Delayed Justice in Argentina

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at SPAMtao.ca
Fri Mar 23 21:42:37 MST 2001



[Hopefully, Nestor or another comrade from what is approximately my American
geographical opposite is able to comment on this- since when is the NYTimes worried
about the "dirty War"?--Macdonald]

March 24, 2001
New York Times (editorial)

Delayed Justice in Argentina


Today marks the 25th anniversary of Argentina's last successful military coup, which
brought to power a junta whose murderous repression of Argentina's peaceful left
became known as the "dirty war." It is a sign of Argentina's growing confidence as a
democracy that some of the soldiers and mid-level military officers responsible for
the abuses may soon be brought to trial.

After Argentina returned to democracy in 1983, the government, under threat from the
military, issued an amnesty for crimes committed by all but the top officers. But
earlier this month, a judge declared these laws illegal, ruling that the crimes were
so serious that they could not be forgiven and that the amnesties violated
international treaties Argentina had signed.

The ruling, which has been appealed to the Supreme Court, has won widespread praise
in Argentina, but also opposition from powerful quarters. Military officers have
condemned it, as have civilian government officials.

Nine of the top junta members from the dirty war era were tried in 1985, and five
were convicted of murder and other crimes. But as trials began to reach further down
the chain of command, soldiers rebelled. Three uprisings were enough to persuade the
government to end the trials and grant amnesty to all but the top officers on the
grounds that lower- ranking soldiers had been following orders. Then in 1990,
President Carlos Menem even pardoned the five imprisoned junta members.

Since then, the only dirty war cases seen in Argentine courts have been for the
kidnappings of prisoners' children, a crime that was not covered by the amnesty laws.
But with Judge Gabriel Cavallo's decision this month, the possibility now exists that
soldiers will be prosecuted for murders and disappearances.

Judge Cavallo's decision is one of several recent international instances of
prosecutions of those previously considered untouchable. The most publicized was the
arrest of Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile. This week the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights made its first direct ruling against an amnesty. Peru's congress rushed
through an amnesty law in 1995, protecting from prosecution all military officers who
committed human rights violations between 1980 and 1995. The court ruled that the
amnesty had no validity and could not stand in the way of investigations and trials.
The new government of Peru has said that it will initiate prosecutions.

If Judge Cavallo's decision is upheld in Argentina, it could lead to a long-overdue
removal from the military of those with complicity in the dirty war. Trials would
also finally provide relief for some of the tens of thousands of those who were
tortured or who lost family members, victims whose suffering is as fresh as it was a
generation ago. Argentina has changed dramatically since 1976. It is now a full
democracy with no fear of a military coup. There is no longer a reason to avoid the
justice that Argentina deserves.




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Macdonald Stainsby
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