THE PROBLEM OF THE DISAPPEARED
A. General Considerations
1. During the last three years, the IACHR has received a large number of claims affecting a considerable number of persons in Argentina. These claims allege that said persons have been apprehended either in their homes, their jobs, or on the public thoroughfares, by armed men, who are occasionally in uniform, in operations and under conditions that indicate, due to the characteristics in which they are carried out, that they are conducted by agents of the State. After these actions have occurred, the persons apprehended disappear, and nothing is ever known of their whereabouts.
According to its regulatory provisions, the Commission has been processing the individual cases, by transmitting to the Government of Argentina the pertinent parts thereof and requiring that the respective information be provided.
With regard to the issue of observance of human rights, the Commission considers it vitally important to present in this chapter an analysis of this phenomenon, whose moral, family, social and legal implications deeply affect all members of Argentine society.
The Commission has in its files, lists with names, dates, and other data, as well as several studies that have been carried out regarding this problem. Without giving, for the time being, exact figures on the number of these disappeared persons, the information obtained makes it clear that there exists a situation of extreme irregularity requiring special discussion and analysis.
2. In its 1977 Annual Report to the General Assembly, the Commission already mentioned the phenomenon of the disappeared, and expressed its deep concern in the following terms:
In various countries, there are numerous cases wherein the government systematically denies the detention of individuals, despite the convincing evidence that the claimants provide to verify their allegations that such persons have been detained by police or military authorities and, in some cases, that those persons are, or have been, confined in specified detention centers.
This procedure is cruel and inhumane. As experience shows, a “disappearance” not only constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of freedom but also a serious danger to the personal integrity and safety and to even the very life of the victim. It is, moreover, a true form of torture for the victims’ family and friends, because of the uncertainty they experience as to the fate of the victim and because they feel powerless to provide legal, moral and material assistance.
Further, it is a demonstration of the government’s inability to maintain public order and state security by legally-authorized means and of its defiant attitude toward national and international agencies engaged in the protection of human rights.
The 1976 Annual Report states the following:
The “disappearance” seem to be a comfortable expedient to avoid application of the legal provisions established for the defense of personal freedom, physical security, dignity and human life itself. In practice this procedure nullifies the legal standards established in recent years in some countries to avoid illegal detentions and the use of physical and psychological force against persons detained.
3. An important aspect that should be pointed out is in what might be the definition of a disappeared person. In the writ presented to the Supreme Court of Justice, entitled Pérez de Smith, Ana María et al without request (dossier P-51 RN), 1,221 petitioners representing 1,542 disappeared persons describe the situation as follows:
The persons referred to have been apprehended in their homes, jobs or on the public thoroughfares, depending on the case, by armed groups who, prima facie, and almost always stating so expressly, were acting in the exercise of some form of public authority. The above-mentioned operations took place openly, with a wide deployment of men—sometimes in uniform—arms and vehicles; in general, they were carried out in an amount of time and with a thoroughness that confirm the assumption that these actions were carried out by members of the public forces.
After being apprehended as stated, the persons on behalf of whom the undersigned present this petition have disappeared without a trace. All the recourses of habeas corpus, claims, criminal suits, and administrative efforts have failed, as the investigating authorities in each case have invariably reported no record on their detention.
4. In other denunciations or claims received by the IACHR it has been reported that the armed groups that carry out the operations in the homes, apprehend the victim and occasionally his spouse and children, carry out a search of the home, looting the belongings of the residents, and as a general rule, take away all members of the family after placing hoods over their heads and eyes.
The persons affected by these operations, included in the lists at the IACHR, are mostly men and women between 20 and 30 years of age, although older persons and minors have also been known to disappear. Some of the children, kidnapped with their parents, have been released and delivered to relatives or have been abandoned in the streets. Other children, however, continue to be listed among the disappeared.
According to the Commission’s information the phenomenon of the disappeared affects professionals, students, union workers, employees in various areas of business, journalists, religious leaders, military recruits and businessmen; in other words, most elements of Argentine society.
B. Description of the operations
1. From reports received by the IACHR and from interviews and hearings held during the on-site observation with disappeared persons who later reappeared, as well as with relatives of the victims and witnesses of the above-noted actions, three stages emerge as part of the disappearance phenomenon:
a. The Apprehension or Kidnapping, described above, to which certain clarifications should be added.
The operations, for the most part, are carried out by groups whose number varies from 6 to 20 persons which arrive at the home or place of work of the victim in several unmarked cars without license plates, and equipped with radios that allow them to communicate with each other. In some cases they are accompanied by additional support forces in vans, in which, after the mission is completed, they transport the household goods that are taken from the homes of the victims.
It has also been denounced that when relatives, witnesses or building supervisors reported the occurrences to the local police, the response was usually, after admitting knowledge of the fact, to say that they were unable to intervene. In the few cases where police did arrive at the scene, they withdraw shortly after having spoken to the persons directly involved in the operation. This situation has been called “free zone”, in favor of the intervening parties.
b. The Investigation
After the kidnapping, there is a stage at which the persons are taken to various military establishments1 for what could be called “background inquiry”.
From testimony received from disappeared persons who were later released one can infer what sort of mechanisms were used in this phase of the operation. The persons in charge were well-trained, of rank, who used ill treatment and torture as a method of interrogation, with the clear purpose of weakening the victim in order to obtain confessions, information about other persons, and in some cases, as a system of intimidation of persons who were later set free without being interrogated,2 usually friends or relatives who were with the victim at the time of the apprehension.
All claimants agree that torture during prolonged illegal detentions was even more severe than during the short-term kidnappings.
According to testimony received, only a very small number of the persons apprehended during this state were “regularized”, that is, granted due process or placed under the control of the Executive (PEN). Instead, they were usually transferred to clandestine detention centers. During its on-site observation, the IACHR interviewed several persons in prison who experienced this and claimed to have been kept in places they could not identify, with persons who are at present listed among the disappeared.3
c. The Disappearance
2. Once the two previous stages have occurred, the phenomenon takes on dramatic characteristics, when no information about the whereabouts of the persons is made known. Only a very small percentage is later set free. The Commission will include in the following section testimony from several persons who reappeared4 indicating the living conditions of the disappeared persons; the constant transfers that they were subjected to and the system of surveillance and attention that they underwent.
3. The persons that reappeared reflect a physical and psychological state of serious breakdown; they live in a state of fear and in some cases they have had to undergo medical treatment to recover. A high percentage have left the country after having lived through this experience.
Up to now, the persons who have disappeared under the circumstances and methods mentioned above, continue to be regarded as missing.
C. Some cases of the disappeared
1. Some case histories of the disappeared discussed below, have been noted and studied by the Commission. In view of the impossibility of analyzing each one of the thousands of denunciations received by the IACHR, it has been decided to select as representative examples, those cases, which in the Commission’s view, can be considered as pilot cases illustrative of general situations. The IACHR has attempted to place them into categories based on their relative similarities.
2. The case of pregnant women is of great concern to the IACHR, not only for the mother’s sake, but because of its implications regarding those about to be born and because of the repercussions this has on the family.
Among the cases presented, there are several instances of the kidnapping and disappearance of pregnant mothers:
3. Case 2970 – Silvia Angélica CORAZZA de SÁNCHEZ
The IACHR has received the following claim:
Silvia Angélica, of Argentina nationality, 27 years of age, married. At the time of kidnapping on May 19, 1977, she was two months pregnant; seven months later the grandmother received the baby girl born in detention; Mrs. Corazza de Sánchez also has another little girl, four years old. Her identification card is number 6.071.079. She is a housewife and her address is: Bartolomé Mitre 2637, 2n Floor, 42, Federal Capital. Date of kidnapping: 5.19.77. On the date, time and the place mentioned, the victim was arrested by armed persons in civilian dress. After seven months, she was taken to the home of her mother, accompanied by three persons, who, although dressed as civilians, belonged to police or security forces; they had a short meeting during which Mrs. Silvia Angélica handed her mother a new-born baby girl (five days old) stating that she had the baby while in detention and that she had been well treated during delivery. Once the baby was handed over, they left for an unknown destination. Since then nothing further has been heard of the whereabouts of the aforementioned person.
In note dated September 21, 1978, the Government replied as follows:
C. Persons on whom there is no previous record of detention and who are the subjects of a police search under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior:
3. Silvia Angélica CORAZZA de SÁNCHEZ
At present the case is being processed in accordance with the regulations. However, the Commission considers that the Government’s reply does not refute the complainant’s statements.
4. Case 2732 – María Cristina LÓPEZ de BELAUSTEGUI
The IACHR has received the following denunciation:
María Cristina López Guerra, Argentine citizen, identification card Nº 7.490.828, born September 8, 1954, Martín Belaústegui Herrera, Argentine citizen, identification card Nº 12.254.612, address, Nicaragua 10.345, kilometer 22.600, Route 8 of Section 3 de Febrero, Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, were arrested on July 26, 1976, and to this date their whereabouts, as well as the reason for their detention, are unknown.
On July 26, 1976, a group of approximately ten heavily armed men, dressed in civilian clothes, who identified themselves as members of the “Joint Forces Commando” were waiting in hiding in the yard for María Cristina and her husband Martín.
At approximately 7 pm, when they returned from work, they were arrested and immediately taken into the house, after the door was broken down with machine guns. A few moments later, with their heads covered with hoods, they were taken out of the house and violently forced to get into a car, which took them away. I wish to clarify that at that time María Cristina was pregnant.
On the same day, July 26, half an hour later, an army truck stopped in front of the house. Military uniformed personnel raided the home, plundering their belongings, without giving any explanation to the witnesses for these actions.
All inquiries that have been made regarding the reasons for their arrest have produced no results, as have all endeavors to find out which authority was in charge of these persons, or their whereabouts.
Remedies of habeas corpus have been filed before the competent courts, but they were rejected.
The Government of Argentina, in a note dated June 16, 1978, replied as follows:
C. Persons on whom there is no previous record of detention and who are the subjects of a police search by the Ministry of the Interior:
35. María Cristina LÓPEZ GUERRA de BELAUSTEGUI
The Commission requested additional information from the Government, through a note dated January 22, 1979. The Argentine Government, in a note dated November 29, 1979, replied by stating that the claim presented makes it impossible to furnish any elements in reply that could clarify or fully satisfy the requirements of the Commission. The Commission, in turn, continues its study of the case.
5. The case presented below is related to the disappearance of newborn babies, infants and children, a situation about which the Commission has received a number of claims, which include:
6. Case 2553 – Clara Anahí MARIANI
In a communication dated November 28, 1977, the following denunciation was made:
The purpose of this letter is to determine the whereabouts of a female child, named Clara Anahí Mariani, born on August 12, 1976 in La Plata.
It is public knowledge that on November 24, 1976, at approximately 1.30 pm, an armed confrontation took place between the joint forces and the occupants of a farm located on Calle 30, between 55 and 56, in La Plata. This house was the residence of Daniel E. Mariani, his wife Diana E. Teruggi, and their three-month old daughter, Clara Anahí.
According to a newspaper reports and reports from neighbors, the house—where the child was—was completely surrounded by the joint forces before the confrontation which lasted for several hours.
On the day following the event, an oral report was made to the 4th Police Precinct that the child’s name did not appear in the summary proceedings along with the names of those who had died and who had been identified by the police.
On March 3, 1977, a written reply was received to one of the notes presented to the Chief of Infantry Regiment Nº 7, Colonel Conde, reporting that the child’s whereabouts were unknown, but that Police Headquarters of Operations Area 113 was continuing the investigation.
Dr. Sambucetti initiated proceedings Nº 36.792 in Juvenile Court Nº 2. Reports were obtained from the Children’s Hospital, the Fire Department, the Regional and Police Units. All replies were negative, and the police were informed that no minor had been at the place where the incident occurred.
After a year of continuous and anguished searching, the child’s whereabouts are still unknown. She has not been found alive or dead, and there is no explanation for her disappearance.
In a note dated May 11, 1978, the Government of Argentina replied to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the following terms:
55. MARIANI, Clara Anahí: Investigation conducted by the competent authorities to determine her whereabouts has not produced positive results to date (Case 2553).
In a letter dated March 27, 1978, the pertinent parts of the reply from the Government of Argentina were forwarded to the complainant, and he was asked to make observations to that reply.
In a letter of May 4, the complainant contested the reply by the Government of Argentina as follows:
We feel that Clara Anahí is in the hands of the Argentina authorities or that the authorities have disposed of her, for the following reasons:
1. The child could only have been removed from her home by the same forces that attacked and occupied it, since it was totally surrounded before the confrontation, as reported in all newspapers of 11.25.76. Also, all of the neighbors know that every home in the neighborhood was vacated before the event (but no one would testify to this out of fear).
2. It is a generally held view throughout the country that some babies removed both from their homes where confrontations have occurred and from the places where their parents “disappear”, or from the prisons where they were born, are given away or sold. Clara Anahí must therefore have been “given away” or “sold” like so many other children.
Insofar as giving away other people’s children is concerned, I can inform you that Monsignor has told us that he had rescued several little children who were in the hands of policemen who had registered them as their own.
It has not been possible to rescue Clara Anahí. Was she given away by some important person? Or it is some very important person who has her? The secrecy surrounding the matter would lead one to think so. (Also some comments that have been heard). If there is a witness, for obvious reasons, one cannot rely on his coming forward with information.
A further point which lacks confirmation is that apparently Diana E. Teruggi was gunned down when the confrontation began, while she was trying to escape through the back of the house carrying her child with her. They cut her in half, and in falling, the child was bathed in her mother’s blood and although unconscious, was unharmed. From there, they would have wrapped her up and given her to some important person who disposed of her.
What is known therefore is:
1. That they took her away from the house alive.
2. That the intervening forces took her away and that they are therefore responsible for the baby’s life, but we cannot demonstrate this.
3. That she must have been given away or sold.
The names of the military and police officers who were present while Daniel’s house was being attacked appeared in the newspapers of November 25, 1976. I believe that they must naturally know Clara Anahí’s fate. And we also feel that they must be able to remember the event well because it was the longest, one of the bloodiest and I believe the only one, where, at the end, they used a bomb generating a temperature of 2000 degrees, to end the resistance. (This is what was said at the federal police in La Plata).
In this search for Clara Anahí Mariani, case 2553, everything remains unchanged: her whereabouts are unknown, despite numerous inquiries that have been made. We have to go to the Directora Nacional de la Minoridad (the National Juvenile Bureau); the Provincial Director for Juveniles, we have held interviews with al the juvenile judges in Buenos Aires. The Supreme Court took up the case with much interest, but finally declared that it did not have jurisdiction.
The Commission received the following additional information from the complainant in a note dated August 18, 1978:
There was hope of finding Clara Anahí through the National Juvenile Bureau, but they say that there are no records on file. There are still checking adoptions during the past two years at our request. They don’t know what results this might bring; let us hope that they might be able to locate one of the fifteen babies that we are looking for.
In a communication dated August 30, 1978, the Commission forwarded the complainant’s observations to the Government of Argentina, and asked it to provide the pertinent information.
In note SG 235, dated September 18, 1978, the Government of Argentina replied to the complainant’s observations, but failed to refer to the events denounced and forwarded to them; it merely reported in the following terms:
C) Persons on whom investigatory proceedings have been started to determine their whereabouts and possible status because there was no record of denunciations earlier than that made by that Commission:
16. Clara Anahí MARIANI (Case 2553)
The pertinent parts of the reply from the Government of Argentina were sent to the complainant in a communication dated October 3, 1978.
In a letter dated September 30, 1978, the complainant provided the following additional information:
I am now able to add to the documentation a newspaper clipping from that fateful date, which mentions the Infantry Corps of the Province of Buenos Aires, which took a very active part in the siege and attack upon the residence of the father of Clara Anahí. I believe that its chief might know to whom the child was given.
I should also point out that the notes from the Argentine Government dated May 21 and September 18, 1978 are contradictory, because the first refers to investigations conducted on the case, while the second states that investigatory proceedings were being initiated because no denunciation had been filed prior to that submitted by the Commission. With reference to that matter, the first communication on this case from the Commission to the Government of Argentina is dated February 7, 1978 and according to the Certification issued by Juvenile Court Nº 2 of Judicial Department in La Plata, the proceedings—Nº 36.792—began on April 26, 1977.
In a communication dated April 9, 1979, the Argentine Government presented its observations on Resolution Nº 31/78 on the case in reference, categorically denying its responsibility for the minor’s disappearance; but acknowledging what had happened in the case of the parents. Some of the paragraphs from the Government’s reply state:
1. The episode in which the minor is alleged to have disappeared
At 1.30 pm on November 24, 1976, members of the Security Forces –police—went to the residence located on Calle 30, between 55 and 56, in La Plata (Province of Buenos Aires), having received information that a clandestine press belonging to a group of terrorists was operating on those premises.
