Buenos Aires Times

opinion and analysis OPINION: GUEST VOICE

42 years on, the search for justice continues

The size of the march on May 10, 2017 against the '2x1' ruling highlighted the broad social consensus for the legal processes that have addressed human rights crimes committed systematically by the Armed and security forces.

Saturday 24 March, 2018
Estela de Carlotto standing against military forces.
Estela de Carlotto standing against military forces. Foto:Cedoc

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No anniversary of March 24, 1976, is the same as the one before it. This year is no exception.

On this year’s anniversary we will look back and recall the gathering that took place on May 10 last year, when half a million people flooded the Plaza de Mayo. Those gathered were sending a message to the country’s judges, a message that said they do not want to live in fear at the prospect of running into a human rights violator on the streets of Argentina. Human rights groups had called the protest in response to a Supreme Court decision to apply reductions to prison sentences (a method known as ‘2x1’), like the ones handed down to Luis Muiña, who was convicted of kidnapping and torturing workers from the Posadas Hospital during the last dictatorship. The size of the march that day highlighted the broad social consensus in favour of the legal processes that have addressed the human rights crimes that were committed systematically by the nation’s Armed Forces and security forces –under the former’s control – beginning with the implementation of a coup d’état on March 24, 1976.

In the wake of the court’s decision, Memoria Abierta, an alliance of Argentine human rights groups, launched an online campaign to demand that the Supreme Court apply a new ruling, one that would revert this dangerous precedent. Plaintiffs and the Attorney General’s Office alike opposed the application of ‘2x1’ on sentences for human rights crimes, a position that was ratified by Congress the very day of the march and promulgated by the Executive branch two days later. In the time that has passed since, many lowerlevel courts have refused requests to apply the ‘2x1’ doctrine that stemmed from the Supreme Court decision. However, despite the court having expressed its intention to readdress the issue, it still has not done so.

The Supreme Court’s omission; the government’s political zigzags on human rights (including statements from some of its officials, who have engaged in relativist or denialist versions of State terrorism); along with the growing capacity and visibility of groups linked to human rights violators (who have tried to undermine the legal processes against them), have shifted the disputes surrounding the processes of Truth, Justice and Remembrance to the judicial sphere, which President Mauricio Macri has determined is the only branch of power that should address these issues.

However, if there is any lesson to be taken from history, from remembrance in our country, it is that justice has been the fruit of a persistent and unyielding demand on the part of victims’ relatives and survivors, from coordinated actions and strategies on the part of human rights groups at a local and international level, and by the social majority that has been constructed from 40 years of pacific and democratic struggle.

On the other hand, the president should recall that the consolidation of Truth, Justice and Remembrance as State policy required the participation and commitment of the three branches of power (the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary), and the Attorney General’s Office as a separate, constitutional organism of power. Without a doubt, judges, prosecutors and their teams have played a central role in this process, from the Trial of the Juntas (1985) onward. But it is inappropriate to suggest that the Attorney General’s Office is a organism of power that can make decisions independently from the rest of the country’s institutions and society. It forms part of society and the State, and must address many disputes, handling them according to the Office’s discretionary powers of interpretation, application and revision of current norms.

When, in 1985, prosecutor Julio Strassera called for sentencing against the nine military generals in the dock durimg the Trial of the Juntas, he ended his request with a phrase that today forms part of our collective memory: “Señores jueces, nunca más.” (“Your honours, Never Again!”) With this statement he was asking the ruling Federal Court judges to convert the truth – which had been summarised months earlier by the National Committee on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) and published in the Nunca Más report – into a judicial truth, ensuring that the punishment for human rights crimes would establish an unshakable basis for future action. Last May, half-a-million people took to the streets to remind the country’s judges that this request remains active, that the Judiciary still has much to answer for, and that society is, and will continue, to monitor its actions.

The Plaza de Mayo we saw on May 10 last year reactivated the broad social support that exists for the processes of Truth, Justice and Remembrance. These processes have managed, year on year, to show that reparations for victims, and for our social and institutional fabric in Argentina, stem from the application of justice – justice that we must continue to demand, and protect, by taking to the Plaza de Mayo, this March 24, for another time.

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