Tag Archive | "human rights"

Ex-Navy Officers Sentenced for Crimes Against Humanity

Three former high-level Navy officers were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship. Five other former officers received 25-year verdicts.

Former Navy officers Jorge Alberto Errecaborde, Roberto Fernandez, and Jose Guitian were found guilty of 36 kidnapping charges, and the murders of two shipyard workers on Monday, and sentenced to life in prison. Former Commander of Naval Operations, Antonio Vanek, former head of the Navy Juan Carlos Herzberg and former heads of the Coastguard Louis Rocca and Carlos Jose Ramon Schaller, were alongside former officer Eduardo Antonio Meza sentenced to 25 years in jail.

Over 100 witnesses appeared before the Federal Criminal Court during the trial, which took place the city of La Plata.

Jorge ‘Turco’ Sobrado, member of the Professional Centre for Human Rights, said that “after 39 years, significant judgement is passed,” stressing the importance of bringing criminals to justice, and linking the sentences to what is known as the ‘death flights’ that took place during the dictatorship.

The military airport on the southern end of Aeroparque was used to carry out 'death flights' (photo: Wikipedia)

The military airport on the southern end of Aeroparque was used to carry out ‘death flights’ (photo: Wikipedia)

However, Tania Nuez, the spokesperson for the human rights organisation Children of La Plata, said that the sentences were only a fraction of the justice desired. “We are judging eight killers. But there used to be ten, two died unpunished. And this case deals with 40 cases, but in the areas of Ensenada, Berisso and La Plata, there are hundreds of missing prisoners. What the trial unfortunately shows, is that these processes are not an actual reflection of what the genocide actually meant for our country. We haven’t won yet,” she said to La Izquierda Diario.

The ‘death flights’ were used by the military to disappear people. Live victims were dropped from airplanes over either the Atlantic Ocean or the Rio Plata. According to former Navy officer Adolfo Scillingo who in 2005 was sentenced to 640 years in prison in Spain, there were about 200 death flights between 1977 and 1978.

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Amnesty Maps Indigenous Conflicts in Argentina

Amnesty International has launched a website mapping 183 on-going indigenous conflicts throughout Argentina.

The website, www.territorioindigena.com.ar, created together with various other social groups, seeks to give visibility to these conflicts and foster solutions to various issues facing indigenous communities.

The open and interactive map of ongoing indigenous conflicts in Argentina (Screenshot from territorioindigena.com.ar)

The open and interactive map of ongoing indigenous conflicts in Argentina (Screenshot from territorioindigena.com.ar)

“The indigenous population in Argentina was systematically denied and excluded throughout the country’s history,” writes journalist Darío Aranda in an introduction on the site.

“The state recognises the existence of at least 955,000 people belong to more than 30 indigenous tribes. Academics agree that there are many more. Scientific studies determined that 56% of the population have traces of indigenous genes. Even so, the current discourse refers to indigenous peoples as a thing of the past and not as a culture that remains alive and present today.”

The site’s interactive map highlights 183 conflicts where indigenous communities have demanded “the fulfillment of their rights against governments (municipal, provincial, national), businesses (agricultural, mining, oil, tourism, etc.), and against judges and prosecutors of the Judiciary who have disregarded the regulations” over numerous years.

Among the emblematic cases, the Potae Napocna Navogoh Qom community and its struggle to secure basic land rights in Formosa, are highlighted on the site’s homepage.

The community has lived in the Laguna Blanca zone dating back to the pre-colonisation era. In 1985 the Argentine government, without consulting the indigenous community, began construction of a national university on ancestral territory. Protests were met with violent police repression in November 2010, when one member of the community and one police officer were killed. The community continues to fight to recover its land, as well as secure basic human rights, and has been protesting at a makeshift camp on Av. 9 de Julio since February.

The conflict involving the Pilagá community, El Descanso, is also highlighted on the site. In 1997, the Formosa provincial government entered the community’s land with notification and began building deep canals to divert water from the Bañado la Estrella swamp. Although the provincial government is clearly breaking numerous laws surrounding the rights of indigenous communities, El Descanso continues fighting to reclaim its property.

However, the site does not pretend to be comprehensive of all indigenous conflicts and instead presents itself as a living document where users can report issues and potentially add to the map.

“The map is open, periodically updated, and available to all communities as a collaborative tool for various organizations that require it,” the website states.

Users are also able to sign various petitions associated with particular cases and directly contribute to the cause.