As the police were getting out of their vehicles, they were fired on by automatic weapons from inside the house; this led to an exchange of fire. Shortly after that, army troops arrived on the scene, and encountered similar resistance from inside the building. This situation lasted for around three hours. For obvious security reasons, in view of the intensity of the fire, vehicle and pedestrian traffic was stopped in the area (as reported in the newspaper “El Día” in La Plata in its edition of November 25, 1976; information subsequently provided by the Armed and Security Forces in the operation concurs with the information).
Because of the persistent resistance of the occupants of the house, after an exchange of fire that lasted several hours, it became necessary to use explosives, thereby subduing the terrorists and making it possible to gain access to the farm which was seriously damaged by the fighting. A clandestine press belonging to the “Montoneros” was in fact found at the back of the house. Numerous war matériel was also found—short and long barrel-arms, machineguns, etc.—and the bodies of seven adults, three of which had been burned as a result of the fire caused by the confrontation.
In addition to the aforementioned information that appeared in the newspaper “El Día” of La Plata, the episode was also reported in detail by the morning newspaper “La Nación” and “La Prensa” in their editions of November 25, 1976.
The daily newspaper “La Nación” states that “after questioning the neighbors in the area about the inhabitants of the farm, some reported that a couple lived there with a baby, and other that several young people ran a canned-food distribution center there. They worked with a Citroen van which was destroyed in the confrontation and which was inside the garage.” Despite de presence of journalists in the surrounding area, and despite their inquiries of the local inhabitants, no information had been received on the whereabouts of the minor MARIANI.
The victims of the confrontation:
During the course of the events in reference, Officer José SCONZA from the Province of Buenos Aires lost his life, and officers Néstor Ramón BRUZZATO and Cecilio GÓMEZ, were injured. The two latter, who were seriously hurt, were given medical care in the Italian hospital in La Plata.
The following terrorists were identified as having died: Roberto César PORFIDIO, Juan Carlos POIRIS, Daniel Eduardo MENDIBURU and Diana Esmeralda TERUGGI; the three others could not be identified immediately because of their burned fingertips. But the immediate information, which has at no time been challenged, is that no child, either living or dead was found at that place during the confrontation.
Aggression and resistance by subversives:
As has been said, the occupants of the house attacked the police officers and then resisted the joint forces more than three hours by using short-barrel arms, long-barrel automatic weapons and hand grenades as specifically reported in the aforementioned edition of La Nación.
It should be noted that at no time did the subversive criminals report the presence of the minor at the farm in question. This would have been logical in view of the fact that her own mother was on the farms and was actively participating in the firing and if the police officers had been so advised, the minor and any other children would have been evacuated.
We repeat that after gaining entry to the place, no minor was found. This has been the categorical and unequivocal affirmation of the intervening forces and has been corroborated by the neighbors.
During its visit, the Commission had the opportunity to talk to relatives of the minor who had been unable to learn of the child’s whereabouts despite all their efforts. Among other things, they said that the government’s reply seemed strange to them since they were sure that the minor had been in the house, and furthermore, they do not understand how the government acknowledged the mother’s death to the Commission and, yet, to date, the body had never been officially handed over them, and it had not been possible to give her a Christian burial.
At its 49th session, the Commission studied the reconsideration request presented by the government, and decided to reopen the case in view of its importance; it decided to request additional information from the Argentine Government.
In a cable received by the Commission on April 10, 1980, the Argentine Government replied in the following terms:
I have the honor to address Your Excellency in reply to your Telex dated 4.8.80-Washington regarding Case 3553-Clara Anahí Mariani. In that regard, I wish to inform you that testimony described in Section IX of note N-69 from this Government in April 1979 was given to the Police in the Province of Buenos Aires in response to the request regarding Resolution Nº 31/78 of the Commission on Human Rights. To date, the results of these investigations are unknown.
In light of the information provided by the Government, the IACHR has decided to maintain in its entirety the aforementioned resolution since it finds no evidence to refute the events reported.
7. The following is an information delivered to the IACHR by the group “Relatives of Disappeared Minors” during the on-site observation:
Most of the disappearances of minors were in 1976 (between the months of May and December).
In most cases where the detention occurred at the residence of the victim and his or her family, it happened between 11 pm and 2 am while the family members were asleep.
Most of the minors whose disappearances have been denounced to the courts led a normal life: they lived with their parents, went to school—which they attended regularly—or worked. All had authentic identification. These documents were required of them at the time of their detention, in the presence of their families.
It appears from statements by relatives that many of the minors had belonged to the Union of Secondary School Students (U.E.S.) during the years when that organization was legal, or had participated in school “subjects” in 1973. In 1973 those young people were between 13 and 15 years of age.
In many cases where the victims of the act were detained in front of witnesses, they agreed that the procedures were carried out by men who did not wear identifiable uniforms and who were driving several vehicles, and that they were heavily armed, operated in groups of between five to eight or more men, and showed no credentials.
These procedures lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. During that time, despite the fact that the vehicles remained parked outside the door of the victim’s residence and, moreover—in some cases—the acting forces diverted traffic in the area, no police intervened to prevent it.
In none of the cases in which the fathers asked to accompany their children, were they allowed to do so. Nor were they generally given any explanations as to the reasons for the detentions. However, in some cases, they were told that the minors were being taken away for interrogation or investigation, and which police or army forces the family should address inquiries to hours later. This information proved to be totally false.
In no case did the denunciation presented before the courts or official organizations lead to discovery of the whereabouts of the disappeared minors. The Judicial response to the writs of habeas corpus has been that the minors are not in detention, and that there is no warrant for their detention.
The Commission has received a considerable number of denunciations regarding minors. Some examples are:
8. Case 3871 – Alfredo Narciso AGUERO
During the on-site observation, the IACHR received the following testimony. The original denunciation was transmitted to the Government on June 1, 1979.
On August 29, 1977, at 7.30 pm, nine armed civilians entered the bar and restaurant belonging to the victim’s father. They said that they were police officers but did not show any credentials. They locked up the victim’s parents, two of his sons, the wife of one of them, and two grandchildren one and three years of age. They asked for the names of the Aguero couple’s children. When they replied Alfredo Narciso, they said they were going to take him into detention. As he was not at home, but at a relative’s house, the older brother, Daniel, accompanied them to look for him. When they arrived at the relative’s house, they called at the door, which was open, and ordered Daniel to call Alfredo without allowing him to get out of the car. When he appeared, they took him by the arm and put him in a white Ford Falcon, license plate Nº B.1.125.951, in which Daniel was also. While they were putting a hood over the latter’s head, they made Alfredo get into the trunk. They left, and after approximately 20 minutes, Daniel heard them open a large gate and the car stopped. Daniel Took off the hood and was able to see his brother taken out of the trunk, a hood put over his head, and made to enter a place he recognized as the Morón Brigade (Calle Salta 2466, San Justo). They took Daniel back to his house. When the procedure started they made Mr. Aguero close the business; later they forced him to open it.
Eight days later, Mr. Aguero recognized one of his son’s kidnappers at that same Brigade referred to above.
Two days later the latter admitted to Daniel Aguero at the gate of the Brigade that Alfredo Narciso had remained there for two days and that afterwards members of Command Zone 1, had taken him away. That same version was latter confirmed to the victim’s father by the Chief of Intelligence. The Commissioner of the Morón Brigade also admitted to Mr. Aguero that the Commission that had detained his son was from that brigade and that he was subsequently turned over to Command I forces.
One year and three months later, a police officer told the victim’s father that his son “had been executed”. He refused to put it in writing. This took place at La Plata Police Headquarters, Investigation Section.
In a note received by the Commission on March 27, 1980, the Argentine Government replied to the request for information, noting among other things:
That when the competent organs were consulted it appears that the individual concerned had not been arrested on the legitimate order of any authority, and that no order to arrest him existed. This had been made known to the persons concerned about Alfredo Narciso AGUERO’s case.
Furthermore, in view of the fact that in the communication the complainant states that the person named was taken away by security forces dressed in civilian clothes, this claim is weakened because in the official judicial records it appears the perpetrators of the act at no time identified themselves as such.
The Commission is now continuing to process the case in accordance with its Regulations. However, it feels that the Government’s reply does not furnish sufficient evidence to discredit the facts denounced.
9. Case 2484 – Dagmar Ingrid HAGELIN
The IACHR received the following denunciation:
Dagmar Ingrid Hagelin, a Swedish-Argentine, seventeen years of age, Federal Police I.D. Nº 6.309.613, was shot at and kidnapped by a group of men dressed in civilian clothing on January 27, 1977, at approximately 8.30 am on Calle Sargento Cabral in the El Palomar neighborhood, Morón district, in front of the house Nº 317, the home of someone she was going to visit.
The events were made known on the following day to the then Ambassador of Sweden in Buenos Aires, Mr. Kollberg, by the father of the young girl, Mr. Ragnar Hagelin. The Embassy, which immediately contacted the Morón regional police unit was informed that the operation regarding Dagmar Hagelin was conducted by the Armed Forces. The young girl’s father received identical information both from the El Palomar Section and from the Morón Regional Unit.
The Embassy also communicated with the guard officer of the chief of the Naval Command. The reason for this communication was that Dagmar Hagelin’s friend in El Palomar, Norma Burgos, whom she was going to visit when she was abducted, had been arrested the night before, that is, on January 26, at approximately 10.30 pm by a unit of the Armed Forces. Because of this, an official report was drawn up by the Morón police to which Mr. Hagelin had access.
It was deduced from the report that Norma Burgo’s arrest was part of a security operation in the district conducted by the mechanics school of the Army, with four unlicensed cars: a blue Chevrolet, and three Ford Falcons, one white, one blue, and the other green, which were aimed toward Norma Burgo’s house. According to the official report, communications with all police stations and substations in the district were instructed, by radio, not to prevent the operation.
Later, that same evening, neighbors observed the same cars full of people dressed in civilian clothing. Also, according to witnesses, Mrs. Norma Burgos, who had been arrested earlier that evening, was in one of the cars. Seven of the men stayed in Norma Burgo’s house all night and the others left in four cars.
According to the report, Dagmar Hagelin was the first person to arrive there the following day. She was fired upon, whereupon approximately ten neighbors came out into the street. The young woman, who was wounded, was put in the trunk of a car, which was seized by force. The taxi, a Chevrolet, license plate number C-086838, was subsequently returned to its owner, Mr. Jorge Oscar Elos. It is therefore only natural for us to assume that she was arrested by the same unit that had arrested Mrs. Norma Burgos the night before.
According to statements by eye witnesses, those responsible for the operation were dressed in bullet-proof jackets, similar to those used by the Armed and Security Forces. It was later learned that on January 28, 1978, seven cars with soldiers dressed in the green fatigue common to all armed forces, arrived at Dagmar Hagelin’s house, Calle Bermúdez Nº 5261, Willa Bosch, district 3 of Febrero, inspected the house and removed all her belongings. Before leaving, the leader of the group informed the housekeeper, Mrs. Angelina, and her husband, that Dagmar Hagelin was in one of the seven cars in the street and that she was being arrested for being a terrorist.
That same day, the Ambassador of Sweden delivered a note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting that it be dealt with urgently. This measure was followed by other representations by Sweden at different diplomatic levels on behalf of Dagmar Hagelin.
Aside from these political contacts, a writ of habeas corpus was presented before the court by the relatives of Dagmar Hagelin, which was rejected on the grounds that it was impossible to determine her whereabouts. The case is now before the Morón courts on the issue of “illegal deprivation of freedom.”
In a note dated January 9, 1979, the Argentine Government replied to the IACHR:
C. PERSONS CONCERNING WHOM THERE IS NO RECORD OF ARREST AND WHO ARE THE OBJECT OF A POLICE SEARCH BY THE MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR:
66. HAGELIN, Dagmar Ingrid.
At its 45th session, the Commission passed a resolution on the case. The Government of Argentina in a note dated May 5 denied any responsibility for the disappearances or for the alleged events.
After analyzing the Argentine Government’s request for reconsideration, and in light of the information gathered during and subsequent to the visit, the Commission finds that there is no new evidence justifying reconsideration.
10. The Commission gave a hearing to a group of “family members of conscripts who had disappeared,” who gave a detailed analysis of the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of conscripted soldiers, signaling “particular institutional significance.”
Some of the paragraphs of their statements are transcribed below:
In all cases, young men—between 18 and 22 years of age at the time of the events—who had been conscripted for military service were involved. A special administrative relationship was established between each of them and the State, as represented by each of the branches of the armed forces, under whose jurisdiction the victims were serving.
In addition, since the victims were housed in military establishments or offices, they were subject to the rules and disciplinary procedures, control and supervision, both regular and special, of their immediate or higher officers.
Further on the text states:
In the repressive action taken against conscripted soldiers, parallel and secret methods were used in almost all cases, although of course they were adapted to the particular circumstances. The system adopted made it possible for the military units, in which the conscripts were serving, to be free from responsibility for the ensuing events, and at the same time to satisfy the main purpose of the disappearance, that is, to enable the investigation and penalties to remain outside the publicly known legal framework.
In conclusion it stated:
When the detention did not occur in the victim’s home, it was uniformly asserted that the victim had received an assignment or was granted a furlough, following which nothing more was heard from him. No relative succeeded in obtaining any information about the specific circumstances of the assignment or furlough which accompanied the disappearance. In addition, the different versions of the events recounted by the chiefs or officers of the units were frequently inconsistent and contradictory. Almost all family members observed that in the first meetings at which such events were discussed they were subjected to inquisitorial type questions. In most cases, they were denied additional interviews after the first meetings.
In almost all cases, the affected persons were declared to be deserters.
Case 4089 – Alfredo Mario THOMAS
The IACHR received the following denunciation:
On June 5, 1976, when Alfredo Mario THOMAS, L.E. 10798595, was on 10 days’ leave while serving as a conscript in armored artillery group I, Battery B of the City of Azul, Buenos Aires Province, armored personnel, of GADA 801 of the city of Mar del Plata came to his house at 1930 hours, at Nº 8261 25 de Mayo Street, asking for him. He was not at home at the time.
On the following day, we went to find out what had happened and why. All we found out was that Alfredo Mario was incommunicado. We remained there until we were informed that a Commission of the city of Azul, under the Command of an officer would transfer him to that city.
After several days, we went to Azul and found him in prison wearing his soldier’s uniform. We made inquiries and were informed that he had been detained for questioning (for 25 days).
On June 14, 1976, when we went to see him, he was no longer in that prison, and they said that he had been discharged on June 30, 1976, at 22 hours.
According to his companions, the other soldiers, he was taken out of the place where he had been kept, and no one had seen him since. Despite all of the actions that we have taken and the inquiries that we have made, we have had no news to date as to his whereabouts.
In a note received by the IACHR on March 27, 1980, the Argentine Government responded as follows:
The complainant’s family requests that the competent authorities conduct a search for him, since they have had no news from him since 6.30.1976.
Accordingly, both the judicial and administrative agencies conducted investigations to determine whether the individual named was in detention. It was determined that he was not, and the writs of habeas corpus filed on his behalf were rejected.
In view of the possibility that the lack of news concerning Mr. Thomas was due to the commission of a crime against him, an indictment was drawn up charging unlawful deprivation of liberty.
The Commission is currently continuing to process the case; however, it is of the opinion that the Government’s reply does not discredit the contents of the denunciation.
11. Case 2735 – David Horacio VARSAVSKY
The IACHR received the following denunciation:
David Horacio VARSAVSKY, C.I. 6.879, 027, DNI 12.549.136, Maure 2239 6p. A, Federal Capital, an Argentine citizen, 18 years of age (9.18.58), single, a student with secondary school training as an electronic technician; he was preparing to enroll in the school of engineering. He worked on radio and television repair. At 9 o’clock on 2.17.77, he was to be inducted into military service.
At 1.30 pm on 2.16.77, four armed civilians and one person in uniform came to his home identifying themselves as the police. After searching the house, they took David Varsavsky with them. When they were asked why, they replied it was “routine” and that they were taking him in for interrogation. They took along a photograph of him. When they were asked where they were taking him, they answered that I should go to look for him at the Dorrego y Baez command post at 9 o’clock with identification.
When I went to the place indicated, I found that it was a military post, and I was informed that there were no detainees there. After taking down my identification, they told me that I should go to the Ministry of the Interior. I went to all the military posts throughout the region asking for the same information and obtained the same results.
