Topics: Impact of violence and armed conflicts
On October 25, 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted its latest inquiry into the legal redress of human rights violations under the 1976 – 1983 Argentine dictatorship. The IACHR has played an essential role in ensuring that truth and justice prevail in Argentina. In Abella v. Argentina a hearing conducted in 1998, the Commission concluded that Argentina violated Article 25(1) of the American Convention by denying victims of torture and forced disappearances access to an effective remedy. The IACHR also played a role in ensuring that the Argentine amnesty laws were declared unconstitutional in 2005 by the Argentine Supreme Court and annulled by the legislature. Under the attention of the Commission, the Argentine government has been motivated to provide legal remedy in the form of accountability for crimes committed during the military dictatorship. Conducting prosecutions of individuals accused of committing crimes against humanity such as arbitrary detentions, torture, and forced disappearances. Monitoring by the IACHR has motivated new government policies to assist victims, and the families of victims, gain access to the legal system. Hearings such as the one held on October 25 have been a vital part of monitoring deficits in the judicial process and facilitating accountability.
The State provided an overview of the progress made in meeting the obligation to prosecute those responsible for grave crimes, thereby allowing survivors and family of the victims to have their day in court. The State described new prosecutions of military and intelligence officers as well as civilians, particularly doctors who were complicit in torture. State investigations have started to bring to justice judicial officials who aided the actions of the military dictatorship. And in 2009, the government created the Inter-government Branch Commission to gather information about the specific needs of judicial bodies to facilitate prosecution, with a special emphasis on encouraging cooperation between different government branches. The Argentine government has also worked to eradicate the legacy of impunity through a government policy to seek truth and justice. Through these and other means, Argentina has begun to take account for over 20 years of impunity for perpetrators of heinous crimes and violations of human rights. Commissioner Mejía responded with praise for the work the government has done to address access to truth and justice.
The Center for Legal and Social Studies/Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), invoked Article 66(4) of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, which allows for civil society organizations to have an opportunity to participate in hearings. CELS pointed out that the judicial processes to end impunity are very slow, and at the current rate trials will still be ongoing in 20 years. There are limited resources for ongoing prosecutions and appeals can take as long as two years to be heard. Furthermore, there is much the state still needs to do to bring adequate remedy and accountability. Investigation and prosecution of members of the judiciary who were complicit in human rights violations under the military dictatorship are particularly necessary because judges hesitate to entertain claims against fellow judges. This reluctance only creates additional obstacles to ending over two decades of impunity. To support their argument, CELS presented statistics and charts on the stagnation of the judicial process and how this harms the goals of truth and justice. The charts showed the percentage of cases that have moved through the different judicial phases from investigation, to hearing, to appeal and final decisions. These cases sometimes take as long as 9 years and only 9% of the cases have reached the final decision stage. CELS explained that lengthy delays in holding trials and hearing the subsequent appeals are exacerbated by the limited number of courtrooms available for the proceedings. Despite this criticism, CELS also acknowledged the accomplishments and dedication of the government in trying to end impunity and ensure access to truth and justice.
The Commissioners all commented on the advances Argentina has made since the last monitoring hearing in March 2009 and thanked the government of Argentina for implementing a policy to end impunity. Commissioner Guillén requested additional information about safety precautions for victims and witnesses in the judicial process and Commissioner Shelton inquired about whether Argentina was compiling data about the threats and acts of harassment against witnesses. Finally, Commissioner Shelton asked that the answer to the panel’s questions be submitted in writing as the hearing had to be adjourned because of time constraints. The IACHR hearing process provided a valuable tool for the Argentine government to gauge their success and for organizations to bring attention to issues that remain unaddressed in the ongoing process to improve access to judicial remedy.
Author’s Note: For the first time in IACHR history all three Commissioners presiding over the hearing were women: Dinah Shelton of the U.S; Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, the Chair of the IACHR, from Venezuela; and María Silvia Guillén of El Salvador. Both the Argentine and the CELS representative were also women, with Dr. Andrea Gualde, from the Secretariat of Human Rights in the Ministry of Justice acting as the state representative. Thus, the hearing was unique in that until the question and answer phase, all the participants were women.