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Brazil commission wants to visit ex-torture center

August 23, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Rio de Janeiro Truth Commission that is investigating human rights abuses under Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship said Friday it will ask the Defense Ministry for permission to visit a building that once housed prison cells and torture chambers.

Commission spokesman Cid Benjamin said that earlier this week the Army barred its group’s members from entering the building where the now defunct political intelligence agency was once based. It now houses a military police battalion.

“It was Rio’s main torture center during the dictatorship,” said Benjamin, adding that the commission would like to convert it into a memorial center.

The Army said in a statement it did not find “legal justification to allow a commission created by a state law to enter premises administered by the executive branch.”

President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla who was imprisoned for more than three years and tortured during the dictatorship, signed legislation establishing the commission in 2011. Conservative segments of the military resisted the move, expressing concern that the current left-leaning government would use it for revenge.

The commission’s final report won’t lead to prosecutions because a 1979 law granted amnesty for political crimes committed during the dictatorship era. But the commission has subpoena powers, and public servants and military personnel must legally cooperate with it.

Advocates say it is essential to investigate who was involved in torture, murders and disappearances if Brazil is to move forward.

The South American countries of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, which also had repressive military regimes, have punished people involved in abuses.

A Brazilian government study in 2011 found that 475 people were killed or “disappeared” by agents of the previous military regime.

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