WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
7 Dec 2012 | News

The United States Should Declassify Documents Relevent to the Work of the Brazilian Truth Commission

On December 6, WOLA, the National Security Archive, and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) delivered a letter,included below, to Mr. Ricardo Zuniga, the Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council, urging the United States to declassify documents that could be useful to the Brazilian Truth Commission. The United States has cooperated with many other Latin American Truth Commissions in the past that sought to shed light on human rights violations committed by past military governments, and we hope the the United States will support the work of the Brazilian Truth Commission to the extent possible.



Mr. Ricardo Zuniga                                                                                        December 6, 2012
Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere
National Security Council
Old Executive Office Building
1700 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Zuniga:

On May 16, 2012, President Dilma Rousseff appointed a Brazilian Truth Commission to officially investigate and report on the human rights violations committed during the era of military rule. As you know from being posted in Brasília, the creation of the Truth Commission marks a significant moment in Brazil’s political history, and reflects a serious effort to provide an official accounting of that country’s human rights abuses of the past.

Like other Latin American Truth Commissions, Brazil’s has officially requested assistance from the United States in the form of a review and declassification of still classified U.S. documentation related to the human rights cases and military agencies that the Commission is investigating. It is our understanding that in September the Brazilian Foreign Ministry transmitted a formal letter to President Obama from the Commission, which cited the principle of the Open Government Partnership and the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights to appeal for his administration’s support in identifying and providing State, DOD, CIA, FBI, AID, and other agency documents that would assist their mission. The letter included an annex identifying specific human rights cases and individuals for which the Commission seeks documentation.

As human rights organizations we have supported, and applauded, the special declassifications of U.S. documents under previous administrations—the release of historical evidence that has significantly advanced the cause of truth and justice for human rights victims in Latin America. The Clinton administration’s declassification project on Chile, for example, resulted in the release of 24,000 CIA, DOD, FBI, NSC, and State Department documents that have been used by victims, their families, lawyers, and judges in human rights cases, as well as students and scholars. The Bush administration’s release of over 5,000 sensitive State Department documents on repression by the military in Argentina have made a similar contribution to the pursuit of legal and historical accountability in that country. The United States provided the Guatemalan Truth Commission with CIA, State, Defense, and other multi-agency records. For the Peru Truth Commission, the State Department did an expedited release of hundreds of important cables and memos. The cumulative result of these special declassifications has been a substantive U.S. contribution to human rights, accountability, justice and the strength of democratic institutions across the region.

It is our belief that those causes, and U.S. foreign policy interests in those causes, will be advanced in Latin America’s largest nation if the Obama administration authorizes a multi-agency review and declassification of relevant records on Brazil. Due to the nature of the repression in Brazil, and the fact that much of it occurred before human rights became a reporting requirement for the State Department, other agencies such as the Defense Department and CIA, and even FBI are likely to have relevant records that have yet to be declassified, despite the lengthy passage of time. Although Brazil’s Truth Commission will address human rights violations spanning more than two decades, their request to President Obama addresses specific, finite cases that should lend themselves to a manageable special declassification project.

We would like to support Brazil’s Truth Commission to the maximum extent possible. For that reason, we would like to further brief you, at your earliest convenience, on the importance of providing the Commission with historical U.S. records that contain information relevant for their investigation. With your permission, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive will follow up this letter with a call to your office to see if such a meeting is possible in the near future.

Thank you for the work you have done on Brazil in the past, and the work you can do on Brazil in the future.


Joy Olson
Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Peter Kornbluh
Brazil Documentation Project
National Security Archive

Viviana Krsticevic
Executive Director
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)