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Human Rights and the Dirty War

Argentina: Human Rights and the Dirty War

Despite public expressions of regret (in 1995 and 2004) by the heads of the navy, the army and the air force for crimes committed by the armed forces during 1976–83, issues concerning the dirty war remained politically sensitive. In 2003 President Kirchner revoked a decree that had prevented the extradition of Argentine citizens suspected of human rights violations. Courts in Spain, France, Germany and Sweden all subsequently sought the extradition of former Argentine military personnel for crimes committed against their citizens. Alfredo Astiz, a former naval captain, was the subject of Italian, French and Swedish extradition requests. In 2010 an Argentine court refused a French extradition request for Astiz, who was standing trial in Buenos Aires (see below). (In 1990 Astiz had been convicted in France, in absentia , and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, and in 2007 he was convicted of the same crime in an Italian court.) In 2001 former President Videla was ordered to stand trial for the abduction of 72 foreigners under Plan Condor, an alleged scheme in the 1070s among right-wing dictators in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Bolivia to eradicate leftist political opponents. In 2002 former dictator Gen. Galtieri was arrested, along with at least 30 others, on charges relating to the torture and murder of 20 members of the left-wing Montoneros guerrilla group in 1980. He remained under house arrest until his death in 2003.

In 2003 the Senate approved legislation that would allow the annulment of the Punto Final and Obediencia Debida laws (adopted in 1986 and 1987, respectively), and ratified a United Nations Convention that ostensibly removed all constitutional limitations on human rights prosecutions. Both laws were repealed by the Supreme Court in 2005.

In 2005 Adolfo Scilingo, a former military official, was convicted in Spain of crimes against humanity during the dirty war; he was sentenced to 640 years’ imprisonment. In 2006 Miguel Etchecolatz, a former senior police officer, was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, torture and kidnapping; he received an additional life sentence in 2012. In April 2010 former President Bignone and six other former officials were convicted of charges related to the torture and killing of 56 government opponents; Bignone was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, receiving a life sentence for murder in a separate case in 2011. In 2010, moreover, Videla and several co-defendants received life sentences for their involvement in the murder in 1976 of 31 political prisoners. In 2011 Alfredo Astiz was among 12 former military officials sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of perpetrating torture and forced disappearance at a naval school (Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada—ESMA) that was used as a secret detention facility during the dictatorship. Videla and Bignone were further convicted in 2012 on charges related to the abduction and illegal adoption of 34 children whose parents had disappeared during the dictatorship; seven other defendants were also found guilty. At least 400 infants born in special holding centres during the dictatorship were believed to have been abducted by the military and police, and in 2009 the Congress had approved a law compelling those thought to have been illegally adopted to undergo DNA tests. Bignone received a further 23-year sentence for kidnapping and murder in 2014. The largest trial to date of crimes committed during the dirty war commenced in 2012, with 43 former officials, including Astiz, charged with nearly 800 counts of kidnapping, torture and murder at the ESMA; the trial concluded in mid-2016, with 28 of the defendants receiving life sentences. Also in 2012, Jaime Smart, a former interior minister for Buenos Aires province, became the first civilian to be sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity during the 1976–83 period; 22 other defendants were also convicted, including Etchecolatz (see above). In 2013 Chile extradited Otilio Romano, a former judge accused of human rights violations during the military regime; his trial, as well as those of three other judges, was ongoing. The appointment of Lt-Gen. César Milani as head of the army in 2013 was criticized by human rights organizations as the commander was the subject of an investigation into alleged disappearances in 1976. In February 2017 Milani, who was replaced as army head in 2015, was arrested in connection with three abductions.

Citation: Human Rights and the Dirty War (Argentina), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. Retrieved 23 March 2018 from

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