Book chapter

Gender and Memory in Truth Projects in Brazil (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Truth commissions have become common instruments to document human rights violations for societies emerging from authoritarian violence around the world since the 1980s. First appearing as mechanisms to attempt to address rights violations and to pursue reconciliation or justice in the aftermath of Latin American dictatorships that ended in the 1980s and early 1990s, such commissions and their published reports became important tools for societies transitioning from authoritarianism and for addressing the state's past rights violations in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America. These commissions, and the reports they issue, serve to recognize the state's responsibility in violence and repression. Such reports can be an important factor in uncovering the truth of repression and the experiences and voices of victims, victims' family members, and survivors. These reports also often address reconciliation and even justice for victims, though such reports' successes in these areas are more mixed. Nonetheless, truth commission reports and other truth projects from non-governmental organizations are important artifacts in documenting the repressive past for societies transitioning from authoritarian regimes.As important as such reports—from states and from non-governmental organizations alike—are, they are also a product of their particular historical, political, and social milieus. Consequently, truth project reports are important artifacts in understanding both the violently repressive past and resistance to it, and the historical moment in which such reports on that past are produced. Memory is especially integral in the production of such documents. The voices of survivors and of victims' families allow previously silenced memories to gain public expression, even while their framing and use of language reflects the ways power operates in memory and in transitional societies. As a result, scholars can treat such reports not just as documents of authoritarian repression, but as snapshots of societies addressing transitional justice. These moments and documents not only seek to thoroughly narrate past repression; they reflect power relations at the very moment of a report's production. As a study of these types of reports—non-governmental and official—in Brazil reveal, such documents can thus be read for expressions of power along gendered lines. The result is an ability to read truth reports both as a document detailing repression within and resistance to authoritarian regimes, and how memory serves as a site for the intersection of power along gendered, class-based, or other social markers present in the use of language, narrative structures, and memories of repression and resistance in a post-authoritarian setting.