In a note of June 16, 1978, the Government replied:
C. Persons who are not recorded as detained who are the subject of a police search by the Ministry of the Interior.
VARSAVSKY, David Horacio.
In a note dated November 26, 1979, the Argentine Government responded to the Commission as follows:
References made to the pertinent part of the denunciation stating that on 2.16.1977, at 1.30 hours, four armed civilians and one person in uniform, who identified themselves as the police, proceeded to take away the above-mentioned person. When they were questioned about their conduct, they said that it was “routine”, that they were taking him for interrogation, and that his family could visit him at the Dorrego y Baez command post at 9 o’clock, with identification. Upon arriving there, it was found to be a military post, and it was stated that there were no detained persons there.
On February 17, 1977, cognizance was taken of the event described, because of a presentation made by the alleged detainee’s mother. Reports were immediately requested from the federal Police and the Commander in Chief of the Army, who replied that Varsavsky was not being detained in either of their jurisdictions, nor was there any information about his whereabouts, and the complainant was so informed.
In addition, the federal Police reported that four writs of habeas corpus had been filed with it, and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued by federal Court Nº 6, Military Law Section, for violation of Article 44 of Law 17.531 (compulsory military service). The federal lower Criminal Court, Nº 2, Department 107, also requested information on his whereabouts, in case Nº 45.181, regarding illegitimate deprivation of liberty.
Likewise, the judge in charge of the criminal Division of the federal lower Court also requested information on his whereabouts, in case No. 45.181, regarding illegitimae deprivation of liberty.
The IACHR is continuing prescribed procedures in this case. It finds however, that the government’s reply does not contain evidence to discredit the denunciation.
13. The following cases represent the most common situation: persons apprehended at night or in the early morning from their own homes by members of the security forces.
Some examples are the following:
14. Case 2274 – TARNOPOLSKY Family
The IACHR received the following denunciation:
On July 15, 1976, at approximately 2 am, armed individuals, identifying themselves as police officers, came to the home of Rosa Daneman de Edelberg, at 3475 Sarmiento Street, 5th floor, Apartament J, Buenos Aires. As she went to answer the door, she heard the voice of the owner’s son-in-law say “Open the door, it’s Hugo”. The men who were dressed in civilian clothing immediately asked for Bettina Tarnopolsky, 16 of age, who was living temporarily in the apartment. They locked up Mrs. Edelberg on the patio, from where she heard Bettina’s screams. Once the “police” left, she found that her granddaughter and son-in-law were no longer there, and objects of value, cash and the identity card of the owner of the house had disappeared also. The entire apartment had been searched and the telephone disconnected.
The woman went with her son several hours later to the Tarnopolsky home, located at 2600 Peña Street, Buenos Aires. The outside door was entirely destroyed by explosives. No member of the family was there, and objects of value were missing. Eyewitnesses said that armed civilians, who called themselves “federal police”, had been there some hours before, and that, after the house had been pointed out to them, they proceeded to destroy the entrance with explosives. Later the witnesses saw Blanca Edelberg the Tarnopolsky and Hugo Tarnopolsky come out in their night clothes.
Sergio Tarnopolsky was completing his military service assigned to the Navy Mechanics School. On July 4th, he telephoned members of his family to report that he was “confined to barracks.” On July 17th, when inquiries were made at the military post, the answer was that they knew nothing about him.
That same night, Sergio’s wife, Laura del Duca de Tarnopolsky, residing at 1335 Pasaje Urutay, was detained.
Hugo Tarnopolsky is an industrial chemist. Blanca Edelberg de Tarnopolsky is a professor of pedagogy; Bettina Tarnopolsky, 16 years old, is a high school student. Sergio Tarnopolsky, 21 years old, is a student of psychology, married to Laura del Luca de Tarnopolsky.
In a note of September 29, 1977, the Government replied:
D. Persons with no record of arrest, who are being searched for by the police of the Ministry of the Interior:
71. DEL LUCA DE TARNOPOLSKY, Laura
75. EDELBERG DE TARNOPOLSKY, Blanca
145. TARNOPOLSKY, Bettina
146. TARNOPOLSKY, Hugo
147. TARNOPOLSKY, Sergio
The Argentine Government, in response to the Commission’s April 3rd request for information, responded by a note received March 27, 1980, in which it denied participation in the alleged acts, and stated as follows:
Originally, the events were reported to the Argentine authorities as having been caused by persons who, invoking some official authority, deprived the missing persons of their freedom. The Investigations were conducted based on that assumption. However, the claimants no longer insist on that story; they now refer to the events as simple disappearances. The same holds true for the additional information submitted.
None of this is a basis for disregarding that the case as a whole involves voluntary acts of the alleged victims, which is not inconsistent with the presence of third parties, who might have acted as accomplices. This is based on the fact that Bettina Tarnopolsky’s father accompanied these persons and provided access to the dwelling where his daughter was.
In addition, it has been determined by statements of the brother of Blanca Edelberg de Tarnopolsky that another son, named Daniel, left the country when he learned that his parents had disappeared, and has settled in France.
The Commission is continuing to process this case. In the Commission’s judgment the government’s reply does not discredit the facts denounced.
15. Case 2662 – Alberto Samuel FALICOFF
The Commission heard public testimony from the wife of Dr. Falicoff, denouncing the detention, imprisonment and torture of Mr. Falicoff by the security forces. The arrest took place in his residence, in the presence of his wife, who was also detained and later released. Mrs. Falicoff signed the testimony.
Doctor Falicoff, a physician, was practicing in the Cordoba Children's Hospital and was a member of the Medical Association of that city.
The Commission considers pertinent the complete transcription of Mrs Falicoff's testimony:
On Thursday, November 25, 1976, at 18 hours, the bell rang in the apartment where I lived with my husband, Dr. Alberto Samuel Falicoff and my son, Alfredo Falicoff, who was then two years of age. I saw through the peephole four men in civilian clothes standing against the wall. When they realized I was there, they knocked on the door, and told me to open it or they would shoot. Since the baby was sitting watching television in line with the door, I opened it. They quickly entered and grabbed me by the arms. I was frightened and screamed. They said, “Keep quiet, for the baby’s sake” and asked me where my husband was. I replied that he worked at the Clinic. Then they began to search the house, locking me and my son in his room. They searched the living room and dining room, dismantled the stove and the Venetian blinds, and removed the pictures from the walls. I saw this being done because the baby asked to go to the bathroom and they let me take him. After half an hour, they ordered me to prepare the baby’s supper. They were courteous to me and told me they knew that I had done nothing. They said they had come looking for my husband. After a while, they brought the janitor in and locked him in the apartment also. They said they had done this to keep him from warning my husband. They did the same thing with a neighbor, who came in because he thought that thieves had broken in. The janitor, who was a very old man, was very frightened. My husband arrived at about 2 o’clock and unlocked the door with his keys. When they heard the elevator, they again sent me to my son’s room. They immediately locked themselves up with my husband in our room and I began to hear the sounds of a struggle, pushing and blows. Later, an officer of the Army Intelligence Service arrived along with another officer.
They were all well dressed, in suits and ties and carrying a walkie talkie. They came in and out quietly and, on one occasion, brought sweets and toys for the baby, who behaved very well with them because they let him touch their revolvers. They told me to prepare clothing for the baby, since they had decided to take me with them. I asked them to let him say goodbye to his father and they did so. I then saw my husband with this hands tied with a cable. I explained to the child that they were going to take him to his grandmother’s house and I begged them to do so. I gave them the address of my mother in El Chaco and her telephone number. Then they took us away. They took the money we had in our pockets and any jewelry they found. They said that if I was taking any medicine to bring it with me, and I did so. I went down in the elevator with my husband and three of them. They put sunglasses on me with paper pasted on the inside of the lenses. My husband’s hands were tied. It was 2130 hours. They took us in separate cars. I was taken in a bright yellow car. I sat in the back of the car with one of them. The ones in the front seat had not entered the apartment. They asked, quietly, why my hands were not tied. The one in the back answered: “That’s no problem.” While we were driving down the first streets, I tried to see the road; from Patricios, we turned on Martín García and then on Almirante Brown. Then they realized I was watching the road, so they pressed my head down on the legs of the one alongside me, and pointed a revolver at me. After traveling at high speed for about 20 minutes, we arrived at our destination. The car stopped and they made me get out and walk about 30 meters. Others came and asked why they did not bring the car in. They answered the lights weren’t working and that the high beams were on and they were not going to enter with the high beams on. We entered a building with a very large door (a garage door, or perhaps, much bigger). From the little I was able to see, there was a very large room with no one in it. They took me down a spiral staircase to a basement. There they told me to close my eyes and they put a very tight blindfold, with elastic in the back, on me, which immediately gave me an intense headache. They handcuffed me and shackled my feet together by a chain with padlocks on both shackles. They were very tight and had sharp edges. Then they took me to a kind of cell. The place was full of these cells. In other words, they were small rooms made of pressed board or cardboard, with chairs and a small desk in them. They left me there for a while, and I could hear that they were interrogating my husband in the cell on one side, but I could not hear what they were saying.
The interrogation and the detention: I was soon taken to another room much further away, and they told me to remember that my number was 103. After half an hour, someone entered and asked me whether I was going to say anything or whether I preferred to have them take me in. I said that I knew absolutely nothing. They began by asking me my name, I.D. number, the name of my parents, brothers, and my husband, his parents and brothers, and the date and place of my birth. They left and after a while they returned and asked me to tell them what my husband was doing in Córdoba. I answered that, because of his work as a physician, he had been in contact with patients whose parents were prisoners, and a short while ago, they had begun to ask him to help them with money, samples of milk, etc. and I knew that he had only done that because he always brought home cans of milk, used clothing, books and other food for the prison. Then we decided to move to Buenos Aires. At that point in the interrogation, other persons entered. They attached no importance to me, and all of them left. I began to feel totally exhausted and I slept sitting up. When they returned, they asked me again for my I.D. number. I actually couldn’t remember because I felt so exhausted and I told them so. Then they left. After a while, I began to hear, coming through one of the walls of pressed board, the sound of a lot of running water, and then the cries of my husband insulting them and repeatedly calling them “murderers”. This is repeated approximately every hour, or perhaps less. Obviously the torture room is next door. On the following day—I guess—they took me out and led me to a corridor on the same floor. My legs are so swollen that the shackles begin to cut into my skin. A nurse came who loosens the shackles and put cotton around my legs. A guard asked him “Why are you doing that?” and the nurse replied “So… we don’t have to treat her afterwards”. He asked me why, I, a doctor, had gotten into this, and he said he didn’t understand how, with all the money we could earn, we had ended up here. He added that if I needed anything to ask to speak with Pedro, the nurse, since there were other Pedros there. There were chairs against the wall on each side, in the passageway, very close to each other. They told me to close my eyes. Then they took the mask off and ordered me to open my eyes. I could not see anything because they were taking photographs and the flashbulbs blinded me. One of the ones who had been to my house approached me and put a hood of thick white clothe over my head. He explained that with that hood they would not bother me. That was because they were taking people to the torture room according to the order of their chairs. I could see that, because the door was nearby and every time they took someone out, the noise of running water and the desperate screams of pain could be heard, despite the fact that a record player was constantly playing very loud music. There were certain songs that they played more frequently, and despite the fact that the tapes were worn, I could her the lyrics which went roughly: “and now what are they? Where are they? What are their ideals?” etc. He wonders why my legs were so swollen. I said that I had a weak heart and therefore bad circulation. They put another chair in front of me to put my legs up on. One asked me if I recognized his voice, and I said he was one of the ones who had been at my home. I asked for my child and he said “Relax, we have notified your family and they are coming to get him.” Afterwards I noticed that they brought my husband to the chair alongside me, because I recognized his pants and shoes. During the entire time I was there, I heard the same sound; the loud record player, screams of pain, running water. The guards wore rubber boots. I suppose a spent an entire day and night there because the music was interrupted twice when they brought food to the guards and their superiors. They drank a lot of wine asking the guards to bring more. I could smell the wine. The Chief came and asked how things were going. They answered that three persons had died, two men and one woman. The Chief told them to be more careful because that was too many for one day. That day they took my husband away a number of times, and I recognized his screams. Twice I heard his difficult breathing and it sounded as thought he had swallowed his tongue. The music stopped and an urgent call for the doctor came over the loudspeaker. I heard people running, and I heard the doctor say, if they wanted him alive, that was enough for now, and not to go further. Then they took me to one of the rooms. This time they took off the hood, and I saw that several of the ones who had been to my apartment were there along with one I did not know. They now spoke harshly to me and again asked me for information. A torturer entered wearing jeans, a red jacket and rubber boots. He was blond, with a red face, and the told them “I will give to her”. To me he said: “All right, I’m in a hurry, tell me whether you know anything, or I will give you the 6 pointed cattle prod.” The others wanted to hurry me. I cried and said I was telling the truth; I knew nothing; I was not a militant; and since I did not like such things I consciously knew nothing about them. They asked me what money we were living on, and I told him ours. They took me again to the corridor. After several hours, they made many of the people line up, each with his hands on the shoulders of the person in front of him. There were probably about ten of us, and they made us walk, climb stairs, and then take an elevator. We probably went up about five floors, and there they made us squat down and told us to stretch out on a mattress. Alongside of me there was a man who did not comply well, and they kicked and punched him for about an hour. I immediately fell into a deep sleep. I was completely exhausted, and I no longer cared what happened to me. I was so exhausted that, while they were taking me there they pawed me and I wasn’t even startled. When I awoke they served sandwiches. They made me sit up, but I could eat only a few mouthfuls. I continued to sleep, I believe, the entire day, I cannot be sure. I woke up in the morning and they were distributing a little food to each person in turn. I felt rested, and tried to find out what was going on. I heard those with me calling the guard to go to the bathroom. I did the same thing. Soon one of them made me stand up, and I hit my head on a beam. I realized that the roof was very low. In the bathroom, the guard took off my hood. He asked me how old I was, whether I was married, and whether I had any children. He was a kid about 17 years old. He was very kind to me and told me to read what was written on my hood. The words “possible release” were written on the cloth in thread. I asked what it meant, and he told me they were going to release me. I asked him why I was there, and he said it was a mistake. His only job was to see that the prisoners did not speak, did not take off their hoods, and those who did so, he could beat at will until he knocked them out. He and the others were taught karate and self-defense. They were made to read books like Papillon and to hate the prisoners, about whom the only thing they knew was that they “are enemies of the country, who want to destroy it, by destroying the army.” They were kids 15 to 20 years old. Sometimes they were called kids, but usually they were called by their first names. At night they were given bottles of wine, and then they became very violent. This guard told me that some of them were taken on raids, and sometimes they were given special commendation or merit awards. They were very proud of that. For example, he told me that the previous day he had been assigned to go to a house that someone had denounced. It answered the description, and when the owners tried to escape, they had to shoot them: a young woman with a child two or three years old. Later they learned that the people were not involved. He had felt bad about that, but the persons who denounced innocent people were to blame. He took me to my place again, and there I continued to spy. I could see that it was a large “L” shaped room. It was of makeshift construction on the terrace of the building, since the outer walls were only one meter high. A peaked roof came down to there. Its highest part was in the middle of the room, which is where the guards go. In the angle of the “L” there is a large table where they eat and a medicine chest and a small file. We were on both sides in sort of pressed board cubicles about 1 meter high. The cubicles where I was were makeshift so I was able to move them carefully. The rectangle was made up of four separate “L” shaped parts. I think that this detail is very important because of what I am going to tell further on. That day I realized that they brought someone to the cubicle on my left, and I heard him barely complain, as though he were very ill. I thought it was my husband. So I moved over, displaced one of the walls and changed position (we were laying on the floor on a mattress and a blanket. That is all we had). I managed to see my husband, shirtless, with marks everywhere from the cattle prod. I realized that he had no more than two centimeters in a row of unmarked skin. He breathes heavily and asks for “water, water”, but his voice is very weak and it is hard for him to move his tongue so the words do not come out. A guard came, and told him not to bother them, that they could not give him water because if they did he would die. They sat us down and gave us a sandwich and a small bottle of water and a cup of broth. I hid the small bottle and, when they came back to take it away, they did not realize it was missing. Then, carefully watching out for the guards, I put my hands through into my husband’s cubicle and was able to touch him. I felt that he had a fever. He tried to touch my hands. Then I passed the water to him and he drank it all. The same thing happened the next day. A few days later, they let him eat and gave him water. Little by little he began to recover. Once when the guards were not watching, we spoke a little. He told me he had gone out in a car with them, telling him that he was going to take them to a rendezvous near the Italian Hospital. When they were not paying attention, he jumped out of the car and a bus ran over his body. He succeeded in yelling his name so that people could notify his family. They immediately put him back into the car and when they brought him back they tortured him more than ever. He tried to encourage me and told me that he was very proud of me. Every day of the month I spent there was the same, stretched out on the mattress and constantly shackled. Sometimes