorship. Several of his ministers were themselves arrested and tortured by the military.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Brazil's representative on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said that President Lula would formally announce his decision on 9 December.

The terms of the truth commission, its members and its powers, are not yet known.