Three human rights representatives – Norita Cortiñas, mother of Plaza de Mayo; Pablo Llonto, lawyer of human rights organizations in the crimes against humanity trials; and Patricia Isasa, dictatorship survivor and human rights activist – spoke in Thursday’s hearing in the Lower House on the Impeachment Commission, after 14 lawsuits were presented against the Supreme Court justices in January. Argentine Human Rights Organizations participate to argue in favor of the process.
Norita Cortiñas, a 92-year-old Mother of Plaza de Mayo, held the most critical position regarding the role of the Justice in the trials for crimes against humanity. “This process is long overdue, these judges have done significant damage,” she said. Cortiñas affirmed that by will or omission, the four Supreme Court Justices granted the dictatorship’s torturers different benefits, to the detriment of victims seeking justice.
She read a statement while wearing her traditional white headscarf, in which she expressed her concerns as a human rights activist regarding some of the actions taken by the Justices in terms of human rights.
“If they had even a tiny bit of dignity in their bodies, they would’ve already resigned,” said Cortiñas.
Two other exponents of the journey, Pablo Llonto and Patricia Isasa, would elaborate on this issue thoroughly.
Omission and negligence
Supreme Court president Horacio Rosatti was criticized for not being committed to human rights even before joining the tribunal in 2015. A heavy silence fell across the room as Patricia Isasa gave her testimony. She told the Congress members that she was tortured and abused by repressor Eduardo Alberto Ramos in 1976. After the return of democracy, she found that Ramos was working in the Culture Secretariat of the city of Santa Fe, where Rosatti was Mayor.
In her search for justice, in 1998, she visited Rosatti to tell him about the situation. She argued that Ramos could no longer work for the government not only because of dictatorship crimes, but also because he had been condemned for crimes such as abuse, theft, and kidnapping. Rosatti did not commit to taking any action. As she became more public about her experience, the media published her story, emphasizing that Ramos was working for the Rosatti administration. The current Supreme Court justice never took action. Ramos was fired after his administration had ended, in 2001.
“These things only change if people know what happened,” Isasa said before the Congress members, telling her difficult story once again to ask for justice. “The impeachment doesn’t seek to punish a single individual, that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for the protection of public interest against abuse of power, I’m asking that it’s reviewed that he’s incompatible with his position.”
As a lawyer for human rights organizations, Pablo Llonto was especially critical of Rosatti regarding his role as the Interpowers Commission’s chairman. Rosatti is indicted for the current paralysation of the commission, which was created to track crimes against humanity trials of the dictatorship and ensure they weren’t halted. It’s composed of the public prosecutor and defense ministries, the Council of Magistrates, human rights organizations, and executive power members, and must be summoned by the court in order to function. Rosatti, as the Supreme Court president, is responsible for assembling the work of the Commission.
The Supreme Court stopped assembling the commission after the “two for one” controversy, when he and Justice Rosenkratz attempted to grant early release to a dictatorship torturer, Luis Muiña, based on a law from 1994 that was revoked in 2001. Back then, the ruling – known as “2×1” for its implications in the enforcement of sentences – sparked a massive protest against the Supreme Court justices, who backed out of their decision.
“The fact that he halted the work of the Interpowers Commission sends a message to judges and courts across the country: don’t worry if the human rights trials are too slow,” said Llonto.
The crimes against humanity trials are the oldest in Argentina, some dating from events that took place over 47 years ago. “Hundreds of witnesses, accused and survivors have died waiting,” he said, “and over 60% of the victims have not had their trial.” These trials, said Llonto, should be the top priority. But now, most trials have one hearing per week at most. “Most of the time, it’s a hearing every 15 days,” he added. “Why are trials slower each passing day?”
According to the Office for Crimes against Humanity (PCCH), delays in the justice processes persist. Of the 62 cases due to be tried in 2023, only six have a start date set.
Although in 2022, 58 people were found guilty and condemned in crimes against humanity trials, even more – 63 – died while investigations against them were ongoing. The report shows that the average time that victims wait between a case being sent to trial and a final conviction is five years and three months.
The speakers indicated that Rosatti’s attitude towards the trial builds injustice. “The trials are not moving forward: it’s as simple as it is serious, and the Justices are responsible politically for what they do,” concluded the lawyer.
The Commission will continue its work next Thursday, when Congresspeople will analyze whether the lawsuits are legitimate.
Juntos por el Cambio Congressmembers have expressed their opposition to the impeachment request from the beginning, alleging that the government is attacking the judiciary in an anti-democratic manoeuvre.
Other international human rights organizations also referred to the request for impeachment of the Supreme Court. In its 2023 report, the NGO Human Rights Watch flagged that the impeachment process was “an assault on the rule of law”, and said that “High-level authorities have used hostile rhetoric against judges and prosecutors who rule against the government or investigate the vice president’s alleged involvement in corruption”.