they took the handcuffs off for a few days, and they took the hood off permanently. The electric light was always on and the music was always playing loudly. Once a day, after much begging, they took me to the bathroom. On three occasions, I was able to take a bath and change into clothing they gave me. While I did so, the guards would open the door whenever they wished. I had to undress, bathe and dress again in three minutes. For the bath they took off our handcuffs, chain and shackles. Meals were always the same: in the morning, a cup of stew, at noon a meat sandwich and sometimes a cup of broth, and at night the same. On some days, one or two meals were omitted. I don’t know exactly how many people were there, but I estimate that there were about 50. The pregnant women—and there were many of them—were given special meals; in the morning coffee with milk, at noon and at night, meat with mashed potatoes, and in the evening coffee with milk. Sometimes they were given vitamins. Every day the guards punished two or three persons. They did so for any reason: because they removed their hoods while they were sleeping, because they were not lying right; because the guards suspected them of spying; or for any other reason. The punishment consisted of kicks and punches for hours until they were left unconscious. The panic is constant. Only once was the situation reversed: the lights went out and the guards were frightened and rushed out. Then they realized how ridiculously they were behaving and then returned, with their weapons in their hands, saying: “Everybody quiet, don’t move”; but even their voices were trembling. Another time, the lights went out—it must have been about December 20th—and we could hear troops marching past. In the first days they called roll, asking for the name and number of each person. My husband was on one side of me, with the number 104. I was number 103; at my other side was number 102, a lawyer whom they had taken from his office in the Palermo area the same day they took us. I could see him as well as I could see my husband: he was olive-skinned, had black wavy hair and a beard and was of average build. He wore a mask. Later I overhead that he was a veterinarian, and that his sister, a teacher who had been brought in a month before, had—according to what I’ve heard—recently married a widower with children. They were going to hold her until her brother appeared and she did not know where they were. They took her from the room a few days before I left, and I suppose they released her. They called one of the prisoners “peg-leg”. He was very near me, and by his voice seemed to be an older person and very weak. One night the guards got drunk and began to bet that they could make him stand on his peg leg. They brought him into the middle of the room and ordered him to do it. He begged them, said it was impossible, that he was going to fall. Then they began to kick him, punch him, and they stood him up. Of course, he fell. They stood him up again, he fell again, and so on, throughout the night. It was a most macabre spectacle. The guards went crazy, they beat him without interruption and the poor man was begging them to stop. There was the sound of blows to the lungs, the abdomen, the noise of broken bones. They stopped when he fell unconscious. Afterwards he was delirious for two or three days until they called the doctor. The doctor said he had many broken bones and ordered him to be taken away. I didn’t hear him again. In early December, a transfer occurred. Apparently they were taking away those who had been there the longest; however, they included among them the lawyer who was next to me; in all, some 40 persons. They adjusted the handcuffs, the shackles and the hoods. They assembled them together, were taking them out when the noise of an airplane was heard that seemed to be landing nearby. (I shall explain that the sound of airplanes was very frequent. I also heard a train, and a helicopter, two or three times every day). After a time, the sound of an airplane was heard again, then nothing more. I guard asked another where they were being taken, and he answered: “Fish food”. There were very few people left in the room, and they changed our places. Fortunately, my husband and I continued to be next to each other with the same consecutive numbers. But I shall explain that there were three or four with the number 100, others with 400, 700, 900, etc. On the following day, they began to bring in a large number of new people and this continued for successive days, until they had to put us on the floor, in the guard’s passageway. Many of them were taken out at night and were ordered to get dressed. Apparently they were released. Also, when it rained very hard, (I heard the rain in spite of the noise because the roof was over our heads) they took out people to release them. They were careful to have the people well dressed and, in the case of women, to tie them up as much as possible. I could not see my husband now, nor speak to him because my new cubicle was completely made of wood. However, he made friends with an occasional guard—that is, one who did not work there but came to fill in because many of them were on vacation. The boy was really very good, and taking a risk himself, he took us to the bathroom and let us speak to each other without hoods. Of course he was present, so that we could only speak about ourselves. My husband had a very small hematoma but the doctor said that the dislocation was not going to be set because a general anesthesia would be needed to relax the muscles and that could not be done there. To do that he would have to be transferred, and transfer was impossible. He explained that the nurse came by every two or three days, but never touched anyone; however, they usually gave some medicine, mostly laxatives, antispasmodics and eye drops, because we all had conjunctivitis because of the hood and the mask. The guards had the eye drops; sometimes when somebody said that he needed them, the guard himself inserted the drops. I began to feel bad. I had nightmares about my son every night because despite their having told me that my parents had him, I did not believe them. All of this was due to the fact that they had taken off the white hood and given me a gray one like all the others. Also, because of the time that had elapsed. I realized that there was very little possibility that they would release me, because the ones they released only stayed a very short time. I mentioned this to my husband, and he always tried to encourage me. I spent the day thinking about how to get out, I began by trying to get to know the place, telling the guard who took me to the bathroom that with the little water they gave us we were dying of thirst (which was true) and I offered to carry the bottles as often as necessary and to do any kind of work, cleaning, etc. I said that from lying down so much I was beginning to feel weak, and I was afraid that I would not be able to walk when they took me to my house the following week (that was pure fabrication). The guard began to take me to wash the dishes, to the bathroom, to clean up the bathrooms. Some of the trays and dishes had the seal of the Argentine Army. So the days passed. There were no windows in the bathroom, but there was a door locked with a key, which was the guard’s closet. I found it opened one day, and I saw the guard’s civilian clothing and that the closet had a window covered with a blanket. I lifted the blanket, and saw thick grass and a heavy metal screen outside of it. I could see many tall trees, and at the end, high woven wire, a pick-up truck and a kind of garage. It would be possible to escape by breaking the window and cutting the metal screen. We were not very high up, surely the fourth or fifth floor. Blankets would be needed to climb down. But was the woven wire electrified? And what lay beyond? I could not see. Furthermore, we had to take our chains off. They took us to bathe, they unlocked the padlock with a master key that the chief of the guards had; he gave it to them only on those occasions. I realized that my husband was very weak because of everything that had happened, and that he also had a dislocated shoulder. However, it would be a question of giving it more thought. One day, while I was washing the plates, they took me to wash diapers and rubber pants. This impressed me very much because I realized that there were children on the other side from where we were. At that time I heard the voice of children about 4 years of age, asking the guards why their fathers had those things on their heads. I asked the guard how it was possible for children to be there. He said that they were the only ones and that they had been brought with their parents because there was no place to leave them. However, they were going to be taken away the next day. Another day I was taken to the linen room to arrange the clothing they were taking to the laundry, by sex and size. Again I saw children’s clothing in those places, I heard the voices of women who were working in the kitchen and sewing torn clothing. When the guards finished their shifts, they said that they were going to the swimming pool. One day they took me down to one of the boxes. They took off my hood and left me alone for a moment. I looked at the walls of the box and was impressed by the number of bloodstains. Some of them were very high. I don’t know how they did it but since the stains are very large and there are small splattered stains around them—monstrous. He came back and told me to talk to him about something. I told him that I did not know anything and that the only thing I was thinking about at that time was my husband and my child; that I had nightmares about my son and that if they did not release me, I would take my hood and that I knew very well that that meant that the guards would kill me; that they should release me, that I did not know why they were keeping me there. He told a guard to take me upstairs again. On one occasion when the guard was not watching, I told my husband that I would probably leave and that he should be on the lookout for times when the guards were not watching so that we could talk. But there were watching us, especially from that night until the time of my departure. The following night, the chief guard came, told me to sit up; he handcuffed my hands behind met. They picked up my mattress and searched my cubicle. They felt my breasts and between my legs; they shoved me around and moved me to another cubicle. During the previous interrogation, I had been told that, while they knew that I had not taken part in the activities that led to my arrest, considerable time had passed since my arrival at the place of detention, and under such circumstances, I could not leave. I told them that they could not commit another injustice added to the injustice of my arbitrary detention, and after an exchange of opinions among themselves, they proceeded to interrogate me exhaustively on all the circumstances that I might have observed during my detention. Thus, I was interrogated on what my opinion was about the treatment the prisoners were receiving, whether I felt that they were tortured there, whether I had any idea of where I was, and under what security authority the procedures there were conducted. To all of these questions I answered that I was totally ignorant of the details they were asking of me, and that I felt the treatment was adequate. They asked me what I knew of my husband and I answered that I knew that he was alive, that I had recognized his voice when he spoke with the guards, and I denied that I had seen him. I was led again to my usual place where the guards handcuffed my hands behind me, and they watched very closely to see whether I tried to communicate with my husband. That evening, they sent me to bathe and to change my clothes. The one who told me that I was going to be released appeared and told me that I was going to Resistencia, to my mother’s house. He was so drunk that he threatened me and they handcuffed my hands behind me and sent me to a cubicle. On one side was a girl having an asthma attack and she was also handcuffed with her hands behind her. She was frantic because with the hood she was chocking even more. She had an oxygen mask beside her, but with her hands tied she could not put in on and she asked the guards to do it. They didn’t listen to her. After a while, they got me up and took off my handcuffs and shackles. The drunk guard came and took me downstairs. Soon I realized from the fresh air that I was outside. A car approached and they put me in it. It was raining. They put me in the front seat. The car went round and round many times. I supposed it was going around in the park of the same building because I noticed that the road was muddy and the car was skidding from side to side. Also, it seemed to me that it was turning in the same places. This went on for a while. Then we went on to an asphalt road and drove for several hours until they took off the mask that they had put on me to replace the hood before we left. We were on General Paz Street. I was alone with the drunken guard. He told me that I was completely free but not to communicate with my in-laws, never to go to Córdoba, and not to come out in Buenos Aires for several months. He repeated that all of my movements were going to be carefully watched and to remember that they still had my husband. I told him that I was going to leave the country, and he told me not to, to let a long time pass; otherwise I would have problems. It was 5 o’clock in the morning of December 24, 1977. He gave me a document, a Federal Police I.D., with one of the photos they’d taken of me, but with a number other than my real one, and a forged signature. He told me to burn it as soon as I reached El Chaco and to get a duplicate of my real I.D. He gave me three million pesos, told me to go to the Austral window, and said that I had passage reserved in the name of Mrs. Ramos; that if there was no room they were going to take me in the pilot’s cabin and that I should buy my son a cart for Christmas. He left me at the airport entrance. My plane left at 9:20 pm. I realized that there were two men, an 18 year-old youth and a man around 40, who watched me until the airplane took off. In El Chaco there were almost always several pairs in cars along the street of my mother’s house and I never noticed anyone following me, although I hardly went out of doors for months.
After my release I lived at my house in El Chaco. When I went to the police headquarters to arrange for my passport, I was told after lengthy proceedings and psychological harassment that they had received a denunciation of my disappearance. When they asked who had made it, I replied that it was my mother. Then they made me sign a statement that I had been absent from my home voluntarily and for private reasons. After signing the statement, I was issued a passport with the warning: “With this record, you can’t leave the country unless you sign this statement.”
At its 46th session, the IACHR approved a resolution on this case. The government, in a note dated October 8, 1979, presented its observations denying any responsibility for the facts denounced.
The Commission undertook a study of the resolution it had adopted, in view of the fact that the Argentine Government, in its request for a reconsideration, had submitted new evidence. It decided however, to maintain all of the above-mentioned Resolution, having found no evidence to discredit the allegation made by the claimant.
16. Of the reports obtained by the Commission four cases representative of the following situation are being included:
a) Persons at the disposal of PEN, whose arrest was terminated by the publications of the respective decree in the press. The release, however, is not implemented and the arrested person passes to the category of “disappeared”.
b) Detained persons (either by judicial order or by PEN Decree) who become “disappeared”, the authorities claiming that they were released or that they had been transferred, without specifying, however, under which decree or legal provision this has been accomplished.
c) Persons who were detained in military or police establishments without a judicial order or PEN decree or formal warrant from a competent authority, and whose relatives are advised, verbally or in writing, that they have been set free or that they have been transferred, without giving any further information or deliberately providing false information. In effect, the detained person has passed into the category of “disappeared.”
d) Persons who disappeared at the time of their arrest, in which cases writs of habeas corpus were denied when presented. Their names, however, appear in official communiqués as having been set free by virtue of certain decrees. Later inquiries reveal, however, that they continue among the “disappeared”.
According to the testimony received by the IACHR it is found that these operations are different from the usual. One of the testimonies states the following:
Most of the arrests were carried out without the usual violence used in anti-subversive operations; there have also been no denunciations of theft perpetrated by the forces involved in the operation, who identify themselves properly.
In almost all cases the detained persons were visited by members of their family, and when the detention was for longer periods, they were accorded normal visiting schedules.
In a small number of cases, of category “C”, the detention period was very short and the members of the family did not have access to the prisoner. However, in all cases they were informed by officials in charge of the detention center that the person had been detained at that site, even though they did not always reveal specifically up to what date and the reasons why they were no longer there.
Frequently, there are cases of successive transfers until all trace is lost.
The time of the assumed release never coincides with the presence of members of the family at the site, nor are they informed of their release ahead of time, in spite of their assiduous visits in search of information. In one case, after having read the arrest decree of their daughter, the parents took turns, for 60 hours awaiting information about her in the offices of the federal coordination. But at the end of that time they were advised that the arrested person “had just left through the other door.”
That testimony goes on to state:
In a great number of cases the penal, police or military authorities reason that the detained person was released late at night, shielded by the procedural rules (now modified) that require a release to be effected before midnight of the date set in the decree or judicial order. But these same provisions did not prohibit the release from being effected early in the morning when there might be witnesses present, leaving the offices in question, especially when the offices were far from any populated area.
In the case of those detained at the disposition of the PEN, or those being kept in police jails who were visited by relatives, the mock release is made necessary so that the individuals in question can be passed on to the category of “disappeared” without giving rise to legal claims.
Some of the examples of this type of case are:
17. Case 3410 – Carlos Hugo CAPITMAN
The IACHR has received the following denunciation:
At approximately 3 pm, on March 28, 1976, while in the company of Laura Noemí Creatora,6 Alicia Amelia Arriaga and Carlos Alberto Spadavecchia, at the door of the house on Sarmiento Street Nº 1426, Buenos Aires, he was arrested with his three companions by a police and military squad. The four persons in question were taken to a number of places, and were hooded and mistreated—according to statements made by two of them at a later date--. No official information was given to their families, who learned of the arrest from the person in charge of the building at Sarmiento 1426, who witnessed the event.
The search for the four young people was unsuccessful, but approximately twenty days later, Alicia Amelia Arriaga and Carlos Alberto Spadavecchia appeared alone; they had been abandoned in the early morning hours, in an isolated place far away from Buenos Aires. It was known that during their captivity they were tortured, and that at the same time that they were taken out of the place of detention, Carlos Hugo Capitman and Laura Noemí Creatore were also taken out, however they were taken away in different vehicles.
Having no news of the disappeared persons Carlos Hugo Capitman and Laura Noemí Creatore, writs of habeas corpus were introduced before the courts of Buenos Aires, requesting information from the Executive as to whether they were in detention. The reply was affirmative, by virtue of Decree Nº 39 of April 6, 1976, although the place of detention was not indicated. Therefore, the Court was asked to indicate the place of arrest, but the lower court judge declined to request this, since as he understood it, the Executive was not obligated to provide this information. This ruling was appealed and the Court of Appeals sustained the lower court decision and the information. In view of this situation, a writ of Amparo was filed on behalf of Carlos Hugo Capitman in the federal lower Court.
During the processing of same, the Ministry of the Interior attached a copy of the Decree of detention Nº 39 dated April 6, 1976.
Also, after several inquiries by the Judge, Dr. Sarmiento, to learn the place of detention, the Ministry of the Interior reported that: The arrest, at the disposition of the PEN of Carlos Hugo Capitman and Laura Noemí Creatore has been declared null and void through Decree Nº 1907, of September 3, 1976; Carlos Hugo Capitman is thirteenth on the list in this Decree containing the names of 62 persons that have ceased to be under the control of PEN, and Laura Noemí Creatore is twelfth.
