Crimes Against Humanity

Argentine ecumenical body speaks
Oct 06, 2003 12:22 PM EDT

BUENOS AIRES - An ecumenical human rights body is among organizations in Argentina that are asking for recognition as plaintiffs in processes to prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity in the country. The Ecumenical Human Rights Movement (MEDH) and six other similar organizations filed their suit after Argentina's Parliament annulled the so-called Final Point and Due Obedience law that granted amnesty to military officers considered responsible for crimes against humanity in the mid-seventies and early eighties. MEDH brings together several Christian churches in Argentina including the two Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches there - the Evangelical Church of the River Plate and United Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The request was brought before Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral who is investigating crimes against humanity committed between 1976 and 1983 under the First Army Corps in the Naval School of Mechanics (ESMA), which became a center where people were detained, tortured and disappeared during the military dictatorship.

"We presented a 54-page writ in which we asked that they create a file for each clandestine center that depended on the First Army Corps, as to include everything in the same file is impossible," explained Marma Gonzalez Rivero, lawyer for those filing the suit.

According to investigations carried out in Argentina, there were more than 340 clandestine detention centers during the seven-year military rule, and ESMA was one of the main ones.

Those filing the suit include an association of ex-detainees and previously disappeared, whose president Adriana Calvo filed the same suit personally as a survivor, the national human rights league and a juridical action committee.

Established in February 1976, the MEDH also includes the Roman Catholic dioceses of Quilmes, Neuquin, Viedma and Iguazz, Disciples of Christ, Methodist, Reformed, and Waldensian churches, and the national Christian youth association. Methodist Pastor Jose N. de Luca is the coordinator of the movement, which receives support through the LWF Department for Mission and Development.

"We want to know the truth about what happened in the clandestine detention centers, who gave the orders and who carried them out, so that this never happens again in Argentine or in the rest of the world," said De Luca.

On September 4, the attorneys assigned to the case from the First Army Corps, ordered the detention of 38 military and police officers and civilians accused of kidnapping and being implicated in the disappearance of hundreds of victims of the "dirty war." In the case of ESMA, 13 suspects are still in jail.

The lawsuit argues that "a system of clandestine repression was established in the country" between 1976 and 1983 and that, based on a 1985 judicial ruling, "it can be affirmed that the commanders' secretary established a criminal mode to battle terrorism. Inferior armed forces' ranks were given great discretion to deprive those who appeared to be linked to subversion of their freedom, based on intelligence information."

The lawsuit also states that suspected individuals were to be interrogated under torture and submitted to inhuman regimes while they were held in captivity. Finally, there was great liberty to determine the final destiny of each victim: entry into the legal system, freedom or simply physical elimination.

According to the suit, ESMA operated as a secret detention, torture and extermination center before 24 March 1976 up until the end of the dictatorship. It came under the First Army Corps and was the responsibility of the chain of command, including successive commander-in-chiefs who also made up the military juntas.

The petition names those in charge of ESMA as the authors or co-authors of the forced disappearance of more than 5,000 people, who were submitted to systematic torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, reduced to slavery and so on, in the detention center from 24 March 1976 to the end of 1983.

It specifies crimes committed by 47 of those responsible and points to another 31 people who carried out functions within the center's operation sector and presumably are also responsible. Those named, according to the lawsuit, are the authors, co-authors, accomplices and or participants in the crimes of forced disappearance, torture, illegal arrest, robbery, usurpation of identity and homicide.