The United Nations human rights office today welcomed the prosecution of a retired Brazilian army colonel for disappearances during the country?s military dictatorship as a ?first and crucial step? in fighting the impunity that surrounds that period.

Prosecutors in Brazil announced this week that they will charge Sebasti?o Curi? Rodrigues de Moura with aggravated kidnapping in relation to the disappearance of five members of the Araguaia guerrilla movement who were detained in 1974. The charges must still be approved by a judge before the case can go to trial.

?This is a long-awaited development towards accountability for the hundreds of people who disappeared during the 21-year dictatorship and who remain unaccounted for,? Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.

?We are hopeful that the Brazilian judiciary will uphold the fundamental rights of the victims to truth and justice by allowing this very important criminal prosecution to go forward,? he added.

This is the first time that Brazil is prosecuting human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship period, according to OHCHR. Previous attempts have been blocked by interpretations of the 1979 amnesty law.

That law was struck down in 2010 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled that it is invalid and that criminal investigations and prosecutions must proceed.

Last November High Commissioner Navi Pillay welcomed the creation of a Truth Commission to investigate human rights abuses committed during military rule, calling it ?an essential and welcome first step towards healing the country?s wounds and clarifying past wrongs.? She had also encouraged Brazil to take measures to facilitate prosecutions and repeal the amnesty law.

?In general, there is a positive trend in the region towards justice for crimes against humanity committed during military regimes,? Mr. Colville noted. Examples include Guatemala, which recently announced it will try a former military ruler and, just this week, sentenced a former special forces soldier to prison for murder and crimes against humanity committed in 1982.

In addition, Uruguay has overturned a de facto amnesty law and Argentina has handed down hundreds of rulings to perpetrators of gross human rights violations.

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