“In 1492 indigenous people were expelled from their land. In 2015, it continues to happen,” says Amnesty International. “Everyone can do something to guarantee that their rights are met.”

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Army Chief Milani to Resign From Post for ‘Personal Reasons’

César Milani after being promoted by the president (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam/dsl)

César Milani after being promoted by the president (Photo: Tito La Penna/Télam/dsl)

Argentine Army chief César Milani has submitted a request to resign from his position, according to a military press release today.

According to the statement, Milani’s request is based on “strictly personal reasons”.

Milani was proposed as the new head of the army by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in June 2013, with his appointment eventually ratified by the Senate the following December.

His appointment was controversial due to claims that he was involved in crimes against humanity during the last military dictatorship.

Specifically, documents gathered by human rights groups and presented by the Centre of Social and Legal Studies (CELS) link Milani to the disappearance of conscript Alberto Ledo in Tucumán in 1976, as well as the illegal detention of Pedro and Ramón Olivera in La Rioja in 1977.

Milani has always denied any involvement in these crimes, but CELS challenged the decision to promote him and called for a complete investigation into his past. A report published in December 2013 stated: “We don’t affirm that [Milani] tortured people, but we find his claims that he did not know others were doing so unacceptable. For that reason, we believe that he does not deserve the confidence that a democracy should have in its army chief.”

The government defended its decision, stating that Milani had not been charged with any crime and must be presumed innocent until that changes.

So far there has been no official response to Milani’s request.

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Dominican Republic: Tens of Thousands Face Deportation Under New Law

The countries are neighbours on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola

The countries are neighbours on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent face an uncertain future in the Dominican Republic after the eligibility period for residence registration expired on 17th June.

In September 2013, in a controversial move, the Dominican constitutional court redefined the right to citizenship to exclude the children of migrant workers, even those who were born and raised in the country. The ruling affects all those of migrant worker descent who have been born since 1929.

In response to criticism from the international community, the government passed a further law in May 2014, providing a way for Dominicans of Haitian descent to “regularise” their status and in that way avoid being deported.

Some 288,500, or an estimated 55 % of those subject to the law, have applied for the regularisation. The interior minister confirmed that those who have not registered will be forcibly removed from the country.

Dominican foreign minister Andres Navarro announced last Monday that the applications will be processed in the next 45 days, after which the country will begin deportations. Perhaps cautious of international attention, Navarro assured that this does not mean “hunts for irregular migrants for deportation”.

Those affected by the legal changes were divided into two groups: those with Dominican birth certificates; and those born in the country but not in possession of a birth certificate. The first group was asked to get their birth certificates “validated” and to reapply for citizenship before February this year. The latter was told to apply for a residency permit as foreigners, a move criticised by multiple human rights groups and international organisations. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has ruled that the obligation of Dominicans to register as foreigners is against international human rights law. It also stated that children cannot inherit the migratory status of their parents.

A spokesperson for Amnesty International concurred: “When the vast majority of these people were born, the Dominican law at the time recognised them as citizens. Stripping them of this right, and then creating impossible administrative hurdles to stay in the country, is a violation of their human rights.”

In addition, multiple problems have been reported with the regularisation process. The applicants are required to provide official documents proving the registration of birth, which many simply do not have often due to discrimination against Haitians by government officials, and dysfunctional public services. Moreover, the process takes months, and is costly for the applicants. Offices are reportedly overcrowded, understaffed, and people have been poorly informed as to the needed documents and procedures. In addition, many oppose the new requirement. Consequently, the first deadline in February passed with merely some 7,000 requests while the extended deadline, 17th June drew to a close with thousands still arriving at the government offices.

In response to the expiration of the deadline, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William Lacy Swing has urged the country to extend the registration time. “Too many of those concerned face serious difficulty in securing documents in the country, and thus need extra time and assistance to make their applications. We appeal to the authorities to continue to work with those subject to the General Migration Law and their employers beyond the Regularisation Plan deadline,” Swing asserted.

Similarly, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson, Adrian Edwards, has communicated concerns: “We urge the government of the Dominican Republic to ensure that people whose citizenship was questioned by the decision of the Constitutional Court of 2013 will not be deported.” Moreover, Andrews expressed the UNHCR’s fear of the potential expulsion of up to 200,000 people to Haiti despite not having the Haitian citizenship.

