Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Missing Witness a "Dirty" Reminder

Sources: The Associated Press, Reuters

Activists demonstrated in Buenos Aires last week to call for the safe return of Jorge Julio Lopez. Lopez, 77, disappeared on September 18, after having testified at the trial of Migual Etchecolatz, a former police chief found guilty of crimes against humanity. The disappearance has caused many to question whether vestiges of the old “Dirty War” regime still linger.

Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina was ruled by right-wing military factions that conducted brutal campaigns against citizens they viewed as subversive or dissident. Referred to as the “Dirty War,” or Guerra Sucia, the period was marked by widespread atrocities committed in the name of the “National Reorganization Process.” Miguel Etchecolatz was a police commissioner during this time in charge of secret detention centers where many of the human rights violations occurred. Supposed enemies of the ruling party were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed as part of what has been called Operation Condor, in which an estimated 11,000 to 30,000 citizens were killed or declared missing.

Lopez testified as to being a prisoner during this period and being subjected to torture at the hands of Miguel Etchecolatz, who was convicted on September 19.

In 1984, the newly elected government, led by President Raul Alfonsin, introduced the Ley de Punto Final, or “Full Stop Law,” and the Ley de Obediencia Debida, or “Law of Due Obedience.” These laws, enacted by vote on December 24, 1986, gave amnesty to the guerrilla and military leaders for the human rights crimes committed prior to December 12, 1983. The current president of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, spearheaded an effort to address past human rights violations which led to the Argentine Supreme Court overturning the amnesty laws in June of 2005. This annulment of the amnesty laws has opened the door to prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities of that era. As soon as the hearings began, however, so did the threatening letters sent to judges and officials.

Florencio Randazzo, Buenos Aires Provincial Minister of Government stated last week that the disappearance has worried many who believe it is meant to intimidate other witnesses and disrupt future prosecution. This fear has been expressed at all levels, including the President. Argentines remembering the “Dirty War” shrink from the idea that it is still able to affect politics.

Does restorative justice—which seeks to repair the harm done to victims and to prevent future injuries—strengthen the rule of law? If so, how? Does retributive justice—which attempts to give wrongdoers what they deserve, but in a way that does not constitute vengeance—strengthen the rule of law? Why might a community give amnesty to those who have hurt its citizens?

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