Wed, May 17, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Argentines fight leniency for human rights crimes

Advocates say the early release of a man convicted of crimes against humanity exemplifies the way in which Argentine President Mauricio Macri has adopted a less aggressive approach to dealing with one of the darkest chapters in Argentina’s history

By Daniel Politi  /  NY Times News Service, BUENOS AIRES

Illustration: Mountain People

Worried that the men who committed some of Argentina’s most heinous human rights abuses could be freed from jail years early, on Wednesday last week hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the country’s streets.

The demonstrations were in response to an Argentine Supreme Court ruling this month that reduced the sentence of a man convicted of crimes against humanity during the country’s military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.

The court’s decision led to a flood of requests for the same leniency from others imprisoned for kidnapping, torture and murder.

Advocates said that the ruling could pave the way for the early release of some of the era’s most notorious offenders.

However, widespread repudiation of the ruling by the public, culminating in the day of protest, which organizers said had drawn half a million people in Buenos Aires alone, forced an uncharacteristically quick and united response from the nation’s political leaders.

After just two days of debate, the Argentine Congress passed a bill intended to prevent any shortening of prison terms for those sentenced for crimes against humanity.

The vote was nearly unanimous, almost unheard-of in the country’s divided political landscape.

Hours before the protests began, Argentine President Mauricio Macri also came out against the decision, saying he was “against any tool that favors impunity.”

His administration had initially emphasized the need to respect the independence of the courts, but changed tack as opposition mounted and helped push the bill through Congress. It became law on Friday last week.

The developments of the week follow a historical pattern, experts said.

“On human rights issues, the political and institutional actions have always come after a demand from society as a whole,” said Gaston Chillier, the executive director of the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina.

While it now appears very unlikely that hundreds of human rights abusers will be leaving prison ahead of schedule, advocates said the court’s decision exemplified the way in which Macri had adopted a less aggressive approach to dealing with one of the darkest chapters in Argentina’s history.

Two of the three justices who signed on to the decision were appointed by Macri, who took office in 2015, and advocates said the ruling fits a pattern of his administration’s tamping down efforts to seek justice for the atrocities carried out during the dictatorship.

Trying those crimes was a centerpiece of the policy of former Agrentinian presidents Cristina Fernandez, who served from 2007 to 2015, and Nestor Kirchner, her husband, who led the country from 2003 to 2007.

The court decision “surprised and angered us, but it isn’t incoherent with the philosophy of the current government,” said Estela Barnes de Carlotto, who leads Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of women searching for the hundreds of newborn babies stolen from their mothers in clandestine detention centers during the dictatorship.

“It took Macri a whole week to say anything,” said Victoria Duran, a demonstrator at Wednesday’s protest in Buenos Aires.

As protesters packed the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, they sang: “What happened to the Nazis will happen to you. Wherever you go, we will go after you.”

Marta Mamani, 64, went to the march carrying a photograph of her sister, Olga Mamani, and her brother-in-law, Luis Torres, both killed by the military after they disappeared in June 1976.

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