Should the deportations go ahead, the future for the migrant workers and their children, many of whom have never been to Haiti and do not even speak Creole, looks grim. The Haitian president Michel Martelly has declared that the children of Haitian immigrants born in the Dominican Republic will not be admitted to the country. Lawyers have criticised the president’s decision as illegal, given that according to the constitution, the children of Haitians legally retain their nationality regardless of where they are born.

Early 20th century saw great migrations of Haitians to the Dominican Republic to work in the sugar cane industry. Migrants have also crossed the border in search of economic opportunities and to escape violence or political repression. The history of the two countries is tense and often bloody, such as in the case of the “corte” (cutting) during Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo’s regime in 1937, where 20,000 Haitians were massacred by the nation’s army.

Meanwhile, the situation remains very insecure for the Haitian-Dominicans. As Robin Guittard of Amnesty communicated: “The Dominican government keeps sending reassuring statements, as they know they are under international scrutiny, but has given no guarantee that people born in the country won’t be expelled. In reality, there is a lack of clear proceedings for deportation in the Dominican Republic, leaving a huge space for arbitrariness and further human rights violations.”

In this climate many Haitians are staying home in fear of being deported. Others, instead of waiting to be deported en masse, have chosen to leave on their own terms. While there are reports of the Dominican army starting summary deportations of anyone looking Haitian, as of yet, there have not been any mass expulsions, despite the immigration agency reportedly having school busses at the ready, and detention centres prepared along the border region.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (1)

Support Good Pitch2 Argentina!

Reviving an old alliance with Latin American crowdfunding platform Idea.me, we are supporting a campaign to help fund independent documentary filmmakers from around Latin America get to Buenos Aires to pitch their social justice films to potential partners.

Good Pitch is an event that aims to encourage the use of film as an innovative tool in the promotion of social justice. It does this by finding allies for documentaries, and during a live event, getting them to commit to a partnership with the film, so that together they build campaigns to help bring about positive changes.

Good Pitch was conceived in 2008 in response to the crisis in funding for independent cinema – and, above all – documentaries. Founders the BritDoc Foundation allied with Sundance Documentary Film Institute to try to find a way to make social justice documentaries go further, building partnerships with those from outside of the film industry who worked in issues related to the core subject of the documentary. Such partners would help the filmmakers to build a social justice campaign around the film’s release, helping it obtain a broader reach and social impact. The model has been hugely successful: two of the finalists for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards – and indeed the winning film, Citizen Four – were veterans of global Good Pitch events.

Good Pitch² Argentina is the only Good Pitch event in Latin America, as well as the only event in Spanish, and is a real opportunity for independent documentary filmmakers from around the continent to ensure their films go beyond a one-off arthouse cinema screening.

For the 2015 edition, four documentaries which touch on themes of social justice have been chosen, and the filmmakers are coming to Buenos Aires to attend workshops with consultants from Sundance and BritDoc before meeting potential partners from the world of NGOs, foundations, investors, distributors, broadcasters, and festivals in a live event on 13th April.

However, as an independently-produced satellite event, the hosts of Good Pitch² Argentina have launched an Idea.me campaign to help fund the costs of travel for the filmmakers, thus ensuring they get here and be heard, and get the resources they need to promote some of the region’s most important social justice and human rights issues.

The Good Pitch² Argentina 2015 finalists are:

Sumercé (Colombia) – Mining and natural resources

Captura Sumercé 7 crop

Sumercé follows the stories of four Colombian campesinos of different generations on the frontline of the struggle against mining, which is endangering the biodiversity of the unique paramo Andean ecosystems and the existence of thousands of rural communities located in areas where mining corporations want to operate. Many of those resisting the advance of the mines have been killed.

Quipu (Peru) – Gender and forced sterilisations

Captura Quipu

Quipu tells the story of Esperanza, who is fighting for justice after being sterilised against her wishes 16 years ago. Esperanza is just one of 300,000 women and 20,000 men who were sterilised during the 1995-2000 Fujimori government, as part of a government policy that was promoted aggressively in rural, impoverished, and indigenous communities. After extensive investigations by Amnesty International, it is now well known that many women were coerced into the procedure or did not give consent.

Grown Ups (Chile) – Disability and social integration

Captura Grown Ups

Grown Ups follows a group of adults aged between 40 and 50 who have Downs Syndrome. Many of them have never lived independently, and as their parents grow old and infirm, they decide they are tired of being treated like children.

