Story highlights

It is the first time authorities have filed a criminal case over dictatorship abuses

Human Rights Watch describes the decision to prosecute as a "landmark step"

A former colonel is accused of his role in a crackdown that led to disappearances

Human Rights Watch: More than 475 people disappeared during Brazil's dictatorship

CNN —  

Brazilian prosecutors filed charges Wednesday against a former military official for his role in a crackdown that led to the forced disappearances of five guerrillas during the country’s dictatorship.

The filing marked the first time authorities have brought such a criminal case against a military official from the dictatorship, which spanned more than 20 years and ended in 1985.

Human Rights Watch described the decision as a “landmark step for accountability” in the South American country.

Col. Sebastiao Curio Rodrigues de Moura is accused of commanding troops that kidnapped and tortured five members of the Araguaia guerrilla movement in a 1974 crackdown, according to a complaint prosecutors filed in Brazilian federal court.

The five guerrillas’ whereabouts remain unknown, the complaint said.

Brazil’s military dictatorship is considered less violent than the those of neighboring countries like Argentina and Chile, but more than 475 people disappeared during Brazil’s dictatorship, and thousands were detained and tortured, according to Human Rights Watch.

A 1979 amnesty law implemented during the dictatorship had effectively stopped criminal prosecution for alleged human rights abuses that occurred during the dictatorship, Human Rights Watch said.

But in 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the amnesty law should not prevent authorities from investigating and prosecuting human rights violations committed during military rule.

“Since political leaders have failed to repeal the amnesty law, it is up to prosecutors and courts to ensure that Brazil fulfills its international obligation to bring to justice those who are responsible for past atrocities,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Tuesday.

CNN’s Shasta Darlington, Mariano Castillo and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.