Given this confusion, on February 22, 1977—8 months after the initiation of the writ of Amparo,--Judge Sarmiento ruled that it be implemented, and notified the Ministry of the Interior that within ten days the Court be informed as to the specific circumstances of how, when, and where, Carlos Hugo Capitman, was released. A copy is attached. This ruling was appealed by the district attorney, and sent to the federal Court of Appeals; on May 8, 1978—15 months after the lower court ruling—that Court of Appeals ruled that: this Tribunal notes the contradiction as to the day on which the order of release was issued by the PEN by virtue of Decree Nº 1907 of 9.3.76, and the reports attached on pages 29, 32 and 75, which cannot be disregarded; but since active military personnel or police working under the military can be held liable for an illegal act, this fact must be brought to the attention of the military court so that it can judge whether an illegal act has or has not been committed by the above-mentioned forces.
Thereafter, in the same month of May, the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in Argentina published in the newspaper “La Prensa” of Buenos Aires, a letter addressed to the President of the Nation, requesting information regarding 2,500 missing persons, among them, Carlos Hugo Capitman.
On June 3, 1978, the Ministry of the Interior reported the whereabouts of 87 persons who had erroneously been included in the list of 2,500, since a certain number of them are free; included on this list was Carlos Hugo Capitman.
All of this demonstrates that the Ministry of the Interior has not taken cognizance of the ruling of the federal Court of Appeals and that Carlos Hugo Capitman has not as yet appeared.
No satisfactory information was ever obtained on his place of detention, or his fate.
The Argentine Government, in a note received by the IACHR on March 27, 1980, confirmed the detention and release of Mr. Capitman; it denied any responsibility for his subsequent disappearance. It said that the result of the inquiries made to shed light on the alleged disappearance of this individual show that both Carlos Hugo Capitman and Laura Noemí Creatore left Argentina for Carrasco, Uruguay, on 9.10.76, on Flight 310 of the Austral Company.
This information has been transmitted to the claimant whose observations the IACHR is now awaiting.
18. Case 2266 – Jorge SAN VICENTE
The following denunciation was received by the Commission:
Jorge San Vicente, 22 years old, resident at Hudson Street 849, Villa Maipú, Province of Buenos Aires, was arrested on April 29, 1976. On that day, San Vicente was going to work at Maipú 42, Buenos Aires, where he remained for the full day of work. That night he did not return home. On May 1, a search and seizure operation was effected by persons who stated that they belonged to the federal police; at that time the alleged police officers told the members of his family that Jorge San Vicente was detained in the “Narcotics Section” of the police station. However, during the next six months, successive writs of habeas corpus, letters addressed to the government, military authorities, and other endeavors to locate him, all ended unsuccessfully.
The Government of Argentina in a note dated September 29, 1977, replied as follows:
D. Persons for whom there are no previous records of detention and who are the subject of a police search by the Ministry of the Interior:
141. SAN VICENTE, Jorge
In connection with this case, the Commission felt it useful to include two communications, one of which confirms the detention while the other denies it.
The first is as follows:
To the Federal Judge of the lower Court Nº 16, Dr. Gustavo Mitchel, Secretary José U. Martínez Sobrino.
… In answer to your telegram of September 6, 1976, with regard to the filing of habeas corpus, case Nº 4649 allow me to inform you that Jorge San Vicente has been detained at the disposition of the Special Military Tribunal Nº ½.
Jorge Carlos Olivera Rovere
2nd Commander and Chief of Staff
Army Corps Command
Furthermore, the Commission has in its possession a photocopy of the note dated September 15, 1976, from the Command of the First Army Corps, signed by Colonel Luis René Florey. That note states: “We have no information with regard to the alleged detention of Jorge San Vicente within this Command.”
At its 45th session the Commission adopted a Resolution on the case.
In a note dated June 11, 1979, the Government of Argentina replied to the Commission, denying its responsibility for the detention and subsequent disappearance of the individual in question. After considering the reply of the Government, the Commission felt that its request for reconsideration was unfounded, since the request did not present significant new evidence, and especially since it did not change the fact that the two authorities contradicted each other with regard to Mr. San Vicente’s detention and since no convincing clarification had been given to weaken the claimant’s allegations.
19. Case 3842 – Guillermo SEGALLI
The IACHR received the following denunciation:
Guillermo Oscar Segalli, Argentine, D.N.I. 10.810.499, was detained on a public street together with his girlfriend; after a week of being held incommunicado they were found and placed at the disposition of the Executive (PEN) under Decree 1843 of August 1976 and held for 17 months without charges, Miss Alonso in the Villa Devoto Prison and Guillermo in Prison Unit Nº 9 of La Plata.
They were detained for having provided assistance to a Committee of relatives of political prisoners; Guillermo never maintained any other relations with political or subversive individuals or organizations. At the time of his detention, he was working with his father and preparing to begin work in an important firm.
While he was in detention, he requested and obtained permission to exercise his option to leave the country for Italy, as it seemed the only course to obtain his release from prison.
However, in January 1978, when Guillermo’s girlfriend was about to be released, it was assumed that he would be released at the same time; in fact, on January 28, 1978, the news of the revocation of the warrant for his arrest was published in all the newspapers.
The prison authorities were immediately asked for information about when and how he would be released; likewise the Italian Consul stationed in that city was also in contact with the prison authorities for the same purpose, but the same answer was received by both: that there was no further news.
Guillermo was visited on February 1, 1978, as he regularly was once every week, and he was found to be optimistic about the good news.
His visitor, upon leaving, again asked for information on Guillermo’s release, but obtained none, although there was never any doubt that the matter would be satisfactorily resolved.
Matters turned out quite differently, however, and although several prison authorities gave very contradictory and confused reports a few days later, to the effect that Guillermo had been released at midnight on February 2, 1978, in fact there has been no information as to his whereabouts since that time, in spite of the many inquiries made of the Ministry of the Interior, the federal and local police and other agencies.
Many people living near the prison, and even some people in the prison, have informed us confidentially that, in fact, on that night four inmates were taken from the prison and presumably, Guillermo was among them; that they were taken away in a vehicle which was parked in the security zone of the prison, to which only the prison authorities had access.
During the second week of February 1978, a writ of habeas corpus was filed with the circuit courts in the city of La Plata and another in the federal Court under Dr. Rafael Sarmiento; both petitions were unsuccessful. On March 13, 1978, another writ of habeas corpus was filed in Court Nº 3 under Dr. Guillermo Rivarola, Office of Court Clerk Dr. Enrique Guanziroli, who, on March 21, 1978, issued a subpoena, as a result of which the prison staff members allegedly involved in Guillermo’s release appeared before the courts of La Plata; but this did nothing to clarify the bewildering event, and although many months have passed the matter remains unexplained.
The Government of Argentina informed the IACHR, in a note dated March 27, 1980, of the following:
In this regard it should be pointed out that the individual in question was detained and placed at the disposition of the Executive under Decree Nº 1843 of August 31, 1976, for action that endangered internal peace, security and public order, on the basis of the powers granted to the President under Article 23 of the Constitution.
Subsequently, as the causes that led to his arrest ceased to have validity, the Executive decided, through Decree Nº 162 of January 26, 1978, to invalidate this measure, and release Segalli on February 2, 1978 at midnight. No information is available with regard to his whereabouts.
The IACHR is processing this case. It notes, however, that the Government’s reply does not provide sufficient evidence to discredit the facts denounced.
20. Case 2271 – Nélida Azucena SOSA DE FORTI
This case is unique, and for that reason the IACHR, on November 18, 1978, at its 45th session, adopted the following resolution:
1. The following denunciation was made in a communication of May 29, 1977:
NÉLIDA AZUCENA SOSA DE FORTI, C.I. 9.728,076, and five children, detained 2.18.77 Ezeiza, had boarded an Aerolíneas Argentinas plane, flight 284, to Venezuela. Documentation in order. Pilot of plane, immigration official, take them off plane because of problem with documentation. Detained by group of individuals in civilian clothes, armed, driving sedan automobiles. Imprisoned seven days without charge. Children separated from mother, abandoned in city of Buenos Aires, informed mother taken to Tucumán. Whereabouts of mother unknown.
2. In a telegram of June 13, 1977, the Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of this denunciation to the Government of Argentina, and requested it to provide the corresponding information.
3. The Government of Argentina responded by telegram of June 1977, but failed to refer to the events reported to it, and stated as follows:
Report that competent national authorities have not record of detention of Mrs. Nélida Azucena Sosa de Forti. Efforts are underway to determine her whereabouts. Any further information on the matter will be reported immediately.
4. The pertinent parts of the Government’s response were transmitted by letter dated June 27, 1977 to the complainant whose comments were invited on the reply.
5. In a note of June 39, 1977, the Commission acknowledged receipt of the information provided by the Government, and sent further details on the pertinent parts:
Mrs. Nélida Azucena Sosa de Forti, an Argentine citizen, C.I. 9.728.076 P.F., was detained on February 18, 1977 in the international airport of Ezeiza.
On the day indicated, Mrs. Forti and her five children, arrived at the airport… at approximately 7.34 am, went through all the pre-embarking procedures, such as immigration and checking in her baggage, with no problems, and boarded a plane, Aerolíneas Argentinas flight Nº 284 to Venezuela, departing at 9.00 am.
They had all the necessary documents, including parental consent and the family visa, officially communicated to the Venezuelan Consulate in Buenos Aires on February 14, 1977, in official telegram Nº 003410.
Once they were settled in their seats on the plane, at approximately 8.45… the announcement was made that Alfredo Forti (16 year old son) was asked to come to the cabin. The son was received by the Captain, the immigration official who had dealt with him a few moments earlier in the airport, two on-board officials and one other uniformed person.
The pilot asked him about his father and he explained that his father was in Venezuela awaiting the arrival of the family. The pilot then asked him to call his mother, and the son returned with her. The pilot explained to the mother that she would not be able to travel because “there was a problem with her documentation.”
The pilot told them “that he would proceed to disembark them with their baggage.” This was done and they were taken back into the same bus that had taken them to the plane with the other passengers. A group of individuals, who were in civilian clothes, even though armed, were waiting for them in the bus. They were taken to the public vehicle entrance and transferred to two sedan cars.
Stopped along a solitary road, the six were taken out of the cars and were blindfolded; they then were taken to a prison establishment, where they remained for seven days. At no time was any reason given for their being incarcerated, nor was any authorization shown.
On the seventh day, the children were taken away from their mother and abandoned in Buenos Aires, close to a house that they knew, and as on the previous occasion, they were blindfolded. Before they were left, the person whom the others treated as the leader told them that their mother would be taken to Tucumán and that she would be returned to them within a week.
No further news has been received of the mother’s whereabouts since that time, nor of the reason for her detention, the causes neither behind it, nor of the authorities that ordered it and that still deprive her of her freedom. All the efforts of Cáritas in Venezuela and of the Venezuelan Embassy in Buenos Aires to ascertain her whereabouts have been fruitless.
However, an arrangement was made through the Embassy of Venezuela to transfer the children to Venezuela where they are now with their father, a surgeon who is in the service of the Government of Venezuela.
6. In a communication dated July 15, 1977, the person making the denunciation challenges the reply from the Government of Argentina in the following terms:
There is no doubt at all that Nélida Azucena Sosa de Forti was detained by official security agencies, because the family had to pass through at least five military control points in order to get to the airport, and some more within Ezeiza airport before reaching the plane; a uniformed armed official made them leave the plane in the presence of Captain Gómez Villafañe, to whom it is assumed that he identified himself. Moreover, the international airport of Ezeiza is under military control and the captain of a plane cannot be uninvolved in the operation.
Also on the airplane were Mr. Juan Galli Coll, a senior official of the Ministry of the Treasury of Venezuela, who is ready to declare that he was a witness to the occurrence, and Mr. Daniel Mazzola, an Argentine citizen who was on a business trip.
The uniformed, armed official told her that there was an arrest warrant from Tucumán, which is further proof that she was detained.
Another point that should be taken into account is the fact that when my children were brought by a Venezuelan priest, who made the trip for this purpose, they were under escort by the Federal Police and despite the fact that they identified themselves, entry was not easy, which proves that in fact, only officials of the Armed Forces or Federal Police could have detained her.
7. In a note of September 29, 1977, the Government of Argentina replied to the request for information, again failing to refer to the statements made in the pertinent parts of the denunciation:
D. Persons about whom there are no records of detention and who are the subject of a police search by the Ministry of the Interior.
139. SOSA DE FORTI, Nélida Azucena
8. In notes dated October 12 and 10, 1977, the complainant repeats his accusation with regard to the Government’s reply, and reports that he has learned unofficially that Mrs. Forti is being detained in the Villa Devoto jail in Buenos Aires.
9. In a communication dated February 7, 1978, the Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of the observations made by the complainant to the Government. The Government has made no reply to date.
10. In a communication dated May 16, 1978, the complainant sent a new detailed declaration to the Commission, giving background information about the detention; an account of the six days during which the family was detained, photocopies of all the documents related to the trip, and also of the place where the incident took place reconstructed by some of the persons detained.
11. The Commission has in its possession the declaration of eyewitnesses to the arrest aboard the Aerolíneas Argentinas plane, and a statement from the person who effected the transfer of the Forti children to Venezuela.
12. In a communication dated September 26, 1978, the Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of the additional information, and of the aforementioned testimony to the Argentine Government. The Government of Argentina has not responded to this request either.
1. In the light of the preceding background information and of the documents in the possession of the Commission, there exists proof as to the circumstances, the place, the time and the procedure used in the detention of Mrs. Nélida Azucena SOSA de Forti and five of her children, from which it is deduced that the detention took place in public in the International Airport of Ezeiza by authorities of the Argentine Government;
2. The evidence in the possession of the Commission indicates the truth of the events denounced;
3. Despite the foregoing, the Government of Argentina has not responded to date to the events specifically denounced.
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
1. That there is sufficient evidence to show that Mrs. Nélida Azucena de Forti and her children were illegally detained by agents of the Argentine Government on February 18, 1977, and that Mrs. De Forti has not yet reappeared.
2. To declare to the Government of Argentina, that these events constitute very serious violations of the right to life, liberty, and personal security (Article I); the right to a fair trial (Article XVIII); the right to protection from arbitrary arrest (Article XXV); and the right to due process of law (Article XXVI) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
3. To recommend to the Government: a) that it take immediate measures to release Mrs. Nélida Azucena Sosa de Forti; b) that it sanction in accordance with Argentine law those responsible for the events denounced; c) that it undertake a complete, impartial investigation of the events denounced, and d) that it inform the Commission within a maximum of 30 days, as to the measures taken to implement the recommendations in this Resolution.
4. To forward this Resolution to the Government of Argentina and to the persons filing the denunciation.
5. To include this Resolution in the Annual Report to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, pursuant to Article 9(bis), paragraph c.iii of the Statute of the Commission.
The Argentine Government presented its observations in a note dated October 17, 1979, after the term established in the resolution had expired. The Government’s reply in several of its more important paragraphs states as follows:
From the earlier investigation it can be determined that the persons who appeared at Ezeiza Airport and stated that they belonged to the Army, among them the supposed officer who led them, were not part of that force, or any other force, or any security force, either national or provincial. Furthermore, it was proven that there were no authentic requests or warrants issued by competent authorities, either military or civilian, for the arrest of the Forti couple.
Following inquiries made to clarify the events and its motive, it could also be established that the Forti couple had dealt with elements belonging to terrorist organizations in the Province of Tucumán and had collaborated in health and logistic matters with them. Mrs. Forti had become very involved with members of the “Montoneros” in 1976, and decided to cease those activities and leave the country for fear of being discovered. This would have been the reason for the group considering her a deserter and therefore ordering her “detention”.
Presumably Mrs. Forti’s trip to Buenos Aires may have been motivated by her attempt to avoid being captured. However, the events that occurred at the airport on the day she was to leave the country show that the organization had to know those circumstances, and thus were able to execute the order given by their leaders.
In effect, only this hypothesis can explain how a group of persons, virtually on a suicide mission, appeared under the color of authority, to retain someone who sought to break its rules and since the group was declining, it needed to show its members a powerful ability to punish, even if in doing so it had to risk several of its members.
Later events, shown oddly enough to the children of the “deserter”, explain the second aspect of this action; to show an assumed “secret prison” on the basis of which the Argentine Government could be charged with “detention”. This way, it achieved a two-fold objective: in internal affairs, to intimidate those who wanted to drop out of the organization, and in external affairs, to cause the public authorities to lose prestige by charging them with the arrest of a person who obviously was not under the jurisdiction of any authority.
Clearly, the means used, as well as the “modus operandi”, were good enough to deceive the airport chief in charge. Even the victims themselves, it seems, did not object to the presumed “detention” in the belief that it was truly an official procedure.
