French court agrees on extradition
A Paris Appeals Court agreed to extradite alleged repressor Mario Sandoval yesterday to stand trial in Argentina over the kidnapping of a student who was last seen in the infamous Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) that operated as a clandestine detention centre during the country’s last military dictatorship.
Sandoval now has five days to file an appeal before the Cassation Court, which is seen as a conservative tribunal, and then the French government will have to agree to the extradition. Human rights lawyer Sophie Thonon, who represented Argentina in the proceedings, celebrated the decision but told the Herald that the Cassation Court will be a challenging hurdle.
In Buenos Aires City, the mother and sisters of the disappeared student — Hernán Abriata — cried when minutes after 9am they heard the announcement.
“We are glad. It has been a long-term struggle, though we reject the restrictions established by the Appeals Court for the extradition,” Carlos Loza, a survivor from the ESMA clandestine detention centre and a member of the Association of Former Detainees-Disappeared (AEDD), yesterday told the Herald.
Loza has been one of the most active human rights activists in demanding Sandoval’s extradition to Argentina, which had been requested in 2002 by federal Judge Sergio Torres.
The Appeals Court considered that there was not enough evidence to extradite Sandoval to be judged for 600 cases of forced disappearances in the ESMA clandestine detention centre. In April, prosecutors said that Sandoval could be extradited only for Abriata’s kidnapping committed in 1976.
The court also considered that, if he is sentenced, Sandoval can only be penalized with 15 years in jail, which is the maximum established in the Penal Code in 1976 for kidnappings.
As Thonon explained to the Herald, the problem is that France’s jurisprudence regarding crimes against humanity is different from Argentina’s jurisprudence.
In his request, Judge Torres said that the charges that Sandoval was facing were crimes against humanity. However, in France, only serious offences committed during World War II can receive that definition.
Sixty-one-year-old Sandoval has dual Argentine-French citizenship.
Hernán Abriata, an architecture student, was abducted on October 30, 1976. According to prosecutor Eduardo Taiano, Abriata was taken to the ESMA in November, where he was repeatedly tortured.
In March 1977, he was transferred to the clandestine detention centre located on Azopardo street in Buenos Aires City. Abriata was a member of a Peronist left-wing organization and he was never seen again. In 1984, his case was revealed in the Never Again document with Sandoval mentioned as the main person responsible for his abduction.
After the dictatorship, Sandoval, who denies the charges, fled Argentina and ended up in France, where he taught political sciences and became a citizen in 1997.
In 1976, Sandoval had joined the so-called Commission for Political Affairs which operated in the clandestine detention centre known as “Coordinación Federal,” which was one of the repressive cores in Buenos Aires City.
In France, Sandoval once reportedly told his students that he was an expert on Operation Cóndor, the repressive coordination between the dictatorships and the Southern Cone and Washington.
The alleged repressor eventually obtained French citizenship as a way to guarantee himself impunity, human rights activists say. But the courts have so far said that is irrelevant because he was not a French citizen in 1976 when Abriata was forcibly disappeared.@lucianabertoia