Nueva Venecia (Colombia) – Community resistance

Captura - Nueva Venecia

Nueva Venecia is a fishing community based in the middle of Colombia’s biggest lake, which bears the scars of the country’s internal conflict. But residents find an outlet through their shared passion for football, and work tirelessly to prevent the pitch – and their community – from being swallowed up by the surrounding water.

Previous success: Good Pitch² Argentina 2013

The first Good Pitch in Latin America took place in Buenos Aires in August 2013, within the framework of the 15th International Human Rights Film Festival, run by DerHumALC. Four projects were selected and each filmmaking team took their documentary to the next level. The results of Good Pitch² Argentina 2013 have shown that, while these alliances between film and the traditional social justice sector are not yet the norm in Latin America, they have the power to bring about real change.

Of the experience, Marco Cartolano, producer of ‘9.70′ said: “Good Pitch was without doubt a milestone that has marked my future, both professionally and personally. Thanks to a recommendation by Good Pitch, our trailer was seen by over 600,000 people in three weeks, and we managed to change the legislation that we had denounced in the documentary.”

The 2015 edition of Good Pitch² Argentina will take place on 13th April at Teatro Picadero, where the teams will pitch their films to a round table of 8-10 potential partners and a handpicked audience of 200.

Help these independent filmmakers get to Buenos Aires and participate in this extraordinary event by donating to their Idea.me campaign (also available in Spanish)

Disclaimer: Kristie Robinson, editor at The Argentina Independent, is also Good Pitch² Argentina’s Outreach Director.


Posted in Development, Film, Human Rights, Social Issues, The ArtsComments (0)

Guatemala: Human Rights Defenders Share Mayan Fight for Land Rights

Wives of those imprisoned for resisting the construction of the Santa Cruz dam protest in Barrillas (photo courtesy of UNXXX)

Wives of those imprisoned for resisting the construction of the Santa Cruz dam protest in Brrillas (photo courtesy of UDEFEGUA facebook)

In the wake of major human rights abuses carried out by European companies and the Guatemalan government, two human rights defenders share their struggles and campaign for big businesses to prevent such violations, or be held to account for their crimes.

The video was made during a tour around Europe, in which Micaela Antonio and Alfredo Baltazar Pedro met civil society and decision-makers in Spain and Brussels, before presenting their experiences to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The pair are both members of the Mayan community in and around Barillas, a remote town in the middle of an area abundant in natural resources in the west of Guatemala. Their local environment and their human rights are under threat from a combination of multinational corporations and the collusion of the national government, as their land is opened up to profitable, yet highly destructive extraction practices.

Transnational companies – the majority of which are from Europe – have been granted rights to 80% of the land in the region. They have developed around 40 mining and hydroelectric projects which have devastated the local environment and communities alike. Waste from a mining facility in the nearby town of San Marcos has contaminated the local water supply, leading to birth defects.

Resistance to such projects has led to the deaths of 16 human rights defenders and reports of a further 800 violations of human rights, making 2014 the most violent year for those resisting the encroachment of multinationals.

The human rights organisation Front Line Defenders put the situation in Guatemala into context with the following statement:

“Human rights defenders in Guatemala are subjected to death threats, physical attacks, acts of harassment, surveillance, stigmatisation, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and killings. Many of the violations are carried out by clandestine security structures and illegal groups. The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases the risk exponentially for human rights defenders.

Since Otto Pérez Molina assumed the role of president in January 2012, cases of harassment and threats against human rights defenders have been on the rise. Guatemala’s Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (UDEFEGUA) reported that, in 2014, there were a total of 805 violations against human rights defenders, including 16 assassinations, making 2014 the most violent year so far.

UDEFEGUA further reported that 82% of the violations reported were physical attacks, and more than half of those targeted women human rights defenders women human rights defenders. Trade unionists, along with campesino and indigenous rights defenders defending the right to prior consultation on development projects, continue to be targeted with a number of killings being reported.

Unequal land distribution has led to many land conflicts, with those defending the rights to land increasingly being targeted and attacked. Environmental rights defenders, especially those working on issues relating to mining and the extractive industries, have been facing increased threats which include physical attacks and assassination attempts. Journalists are also targeted, especially those covering corruption and accountability for violations committed during the civil war.

