President Lula da Silva Sends Draft FOI Bill to Congress
National Archive Launches Website with Historical Records from Dictatorship
Recent developments in Brazil have fueled a growing debate on open government, historical memory, and truth and justice initiatives in the country. On May 13, 2009, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva sent a long-awaited draft Access to Information Bill to Congress, acting on his 2006 campaign promise to enact a freedom of information law by the end of his term. The law is now being reviewed by Brazil’s two houses of Congress and continues to be scrutinized by international and domestic FOI advocates alike.
On the positive side, advocates point to the comprehensive nature in the law, and the fact that it covers the executive, as well as the legislative and the judicial branches of government. On the negative side, the bill does not contain measures for the creation of an independent body to oversee implementation or agency compliance with the law. This is disconcerting to open government supporters who uphold independent oversight as a critical mechanism for handling legal challenges related to citizens’ information requests. Advocates still hope the Brazilian Congress will consult with the public over these concerns before the bill is passed into law (see Article 19, May 13, 2009 press release).
The next major initiative also came on May 13, 2009, with the National Archive launching a virtual website; Memrias Reveladas (Memories Revealed) contains secret records from Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-1985). The historical archives contain documents, videos, photos, and a database with information from the period of military rule. Some of the primary source government records include documents from the extinct National Information Service (SIN), National Security Council (CSN), the Department of Political and Social Order (Dops), among other agencies (according to Agncia Brasil). President Lula da Silva announced that the release of the files would help “debunk some mysteries,” about the dictatorship years and “strengthen democracy” in Brazil. Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s pick as the Worker’s Party (PT) candidate in next year’s presidential race, also stated that the release of the archives marks an end to Brazil’s “culture of state secrecy.”
Nevertheless, human rights groups continue to call on the government to open up the entire historical record from the years of dictatorship, especially the files belonging to the Armed Forces. The Brazilian military institution is tied to human rights violations believed responsible for at least 140 cases of illegal detentions and forced disappearances. Victoria Grabois, from the group Tortura nunca Mais (No More Torture) told the Associate Press that it’s important for the government to do more to make available the military and police files containing information on past human rights crimes. “Brazil is the furthest behind [in opening its archives],” Grabois said, “Every other country has done more.” (AP article)
Fórum de Direito de Acesso a Informações Públicas (Forum for Right to Public Information)
Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais – GTNM-RJ (No More Torture)
Arquivo Nacional (Brazil’s National Archive)
Memrias Reveladas (Memories Revealed)
Presidncia da Repblica (Presidential website)
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