Note also that Mrs. Forti had obtained her passport several days in advance from federal police authorities, without objection or questioning, and had passed through the control point of the National Migration Office at Ezeiza Airport without any problem. Obviously, if she was going to be detained, this could have been accomplished when she presented her travel document to the police authorities. In any event, this would have prompted a review of any file kept on her.
In fact, the circumstances in which Mrs. Sosa de Forti and her children were deprived of their liberty rules out any indirect intervention by an official agency. The use of forged documents, under the color of authority, reference to a non existing detention order, the urgency with which the “procedure” was effected, and the totally unusual place and timing, are unmistakable signs of a criminal act intended to mislead the airport authorities and which succeeded in so doing. The unfolding of an illegal episode which has the appearance of legality is typical of all types of crimes: the daring maneuver to bring off the deception.
The Commission wishes to make several remarks about this reply from the Argentine Government.
First of all, it is noteworthy that the assumed tie between Mrs. Forti and the forces of subversion is mentioned for the first time in this note which comes more than two years after the transmission of the claim to the Government and after the date set in the IACHR resolution had expired. It is noted that in this case, because of its very special features, repeated requests were made before and during the on-site observation to gain the attention of the highest authorities of the Argentine Republic. At no time did these authorities even insinuate the possibility that the kidnapping of Mrs. Forti and her children might have been the work of subversive groups. Another point that calls our attention is that at no time did the IACHR receive information about investigations made to determine how this kidnapping took place.
Second, the Argentine Government’s version of the facts is not credible. It is very difficult to believe that a group of irregulars, supposedly responsible for this crime, would have selected such a heavily guarded place as Ezeiza International Airport to punish Mrs. Forti, or would have hoped to kidnap her once she was aboard an airplane that was ready to take off. It is also very difficult to believe that, given the present situation in the Argentine Republic, Aerolíneas Argentinas personnel and all the other officials who participated in, or witnessed these events, would have been deceived by persons belonging to irregular groups or organizations. One must keep in mind the strict security measures that normally exist in international airports and which are undoubtedly followed at Ezeiza Airport at the time the events occurred. That airport was and still is under strict military control. Its director was and is, an air force officer, and to go into Ezeiza Airport, it was and is, necessary to identify oneself at several control points. The testimony of the Forti children clearly shows all the procedures and controls to which they were subjected when, after being released, they returned to Ezeiza Airport, accompanied by a Venezuelan priest, for the purpose of traveling to Venezuela to be with their father.
Moreover, during its on-site observation, the IACHR received very important testimony on this case from a detainee who, for obvious reasons, was not identified. Even without being questioned about this case, the person declared that among the many persons with whom he was detained at the start of his captivity (today he is acknowledged to be a prisoner) was Mrs. Forti in Tucumán. At that time, Mrs. Forti was in deplorable physical shape because of the mistreatment to which she had been subject. Later on this prisoner was transferred to another prison and lost contact with her.
After examining the reply of the Argentine Government, the Commission decided that the reconsideration request was out of order since the reply fails to provide any significant new information to contradict the information available to the Commission.
21. The disappearance of defense lawyers is an extremely serious development which stands in the way of the free exercise of the legal rights and guarantees of the persons detained. There are several cases of disappeared lawyers in Argentina; some are the following:
22. Case 3463 – Daniel Víctor ANTOKOLETZ
According to the complaint received by the IACHR:
Daniel Víctor ANTOKOLETZ, Argentine, lawyer, born in February 22, 1937, Federal Police I.D. 6.277.901, Individual Registration Booklet 4.676.964, domiciled at Guatemala 4860, 6th Floor, Apartment 27, Buenos Aires, married.
Dr. Daniel Víctor Antokoletz is a distinguished lawyer, a university professor, a member of the Inter-American Institute of International Legal Studies of the Organization of American States, and a Charter member of the Argentine Association of International Law. He has taken several courses and has published various articles and papers in his field.
Dr. Antokoletz, a person of firm democratic convictions, in the exercise of his professional work and aside from any partisan leanings—defended political prisoners and persons subject to persecution. His work was naturally limited to the area of trial defense without taking into account the ideology of the defendant.
On November 10, 1976 at 8.30 in the morning, six heavily armed civilians, who identified themselves as members of the “Security Forces” and “Joint Forces”, broke into Dr. Antokoletz’s home. After forcing the occupants to lie on the floor, they beat Dr. Antokoletz and handcuffed his and his wife’s hands behind their backs. For more than an hour they carefully searched the apartment, taking personal documents, papers, and professional working material, family photos, etc. One of the occupants called headquarters saying, “the party is over, we are leaving now”. At approximately ten o’clock, the victims were taken out handcuffed into private automobiles, a red Chevy and a metallic gray Ford Falcon.
The attitude of the kidnappers, upon going out into the street with their prisoners, in the middle of the morning, in the sight of neighbors and passerby, pointing handguns and rifles and waiting unhurriedly and with complete impunity, made it clear that they belonged to the regular forces and were acting pursuant to public authority.
With the victims in the Ford Falcon, Liliana in the front seat and Daniel in the back, they drove along with two individuals constantly pointing cocked weapons at them. After a block and a half, they were blindfolded. The Chevy escorted the Ford Falcon, and their crews communicated with each other by radio. The trip lasted some forty minutes, with many turns intended to disorient the prisoners.
The morning of Saturday, November 13, one of the guards led Liliana, at her request, to see her husband. He took many precautions in so doing. He took her to a bathroom and asked her not to say anything later that might compromise him. He also took Daniel to the same place. He allowed them to take off their hoods and blindfolds and to see each other for a minute. Liliana could see that Daniel had been brutally tortured. He could hardly walk; they had applied the electric prod to his testicles and gums. Later, they returned her to her place and from that time on Liliana has known nothing of Daniel.
The morning of November 17, Liliana was released; she had also been tortured. The return trip lasted only 20 minutes. Those who took her back asked her to forget what had happened, that she should not think of filing a complaint for a disappeared person anywhere, nor associate with the groups of families of prisoners and disappeared persons. She should understand that in a war some win and others lose. They added if she knew how to move, nothing would happen, and she would be hearing from them soon.
On November 21, the Saturday following Liliana’s release, a person actually did telephone the complainant, who lives in Buenos Aires, and asked her to contact Liliana; that in the garden of her parents’ house where she was staying in Mercedes in the Province of Buenos Aires, 100 kilometers from the Capital, they had left some interesting papers. They added that she should look at them carefully because they could be of help to her.
Thus it was. A box was found, left during the early morning hours, with the name Liliana and the address. The sender was identified only as “Matías”, who was one of the persons making the arrest and one of the wardens. Given the deference accorded him it was obvious he was a naval officer.
Eyewitnesses to the arrest, included the neighbors Mauro Colombek, domiciled at Guatemala 4860, in charge of the building, and Mrs. Pilar Marcotte, owner of the Marcotte dry cleaning establishment, located on Guatemala Street between Serrano and Thames.
Several petitions for writs of habeas corpus have been submitted and complaints have been made to the Ministry of the Interior, First Army Corps Command, the Navy, the Bar Association, church officials, etc., with no results. The authorities insist that Daniel Antokoletz is not in detention and they do not acknowledge the kidnapping of Liliana.
In a note dated November 26, 1979, the Argentine Government answered the Commission as follows:
This government positively denies everything alleged both in the complaint and in the additional information, and states that neither Daniel Víctor Antokoletz, nor his wife Liliana, were arrested by legal forces pursuant to an official order. The government denies that the Naval Mechanics School contains places such as those described in the complaint or that the military institution was or is a detention or torture center for arrested persons, the latter obviously not even being practice by any authority of the Republic.
In response to the request for information which the Argentine Government made to the relevant authorities in attempting to establish the whereabouts of Antokoletz the authorities replied in the negative. Further, the Buenos Aires criminal trial Judge, Nº 30, who carried out a careful legal investigation and was going to dismiss the case due to the lack of evidence, (Case Nº 12.598), at the same time directed that the perpetrators be arrested.
The Commission is continuing to process this case pursuant to its regulations. However, it is of the opinion that the government’s explanation does not clarify the matter denounced.
23. Case 2326 – Antonio Bautista BETTINI and Jorge Alberto Daniel DEVOTO
The complainant presented the following denunciation:
Dr. Antonio Bautista BETTINI, Argentine, sixty years of age, lawyer and district attorney for 30 years, currently professor of law, was arrested on March 18, 1977.
This extreme outrage occurred in the presence of his son-in-law, Jorge Alberto Daniel DEVOTO, a Lieutenant of the Argentine Navy, by armed individuals, in civilian dress, as the two were leaving the Federal Police station where they had gone to take some steps related to his job.
Lieutenant Devoto, as the sole witness to the event, on March 21, 1977, went to the headquarters of the Commander in Chief of the Navy—to which branch he belonged—in the Capital, to present the corresponding complaint, following the advice of his superiors, and having disappeared since that time, without there being any news as to his whereabouts. Steps taken on his behalf have brought the same negative results as in the case of his father-in-law.
In a note dated October 25, 1977, the Argentine Government answered as follows:
C. Persons having no record of detention and who are the subject of police search by the Ministry of the Interior:
18. BETTINI, Antonio Bautista
D. Persons on whose behalf an investigation has been initiated to determine their whereabouts because the national authorities have no record of complaints regarding their disappearance prior to those presented by the IACHR:
62. DEVOTO, Jorge Daniel
The IACHR is currently continuing to process this case according to its Regulations. It notes that the government’s reply did not provide significant information to clarify the disappearance of Mr. Bettini and Mr. Devoto.
24. Case 2248 – Mario Gerardo YACUB
The Commission received the following report:
Mario Gerardo Yacub, Argentine, 39 years old, living at Espinosa 1458 in Buenos Aires, married, lawyer by profession, Draft Card Nº 5.815.507.
The above named person was apprehended on November 1, 1976 by a group of persons seemingly acting under color of some kind of authority and who, at the time of the kidnapping, used irresistible force. On that day Mario Gerardo was in his own law office, located at Talcahuano 638, 6th floor, Office “F” in the capital. At approximately 10.30 am, a person claiming to be a client came to see him, saying that he needed professional services. Thus, this person gained entry, which in turn made possible the entry of a group of four or five persons. The latter, immediately began brandishing fire arms, and subdued Mario Gerardo and the office staff; later, after searching the offices they took him out of the building, having locked the other persons in the bathroom. As of that moment there has been no news regarding his whereabouts. All inquiries made of the police administrative or judicial authorities have brought negative results, since they simple state that the beneficiary of the appeal is not registered as a prisoner.
The Government of Argentina replied to the IACHR in the following terms:
It has been reported that the attorney Mario Gerardo YACUB was kidnapped on November 8, 1976 in his office on Talcahuano Street 638 in the city of Buenos Aires.
Without prejudice to maintaining, ab-initio, that in view of the characteristics of the action, the Argentine Government had nothing to do with it, since this is not the modus operandi of the legal authorities, information have been requested from the relevant authorities who have reported that no order of arrest was issued for Dr. YACUB and that he is not, nor has he ever been placed under arrest.
It should be noted, furthermore, that at the date of the alleged kidnapping, terrorists were still operating in the country, albeit on a reduced scale, who belonged to various factions and who carried out indiscriminate acts of violence on people, and it is therefore apparent that, in view of the fact that the Government formulated no charges against Dr. Yacub and hence no order of arrest was issued the action should be attributed to the terrorists.
The IACHR is continuing to process this case, as prescribed. However, it should be pointed out that, in its judgment, the Government’s reply does not sufficiently clarify Dr. Yacub’s disappearance.
25. In Buenos Aires the IACHR held interviews with groups of persons from Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, who presented complaints about the disappearances of relatives in Argentina. Some of them had been living in Argentina; others had traveled from their respective countries expressly in order to present testimony. In Washington and in Buenos Aires the Commission also received information and reports from several European embassies on the disappearance of their nationals. Among the various cases involving foreigners, the following are selected:
26. Case 2576 – Sister Alice DOMON and Sister Léonie DUQUET
In December 26, 1977, the IACHR received the following complaint:
Sister Alice Domon, 40 years of age, from Charquemont, Doubs, France, a resident of Argentina for 10 years, was arrested on December 8, 1977, upon leaving the Santa Cruz Catholic Church in the city of Buenos Aires. A mass had just been said at the request of the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights, for the thousands of disappeared persons in Argentina regarding whom the Government refuses to provide information to their relatives. Sister Léonide Duquet, 61 years of age, from Combes, France, a resident of Argentina for 10 years, was arrested on December 10, 1977, at 11 am, at her residence in the Parish of San Pablo, in the city of Buenos Aires.
Both French nuns belonged to the “Institut des Missions Etrangères”, with headquarters in Tolouse, France, and they provided spiritual comfort to relatives of the disappeared persons, many of whom may be dead, in Argentina. Together with the two sisters 11 other persons of Argentine nationality were detained, who were relatives of the victims of political repression and whose whereabouts are unknown.
The Argentine press, which is subject to rigorous censorship, recently reported briefly on the events of the 13th, although it spoke of the “disappearance” and not of the detention carried out by members of the First Army Corps, who showed police credentials and drove automobiles without license plates, as in common in these operations. In one case the automobile was a Renault; in another, it was an American car, presumably a Ford.
The Government of Argentina replied to the Commission:
B. Persons for whom there is no record of detention and who are the subject of a police search by the Ministry of the Interior:
14. DOMON, Sister Alice
15. DUQUET, Sister Léonie
The Commission received additional information from the Government in a note dated March 27, 1980, which in its opinion does not clarify the denunciations. The case is still under consideration.
27. Case 3362 – Esther BALLESTRINO DE CAREAGA
On May 13, 1978, the following was denounced:
Dr. Esther Ballestrino de Careaga (Argentine, federal police I.D. Nº 4.241.455), born in Paraguay, has been in political asylum in Argentina for approximately the last 25 years.
In May, 1977, Dr. Careaga’s residence was broken into twice, and documents, from the United States and UNESCO, having to do with a paper she was preparing on human rights in Paraguay, requested by those organizations, were taken. Death threats against the family and the building were found and as in previous break-ins, her home was left in complete disarray.
Because of the disappearance of several members of her family, Esther Ballestrino de Careaga works with organizations that cooperate on the struggle for human rights in Argentina and with the families of other prisoners and disappeared persons, these families are known worldwide for the meetings they hold every Thursday at the Plaza de Mayo to ask about the situation of their relatives.
On December 8, 1977, together with 25 other women involved in this movement to express solidarity with the two French nuns who worked with them, Dr. Careaga was kidnapped upon leaving the church of Santa Cruz, located on Independencia and Urquiza, in the Capital, by civilian personnel who identified themselves as policemen; she was forced into a Renault without license plates. Despite persistent inquiries by the Paraguayan and Argentine Solidarity Committees, and their successful efforts to obtain a visa for Dr. Careaga to go to Sweden, to date there is no information as to her whereabouts.
The Government of Argentina, in a note received by the Commission on March 27, 1980, replied as follows:
With regard to the events of December 8, 1977, at the entrance to the Church of Santa Cruz, an official denial was issued by this Government with reference to Sister Alice Domon.
However, we have not been able to establish a link between the alleged disappearance of the person in question and Sisters Domon and Duquet, particularly since the person in question, on the date of these events, could not have been requesting information as to the whereabouts of a member of her family, as the note says, since her family was living at that time in Sweden.
On the other hand, according to information received by this Government from the Paraguay Committee for Human Rights, the person in question was about to travel to Sweden where her daughters lived, which does not preclude the possibility that she traveled via some neighboring country, since one does not need a passport to leave Argentina.
In sum, the information provided is not sufficient to establish that Mrs. Ballestrino de Careaga was, on the date in question, in the doorway of the Santa Cruz church and even less that she was the victim of an assault.
The Commission is continuing it consideration of this case. However, in its judgment the Government’s reply does not discredit the contents of the denunciation.
D. Some testimonies given by persons who were released after having disappeared
1. The Commission feels it important to include a special section containing some testimonies given by persons, who were missing for a relatively brief period of time, and then released. The circumstances as to the measures used, and the time and place of the events confirm the gravity of this problem.
2. Case 2155 – Enrique RODRÍGUEZ LARRETA PIERA
On April 15, 1977, the Commission received the following communication:
I, Enrique Rodríguez Larreta Piera, a Uruguayan citizen, whose legal residence is in Montevideo, 55 years of age, married, the father of 4 children, and with 4 grandchildren, with no previous legal record, wish to give an objective testimony summarizing the events I lived through, beginning on July 1, 1976.