Women continue to be particularly vulnerable with reports showing a pattern of continued and repeated use of written threats, including with a high content of sexual references, as a means of harassing and intimidating them. The majority of those targeted are indigenous, campesino and environmental rights defenders. A serious issue is the unfair use of criminal proceedings in order to prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities. Many criminal proceedings are launched by private companies related to the mining sector and the construction of dams, accusing human rights defenders of crimes such as acts of terrorism, usurpation of land, kidnappings and others. As part of the criminalisation process, campaigns of defamation and stigmatisation have been carried out by both state and non-state actors, particularly transnational companies and right-wing media publications. State authorities continue to publish statements and press releases in which they publicly incriminate human rights defenders on unverified charges. Such defamation campaigns and written threats released publicly through print media or social media have an immediate impact on the work of human rights defenders.

While general violence and insecurity are a serious concern, defenders continue to experience targeted threats and attacks against their homes and offices,

which are frequently subject to illegal raids and break-ins. Despite evidence and implications indicating the targeted nature of these attacks, the authorities commonly react with an partial investigation before linking them to common criminal activity. A climate of impunity in regard to human rights violations still prevails in the country, few attacks against human rights defenders are investigated and even fewer result in convictions.”

For more information on how you can support the work of Front Line Defenders to protect human rights defenders in Guatemala, please visit their website

Lead image by Surizar on Flickr.

Posted in Development, Environment, Human Rights, Social IssuesComments (1)

Amnesty: Argentina’s Progress Stalled in ‘Devastating Year’ for Human Rights

The state of human rights in the world, to put it lightly, is not good. According to Amnesty International’s annual report, published today, many politicians “miserably failed” to protect civilians in 2014.

From Damascus, to Washington, to Caracas, the “State of the World’s Human Rights Report” expounds on some of the year’s worst violations.

Amnesty International released its 2014/2015 global human rights report today (Photo courtesy of AI)

Amnesty International released its 2014/2015 global human rights report today (Photo courtesy of AI)

The most widespread appears to be in Syria, where more than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have died. Amnesty International, one of the largest non-government organisations, estimates that 4m refugees have fled to other countries. About 7.6m are displaced within Syria. The Islamic State, civilian causalities in Gaza, Boko Haram, and conflicts in South Sudan are only fraction of the issues throughout 160 countries investigated by Amnesty.

The Americas also came under criticism when it came to human rights last year. The region seems to be going backwards, according to the report. For example, in Mexico more than 22,000 people have been abducted or forcibly disappeared since 2006, including 43 students from Guerrero state in September 2014. The report also condemns the United States, Venezuela and Brazil for excessive use of police force.

Argentina, according to the report, remained ‘stagnant’ in many human rights issues. Indigenous peoples’ and women’s rights were a key issue, as well as a failure to bring justice in the 1994 Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, or AMIA bombing.

Mariela Belski, executive director at Amnesty International Argentina, named access to abortions as a top issue in the country.

More than half of jurisdictions in Argentina did not have protocols in place at hospitals for legal abortions, according to the report. Implementation of legal abortions, which are allowed if the pregnancy is a result of sexual abuse or puts the woman’s life or health at risk, was at an all-time low in 2014.

'Legal abortion now!' is scrawled in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires (photo: Thiago Skárnio, via flickr)

‘Legal abortion now!’ is scrawled in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires (photo: Thiago Skárnio, via flickr)

“We are working very hard in terms of getting the decriminalisation of abortion,” Belski said. “I can mention ten different human rights that this violates.”

She said a new law would reduce maternal mortality, especially in conservative provinces where statistics are much higher.

There was hope in the Amnesty office in Buenos Aires that progress might come in 2015, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s last presidential year. The same-sex marriage law, passed under Fernández in 2010, was a spark of optimism for Belski.

“If you look at the arguments in the equal marriage law, it’s quite the same argument you can use to defend the decriminalisation of abortion,” Belski told the Argentina Independent. “We were thinking, why did she take on this fight and not abortion?”

Belski admits it’s “also kind of difficult” in a heavily Catholic country, with an Argentine Pope. She said those at Amnesty often ask themselves why Pope Francis supports decriminalised abortion in European countries, and not in Argentina.

Meanwhile, indigenous rights in Argentina were “rarely fulfilled” in 2014. The National Constitution recognises Indigenous People’s right to ancestral land and the management of resources. Yet in April, the Formosa Province again violated land rights in building of a healthcare centre without the consent of the Qom community.

The struggle has reached the centre of Buenos Aires, where members of the community are camping to call attention to their plight. Qom leader Félix Díaz, named a human rights defender by Amnesty, and other members of the community have been living in tents at the corner of Av. De Mayo and Av. 9 de Julio since 14th February.

