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Repatriation of documents to the Brasil: Nunca Mais project

Speech by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in the public event for the repatriation of documents to the Brasil: Nunca Mais project.

14 June 2011

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary, World Council of Churches
São Paulo, Brazil,
14 June 2011

Your Excellency Attorney General Roberto Gurgel,

Your Excellency Senator Pedro Taques

Your Excellency Regional Prosecutor Marlon Weichert,

Dear victims and witnesses,

Dear representatives of Brazilian and Latin American Churches,

In Scripture, in Psalm 85:10, we find this basic and wonderful confession: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

It is an honour and I am humbled to be at this significant occasion, a solemn and holy moment for the whole Brazilian society and also for the ecumenical movement listening to those who have suffered and are a part of this movement.

Over the decades, the World Council of Churches has been involved in promoting just peace as our recent International Ecumenical Peace Convocation, held in Kingston, Jamaica, strongly reaffirmed two weeks ago.

Handing a copy of the files of the archives in Geneva, from the project Brasil: Nunca Mais, to the office of the Federal Prosecutor General is our way of contributing to the national memory of Brazil.

It is a conscious effort not-to-forget, or in positive terms, to remember. Not to forget and to remember are key in the process of reconciliation, of building just peace.

Today, we commemorate hundreds, thousands of victims of the dictatorship in Brazil. To remember, to be aware and to know what happened is not only a responsibility for the State and the international community. It is a right of the victims and the whole Brazilian society.

The right to truth is a sine qua non condition for achieving reconciliation and just peace. There is no true reconciliation without truth.

The World Council of Churches has contributed to many truth and reconciliation processes in various parts of the world. Truth commissions have been a powerful tool in addressing impunity on the way to reconciliation. They have become not so much an alternative but complement to criminal justice.

Referring to the issues of impunity and memory in his book “O Acompanhamento”, former WCC staff member Chuck Harper recalls a meeting of 30 people, in 2003, in Santiago de Chile, promoted both by the WCC and the Social Aid Foundation of the Christian Churches (FASIC) to reflect on the experiences of the churches and ecumenical organizations in Latin America during the dark years of military rule and repression.

The final document of that meeting states: “We affirm that impunity, in relation to human rights violations is a factor undermining institutions in our societies and democracy itself. It is not only a violation of international norms and conventions that lay obligations upon our States. No amnesty should be an obstacle to justice. The recovery of memory is a duty that any society has towards itself.”

Even the most successful truth and reconciliation commissions, like the ones in Guatemala or in South Africa, showed their limits when the root causes of social injustice are that basic human rights for certain groups like the indigenous peoples have not been addressed. Efforts made by the Brazilian government to reduce poverty, improve the health and education of the majority of the population are key to lasting just peace.

We are happy to see Brazilian Christian churches supporting this initiative of providing this documentation to the public. We must recognize that this has not been always the case. Reconciliation of a society requires that churches, too, confess and repent if they have supported violence or if they have been in complicity with regimes behind human rights violations and, in some cases, even genocide. Therefore it is with a humble disposition that we hand over these files.

I would also like to point to the meaning and importance of archives. These are spaces that hold and keep safe our memory, history, to make us able to tell the truth. And from Jesus Christ we learned that the truth shall set us free.

In this sense, it is an honour for the WCC to be part of this event and keep record of this process so that the documentation of what happened could be brought to the outside world and then it back to Brazil as was done in 1985 and is documented in the 12 volumes of Brasil: Nunca Mais. What we bring here today is the documentation of this process.

A special recognition is also due to those who risked their lives in this process. Things like these don’t happen without persons who have the courage and the vision to work for the truth to be brought forward and to find ways of cooperation to make it happen so that just peace can become a reality. This is how the ecumenical movement works in practice.

In this sense I would like to mention some names representing all those involved in this process:

  • Lawyer Eny Moreira, the first to come to the WCC headquarters to raise the concern about the court records in Brazil and to call for support for a project to collect this information.
  • Cardinal Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns
  • The Rev. Jaime Wright
  • The Rev. Charles R. Harper, who sends warm greetings to the participants of this event and was not able to be present here. His granddaughter Nina Harper is representing him.

Now, what does this story tell us today about the need for someone to tell the truth, to document the truth, and also willing to act on behalf of it? The story we are telling and celebrating today encourages and calls the churches in other parts of the world (for example, in the Middle East, Sudan or Colombia) to bring truth to the surface as a condition for bringing justice and reconciliation for all.

We need to stand together in this; we are called to be one. We, as the World Council of Churches, are committed to accompany one another today and tomorrow as we did here in Brazil 32 years ago. Now we need your support and your commitment to share what you’ve learned. Let us hope that what happens today is a true sign that justice and peace can kiss one another in Brazil and elsewhere in the world – in the one humanity. May it be so also in the future. Thank you.