I was informed on that date by my daughter-in-law, RAQUEL NOGUEIRA PAULIER, of the disappearance of my son, ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ LARRETA MARTÍNEZ, a Uruguayan, married, 26 years of age, father of a 5 year-old child, a journalist by profession, whose legal residence has been in Argentina since 1973.
My son had been a student leader in Uruguay. In 1972, he was detained by the army and held incommunicado for nine months; he was subject to torture during interrogation, which was reported in Parliament, still functioning at that time in Uruguay. Finally, the trial that they intended to fabricate against him was dismissed for lack of evidence, and my son went to Buenos Aires with his family, where he worked on the newspaper El Cronista Comercial.
In light of the circumstances under which political refugees were living in Argentina and the events happening there, my daughter-in-law and I decided to send the child to Uruguay, and put him into the care of his maternal grandmother, who came to Buenos Aires expressly for that purpose.
We immediately contacted an attorney whose name I do not with to mention here, and on his advice, we presented a writ of habeas corpus to a court, the secretary of which was Dr. Muller, on July 2, 1976. In this petition, we asked that the Police, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior and other security forces be requested to provide reports on my son’s status. Several days later, I was informed that the petition would be shelved, since the authorities had reported that there was no news about my son and that he was not in detention.
In light of this, I did all that was within my power to discover my son’s whereabouts. I visited the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where I talked with Dr. Mones Ruiz; the Assistant Secretariat of the Episcopal Council, the Assistant Military Chaplain, and I was able to obtain an interview with a member of the Supreme Court, Dr. Abelardo Rossi, through the intervention of the Pallotine Fathers, to whom I talked in the church on Carlos Calvo and General Urquiza Street, to try and interest them in my son’s case. Everywhere I received expressions of solidarity, but I was always told that it was impossible to do anything. I remember that the Justice of the Supreme Court informed me that as of that date, more than 6,000 writs of habeas corpus had been presented for cases similar to my son’s.
During this period, I also made efforts to publicize the news of my son’s disappearance as widely as possible. The information was widely published in Buenos Aires (La Nación, Crónica, Última Hora, La Opinión, El Cronista Comercial, The Buenos Aires Herald) and even in Montevideo (El País, El Día, La Mañana), and the international news agencies were also informed. I wrote numerous letters to various individuals and institutions reporting the fact, and on July 2, I again entered a writ of habeas corpus, bringing before the court all the data I had been able to obtain on my son’s detention.
On the night of July 13-14, a group of about 8 to 12 armed individuals entered the apartment building where my son and my daughter-in-law were living (Víctor Martínez Street 1488, Buenos Aires) threatening the concierge, who asked them for identification; they broke down the apartment door and rushed in without showing any kind of search warrant.
Immediately, they proceeded to handcuff my daughter-in-law and myself, they listened to no reasons and they gave no explanations; they covered our heads with hoods, and did not even allow us to get dressed. In other words, they took us out of the house in our nightclothes and put us into a closed wagon, treating us violently and insulting us.
The vehicle in which we were traveling went to another house, and parked for a few moments; a couple was put inside next to us, and then they took us to another location where a noisy rolling metal door had to be opened to get in.
Once we were there, they demanded my identification, always treating me brutally and rudely, not allowing me to give even the slightest explanation and giving me no reply other than further blows and insults.
I was immediately able to see that there were many people in this place in the same condition as myself. I identified my son among them by his voice, and because in hooding me, they had used a very loose-weaved sugar sack, which enables me to see silhouettes. Then, a guard realized that I was able to see a little, and he gave me a beating and bound my eyes tightly with a piece of rag.
Another person there was Margarita Michelini—the daughter of my friend Senator Zelmar Michelini, who had been assassinated shortly before—and León Duarte, a Uruguayan labor leader, who had been a major force in my country’s trade union movement.
They immediately began to take some of the people detained with me to the upper floor, via an inside staircase, to interrogate them. I realized from the piercing screams that I heard constantly that they were being barbarously tortured, which I confirmed when they brought them back down to the place on the ground floor where I was. There were dragged down by the guards, whimpering. They were thrown down on the cement floor, and we were prohibited from giving them water because they had been “in the machine”, as they said.
The following night, it was my turn to be taken upstairs, where they interrogated me under torture, as they did to all the other men and women there. They undressed me completely, and putting my hands behind my back, hung me by the wrists about 20 of 30 centimeters off the floor. At the same time, they put a sort of loincloth around me that had a number of electrical terminals in it. When it is connected up, the victim is electrified at various points at the same time. This apparatus, which they called “the machine”, is connected while the questioning is going on, and they threaten you and insult you, and hit you on your most sensitive parts. The floor under the place where the detainees are hung is very wet and covered with coarse salt crystals, so that the torture is multiplied if the person manages to get his feet on the floor. A number of people who were detained with me got out of the hanging apparatus, and fell to the floor, resulting in serious injuries. I particularly remember the case of someone whom I afterward learned was Edelweiss Zahn de Andrés, who suffered severe cuts on his temples and on his angles, which later became infected.
While they were torturing me, they asked me questions about my son’s political activities, and about my participation in the Partido por la Victoria del Pueblo (Party for the Victory of the People), to which, according to them, my son belonged. It was in this room that I was able to see, at a moment when the blindfold slipped a little because I was sweating so much, that a medium sized picture of Adolph Hitler was hanging on the wall.
I cannot say exactly how long they tortured me. I believe that in my case, it was not more than half an hour, but in the majority of cases, it lasted from 2 to 3 hours, according to my estimates.
After I had undergone this treatment, they took me back downstairs, where I stayed until the day I was transferred to Uruguay. The hygienic conditions were lamentable, the place seemed to be an abandoned workshop for mechanics, because of all the dirty grease and mud around and there was only one small latrine for the almost 30 people detained there. During this period, we often heard the voices of other people upstairs, asking to go to the bathroom or asking for some water or food.
I clearly recognized that one of these voices belonged to Gerardo Gatti Acuña, whom I have known for a long time as a union leader of the graphics workers in Uruguay. From comments by other detainees—there where times when the guards where careless and we were able to exchange a few words in a low voice--, I learned that another of the voices I heard upstairs belonged to Hugo Méndez, another Uruguayan trade unionist who had been kidnapped in Buenos Aires in June.
As the days went on, I was able to realize, from the content of the conversation and the idioms they were using, that most of those who took part in the kidnapping operation, and all of those who were guarding us were Argentines. From the way they were addressed, the guards seemed to belong to the Argentine army, while those who took part in the operations did not give that impression. One of them was a man of about 35 years of age, extremely fat, who answered to the nickname of “Paqui” (contraction of “Pachyderm”), who behaved brutally and made a show of his strength, and boasted that he could break down any kind of door.
Officials of the Uruguayan army participated directly in the interrogations and torture. Some said that they belonged to a group called OCOA (Organismo Coordinador de Operaciones Anti-subversivas), and among themselves, they called each other by the name of OSCAR, followed by an ordinal number. OSCAR 1 is a high-ranking officer, who might be about 45 years old, of medium height, fat, white-haired, whom they also called by the nickname of “El tordillo” (“the gray horse”). I managed to hear about ten numbers, corresponding to officers who had the rank of captain or higher. Some of them seemed, from their comments, normally to live in Argentina.
Officers belonging to the Defense Intelligence Service (SID), members of what we are told is the “300 Division” worked alongside the members of the OCOA. The chief of this Division is a Colonel, who is known by the number 301. The operations Chief of the Division is the one directly responsible for administering the torture, along with the one called OSCAR 1. The 300 Division apparently consists of about 60 people, including officers and enlisted men.
There were enlisted men from the 300 Division in the place where we were confined. The two main ones were known as “Daniel” (a sergeant) and “Drácula” (a private, first class). They were the ones responsible for getting ready everything that had been stolen in the raids and packing it up (they said that it was “the spoils of the battle-field”) for subsequent shipment to Uruguay.
The stolen goods included stripped-down automobiles, refrigerators, television sets, typewriters and calculators, domestic electrical appliances, china, bicycles, books, etc.
On July 15, they brought three more people, who had been kidnapped, to the place. From the guards’ conversations, and when they identified themselves, I was able to learn that they were Manuela Santucho, and attorney, Carlos Santucho (brother and sister of Mario Roberto Santucho), and a sister-in-law of his, whose name I forget, but whom the guards called “Beba”, I don’t know whether pejoratively, or because this was her nickname.
On July 19, 1976, they announced to us that Mario Roberto Santucho had died in an armed incident, rudely insulting his family. At that point, both Carlos Santucho and his sister-in-law seemed to have lost their reason as a result of the brutal torture to which they had been subjected. Manuela Santucho, despite the fact that she also had been barbarously tortured, was still lucid.
About 6 pm that day, they began to fill up a large water tank that they had placed in the midst of us prisoners. We heard the water flowing. Meanwhile, the officers and the guards insulted and punished the prisoners, and said we were responsible for the death of a captain that had occurred during that armed encounter, and they said that “we are going to wash everybody’s head” in the tank. During the night, under the pretext that Carlos Santucho was in a constant delirium, they pounced on him and chained him up, we heard the characteristic sound of chains. Earlier, they had hung from the roof a sliding apparatus over the tank, and had explained its use in great detail. They passed a rope through the apparatus that they tied to the chains around Santucho, while they explained this maneuver to us, also in great detail. At that moment, an Argentine officer brought a copy of the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín, which recounted the manner in which Mario Roberto Santucho had died, and he forced Manuela Santucho to read it out loud to us. Meanwhile, Carlos Santucho was dipped up and down into the tank full of water, and every time he emerged they laughed and insulted him while beating him brutally. This treatment went on for a long time, which surprised us, because according to comments we had heard from the guards themselves, he had never been active politically. Then it seemed that the body showed no signs of life. They undid him, put him in a vehicle, and took him away. Manuela Santucho and her sister-in-law remained a couple of more days with us, and then they were taken somewhere else, I don’t know where.
The chief of the Argentine detachment is a high-ranking officer, whom his subordinates call, among themselves, “el jova” or “el jovato”, which in Buenos Aires slang means “the old man”. When he arrived at the place where we were detained, it was he who asked us for our identification. I was able to see through the sack that was over my heard that he is a man of between 50 and 55 years of age, approximately 1.75 meters (5’9) tall, with a hard disposition, strong features and very short hair that was somewhat gray. He wore boots, riding britches, and a typical military overcoat.
The place where I was held kidnapped has, as I have already said, a large door with a rolling metal screen, which could be heard every time vehicles went in and out. Any entry of a vehicle was announced to the guards several minutes in advance, and the code name “Operation Sesame” was used. The room on the ground floor is large. It is between 6 or 8 meters wide and 25 or 30 meters long. It was partitioned off with a whitewashed piece of sacking. On the wall to the right, by the entrance, there is a small latrine, with a WC that has no bowl, and a small hand-basin. At the end of the bathroom, there is a small sink. The staircase going to the upper floor is next to the latrine; in has a cement base and steps with thick planks. The staircase seemed to have been constructed later than the rest of the house. On the lower floor, there are at least three rooms and a kitchen, and there is a wall made of blocks, which also seems to have been constructed later.
At certain hours, from behind the house, we could hear the sound of a school with children playing during recess, which leads me to believe that there was a school nearby. At a short distance in front of the house, there was a railway line. According to comments by a guard, there was an auto-repair shop on the next corner.
On July 25th, they told us that we should prepare to be transferred. They had already said this three days earlier, but on that occasion, according to the guard, the airplane in which we were to travel had not arrived because there was a severe storm that day and hence the operation was postponed. They put adhesive tape over our eyes and mouth and all the people detained, except me, were handcuffed with their hands behind their backs. They didn’t in my case, because I had a severe inflammation on my left wrist, where a wound had become infected as a result of the handcuffs. So they tied me up with adhesive tape, they made us get into the back of a truck, and sit on the floor. Over our heads, leaning on the side of the truck, they placed boards and formed a sort of double wall. On top of the boards, they put a large quantity of packages and boxes containing stolen items. According to the guards, they had made four other trips with this type of cargo. We finally left the house where we had been held kidnapped. Gerardo Gatti, León Duarte and Hugo Méndez remained in the house at that time, but I never learned anything more about them.
The truck in which we were traveling was heavily guarded, to judge from the noise made by a large number of automobiles and motorcycles around us, and the sound of the sirens sounded at the intersections to stop the traffic. They took us to the Military Base next to the Aeroparque in the city of Buenos Aires. I learned this on arrival because as a result of the sweat that was running down my face after being shut up, and because of the rain that was falling, the adhesive tape had loosened somewhat, allowing me to see a little.
Once we got out of the truck, they made us get into a Fairchild aircraft, the sort used by the Uruguayan Air Force and also by TAMU (Uruguayan Military Air Transport) and PLUNA (National Airline). Some of the people who were traveling with me were able to see the PLUNA logo on the plastic bags placed in the seat pockets. We were seated, and the flight lasted for about an hour, according to my estimates. When we landed and got out, I realized that we were in Military Air Base Nº 1, next to the National Airport of Carrasco, on the outskirts of Montevideo.7
3. Case 2271 – Testimony of the children of Mrs. Azucena SOSA DE FORTI
Regarding the arrest and kidnapping of Mrs. Sosa de Forti, a case mentioned above,8 her children presented the following testimony to the Commission:
Background of the arrest
At the beginning of December 1976 we purchased airline tickets from Aerolíneas Argentinas, the state commercial airline company, at the sales office on Crisóstomo Alvarez Nº 471 Street, telephone 23640, in Tucumán, Argentina, for flight Nº 284, Buenos Aires-Caracas at 9 pm February 18, 1977.
The five of us who would be traveling with mother accompanied her to Buenos Aires on December 15, with the intent of remaining there until the time of departure and completion of the pending procedures one of them being to obtain renewal of Alfredo Waldo’s and mother’s passports from the Argentine Federal Police. We had arranged for and obtained the others in Tucumán in July 1976.
On February 19, 1977, we reported to the station of Aerolíneas Argentinas in Buenos Aires, the point of departure for the vehicles that transport passengers to Ezeiza Airport. “The Manuel Tienda León” firm, which is responsible for that service, gave us the ticket stubs for our suitcases, Nos. 548693, 548694, 548695, 548696, 548697, 548698, and 548699m photocopies of which we attach.
We arrived at Ezeiza Airport, at approximately 7.45 am, where we went through the procedures prior to boarding and presented our tickets and passports, which showed out transit visas given to us by the Government of Venezuela through its consulate in Buenos Aires.
When the boarding procedures were completed with Aerolíneas Argentinas, we went to the immigration office. After examining and endorsing the documents, the employee who waited on us retained the parental permit for travel for the minors, giving us no explanation for this. We paid the fees and joined the other passengers in the departure lounge, from which we were taken by bus to the aircraft. Seated in our respective seats, with only a few minutes before takeoff, we heard over the loud speaker that the captain was asking to see Mr. Alfredo Forti. Alfredo Waldo answered the call and was met at the front the plane by the Captain, Gómez Villafañe, a uniformed officer of the Argentine Air Force, the immigration employee who had retained the parental permit, two stewardesses, and two other men who, like the immigration employee, were dressed in civilian clothes.
The air force officer asked Alfredo Waldo for our father, and when he told him that the was in Caracas awaiting our arrival, the officer asked him to call mother. When she appeared, he told her we could not travel and that they would therefore take us off the plane.
The dialogue was conducted in the presence of the passengers seated in the front seats. So far, we have been able to get in touch with two of them, and they were willing to bear witness to this. They are Juan Gally Coll and Juan Manuel Serrano, both staff members of the Ministry of Finance, National Budget Office, who were traveling with their wives.
The uniformed officer ordered all of us off the plane. There were five armed civilians on the steps leading to the plane, who were identified as policemen under orders of the armed forces. They made us board the bus that had transported us from the departure lounge to the plane.
One of them asked Alfredo Waldo for his baggage claim stubs. He gave them to an employee of Aerolíneas Argentinas, who removed the suitcases from the baggage hold of the plane. He ten returned the ticket stubs to him. After conferring for a few minutes with the captain other staff accompanying him, plus staff of Aerolíneas Argentinas, the suitcases were loaded on the bus, and we were immediately taken by bus to the airport exit.
At the airport exit, we were made to get off the bus and get into two private automobiles; we were taken into custody by these civilians and by uniformed male and female personnel of the Argentine Federal Police. Upon leaving the airport area in the cars driven by the civilians, we went through all the controls—both Air Force and police—without being stopped.
Report of the six-day arrest of the family group
Two of the five civilians who arrested us (one of these being the one who gave the orders) went in one of the cars, a Peugeot, with Mario, Renato, Néstor and Guillermo. Our mother and Alfredo Waldo went in the other car, a Falcon, accompanied by the three other civilians, two in front and one in the rear.
