‘Human rights trials will go on beyond 2015’
Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti turns historic Junta courtroom into memorial
Almost 30 years ago, it became the focus of national attention as nine heads of the last military dictatorship were put on the stand and judged for aberrant crimes. Yesterday, it became the “Human Rights Courtroom” as Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti affirmed that the trials against the repressors of the dictatorship were not going to end when President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner steps down in 2015.
The event was scheduled for 12pm but human rights activists, judges and prosecutors arrived earlier to take part in a ceremony hosted by the country’s top court. Accompanied by his colleagues Elena Highton de Nolasco and Juan Carlos Maqueda, Lorenzetti was the only speaker.
“Human rights are not a fashion statement. Trials for crimes against humanity do not change when governments or times do,” Lorenzetti highlighted at a time when some have raised doubts about whether the trials that resumed in 2006, three years after Congress nullified the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws — which had prevented those who committed crimes in the 1970s from being brought to court, a decision that was ratified by the Supreme Court in 2005. At the time, the Supreme Court ruled that the forced disappearances, abductions, torture cases and children’s appropriation were crimes against humanity and thus not subjected to the statute of limitations.
“There will not be any setbacks,” Lorenzetti said. “The trials for crimes against humanity are part of a social pact.”
During yesterday’s event, Lorenzetti honoured the members of the National Commission on the Forced Disappearance of Persons (Conadep), which was created in 1983 by late former president Raúl Alfonsín to investigate the abductions perpetrated during the military dictatorship, and the members of the court that judged the nine heads of the first three Junta governments as well as the prosecutors in charge of the case.
“Alfonsín made a historic decision,” Lorenzetti highlighted in reference to the 1985 proceeding.
“We have been pursuing justice and respecting due process,” he emphasized.
Before cutting the ribbon that effectively turned the iconic courtroom into a memorial, Lorenzetti used the 1985 trial to reference the present.
“Here, the idea of an independent judiciary prevailed. That’s something that was then defended and has to be defended now and in the future,” the head of the highest court said.
That assertion was celebrated by Judge Ariel Lijo, who was participating in the ceremony, and is now leading the investigation against Vice-President Amado Boudou in the Ciccone mint company case. Sitting behind Lijo, Judge Daniel Rafecas, who is being investigated by the Magistrates Council after a direct accusation from the vice-president, also nodded.
Again in court
“Human rights were defended in the streets,” Lorenzetti repeated once and again to reference the members of civil organizations that opposed the dictatorship. Journalists who covered the hearings were also honoured along with the Herald’s former editor-in-chief Robert Cox, who also delivered testimony in the historic proceeding. Cox was represented by his son David yesterday.
Following Lorenzetti’s speech, several of those who played a key role in the transition to democracy took turns to enter the newly declared emblem of human rights.
Former Radical Party lawmaker Ricardo Gil Lavedra was one of the judges who on December 9, 1985 sentenced late dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and the head of the Army Emilio Eduardo Massera to life in prison.
“It’s hard to enter this place,” he told the Herald. “I remember that police officers did not want us to sit with our backs to the tinted windows as they feared snipers could attack us. Those were difficult moments.”
Former prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo also felt a rush of memories come to his head.
“I was part of a trial that was the founding stone for Argentine democracy. I am proud of that,” the former International Criminal Court prosecutor said in conversations with the Herald.
Graciela Fernández Meijide, who played a leading role in the Conadep, was also moved. “I remember how many times I was here but what I most remember is when the military chiefs listened to Julio Strassera’s ‘Never Again’ plea,” Fernández Meijide told this newspaper.
The iconic head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo Estela Barnes de Carlotto also took part in the ceremony as did members of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS).
“This is the place where impunity ended,” Nobel Prize Winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel told the Herald as he was walking inside the courtroom where 95 people listened during nine months the most harrowing testimonies from those who were held in the clandestine detention centres.
In conversation with the Herald, Nora Cortiñas, a member of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo - Founding Line, praised those testimonies and recalled the days in the 1980s when human rights activists saw that courthouse as the only chance of obtaining justice. Almost 30 years later, they keep those demands alive as they wait for information about their loved ones.