Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed into law Friday a truth commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by the country's 21-year military regime.
Rousseff will appoint the seven members of the commission, which will have two years to complete a report.
The board will have subpoena power and can demand any document it wants from the government; it can put witnesses under oath, too.
But its recommendations won't result in any prosecutions as long as the country's 1979 amnesty law remains intact.
“This development shows Brazil’s commitment to addressing human rights at home, as well as elsewhere in the world,” Pillay said.
“It is an essential and welcome first step towards healing the country’s wounds and clarifying past wrongs," the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated in a press release.
Rousseff also signed the "information access law" giving Brazilians the right to obtain information from federal, state and municipal government agencies.
The law establishes a 50-year limit on the amount of time documents considered "ultra secret" can be kept locked up.
The youth and future generations must know the truth of our recent past when many people were arrested, tortured and killed.
- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
"These two laws commemorate transparency and celebrate truth," Rousseff said at the signing ceremony. "They represent a decisive step toward the consolidation of Brazil's democracy."
Rousseff is a former guerrilla who was arrested and tortured in prison during the dictatorship.
The armed forces backed the commission after being assured that it would investigate abuses committed by rebels as well as by the military. They were also assured that the amnesty law that released civilians and the military from liability for politically motivated crimes will remain unaltered.
A recent study by the Brazilian government said 475 people were killed or "disappeared" by agents of the military regime.
"The youth and future generations must know the truth of our recent past when many people were arrested, tortured and killed," Rousseff said. "The truth about our past must be known so that acts like these that stained our history are never again repeated."
Besides Rousseff, several leading figures in Brazil were imprisoned, tortured or exiled.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was briefly imprisoned for standing up to the government as a union leader, and his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, went into exile, as did singer Gilberto Gil, who later became culture minister.
“As a rising political and economic power, Brazil's clear acknowledgment of this is a very important development both in the region and at the global level," UN Commissioner Pillay said.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.