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January 16, 2017
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Report points to slight drop in trials for dictatorship-era crimes

Number of sentences for dictatorship-era crimes issued per year since 2006. Source: fiscales.gob.ar

Attorney General’s Unit investigating crimes against humanity indicates that number of sentences handed down fell to 19 in 2006

Trials addressing dictatorship-era crimes are continuing to gradually decline, the Attorney General’s Unit for Investigations into Crimes against Humanity has warned in a new report, revealing that the number of sentences handed down to repressors decreased in 2016 to 19 from the previous year’s figure of 20.

The new study also looks at the difficulties in investigating such cases and highlights potential problems, basing its findings on reports submitted by federal prosecutors throughout the country. The unit warned that the delays in the trials are causing crimes against humanity cases to accumulate and pile up as they wait to be sent to the courts.

“It’s worrying that half of the probes are (still) in the pre-trial investigation phase,” reads one extract from the special unit’s report, which looks into trials from the last decade.

“(From 2006) until December 20, 2016, there have been 585 investigations registered where there have been 2,771 accused. There are also 249 other investigations (which are) delayed at some phase of the investigation, some of which are cases involving the so-called ‘mega-trials,’” the report’s introduction states.

Out of those 585 investigations, 173 sentences have already been issued, which represents only 30 percent of the total. Meanwhile, 87 of those sentences are being examined by higher courts.

Currently, 277 cases — 47 percent of the total — are still in the pre-trial phase, while 119 have already been accumulated as they wait for trials to begin. Only six of them have a date for the hearings to start while there are other 16 ongoing trials, which represent three percent of the total.

Indicating a slow descending curve, the report found that there have been 173 confirmed sentences issued since 2006 for dictatorship-era crimes. The high point for such sentences over that period was the years 2012 and 2013, in which 25 sentences were handed down by the courts. Since then, numbers have gradually declined, with 21 issued in 2014, 20 in 2015 and 19 last year, the lowest number since 2010.

This year’s statistics are the first under the Mauricio Macri administration. The majority of the figues refer to the administrations of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which oversaw the two-year highs and the two years of decline prior to 2016’s figure.

KEY MEGA-TRIALS

Among the main problems highlighted regarding trials addresing dictatorship-era crimes, the Attorney General’s Unit said that “the decrease in the number of sentences and the number of people being sentenced for the first time was consolidated.”

In 2016, 161 of those indicted were given definitive judgements over their alleged crimes (136 condemned and 25 acquitted). But, if compared to 2015 (in which 117 condemned and 10 acquitted) that number has increased.

The authors of the report explain that this situation has to do with the ending of some of the so-called “mega-trials” — La Perla, Automotores Orletti II and the historic verdict in Operation Cóndor trial.

In 2003 — two months after former president Néstor Kirchner took office — Congress declared null and void the Due Obedience and Full Stop Laws that prevented those who committed crimes during the last dictatorship from being charged with crimes and facing trial. That decision was confirmed two years later by the Supreme Court, which was also overhauled after Kirchner took office.

Trials were reactivated in 2006, when two sentences were issued; the same number was registered in 2007. Numbers then began to jump — in 2008, eight sentences were handed down and in 2009, 11. The first leap took place in 2010, when 19 sentences were handed down and in 2001 the number climbed to 21. In 2012 and 2013 — after the re-election of Fernández de Kirchner — 25 sentences were issued, the highest numbers so far.

OTHER KEY CASES

The report also highlights to key sentences issued over the last year to judicial officials, such as former federal judges Luis María Vera Candioti in Santa Fe province, Roberto Catalán in La Rioja and former prosecutor Gustavo Demarchi from Mar del Plata.

The special unit also pointed to the sentence handed down last March to Marcos Levín — the owner of transport company La Veloz del Norte— for his role in the or the abduction of some of his employees in Salta province, which made him the first businessman in the country’s history to be convicted for crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship.

FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE

The following day after Mauricio Macri won the presidential runoff against Victory Front (FpV) candidate Daniel Scioli in 2015, amid claims from his opponents that such proceedings were not a priority for his administration, the Let’s Change leader was asked to publicly state his position on trials addressing crimes against humanity dating back to the dictatorship. Macri responded he would not stand in the way of the Judiciary continuing with the probes.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti vowed at the time that there would not be an U-turn in the trials, as they are part of the social pact with the country.

In December, when asked by the Herald about the trials investigating crimes against humanity advancing very slowly after a year in office, Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj said that the Human Rights Secretariat “is a plaintiff in 226 cases, and there are 120 that have been elevated to trial — about 50 percent.”

“Of those, only 16 have a court designated and in those courts there is a hearing every 15 days or so on average, that lasts two hours,” Avruj added.

“If there isn’t a decision on the part of the Justice system to push forwards the trials, to designate judges to take up the case, to pick the courts, to fill the vacancies, there is not much more I can do than to make a political request or demand,” the human rights secretary concluded.

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