A similar camp in 2011 lasted five months and only ended after government promises of dialogue to resolve territorial disputes and guarantee basic rights. However, these talks quickly broke down and progress has been very limited since.

“The violation of our human rights is not respecting the cultural identity of indigenous communities,” said Díaz, speaking to the Indy at the makeshift camp. “We are protesting here on this little square so that our human rights are respected and guaranteed as citizens and as human beings.”

Felix Diaz, Leader of The Qom, at a protest camp on Av. 9 de Julio in 2011 (Photo:  Patricio Guillamón)

Felix Diaz, Leader of The Qom, at a protest camp on Av. 9 de Julio in 2011 (Photo: Patricio Guillamón)

Other human rights abuses in Argentina included recurring reports of torture in prisons in Mendoza and elsewhere. Many were not investigated, including the cases of Marcelo Tello and Iván Bressan, who were imprisoned in Santiago Del Estero. Argentina is now also dealing with drug cartels, according to the report, a new problem and human rights issue on Belski and Amnesty’s radar.

Amnesty did credit the current government for continuing to hold trials for war crimes. Throughout Argentina, public tribunals were held for crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship. More than 100 defendants accused of crimes committed at clandestine detention centers were tried in 2014.

“[President] Cristina did a good job in terms of some human rights,” Belski said, adding that government representatives were always open to hearing Amnesty’s stance, even if nothing changed. “But she forgot that there are other human rights that are important, and we need to take care of them.”

Belski mentioned that the current government’s promotion of its human rights credentials might hurt progress in the future, especially in upcoming elections. President Fernández, she said, used human rights so much that voters “in a way are fed up with the human rights discourse.”

“Our concern is that the new candidates will not cover human rights issues because of this,” Belski said.

Lead image – photos courtesy of Beatrice Murch, Comité Contra la Tortura, and Patricio Guillamon

Posted in Human Rights, News From ArgentinaComments (1)

El Salvador: Woman Accused of Abortion Granted Pardon

"Freedom for the 17 women unfairly incarcerated. Pardon now." (photo courtesy of the Citizens' Association for the Decriminalisation of Therapeutic, Ethic, and Eugenic Abortion)

“Freedom for the 17 women unfairly incarcerated. Pardon now.” (photo courtesy of the Citizens’ Association for the Decriminalisation of Therapeutic, Ethic, and Eugenic Abortion)

The Salvadorian Legislative Assembly granted a pardon to a woman who had been sentenced to 30 years in prison, first for abortion and then for aggravated homicide.

Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana was imprisoned in 2007 after giving birth to a dead baby, product of a rape by one of her employers. She was 18 years old at the time and was sued by the doctor who treated her for a hemorrhage at the local public hospital. She was initially tried for having had an abortion, but the case was later changed to aggravated homicide.

The pardon was first authorised by the Supreme Court, which found that the “fundamental guarantees” had not been respected during the woman’s trial. In a country first, Congress ratified it yesterday by 43 votes against 26.

Vásquez Aldana is one of 17 women imprisoned for abortion-related crimes for whom human rights organisations have been lobbying since April 2014 to get pardoned (one of them was freed after completing her sentence). Organisations such as Amnesty International have supported the campaign.

“This case sets a precedent of justice for poor women who have been criminalised for the supposed crime of homicide without the facts being proven,” said Jorge Menjívar, of the Citizens’ Association for the Decriminalisation of Therapeutic, Ethic, and Eugenic Abortion. According to the organisation, at least 129 Salvadorian women were accused of abortion between 2000 and 2011 and 29 of them are serving sentences for homicide after having abortions.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also welcomed the decision by the Salvadorian Congress and asked for changes to the country’s legislation. Spokesman Rupert Colville said: “Human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and special procedures, have regularly expressed serious concern about the total ban and criminalisation of abortion in El Salvador, and its impact on women’s right to be free from discrimination as well as their rights to life and to health among other human rights.”

“We hope that other imprisoned women in El Salvador who received similar convictions will be freed and that efforts will be made to reform the legal framework on sexual and reproductive rights in line with the recommendations of numerous human rights bodies,” said Colville.

El Salvador, together with Chile, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Surinam, and Dominican Republic, is one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where abortion is completely banned, even in cases when the woman’s life or health is at risk or in cases of rape or incest.

