Brazilian federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that for the first time they are filing criminal charges for abuses allegedly committed by government representatives during the country's 20-year military dictatorship.
Speaking at a news conference in the capital, Brasilia, prosecutors said they would file five kidnapping counts Wednesday against Sebastiao de Moura, a retired military man involved in repressing the leftist Araguaia guerrilla movement. The rural Communist group was crushed by government forces between 1972 and 1975; 62 of its members disappeared.
A federal judge will review the charges and determine whether the case should go to trial.
"This is tremendous news for the families who lost loved ones in the brutal repression that followed the 1964 military coup," said a statement from Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch. "A quarter century after Brazil's transition to democracy, they are still awaiting justice."
Brazil's 1979 amnesty law bars prosecutions for politically motivated crimes that were committed during the 1964-85 military regime.
But prosecutors argued Tuesday kidnappings and the hiding of bodies so the victims are never found are "permanent crimes." Since such crimes continue to the present, they fall outside the 1961-79 period covered by the amnesty law, federal prosecutor Tiago Rabelo said.
Rabelo said there is material proof, such as reports from the time and historical records, that show Moura participated in kidnappings. There are also numerous witnesses, he said.
"They all point to (Moura) as the author of the crimes," he said.
If charges are filed and Moura is found guilty, he could face up to 40 years in prison.
In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held the Brazilian government responsible for the forced disappearances of the 62 alleged members of the Araguaia guerrilla movement.
The prosecutors said other charges might be filed against Moura and others as the investigation continues into crimes committed against Araguaia militants.
"Whenever it is possible to prove without a doubt that the crime occurred and that an individual was responsible, these legal actions will be pursued," prosecutor Sergio Suiama said.