Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra

15.03.2013 ( Last modified: 20.02.2018 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra was born in 1932.

Between September 1970 and January 1974, he was the commander of the Center for Operations for International Defense, also known as the Sao Paulo secret police.

After the overthrow of the democratically elected Brazilian government of Joao Goulart in 1964, the country was ruled by the military for a period of two decades. The Brazilian generals justified the coup by the communist threat, and rapidly issued a decree suspending the political rights of suspected subversives. Numerous anti-revolutionary armed groups formed in response to the military dictatorship. The Constitution was suspended, the Congress dissolved and thousands were arrested for political dissent.

About 500 Brazilians are believed to have been killed and thousands imprisoned or tortured by the military and police forces between 1964 and 1985.

In his role as the chief of the secret police, Brilhante Ustra was alleged to have been responsible for acts of torture committed against political dissidents while they were detained by the secret police.

Brilhante Ustra wrote two books, entitled “A Verdade Sufocada” (“The Suffocated Truth”) and “Rompendo o Silêncio” (“Breaking the Silence”) in which he refuted theses accusations, denying the fact that he ever personally participated in torture sessions

In 1979, a broad amnesty law was declared for all “crimes related to politics or committed with a political motivation”, which was interpreted over the years as encompassing armed guerrillas and the military alike.

In 2005, the Teles, a family of five, which had been imprisoned for 11 months between 1972 and 1973, filed a civil action against Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra in a Sao Paulo state court.


legal procedure

In 2005, the Teles, a family of five, which had been imprisoned for 11 months between 1972 and 1973, filed a civil action against Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra in a Sao Paulo state court.

In his decision to accept the Teles case, the Judge wrote that the 1979 amnesty applied only to criminal prosecutions and not to civil lawsuits.

On 9 October 2008, the Court found that Brilhante Ustra was guilty of torturing three members of this family, while he was chief of the Sao Paulo secret police. The Court found that Brilhante Ustra not only knew that his subordinates were torturing detainees, but that he personally took part in it.

It was also underlined that the crime of torture is imprescriptible.

In August 2008, relatives of another alleged victim of Brilhante Ustra also instituted a civil procedure against him, for the torture and subsequent death of their brother and spouse. But in September 2008, the Sao Paulo second instance jurisdiction put an end to the proceedings, on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked the proper right to sue, and that judges could not apply criminal law in a civil law procedure.

The Teles case hence created a notable precedent, being the first time in Brazil that a court issued a finding that a military officer had taken part in torture during the period of military rule.

However, due to the 1979 Amnesty Law, Brilhante Ustra was exempted from a prison term or calls for compensation. The verdict therefore amounted merely to a formal declaration of responsibility for torture.

The 2008 ruling was appealed by Brilhante Ustra, arguing the validity of the amnesty law and the prescription of the crime. On 15 August 2012, the Justice Court of Sao Paulo, rejected the appeal as inadmissible. The Court found that the Amnesty Law does not contemplate the civil jurisdiction and that torture is not subject to statutory limitation, therefore upheld the judgment.

In June 2012, Brilhante Ustra was also sentenced to pay compensation to the journalist Luiz Eduardo da Rocha Merlino’s wife and sister, for moral damages. Merlino was arrested on 15 July 1971, and died four days later.




In 1964, a military dictatorship was established in Brazil by a coup. The military junta remained in power until 1985.

In the years 1970, the Brazilian government joined Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia, all governed by dictatorial regimes and all controlled by the CIA, to coordinate their efforts in order to eliminate political opponents, regularly subjecting them to torture. In that context of persecutions, violence was used in a systematical way to exterminate the “communist world”.

This plan, called “Operation Condor”, operated in three major ways: the activities of political monitoring of dissident political refugees and people in exile, secret counter-insurrectional actions and joint actions of extermination directed against specific groups or individuals, for which special teams of killers operating in and outside the borders were formed (also in Europe and the United States). The opponents were placed in clandestine detention centers.

As from 1964, many revolutionary groups organize resistance against the military power in Brazil. Most of them are formed in student circles, such as the ALN (Action for National Liberation) or the MR-8 (Revolutionary Movement of 8 October). Those two groups condemn the American support to the military dictatorships in Latin America and they participate in various guerilla actions.


On 18 November 2011, the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, herself formerly tortured and detained for three years under the military junta, passed a law creating a Truth Commission to investigate hundreds of allegations of torture and of enforced disappearances committed under the military junta.

However, this Truth Commission does not have the power to condemn anybody since the military are still protected by an amnesty law voter in 1979, granting impunity for all crimes committed before 1979. The High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations strongly criticized the persistence of this law.

In November 2010, in the case Gomes Lund, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said that the amnesty law was not compatible with the American Convention on Human Rights, that it did not have any juridical effect and that it should not constitute anymore an obstacle to investigations, trials of persons allegedly involved in human rights violation and to the condemnation of those found guilty. This law is however still in force in Brazil.


©2020 trialinternational.org | All rights reserved | Disclaimer | Statutes | Designed and Produced by ACW