The country made international headlines in 2013 when the case of ‘Beatriz’ became known. She was a 22-year-old suffering from lupus and kidney failure, and already a mother of a toddler. Not only did Beatriz’s pregnancy pose severe risks to her health, but scans revealed that her baby had anencephaly, a condition where part of its brain was missing, and would not survive birth. Beatriz was unable to get a termination, but was allowed to have a caesarean section in her 27th week of pregnancy, a decision that led to widespread domestic and international protests. Beatriz’s baby lived for just five hours.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

The Indy’s Weekly Review – 12th December 2014

In this week’s podcast: we analyse the housing crisis in Buenos Aires, four years on from the Parque Indoamericano takeover; during human rights’ week, we talk to Cecilia Milesi about Argentina’s leading role in transitional justice issues; and as the US Congress proposes sanctions against Venezuela, we look at the double-standards of international media when covering the South American country.

All that, plus a roundup of the week’s headlines from Argentina and Latin America, and music from our featured artist, Orkesta Popular San Bomba.

Presenters: Kristie Robinson & Marc Rogers
Production: Celina Andreassi
Editing: Pablo Fisher

You can also download this week’s podcast, and all previous episodes, from iTunes.

We will be looking to continually improve and add to this podcast, and we’d love to hear your feedback on it, as well as suggestions for any additional stories or content you’d like us to cover in it in the future. Send us an email at info@argentinaindependent.com, or comment on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

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Operation Condor: Justice for Transnational Crimes in South America

The Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires has implications for justice and accountability in Argentina but also for the rest of South America.

“Could you please tell us your date and place of birth?” the president of Federal Criminal Court 1 in Buenos Aires asked the young woman testifying at the court hearing. Macarena Gelman replied that she was probably born on 1st November, 1976, in Montevideo, Uruguay, after her mother had been illegally transferred there from Argentina weeks earlier. Mystified by how her mother, María Claudia Garcia de Gelman, originally detained in Buenos Aires had ended up in Uruguay, Macarena suggested that Operation Condor (Plan Cóndor) offered the “only explanation” for what had happened.

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena Gelman (Still from TV Publica)

Macarena’s testimony before the tribunal in November 2013 exposes some of the challenges and difficulties that victims of human rights violations have had to face since the return of democracy. Numerous South American countries experiencing similar violations share this legacy. The question of date and place of birth is one that many of us answer frequently and we do so without the blink of an eye. In the case of Macarena, as well as other victims of identity theft and illegal adoption, answering that question is anything but easy.

For Macarena, it required solving a puzzle; rejoining all the component pieces scattered across Argentina and Uruguay, but also within the entire South America region. Reconstructing her life story took over 30 years and included a grandfather who incessantly looked for her. It was also the journey of two countries in the aftermath of the shadow of dictatorship, struggling to come to terms with the brutality of the crimes that had been perpetrated.

Macarena’s identification in Montevideo in 2000 proved even further the existence of the transnational coordination of terror known as Operation Condor. Over ten years later, on March 5, 2013, in a packed Buenos Aires courthouse, two former Argentine military dictators, together with other 19 defendants, were finally put on trial for their alleged role in Operation Condor, including the atrocities committed against Macarena’s parents.

Operation Condor was a continent-wide operation set up during the Cold War by the military dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to hunt down political opponents across borders, murdering and disappearing hundreds of left-wing activists outside their home countries’ borders in the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America.

Responding to Human Rights Violations

The rapidly growing field of transitional justice studies “strategies employed by states and international institutions to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses and to effect social reconstruction in the wake of widespread violence.” In the past 30 years, countries have developed innovative ways to confront atrocities committed during political violence or conflict. Latin America has pioneered many tools such as truth commissions, trials and reparations that have been adopted subsequently throughout the world. Yet, up until recently, the main focus has been on offences perpetrated by national actors within individual states, thus neglecting consideration of how to respond to transnational crimes such as those of Operation Condor.

Nonetheless, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, investigations into Operation Condor crimes have gradually come to play a crucial role in the struggle for accountability in South America. The strategic litigation of instances of transnational crimes, together with a parallel strategy focusing on the illegal appropriation of children born to women held in clandestine detention, turned into key tools in the struggle against impunity and in questioning the validity of broad amnesty laws that were approved soon after the dictatorships.

