Vance Center Supports Amicus Filing Challenging Brazil’s Amnesty Law

April 2022

The Human Rights and Access to justice Program contributed to a recently-filed amicus brief challenging the application of Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law to crimes against humanity. The case comes in a year when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a defender of the 1964 – 1985 military dictatorship sheltered by the amnesty law, faces re-election.

In the current context of deteriorating rule of law, endemic impunity, and rising violence in Brazil, the Instituto Vladimir Herzog (“Instituto”) and the Vance Center are working together to achieve accountability for crimes of the dictatorship. This includes supporting the Instituto’s challenge to the Brazilian amnesty law as amici before the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court (“STF” by its Brazilian initials) in ADPF 320 with pro bono representation from the law firm of Mattos Filho, Veiga Filho, Marrey Jr. e Quiroga Advogados. The submission before the STF argues that, under well-established international law principles, the amnesty law does not apply to grave human rights violations like those that occurred during the dictatorship.

The Human Rights Program contributed to the amicus brief as experts on international comparative precedents on transitional justice and amnesty laws. The Program analyzed international law and comparative experiences as they relate to amnesty and crimes against humanity, in particular looking at the cases of Argentina, Guatemala, and Colombia. Although at this time the STF has not set a hearing date, recent revelations proving that the Superior Military Court had knowledge of the occurrence of torture and arbitrary arrests during the dictatorship could put pressure on the STF to accelerate the process. It is expected that once it sets a trial date, it will invite amici to participate in oral arguments.

This amicus brief is one of a number of initiatives on transitional justice and the amnesty law that the Vance Center is pursuing with the Instituto, including raising awareness in Brazil about, the first-ever criminal proceedings where a court of law found a former member of the Brazilian military regime responsible for crimes committed during the dictatorship.