Argentina: Court Annuls Amnesty for Ex-Dictators Jorge Rafael Videla and Emilio Massera

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, May 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

Argentina: Court Annuls Amnesty for Ex-Dictators Jorge Rafael Videla and Emilio Massera


An Argentine Federal Appeals Court has annulled presidential pardons handed to two former military dictators for crimes they committed during their regimes, reinstating the life sentences they received in 1985. The decision against ex-Navy head Adm. Emilio Massera and Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla (1976-1981)--leaders of the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983--came shortly after another Argentine court refused to extradite Videla to Germany to face charges for the abduction and murder of a German woman during the dirty war the junta conducted against political opponents.

"Seventeen years waiting for this judgment"

The ruling against Videla and Massera has nullified the pardons that former President Carlos Saul Menem (1989-1999) gave the convicted human rights criminals five years after they were sentenced. Menem's pardons--which he said would "close a sad and black stage of Argentine history" and foster reconciliation among Argentines after years of violent, ideological conflict--prompted widespread protests (see Chronicle 1989-07-27, 1989-08-15, 1989-10-02 and 1989-10-24).

Videla was found guilty of 66 homicides, the torture of 93 other people, and the illegal confinement of more than 300. Massera was convicted of three killings, the torture of 12 people, and the illegal confinement of 69 dissidents.

In 2006, Videla and other junta members lost their immunity from prosecution with Judge Norberto Oyarbide's ruling that Menem's amnesty was unconstitutional (see NotiSur, 2006-09-29). The Federal Appeals Court decision of April 25 reinstates the life sentence given to Massera and Videla, said human rights lawyer and president of the Liga Argentina de Derechos Humanos Rodolfo Yanzon. Yanzon's group asked the court in 2005 to overturn the pardons as unconstitutional because the cases involved crimes against humanity, Yanzon said.

"It's been 17 years of waiting for this judgment," Yanzon said in an April 25 interview. "These people didn't deserve a pardon considering the very grave nature of the crimes committed."

Since taking office in May 2003, President Nestor Kirchner has sought to push forward the agenda of human rights organizations that demand full accounting for the crimes committed by the military during the 1970s (see NotiSur, 2006-02-10 and 2006-03-31). In March, Kirchner called on judges to move quickly on lawsuits involving human rights violations committed during the junta's reign.

"We are not asking for revenge," Kirchner said in a speech March 24 commemorating the anniversary of the 1976 coup. "We are asking for the functioning of our justice system."

Under the dictatorship, more than 10,000 Argentines were kidnapped by the authorities as the military three-man junta, led by Videla, Massera, and Brig. Gen. Orlando Agosti, tried to stamp out an insurgency by Marxist guerrillas, according to the findings of a government commission 20 years ago. Human rights groups say more than 30,000 people disappeared.

After a democracy was restored in 1983, the top officers of the military government were prosecuted, found guilty of multiple counts of murder, and sent to prison in 1985.

Argentina's Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) on June 14, 2005, held unconstitutional two laws from 1986 and 1987 that barred legal action against lower-rank officers who served under the military regime. The courts are working also on the prosecution of pardoned ex-military officer Santiago Omar Riveros.

In the course of the dirty war, which started in 1976, the military committed crimes against humanity by applying widespread torture and stealing babies, the commission found.

Videla, 81, is under house arrest on charges of helping abduct babies during the dictatorship, newspaper La Nacion reported, while Massera, 81, cannot face trial because of his precarious health.

While the court decision restores many of the sentences that Menem nullified, its effects are arguably minimal. …

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