Latin America's Generals face prosecution
Boost for international human rights law
Two men associated with right-wing juntas in Chile and Argentina, respectively, during the 1970s and 1980s, have recently been arrested on international extradition warrants in relation to human rights offences.
Argentinean Major Jorge Olivera was detained in Rome Airport and Chilean Ricardo Miguel Cavallo was arrested in Cancún Airport, Mexico, on French and Spanish extradition warrants, respectively.
Paris has accused Olivera of participating in the disappearance of French citizen Marie Anne Erize in Argentina on 20 October 1976. Olivera, a lawyer representing Argentinean military leaders, was in Europe to present a lawsuit concerning the 1982 sinking of the Belgrano at the European Court of Human Rights.
Cavallo was identified by three Argentinean victims of torture as Miguel Angel Cavallo, accused of running a navy unit that tortured political opponents. Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who previously tried to extradite General Augusto Pinochet to Spain to face charges of human rights abuses, is seeking Cavallo's extradition.
On Friday 25 August, Interpol identified Cavallo as having operated at the notorious Navy School of Mechanics in Buenos Aires, where hundreds of people were tortured and killed. ``Cavallo won the nickname `Serpico' for the effectiveness with which he did his work. He was quick to shoot,'' said Swiss-based writer Juan Gasparini.
Gasparini is well acquainted with Cavallo. Detained himself for 20 months at the Navy School, he says Cavallo killed Gasparini's wife and a friend in Buenos Aires in 1977.
Mexican officials say they have set a deadline of a week to decide whether to hold Cavallo, who has committed no crimes in Mexico. He is also wanted in France in connection with the killing in Argentina of 15 French citizens, including two nuns.
The recent attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain to Spain has set a precedent in the use of the concept of genocide in international law. Attempts to prosecute the military juntas of Argentina and Chile for the disappearances, torture and murders of the `70s and `80s are now possible.
As these dictatorships came to an end, various laws were passed to guarantee immunity for thousand of civilians, army officers, and police involved in the disappearance of 30,000 people in Argentina and 5,000 people in Chile.
Spanish lawyer Virginia Díaz, a member of the Spanish prosecution team against Pinochet, spoke in Dublin on Wednesday, 23 August and addressed ongoing atempts to secure prosecutions under international law.
``In 1996 in Madrid,'' Díaz explained, ``a forum for debate started to discuss the repression in Argentina and Chile in the 1970s and 1980s and the immunity laws which allowed those responsible for crimes against humanity to escape prosecution for those crimes in their own countries.''
In March 1996, the first lawsuit in behalf of the disappeared in Argentina was lodged in Spain and in July of the same year, a lawsuit was initiated on behalf of the disappeared in Chile.
According to Virginia, Pinochet's arrest opened new possibilities for the judicial interpretation of international law in the areas of Crimes against Humanity, Torture and Terrorism. ``This is how we get to the famous London decisions,'' she said. ``The most important and positive consequence of the Lords resolutions is that everyone agreed that there was no sovereign immunity for king, queen, president or prime minister in cases of crimes against humanity.''
A second decision left the door open to a judical argument used by the public prosecutor in London establishing that the crime of disappearance is still current, as the whereabouts of the victims are unknown. It was argued as well that the torture is suffered not only by those who are disappeared, but also by his/her relatives and for that reason those crimes are also offences against the victims' families.''
The decision by the House of Lords allows for any judge, in any country, to charge any person responsible for someone's disappearance for his part on the ongoing torture suffered by the family of the victim.
Virginia believes Pinochet's return to Chile was a primarily political decision, but today, the former general cannot feel safe even at home, as a Chilean Supreme Court ruling in early August lifted his parliamentary immunity. Now he could face prosecution in Chile in connection with human rights abuses. Senior members of the armed forces in Chile were angered by this decision and looked for a meeting with current Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, which took place on Tuesday 29 August.
At the moment, in Spain alone, cases are open against 150 soldiers, police and civilians, who cannot leave their countries for fear of extradition warrants.
One of the consequences of the Pinochet case has been the creation of an International Criminal Court to take on cases of crimes against humanity. ``But what is more important'', highlights Virginia, ``is the final confirmation that crimes against humanity are imprescriptable and that human rights are inviolable. There is no possible immunity to cover those responsible for those crimes, and for that reason any court, in any state, may prosecute these people''.
Virginia admits, however, that it will not be easy to take judical action against certain international figures, still too powerful or well protected by their countries' establishments, and whose actions would always be forgiven in the name of the well being of international markets. As Virginia well points out: ``We have to remember that at the time of Pinochet's arrest, there was genocide being carried out in East Timor and no one has yet being charged or arrested for it.''