The Moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches has met with the Brazilian minister for human rights, Maria do Rosário, at her office in Brasília.
The main item on the agenda was the support of the WCC for the implementation of a truth commission in the country, expressed by the Rev Dr Walter Altmann on behalf of the world churches body.
The WCC has extensive experience of such commissions, and during a public act held in São Paulo on 14 June 2011, the ecumenical body handed over to Brazil’s Attorney General Roberto Gurgel, documents related to the project 'Brasil: Nunca Mais!' (BNM), which had been kept safe at the WCC library archives in Geneva since the 1970s.
The BNM project is a wide-ranging record of abuses perpetrated by the military dictatorship in Brazil from the 1960s to the 1980s.
At the hearing, Maria do Rosário was accompanied by her advisor, Dr Nadine Borges, who is in charge of legal affairs, and the Rev Marga Ströher, a Lutheran pastor who currently works at the Special Secretariat for Human Rights, which has ministerial status. Ströher is responsible for the Religious Diversity desk at do Rosário’s government ministry.
The minister showed appreciation for the WCC’s work, especially in the area of human rights. Altmann presented a few examples of places around the world where the WCC has played a decisive role in conflict mediation and truth commissions.
Dr Altmann, who was president of the Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil from 2002 to 2010, presented the minister a copy of O Acompanhamento, a book by former WCC staff member the Rev Charles R. Harper. The publication is a compilation of initiatives supported by the WCC to defend human rights in Latin America from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The creation of the truth commission was approved by the Brazilian senate and the measure will soon be signed into law by president Dilma Rousseff, who will appoint seven official members of the commission, as well as 21 advisors.
Nevertheless, terms of reference of the commission contain two provisions which limit the scope of action in its work. The first refers to the extension of a research period from 1946 to 1988 (when the current constitution was adopted), rather than from 1964 to 1985, the period of military dictatorship. The other provision is that the commission has no authority to bring cases to the court. Such a provision has been strongly criticised by several civil society organisations.
Dr Altmann evaluated the meeting as positive, both with the minister and other cabinet members.
He declared: “The WCC and the Brazilian ecumenical movement may have a kairos for a new contribution in the field of human rights in Brazil. The country has progressed in many areas, economically and socially, but is still very much behind neighbouring countries in disclosing the tragic events of our past during the military dictatorship.”
“On the basis of past experience, particularly with the project BNM, we may have an opportunity to contribute significantly to a process of searching for truth in Brazil. The commission on truth is an opportunity and a significant step in the field of human rights,” he added.