These ground-breaking strategies and legal tools developed by human rights activists and lawyers purposefully circumvented amnesty laws and began chipping away at the wall of impunity: the first judgment issued in March 2009 against military and police officers in Uruguay related for instance to the murder of 28 Uruguayan citizens in Buenos Aires in 1976. Likewise, in Chile, after decades of absolute impunity, Augusto Pinochet was eventually indicted by Judge Juan Guzmán for crimes relating to “Operation Condor” in December 2004.

The current trial in Buenos Aires is the first prosecution to tackle the whole terror network and its operations to persecute opponents across borders in all its six member states. This prosecution is exceptional internationally and even in Argentina. Kathryn Sikkink labelled Argentina a “global protagonist” in the struggle for international human rights, where 121 criminal trials for dictatorship crimes have already been completed in recent years. Yet the ongoing Operation Condor trial is still a seminal moment. Even the landmark investigations by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón in the late 1990s only focused on atrocities perpetrated inside state borders of Argentina and Chile.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (left) and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976. Both were active members of Operation Condor.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his Argentine counterpart Jorge Videla, in 1976.

Opportunities for Justice

The criminal investigation into the case of Operation Condor began in the late 1990s when the relatives of five victims from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay presented their case to the judiciary in Buenos Aires. The amnesties that existed at the time could be circumvented because the defendants were either foreign individuals or Argentine military commanders. In the early 2000s, the federal judge charged former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and also requested the extradition of several other former dictators, including Augusto Pinochet and the former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. There were delays in the judicial and investigative process in Argentina, due to the context of impunity until the amnesty laws were overturned in 2005. Then the deferrals, due to the large numbers of trials for dictatorship crimes that resumed in 2006, and the trial only began in 2013.

The trial advances justice in new respects by tackling national and transnational human rights violations against 106 victims. The judges are investigating atrocities and perpetrators across multiple and overlapping jurisdictions: crimes perpetrated in Argentina by foreign operatives and Argentine agents, atrocities committed abroad by Argentine forces and their local counterparts as well as the transnational conspiracy of terror by South America’s dictatorships to perpetrate human rights violations. While other criminal prosecutions have established criminal responsibility for specific crimes, this trial, by examining illegal kidnappings and the circumstances surrounding them, aims to prove the actual existence of the Operation Condor network.

The trial is innovative in four respects vis-à-vis previous prosecutions in Argentina: it is the only one to have amongst its 21 defendants a foreigner, retired Uruguayan military officer Manuel Cordero. It addresses atrocities committed in the six countries that composed the Operation Condor network. It has a large number of foreign victims, including 48 Uruguayans and 22 Chileans. It uses the criminal charge of asociación ilicita (the establishment of a joint criminal conspiracy) to prosecute the transnational enterprise created to perpetrate crimes against humanity across borders. This specific charge is commonly utilised by domestic courts investigating cases relating to local criminal gangs or mafia groups; it has never been used for crimes committed during the dictatorship.

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

Automotores Orletti, the garage used as a clandestine detention centre during the dictatorship is closely connected to the Operation Condor trial (Photo via wikipedia)

The Road Ahead

In less than a year’s time, the sentence in the trial will be known. It is too early to speculate on a sentence yet to come, but some preliminary evaluations can be attempted. Whatever the final verdict, the strategic importance of this trial cannot be underestimated.

This prosecution has played a key role in undermining the structure of impunity that existed in Argentina. The trial is truly unprecedented in its attempt to capture the complexity of repression in South America. It tackles domestic human rights violations but also transnational ones: it includes both Argentine and foreign victims, and there are Argentine perpetrators and foreign counterparts. It is the first time that a criminal court is probing the whole transnational terror network that existed in the region to enable cross-border repression of exiles and activists. The 106 cases are representative of the coordination of terror. Defendants are being prosecuted according to the criminal code not for establishing a domestic criminal conspiracy but an international one.

Activists and lawyers remain hopeful that the trial will have an impact on other countries in the region, especially those that lag behind in accountability for dictatorship crimes, such as Brazil and Uruguay. It is noteworthy that the Operation Condor trial began in Argentina just a few days after the Supreme Court of Justice in Uruguay released a very controversial and internationally criticised sentence regarding past human rights violations. In this context, a condemnatory verdict in the Operation Condor trial, where the majority of victims are Uruguayan citizens, may become a tool for local activists to mobilise on this issue and put pressure on the judiciary and the government to respond to myriad past crimes.

Dr Francesca Lessa is a specialist in issues of justice and human rights in Argentina and Uruguay based at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford.

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