Impunity in Argentina

© Graffiti in Buenos Aires that reads,

Graffiti in Buenos Aires that reads, “Enough impunity.”

At the surface, the end of the Dirty War in Argentina brought democracy and peace to the country, but the transition was not as well defined as it appeared. In this newly democratic nation, authoritarian practices continue to prevail. Particularly, impunity continues to be a large human rights obstacle in Argentina. Throughout the decades of the post Dirty War era, it is clear that the military, police, and government continue to use impunity tactics to control the country and block its citizens from justice.

© A poster calling for a human rights demonstration against the Full Stop law.

© _stop_law A poster calling for a human rights demonstration against the Full Stop law.

Arguably the first major case of impunity occurred in 1986 when President Alfonsin passed the Full Stop law, bringing an end to all trials against military officials who committed crimes during the Dirty War. The next year he passed the Due Obedience law, which granted immunity to military personnel who participated in crimes against humanity during the dictatorship (Brown 2002). During the period after the war, the government was wary of the military. They feared another military coup, so Alfonsin tried to meet the needs of the generals by offering pardons (Brown 2002). However, this impunity granted by the President, who embodied the highest political authority in the land, set the pieces in motion for impunity to be extended to other cases in the judicial system, such as the police force.

The police continue to use the Dirty War tactic of disappearing undesirable citizens. Between 1983 and 2013, over 230 people were disappeared by police forces (Bonner 2014). However, unlike the Dirty War, citizens are not disappeared for conspiring with guerrilla forces. In the case of Luciano Arruga, the teenager was disappeared after refusing to participate in corrupt police activities such as burglary (Bonner 2014). Although his family has evidence of police harassment and torture against Arruga before he was disappeared, his case has not been taken to court. Lack of effective police reform after the military dictatorship of the 1970’s and 80’s made way for continued human rights violations and impunity within the sector.

Impunity also occurs within the government. In January 2015, the prosecutor Alberto Nisman working a case against Argentine president was killed under the guise of a suicide (Zraick 2015). The president and minister of exteriors were accused of conspiring with Iran in a cover up operation against a bombing in 2004 against the Mutual Association of Israelite Argentines (AMIA) (Canton 2015). Nisman’s death is just one example of political “suicides” used by the government to protect officials from accusations. The pattern of murder to cover up government crime is a repeated occurrence that has persisted since the Dirty War.

©                                  Protesters seek justice for the death of Nisman.

Argentina has become riddled with a culture of impunity that stems from Dirty War politics. Authors Michael Humphrey and Estela Valverde call this culture impunidad and define it as “the product of the failure of the state to protect rights, provide access to justice, ensure legal accountability of public officials, tackle police corruption, reverse the rising incidence of violent crime, and make businesses and individuals accountable for criminal negligence” (Humphrey & Valverde 2007). Victims of impunity both during and after the dictatorship formed numerous human rights groups such as las Madres de Plaza de Mayo and la Comisión de Amigos y Vecinos de Budge to demand justice and accountability for the human rights crimes committed by the state (Humphrey & Valverde 2007). The public demands reform and restructuring of the state to establish a truly democratic nation, free of the impunity and lawlessness that became normalized during the Dirty War era. Human rights can only be observed and maintained if it is embraced as a culture and in Argentina the military, police, and political sector only perpetuate its demise; however, there is hope that if the institutional governance system is reformed there can be a possibility for truth, justice and reconciliation.

For more information, please refer to our complete dossier.

Authors: Melody Hernaiz, Charith Hettiarachchi, and Megan Tunzi

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