On June 14, Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice voted 7-1 with one abstention to overturn two amnesty laws as unconstitutional. The December 1986 Full Stop law and the June 1987 Due Obedience law gave military officers almost total impunity for crimes committed during Argentina’s 1976-1983 “dirty war,” in which the military regime disappeared some 30,000 suspected leftists.
The Full Stop law set a 60-day deadline for bringing charges; when that failed to stop the trials the Due Obedience law was passed, granting automatic immunity from prosecution to all members of the military except top commanders. On June 22, 1987, the Supreme Court found the due obedience law constitutional. The only crimes not covered by the amnesty were rape and the theft of babies born to mothers who were detained and disappeared.
The Supreme Court’s new ruling confirms lower court decisions that deemed the amnesty laws unconstitutional. The amnesty laws were also annulled by Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies on Aug. 12, 2003, and by the Senate on Aug. 22, 2003. As a legal precedent for its groundbreaking decision, the Supreme Court cited a 2001 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the Barrios Altos massacre case in Peru, which declared two 1995 amnesty laws in Peru to be incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights.
The case which led to the new ruling involves charges against two police agents for the 1978 torture and disappearance of Chilean activist Jose Liborio Poblete and his Argentine wife, Marta Gertrudis Hlaczik. In 2001, federal judge Gabriel Cavallo declared the amnesty laws unconstitutional and reopened the case.
Human rights groups say the ruling could lead to the arrest of nearly 500 retired military and police officers on charges related to the torture and forced disappearance of prisoners and the theft of prisoners’ homes and other properties, among other crimes. The measure does not affect pardons granted in 1990 to a number of high-ranking officers. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 15; La Republica, Uruguay, June 15, via Red Solidaria por los Derechos Humanos-REDH; Reuters AlertNet, June 14 from Human Rights Watch)
Defense Minister Jose Pampuro quickly reassured the public that the ruling would not cause any concern on the part of the armed forces, only on a “personal” level among those who might face charges. The Defense Ministry said some 3,000 former members of the military–and perhaps as many as 40 still in active duty–may now be called to testify in human rights cases. (LJ, June 15)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 19, 2005