January 21, 2018
Sunday, March 23, 2014

520 sentences for state terrorism

For decades, human rights groups have been seeking justice for crimes committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff

Trials make progress despite judicial obstacles, Prosecutor Jorge Auat says

The 38th anniversary of the last Argentine military coup emerges as a chance to take stock of the judicial process continued after Congress quashed the amnesty laws in 2003. The Attorney General’s office yesterday revealed that 520 people have been convicted of  crimes against humanity and that investigations also include civilians, such as businesspeople, media owners and judges.

Since 2012, prosecutors have paid special attention to the role played by those who were not part of the Armed Forces during the state terrorism and some investigations have started to make progress. For instance, this week the owner of daily La Nueva Provincia Vicente Massot appeared in court to testify over the murders of two printshop workers in Bahía Blanca.

“There is no special strategy to investigate cases involving civilians,” Jorge Auat, the head of the Attorney-General’s office for crimes against humanity, yesterday explained to the Herald.

“As investigations make progress, more people involved in these crimes appear, including civilians and businessmen. But it was hard to get here, as we came across opposition from several courts,” he made it clear.

Judicial complicity

On Friday, the Defence Ministry headed by Agustín Rossi published minutes from the junta governments discovered last year. During several meetings in 1983, the military studied various several possibilities to go unpunished, including a propaganda plan to explain to the population the “importance of the war against terrorism.” They did not succeed. Clear evidence of that is that by March, 2014, there are 520 people sentenced for crimes against humanity and that 1,135 others have been indicted for those offences.

Trials for crimes committed during the last dictatorship started in 2006, three years after the Congress had declared null and void the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws — which prevented the military from being taken to court — and one after the Supreme Court defined the offences as crimes against humanity, thus not subject to the statute of limitations.

“Obstacles included, for example, trials against one or two perpetrators, making it impossible to judge them all in less than 50 years,” exemplified Auat. His concern was also shared by several human rights groups during those years.

For him, what explained that reluctance was the links between the judiciary and the dictatorship, links which are currently being examined by courts.

“That was a recycled civil complicity. First, they were linked to the facts and then they were involved in the judicial investigations,” the head of the prosecutors investigating crimes against humanity said.

The role of four judges is currently being examined by a tribunal in Mendoza province, including former judges Luis Miret and Otilio Romano, who last year was extradited from Chile. The only judge who was convicted for his role in the dictatorship’s concentration camps was Víctor Hermes Brusa, who was given 21 years in a court in Rosario, Santa Fe province. Pedro Hooft, accused of being involved with the death squads operating in the city of Mar del Plata, is now before an impeachment tribunal.

Three other judges in Chaco and La Rioja provinces are closer to trial, the office headed by Attorney-General Alejandra Gils Carbó informed yesterday.

Business is not only business

Last year, Judge Alicia Vence indicted three former managers of Ford Co. automaker for the abductions of several workers which took place in the plant located in General Pacheco, Buenos Aires province. On Wednesday, Judge Julio Leonardo Bavio referred businessman Marcos Jacobo Levín to an oral court. The owner of transport company La Veloz del Norte is expected to be the first businessman to be tried in court, accused of instigating two abductions.

In August, 2013, the Salta’s Federal Appeals Court confirmed Ledesma sugar-mill owner Carlos Pedro Blaquier’s indictment but he seems further from appearing in court.

The Attorney-General’s Office yesterday reminded that there are some ongoing investigations regarding the role played by the managers of Fiat automaker in Córdoba province, steel company Acindar and Molinos Río de la Plata food company during the military government which ruled the country between 1976 and 1983 and caused around 30,000 forced disappearances.

Sexual crimes

As the Herald reported in January, the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) revealed in its survey that during the last year only three percent of the investigations were focussed on sexual crimes, mostly suffered by women in the dictatorship’s clandestine detention centres.

“We also found ourselves before tribunals that were not ready to understand nor judge this type of offences,” Auat told the Herald. “Sometimes they wanted to silence the victims who were recalling their traumatic experiences or they just revealed their morbid curiosity,” the head of the prosecutors acting in cases of crimes against humanity also said.

n the courts, there has been a discussion whether to consider sexual offences as a specific crime or to put it under the broader category of torture. In 2011, that discussion was settled, when the Prosecutor’s Unit for cases of Human Rights Violations issued a resolution urging the judges and prosecutors to consider rape and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity. The unit headed by criminal Prosecutor Javier De Luca’s aim was to make these offences visible for the rest of the legal operators.

“If those crimes remain invisible, that’s a way to grant impunity to perpetrators,” Auat said.

Convictions and jailbreaks

According to the Attorney-General’s office, there are 927 people convicted for crimes committed during state terrorism: 62.4 percent of them are held in penitentiary units, whereas 36 percent of them are under house arrest. Only one percent of them are in military units and less than 0.5 percent in hospitals.

According to the state-run news agency Télam, there have been 73 fugitives among those sentenced or indicted for crimes against humanity. Last year, two repressors escaped from the Central Military Hospital Cosme Argerich in the City’s neighbourhood of Palermo. After that escape, the Justice Ministry headed by Julio Alak decided to limit the number of repressors in hospitals in order to prevent other escapes.

In November 2013, a repressor from Bahía Blanca, Alejandro Lawless, managed to escape from police custody in Buenos Aires City. That time, he was being guarded by the Airport Security Police (PSA), the only security force created during democracy, and human rights organizations said that the escape was possible thanks to the force’s collusion.

Seven years after the trials were re-opened, there are many improvements as well as pending issues, such as finding the remains of thousands of disappeared people or the 400 missing children snatched from their mothers in captivity.

“The importance of these proceedings is constructing a social memory so that this never happens again,” concluded Auat.

Tomorrow, in the 38th anniversary of the country’s bloodiest coup, thousands of people will take to the streets to pursue that goal.


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