January 23, 2018

Carlos Rozanski, federal judge

Sunday, March 16, 2014

‘No one was prepared for a forced disappearance during democracy’

Carlos Rozanski
Carlos Rozanski
Carlos Rozanski
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
Born: September 6,1951, Boedo, just opposite San Lorenzo’s former stadium.

Studies: State primary and secondary school, Law at the University of Buenos Aires.

Position: Federal judge who heads the Criminal Oral Court Number 1 in La Plata

Newspapers: Página/12, La Nación, Tiempo Argentino and Clarín.

Radio: On my way to the court building, I listen to Nelson Castro.

Currently reading:
Cara a cara con el psicópata by Vicente Garrido Genovés

Carlos Rozanski is now a well-known face in the country and abroad for his role in the trials for massive human rights violations during the last dictatorship, but he was also the judge who had to kick off these proceedings in 2006. In that trial against Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, the Buenos Aires province police’s number 2 during state terrorism, survivor Jorge Julio López was forcibly disappeared. His absence is a stark reminder for a judge who is currently leading the trial for crimes committed in the clandestine detention centre known as “La Cacha.”

Rozanski started his career in Bariloche, where he became judge. Then he moved to the city of La Plata after obtaining the highest mark in the selection process at the Magistrates Council. In 2006, he first said that the crimes committed by the dictatorship could be defined as genocide, a longstanding claim within the Argentine society.

Before a hearing, he kindly welcomed the Herald in his office and started by talking about the days when he was a reporter. On the beat for Telemóvil, a show on Channel 13, he covered the 1985 trial against the first three junta members.

Did you ever imagine that you would be leading these trials when you were a TV reporter covering the trial against the juntas?

Well, I was 34 and I was a lawyer. As it happened to many people, the trial against the junta members showed me many things that I did not know. Then, as time went by, I learned many other things until the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws were passed and a presidential pardon was granted to those involved in the dictatorship. That was something we had to analyze and try to assimilate. Then I became a lawyer in the Criminal Appeals Court in Bariloche, Río Negro province. Even then, I never thought I could be leading these trials as a judge. It’s a very complex role.

Why do you say that?

The problem is not realizing what happened. As Piero says in one of his songs “Things tell their own story, the important thing is to know how to look at them.” Over the past few years, that has not been a problem for me, though I found many obstacles in the system. Judges have an enormous responsibility because their decisions affect people’s lives. The system also has one, which is to define who are the judges that society expects to have. That is why we should improve the selection of judges, taking into account the priorities of societies.

Were you ever moved by any particular testimony you heard?

Many times. It is not true to say that a judge is not moved by testimonies. He or she is a human being listening to human tragedies. Accepting that judges are human beings is also a pending issue. Once, in Bariloche (Supreme Court Justice Eugenio) Zaffaroni told me that the worst thing that can happen to a judge is believing that he is his position.

How do you remember the trial against former police chief Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, the first after the amnesty laws were declared unconstitutional?

In 2004, we held a trial for a case of appropriation in which Etchecolatz and medical doctor Jorge Bergés were the defendants. Even though both of them were sentenced, we never thought that the 2006 proceeding was going to be possible. That trial signified a turning point in our legal system.


Because what Argentine society had been thinking and demanding for three decades finally took place. The Executive appointed a particular Supreme Court, the Legislative nullified the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws and the highest tribunal in 2005 declared them unconstitutional. The three state branches represent Argentine society. This landmark was the result of a permanent social demand, which appeared with the trial against the junta members and was then truncated by the two laws that prevented the perpetrators from being taken to court and then by the presidential pardons. This has been a gradual process.

What has happened since then?

It has been eight difficult years. In 2006, we reached this achievement, which also jolted the region because the trials in Argentina reminded neighbouring countries that they also had dictatorships and massive human rights violations. But at the time, they were far from taking people to court. For many of us, 2006 signified a huge challenge, which included the first trial, Jorge Julio López’s forced disappearance, the threats against judges and prosecutors and the problem of having a legal system that was not prepared to deal with massive human rights violations.

A Penal Code draft is currently in the president’s hands and includes the crime of genocide...

Without this reform, were are leading trials for the most serious crimes that are not subject to statutory limitations, even though the current Penal Code does not cover these crimes. But today no one would doubt that crimes against humanity are not subject to statutory limitations. In 2006, our dilemma was how to define what had happened during the dictatorship and if we agreed that it had been a genocide. The decision was not to apply the legal concept of genocide because it could risk the entire process, but we thought it was neither fair nor honest to not call a spade a spade. That is why we said that the crimes were committed within the parameters of a genocide. That ruling has been ratified by the Supreme Court and has now become a judicial truth.

How did Julio López’s second forced disappearance affect you? Years ago, his relatives filed a complaint against you, the judge who was investigating, his lawyers and the plaintiff for not protecting him.

It is hard. As the system was not prepared for these trials, neither were we. We did not study at school what to do if we were threatened. Threats continue to this day. No one is prepared to listen to a witness delivering a testimony and for that witness to be forcibly disappeared soon after. This tragedy has two sides: the victim and his family, on the one hand; on the other, this irradiates to the rest of society, starting with those who take part in the trials. It was unthinkable that a person was going to be forcibly disappeared during democracy. Regarding the family, I would have expected another attitude because when López was disappeared, there wasn’t any request filed demanding anything and that’s how the legal system works. Personally, I have to face intimidations and some from the media. This isn’t any old thing but an economic issue.


The genocidal process in Argentina had an economic purpose, so it was necessary to disappear those who might object it. If we don’t remember this, we won’t understand many things. Business interests were and still are enormous.

In your 2012 ruling, you mentioned daily La Nación as having threatened you and the other judges...

Yes, we filed a complaint against La Nación because we received implicit intimidations from the editorials published days before the ruling was delivered.

Two weeks ago, the daily also devoted an editorial to former dictatorship minister Jaime Smart...

I cannot comment on that because we are in the middle of a trial. In 2012, we found it odd that such an important daily published two editorial pieces in favour of a defendant. Then, there was an editorial against me. That was not democratic at all. Just because you are a journalist it doesn’t mean you are a democrat; what makes you one is what you write. When you intimidate someone else, there is a position behind that.

Is there any pending issue in the trials, such as investigating sexual crimes?

That’s a very complex issue because it has been anesthetized for many years. The victim should be at the centre of our attention. The person who gets the timing and pace of an investigation should be the victim. The system has to be respectful. If we are not aware of this, we won’t understand why maybe a victim mentions a rape only in her 10th testimony. For instance, Virginia Woolf could only talk about the abuse she suffered when she was 54-years-old, long before committing suicide. The challenge is putting the victims at the centre of the proceeding without negatively affecting due process, without establishing hierarchies or demons.

Did the trials against dictatorship perpetrators modify the judiciary?

It is hard to know because the judiciary is the most conservative and reactionary state branch. In fact, the other two are renewed much often and the judiciary sometimes takes 100 years to be renewed. It is difficult to see changes but human rights conventions should be respected every day and everywhere. If justice is democratic, people will notice it everywhere.

Should judges reform the judiciary?

It is materially impossible to have an institution reform itself without an external and interdisciplinary approach. The Police cannot reform itself. Neither can we as an institution. We are bound to practices that have to be modified. But we can certainly contribute to the discussion.

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