Human rights activists in Argentina have reacted angrily against a ruling which could allow several of those convicted of human rights abuses during the countries 1976-83 dictatorship an early release from prison.
Supreme Court Judges ruled late last Wednesday that Luis Muina, who was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for torture and kidnapping during the dictatorship of 1976-1983, should have his sentence reduced.
Three out of the five judges, including two recently appointed by centre-right President Mauricio Macri, ruled in favour of counting time served before Muina’s conviction as part of his sentence. This decision was based on a since repealed law that had not been applied to human rights cases until now, known as the ‘2×1’ law – which was enforced between 1994 and 2001 and allowed detainees to double the time spent in detention before their trial and allow it to count toward an early release after sentencing.
Relatives of those injured or killed under the dictatorship have reacted angrily to the ruling, warning it could set a precedent for the release of hundreds of previously convicted human rights abusers. Taty Almeida, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), a group representing the families of the missing, accused the court and government of ‘trashing’ the memory of those still missing and attempting to erase history.
There have also been warnings that the ruling forms part of a wider movement of ‘dictatorship denial’ within the country. Since Macri was sworn in to office, several members of his government have questioned the veracity of the numbers supported by many human rights organisations, specifically the estimated 30,000 total victims. It has also been claimed that organisations responsible for investigating rights abuses have been downsized or had their funding reduced.
With the judges’ verdict now known, many defence lawyers for those currently imprisoned for similar offences are reported to be preparing to lodge appeals. Estimates suggest that up to 750 currently imprisoned human rights abusers (who were sentenced to 25 years in prison or less) could benefit from the ruling.
Some human rights organisations and activists are reported to be considering taking the ruling to international organisations such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in an attempt to get it reversed. This would, however, likely turn into a long and complex process that many of the activists (who are mostly in their 80s and 90s) may not live to see the end of.
At a meeting recently outside Buenos Aires, Argentinan Catholic Bishops called for reconciliation between convicted members of the military and their victims. This ruling may have brought such a day even further out of reach.