An appeals court in Rome sentenced 24 to life in prison on July 8, including former senior officials of the military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. The officials were found to have been involved in Operation Condor, under which opponents of military rule were tracked down and eliminated across South America’s borders in the 1970s and early ’80s. The exact number of people who were killed through this operation is not known. The case before the court focused on the disappearance of 43 people, 23 of whom were Italian citizens. The prosecutors applied the universal jurisdictionprecedent from the 1998 arrest in London of Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. They also referenced the 2016 conviction of leaders of Argentina’s military dictatorship, which confirmed the existence of Operation Condor for the first time.
The trial began in 2015, after years of pressure from the families of the victims who were kidnapped and assassinated. Only one of the 24 convicted and sentenced to life is in Italy. The other 23 were sentenced in absentia, and some are already serving prison time in their home countries. While Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to a fair trial, the European Court of Human Rights has found that a trial in absentiadoes not infringe this right, provided that specific conditions are met. Those accused must have “effective knowledge of the proceeding,” they must be “legally represented and have effective assistance of counsel,” and they should have “the right to retrial.”
Among those sentenced were Peruvian ex-president Francisco Morales Bermudez, former Bolivian interior ministor Luis Arce Gomez, former Uruguayan foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco, and Pedro Espinoza Bravo, a former deputy intelligence chief from Chile. The only defendant who attended the trial was Jorge Troccoli, an exiled Uruguayan army officer with Italian citizenship, who had been previously cleared but faced a retrial.
Before the sentences can be carried out, the ruling must be confirmed by the Supreme Court of Cassation, which considers whether the judgements made by other courts were reached in accordance with the law.
From Jurist, July 9. Used with permission.