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October 17, 2017
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Landmark human rights convictions for former judges

Otilio Roque Romano pictured in a Chilean court in 2013. Romano fled to Chile in 2011 to avoid investigation and was later extradited to Argentina to stand trial.

Otilio Romano, Luis Miret, Rolando Evaristo Carrizo and Guillermo Max Petra Recabarren sentenced to life in prison for being complicit with dictatorship-era crimes

In a landmark ruling, a Mendoza federal court has convicted four former judges of crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship and given them life sentences.

Otilio Roque Romano, Luis Guillermo Max Petra Recabarren, Luis Francisco Miret and Rolando Evaristo Carrizo were the first former judges to tried under those charges, and are consequently also the first to be convicted.

The trial, which started in February 2014 and concluded on Wednesday, required 216 hearings and involved 28 defendants accused of an assortment of crimes ranging from illegal arrest, kidnapping, torture, rape, forced disappearances, and homicides against more than 200 victims.

In addition to the four ex-judges handed with life sentences, another six defendants face a lifetime behind bars, another four were given 20 years in prison, a single defendant 18 years, two received 15-year sentences, one received a 10-year sentence, five defendants face between three and years in jail and three were acquitted.

The Mendoza court ruled that the former judges were criminally responsible for crimes against humanity on the grounds that they failed to investigate or act against those committing the crimes, making them accomplices and guarantors of impunity.

Romano fled to Chile in August 2011 seeking political asylum in that country when he was about to be charged with crimes against humanity committed, sparking an extradition process that included an asylum request from the former judge that was denied by Chilean authorities.

Chilean Supreme Court Justice Sergio Muñoz agreed to extradite Romano in 2013, saying that there was evidence that he was involved in 34 forced disappearances, 26 cases of unlawful deprivation of liberty, 36 cases of torture, an illegal search, and a case of denial of justice, as the report drafted by Chilean prosecutor Mónica Maldonado said. Maldonado had earlier recommended Romano’s extradition.

Romano and the other judges were accused of being accomplices to the crimes committed by members of the Armed Forces, the provincial police and the provincial penitentiary service. As such, retired commodore Alcides París Francisca, retired police officers Luis Rodríguez Vázquez, Pablo Gutiérrez Araya and Miguel Tello Amaya, as well as retired military officer Paulino Enrique Furió, retired colonel Carlos Horacio Tragant and retired Army officer José Fuertes Fernández were all given life sentences.

The decision was met with jubilation from activists who had rallied outside the tribunal in order to hear the sentence. Pablo Salinas, a plaintiff representing the MEDH (Movimiento Ecuménico por los Derechos Huamanos) said after the verdict was read“I still can’t handle the emotion. I think that the court rose to the challenge of this historic moment. And the life sentence demonstrates that they accepted the prosecution’s argument. But this represents above all else a very important message to the Judiciary and hope to the human rights movement across the country that it must continue to fight to continue advancing on civilian complicity” in conversation with Página12.

HIJOS and the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo also celebrated the ruling.

Prosecutor Dante Vega noted that it was “an historic ruling, we must not forget that here are the entire gamut of people who participated in state terrorism, and not only are judges who have been convicted but also military officers, police officers and penitentiary officers, with various kinds of sentence. And the sentences say very many things, first that the witnesses were telling the truth and afterwards that we interpreted those witnesses and we took them into the realm of law” in conversation with Télam.

“And when the court rules in this comprehensive way, and sets out these sentences, which are the most serious that the Argentine system allows, against four former judges, what it’s saying that the entire construction and how we argued the criminal participation and everything that we considered, that is the more terrible part of state terrorism, because the victims had nowhere to find shelter and refuge because the Judiciary was complicit with state terrorism.

“This is historic in multiple ways, because it is a very extensive period that includes the period prior to the military coup, so there was state terrorism before the coup, and later it was systematized” said Vega.

Judge Alejandro Piña said to Télam “that he wanted to recognize the work and commitment of my fellow judges, of the lawyers working in the prosecution, plaintiffs, and defence lawyers for their professionalism. And the employees of the officials in my court for their exemplary work.”

In a separate trial, a federal court in Entre Ríos yesterday convicted former police officer Darío Mazzaferri of carrying out illegal searches, illegal arrest, abuse and joint criminal enterprise dating back to the kidnapping of eight high school students in 1976. The charges were considered crimes against humanity and a sentence of 20 years given to Mazzaferri.

Cordoba trial kicks off

As the Mendoza trial was coming to a close this week, another human rights trial in Córdoba formally kicked off this week involving the UP1 detention centre in 1976.

Antonio Sebastián Corenjo (former federal prosecutor for Córdoba), Miguel Ángel Puga (former federal judge in Córdoba), Carlos Oterlo Álvarez (former criminal clerk in a Córdoba court) and Ricardo Haro (ex public defender in Córdoba) have been accused of malfeasance and a cover-up. Carlos Gonella is leading the prosecution.

— Herald with Télam

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