During a two-decade period of brutal dictatorship, in 1979, Brazilian church workers and dissenting lawyers found a loophole in the legal system allowing them to gather evidence of atrocities and other abuses committed by the military regime.
For the next six years, vital information recording the government’s crimes against the Brazilian people was surreptitiously photocopied and sent from Brasilia to São Paulo and beyond. The World Council of Churches (WCC), in cooperation with church leaders of many traditions, was a key supporter of gathering this documentation. Much of the material remains in the WCC archives in Geneva, Switzerland.
On 14 June 2011, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Brazilian Lutheran leader Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, who is moderator of the WCC central committee, and other Christian leaders will deliver to Brazil’s public prosecutors three archival cases containing copies of the WCC’s deposit of evidence recording this painful aspect of Brazilian history under the military rule of 1964-1985.
The formal ceremony of transfer will take place at the Public Prosecution Office in São Paulo, beginning at 2:30 pm local time. Among the speakers (see full schedule, below) are officials of church and government, including two representatives of ecumenical organizations who were among those tortured by the military.
The archival documents from Geneva will be examined by the public prosecutor’s staff and then entrusted to the Brazilian attorney general.
These pages from the WCC archives will assist federal prosecutors in replacing essential data that has gone missing from the files of the Superior Military Court.
Among the records that have vanished are accounts by political prisoners in which they denounced torture and named their torturers. As files are restored, the contents will be digitized and made widely available under the title “Brasil Nunca Mais [Brazil: Never Again] Digital”.
In July 1985, four months after the resumption of civilian rule, an account of 707 legal cases from the military era was published in Portuguese under the title “Brasil: Nunca Mais” and immediately became a best-seller.
The book was a distillation of much lengthier court proceedings covering 6,891 pages. “Brasil: Nunca Mais”, a mere 312 pages, was reprinted 20 times in just over two years and is now in its 37th edition. The authors of the book’s prefaces were Roman Catholic Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of São Paulo and the Rev. Dr Philip Potter, then the WCC general secretary.
The Rev. Charles R. Harper, who served from 1973 to 1992 as coordinator of the WCC programme on human rights in Latin America, has described the role of churches in their accompaniment of movements that confronted dictatorships during the so-called “dirty wars” of the time. In Harper’s book, “O Acompanhamento: Ecumenical Action for Human Rights in Latin America 1970-1990” (WCC Publications, 2006), he tells the stories of Christian resistance in Brazil and six neighbouring countries.
Harper recalls, “The WCC had already developed links within the ecumenical community in Brazil. It was involved in collecting reports of illegal detention and torture from the early 1970s. Through its Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, it had circulated this information on abuses and torture to appropriate United Nations bodies and concerned governments world-wide.”
Of the collection of court records Harper says, “By 1980 the project was in high gear. It was carried out in utmost secrecy. Lawyers working with the team applied for the files under the pretext of preparing amnesty submissions. The documents were photocopied and returned without the suspicion of the authorities and transported urgently to a central, hidden collating warehouse in São Paulo.”
A national tribute is being planned in honour or in memory of those who preserved and later publicized the court proceedings, including Arns, Presbyterian pastor Jaime Wright, Ricardo Kotscho, Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo (Frei Beto), Luiz Eduardo Greenhalgh, Luis Carlos Sigmaringa Seixas, Paul Vannuchi and Eny Raimundo Moreira. The schedule for the event, in Portuguese, is available at http://www.prr3.mpf.gov.br/noticias/convite_repatriacao-acervo/
Schedule for the presentation of WCC archival material to Brazil
The handing over of archival documents will take place at the auditorium of the Public Prosecution Office of São Paulo, 2:30 -6:30 pm, on Tuesday, 14 June.
There will be formal greetings from:
- Bishop Julio Murray, president of the Latin American Council of Churches
- Bishop Manoel João Francisco, president of the National Council of Christian Churches
- Pedro Gontijo, executive secretary of the National Commission for Peace and Justice
- Rev. Dr Walter Altmann, moderator of the WCC Central Committee
Two testimonies of persons who suffered torture during the dictatorship and who today occupy key positions in the ecumenical movement in Brazil:
- Eliana Rolemberg, a member of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB) and executive director of the Ecumenical Coordination Service CESE, an ACT Alliance member organization
- Anivaldo Pereira Padilha, a member of the Methodist Church in Brazil (IMB) and staff of the ACT Alliance member organization Koinonia
Speeches will be given by:
- James Simon, from the Center for Research Libraries
- Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary
- Sidney Beraldo, chief of staff of the São Paulo State government office
- Senator Pedro Taques
- Roberto Monteiro Gurgel Santos, General Prosecutor of the Republic
Website of the WCC Library and Archives: