Friday, 2 October 2009

Brazil: Too Much Focus on Dictatorship Legacy?

Those who died and "disappeared" during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship in Brazil represent a mere "one percent of the agenda" of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights (SEDH), but captivate "99 percent of the attention of the press," complained Human Rights Secretary Paulo Vannuchi.
The Secretariat also seeks to ensure the rights of young people, gays, indigenous citizens, and others - but the newspapers only want to hear about disappearances and torturers.

This is an interesting point which I have considered before. Implicit in it seems to be the idea that these 'past' crimes distract from (more pressing?) current human rights issues. To this I would say that to posit torture and disappearances as 'past' and other forms of discrimination - against the indigenous, say - as 'present' is a false dichotomy. For one thing, disappearance is a continuous crime; a person is not disappeared and then the crime is over. As long as the whereabouts of the victim, dead or alive, is not resolved and the family has no answers, the crime continues and thus is continually in the present. That's why there is no statute of limitations for disappearances. That's not just my opinion - it's Article III of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.

For another, these 'other' forms of discrimination were often ALSO present during periods of state terrorism. It's known that Jews were disproportionately victimised during the Argentine dictatorship and that their torturers expressed specifically anti-Semitic sentiment. Racism against the indigenous population was a huge part of political violence in Peru and also allowed the mestizo middle classes to turn a blind eye to it for so long. So it is really impossible to separate the two.

Finally, although Brazil is hardly my specialist subject, I was under the impression that it not one of the best examples of a country that has thoroughly examined its past and rooted out impunity, so it's not as if the topic has been completely exhausted and it's time to move on.

I can understand Vannuchi's frustration at only a certain aspect of his work being publicised, however. Obviously there are many worthy causes out there. Perhaps he is right to call for more balance from the media, but I personally see it as a hopeful sign that these 'historical' abuses continue to receive attention. The country that forgets its past is condemned to repeat it, as the cliche goes...

Brazil: The Long Shadow of the Dictatorship (IPS)

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