After leaving the airport area and driving ten or fifteen minutes off the main highway, the two cars stopped on a secondary road, and the chief ordered everyone to get out. This was in a rural area with no buildings in sight. Just then, Alfredo Waldo noticed a car parked on the shoulder of the road some distance away, with its doors open and some people next to it.
The person who ordered us to get out told us that we would be blindfolded, whereupon, the two smallest children began to cry inconsolably and even more so when they saw mother blindfolded, her face covered by a piece of clothing. Through their tears, my brother said that they were going to kill all of us. This brought a reprimand on the part of the chief, which was addressed to our mother. He said to her: “Madam, how is it that the child knows so much. There must be some reason for this, right?” Our mother replied that the children were terrified by what was going on.
Following this incident, and completely unexpectedly, all of us were blindfolded. They put us into the automobiles, distributing us as before, and since Guillermo, the youngest, who was then eight years old, was continuing to cry blindfolded, the head of the group removed him from where he was in the Peugeot to sit next to mother in the Falcon, saying to her: “… note, Madam, that we are behaving as humanely as possible.”
Under these circumstances, all of us blindfolded, we resumed the drive. Alfredo Waldo, whose pullover covering his eyes had been badly set in place, could see part of the highway and saw clearly that the car he had discerned at a distance on the shoulder was a police patrol car and that the people surrounding it were three uniformed police who were washing it. As we approached, they interrupted their work and stood up at the side of the road, greeting the people who were transporting us with smiles and friendly gestures. When we passed them, one of the persons who were with us shouted to them: “Work…” and an obscenity. This same person, noting that the piece of clothing covering his (Alfredo Waldo’s) eyes was loose, adjusted it, so that he could no longer see.
We continued driving for approximately one hour, during which, because of the noises we heard, we drove along a heavily trafficked highway, causing delays for some drivers. Because of that and certainly to clear the way, they ran the sirens.
We arrived at a place into which the cars entered, and several of us were under the impression, confirmed by a brother who could see, that it was a garage. There, the assumed chief and one other civilian got out and seemed to go to speak with someone, since in a few minutes they were back, and we left that place, still in the same automobiles, driving another fifteen or twenty minutes more and entering another or perhaps the same garage, where they took us out of the vehicles.
Still blindfolded we were taken upstairs, we passed a room where we heard the sounds of typewriters and some murmuring, to an office with armchairs, a desk, and two cabinets, where they removed the blindfolds, and we remained in custody of three people who took turns watching us.
After staying there three or more hours, we were transferred, this time without blindfolds, but made to look down at the floor, to some prison cells where we found mother, who had been in another office at the same time as we were but blindfolded, before being moved to the prison.
The prison cells consisted of a rectangular patio of about 4 meters wide and 7 long, bordered on two sides by six cells of approximately 1.5 meters by 2 meters and a bathroom of the same dimensions. The patio was closed off by walls on the sides where there were no cells. In one of those walls was the door leading to the patio, which had no roof but was covered by a large grill. From the patio that we were in, one could see part of the façade of the building, which because of its characteristics, was easy to distinguish from the outside. Another point of reference is that on the way we could see planes flying fairly regularly—in an east-west direction, according to our estimates. Some of these were Argentine commercial planes and other appeared to be military planes.
They left us with the doors of the cells open.
Someone told us that the “Colonel” would come later and would explain to mother why we were there.
Saturday the 19th went by, Sunday the 20th, and Monday the 21st, and the Colonel did not come. We spent those days not even knowing why we had been arrested or where we were, and we could imagine the despair of our relatives, especially of our father, who was waiting for us in the Caracas Airport.
On the floor above us there were more cells in which there were six young women who said they were university students from La Plata. One of them was six months pregnant; the other had had a son two months before. These girls told us that there were men in the cells on the floor above, some of them their husbands and friends. Some of the women had been arrested as long as four months ago. The girls said they were considered to have “disappeared”. We spoke to them from the patio, where on one occasion we could see them.
The watch system consisted of 24-hour guards, under the command of a so-called “guard corporal” (as he was called by the other prisoners), seconded by two aids, who acted in a typically military way. These people brought us breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Lunch and dinner were generally lentil stew with potatoes or cornmeal mush and a piece of bread. Once a guard remarked to us that we were eating the same meal as the soldiers. There were three guard corporals or guard captains, since we were with each of them twice in six days.
On the morning of Tuesday February 22, they took mother out blindfolded while we slept and brought her to speak with the person who identified himself as the “Colonel”. This person informed mother that he really did not know why we were there; he said that they had arrested us in compliance with “higher orders”, and with the little information he had, he thought this was a “problem of documentation that would be settled in a few days.” He also told her that all of us would have to go to Tucumán (the city in the interior where we lived for the last four years) and that they would take her by plane and us by train.
On the morning of the following day, Wednesday the 23rd, they took mother to speak once again with an aide of the Colonel, and he asked her where we had been living in Buenos Aires. Mother answered him, mentioning the name of relatives and friends where we had stayed. The aide told her he thought it advisable that we should stay with some of the relatives mentioned and that she alone should go to Tucumán.
That same day, they blindfolded us and bound our hands behind our back at night, and put us into a car in which the five of us went with the driver and a companion, they seemed to be taking another in another car that went along with ours. We were riding for about an hour when both cars stopped.
The person who seemed to be in charge got out of the other car and spoke with Alfredo Waldo. He told him that we should not be afraid, that they were going to take mother to Tucumán and in five days she would be with us so that we could all go to Venezuela. Having said that, they made us all get out of the cars, still tied and blindfolded. They left us at the side of the road along with some packages of clothing taken from the baggage wrapped in sheets. They gave us just our identification cards and took off rapidly.
We succeeded in untying ourselves. We were only two blocks from the house of a family of friends and we decided to go there.
Since that time we have heard nothing more about our mother. Within a few days the priest, Alfonso Naldi, sent by Cáritas Venezolana, came to Buenos Aires to make arrangements for our father. With Padre Alfonso and the help of Monsignor Emilio Gracelli, of the Military Vicar’s Office, we had the Federal Police give us new passports, issued on March 9, 1977. Through Monsignor Gracelli, we were informed that the Federal Police had no knowledge of our detention and that the dossier on our mother had no warrant for her arrest.
E. Different positions on the problem of the disappeared
1. As stated earlier, the Commission has no doubt that the problem of the disappeared detainees is the most serious human rights problem in Argentina. This problem deeply affects the unity and harmony of the Argentine society. Consequently, it is of particular interest to examine the ideas about and reaction to this on the part of those who have been affected and those who have a special responsibility for solving it.
a. Family members
2. Those who are concerned about the disappeared persons, in other words, their relatives and close friends, have used virtually every available legal procedure to determine the whereabouts of their loved ones. The most frequently used have been habeas corpus, denunciations of illegal deprivation of liberty in courts of justice or to the police, and administrative measures in accordance with procedures established at the Ministry of the Interior.
From all of these measures—measures that have been taken repeatedly—thousands of persons have obtained no satisfaction. The Executive has consistently replied that no information about the detainees is on record. Investigations have always failed. And generally speaking, the Judiciary has rejected all remedies interposed, as will be seen further on, or has dismissed the cases.
In their anxiety, families have also turned to the Catholic Church and other religious authorities for help and intervention. They have sought the assistance of international human rights agencies, among them the IACHR. The Commission itself has received thousands of complaints, which it has in process.
3. It is also important to note here the solidarity that has developed among the families of the disappeared. These families have taken coordinated action at the administrative and judicial levels of Argentine human rights organizations for the purpose of obtaining answers from the authorities. One example of this is the group known as “The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo”. This group meets every Thursday in front of the Government House to demand information on the whereabouts of their family members, especially their children.10
In an interview held during the on-site observation, one of these mothers, speaking on behalf of her group, stated the following:
More than two years ago when what has happened to so many happened to me, I also went to the Plaza de Mayo. My pain was as fresh and not yet tempered. Since these things had been going on for some time, I had the naïve hope that we were reaching the end of this drama. Like all new arrivals, they asked me who my “disappeared person” was and for how long he had been gone. My answer was broken by cries: “a daughter and my son-in-law…four months ago…” I heard their replies: “Three of my children a year ago.” “Me, a daughter, an invalid, eight months ago.” “My parents and my sister… she was pregnant.” At that point, the situation that I felt was coming to an end grew for me both in size and time. Today, the women who were the first to go to Plaza de Mayo have persisted for three long years without finding out anything about their children and there are others who have just started. But they do not have the consolation and strength that we have from the solidarity at the Plaza de Mayo.
In this whole affair there was one hated word but one repeated without end, “disappeared”. That is the synthesis and definition of our situation.
When we explained why we were there to people passing through the Plaza de Mayo, with some surprise our actual situation moved into the nebulous area of myth. People asked us: “Disappeared?” “But you see them, you know where they are.” “No!” “That is what we want to find out.” “But aren’t they in jail, aren’t they being tried?” “No!, that is what we are asking for.” Every Thursday and every day, whenever the chance arose, we explained the situation which, because of its highly unusual nature, not even our own fellow countrymen understood, unless they themselves had been either directly or indirectly touched by it.
The Government did not describe the situation or even use the word “disappeared”. (Furthermore, in one request they made us delete the word and change the text.) Official references to events involving internal or external politics spoke only of the “dirty war or the undeclared war,” believing that this single reference gave sufficient reason for government action.
The experience we had in this daily struggle, meager in its achievements, made us grow up. We understood that “each case” was “all cases,” that from the specific we should go to the general. If all cases had similar connotations perhaps a definition would be developed of what a “disappeared person” was. The accepted use of the word is so new that we have to put it in quotes when we use it. Consequently, it is necessary to define the slice of life that this new use of the term “disappeared” covers. That way, it becomes part of the system.
The way is open now for institutions that attempt to enforce human rights to make public their opinions not about any particular case but about the organization of these disappearances as a system of repression. In our country these disappearances are counted in the thousands. The list prepared by the humanitarian agencies, using only data given to them contains more than 5,500 disappearances. If we read this list along with relevant testimony our hearts stop beating because of the horrors it contains.
Gentlemen, members of the Commission, we are in the presence of a massive violation of human rights, of the right to life that our Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Church seek to protect.
Gentlemen, members of the IACHR, the mothers here present beg of you, on behalf of the mothers of every “disappeared person,” to find a solution for this problem.
You should have the right to the files of lists, to obtain the lists of those who turn themselves in voluntarily (although you should give it in secret to their family members); you should obtain the lists of prisoners and disappeared persons which the President has mentioned; you should be given the lists of persons which all the armed forces keep in their quarters; you should have the list of persons killed in confrontations, persons whose names have not appeared in the newspapers, and whose corpses were never turned over to their family members.
We repeat: please take as many measures as you can to bring about a solution to this frightful problem.
Every Argentine citizen should know of it. Some of us have become aware of it through pain, others will become aware of it by learning about it. But we have to understand this truth because it is our commitment to future generations. Otherwise a shadow of sadness will remain forever over the descendants of this shattered generation and peace will not come to so many desolate families. They will always be looking around thinking in what unknown place their son continues to suffer or what tree or what piece of sky attracted his last glance, his last breath, his last thought. They have been denied even the small place of earth earned at birth for their final resting place.
b. The Government
4. The Government’s position when complaints started to come in from family members, as can be drawn from the reports received by the Commission, was to avoid giving clear answers and to state firmly that it was unaware of the whereabouts of the disappeared. As time went by, and due primarily to the ceaseless campaign waged by the claimants, it has recognized that this fact exists and has set up mechanisms within the Government, through the Ministry of Interior, to attend to complaints and to provide information. Despite this, many answers are still vague.
When the Judiciary requested information from the Executive, in processing a writ of habeas corpus, the Executive responded repeatedly that it was unaware of the whereabouts of the individuals involved and stated that they were not detained or at the disposition of any civil or military authority.
5. Fundamentally, four basic reasons have been advanced by the governmental authorities for their disappearance: a) the persons have died in confrontation and, due to the condition of the corpses, could not have been identified; b) they left the country under cover; c) they had been executed by subversive groups because they are deserters; and d) they are living underground.
Ultimately, however, the authorities have also begun to list as one of the causes for the disappearances “excesses or abuses in repression,” although they do not refer to any specific situation or concrete case. During the on-site observation, high-ranking government authorities argued before the Commission that the situation in Argentina for the past few years was one of war, a war that they call a “dirty war” or, in the words of President Videla, a “vague war” or an “ill-defined war.” According to the Minister of the Interior, this could never be admitted since it would mean, under international law, the recognition of a state of war with all the consequences that such a situation implies. According to these authorities, excesses could have been committed during this “war” in the repression of subversion, thus leading to the disappearance of persons.
6. An even more forthright opinion on this matter was given to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Member of the Military Junta of Government, Lieutenant General Roberto Viola, who on Soldier’s Day, May 29, 1979, spoke as follows about the aftermath of the campaign against subversion:
This war, like all wars, has a dimension that is different from the value of life. For that reason it is a war. Dams and barriers are broken. Life and death are gambled away in the pursuit of victory. The worst thing is not the loss of life; the worst thing is to lose the war. For that reason, the Army, which today has restored the value of life, can say to the country that we have carried out our mission. This is the only and, we believe, sufficient explanation. The price of this is known to the country and to the Army, too. This war, like all wars, had an aftermath: tremendous wounds that time and only time can heal. These wounds are the number of casualties: the dead, the wounded, the detainees, the ones who are absent forever. The Army knows it and feels it because it is not inhumane or insensitive. The terrorists, with unbridled arrogance believed that by assassinations they could break the will to win of the Armed Forces and of the immense majority of the population. Unfortunately, the terrorists were men and women, who had been born on this generous soil. They were wrong; they were deceived and they deceived and darkened the land of their birth. They deceived their supporters, whose anxiety they provoked which nobody today can legitimately assuage. These circumstances will undoubtedly widen the breach left in the wake of the war, because blameless families, affected by the pain, are also Argentine. The Army knows this and feels this. Its only explanation is the liberty, which our homeland entrusted to it for safekeeping.
7. Earlier statements, combined with the actual experiences of the Commission during its on-site observation, and the express recognition by the Government that the war had ended, and that peace and security now prevail in the streets, inevitably led the Commission to the consideration that the Government ought to use all the means within its power to bring peace and tranquility to the thousands of persons who continue seeking the whereabouts of their loved ones.
c. The Government answers to the IACHR
8. With respect to the Argentine Government’s position, a special section is devoted to the answers the Government has been giving to requests for information from the Commission. As a rule, the answers fall under one of the following formulas:
Persons for whom there is no record of detention and who are the subject of police search conducted by the Ministry of the Interior.
Persons about whose whereabouts and status investigations are being initiated since no complaints were recorded prior to those submitted by the Commission.
List of names for whom measures cannot be taken since the data needed to initiate the necessary inquiries is incomplete. For the purpose of carrying out an investigation, for each case it is necessary to have first and last names, identification documents, domicile and the circumstances specifying the time and place where these disappearances occurred, as well as any other data that may help to clarify the facts.
9. Starting in October, 1978, the Government stopped answering, for a long time, all requests for information about individual cases that the Commission had requested. It was only answering the resolutions adopted by the Commission.
Since August 1979, the Commission has been receiving new answers, which, even though they do not help to locate the disappeared persons, are more detailed than the earlier answers. Many of them explain what investigations have been undertaken or what the results, likewise unproductive, of the habeas corpus procedures have been. In some cases, they have provided information about the sentences or subversive ties of the affected parties.
10. Even though Resolutions 314, 371 and 445, adopted by the OAS General Assembly at its seventh, eighth and ninth regular sessions, respectively, recommended to the member states that they cooperate fully with the Commission and provide it with the information needed to facilitate its work, in the opinion of the Commission the Argentine Government has generally responded in an unsatisfactory manner, and in some cases, it has contradicted itself.11 Only since August 1979, had it been providing more complete information, which the Commission hope is an expression of the Government’s concern for a clarification of the situation of the disappeared persons.
d. The Judiciary
11. The thousands of petitions for habeas corpus entered with the Judiciary on behalf of detainees who have disappeared have produced no effective results. Initially, when habeas corpus petitions were entered, the federal judges asked the pertinent authorities—generally the Minister of the Interior, the Chief of Police or the Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces—for a report to determine whether the individuals were or were not in detention. Since the replies stated that there was no record of detention, the courts opted to deny the petitions.
Subsequently, as the claimants learned more information that led them to presume the involvement of the government security forces in the operations mentioned, they began to present more evidence in the habeas corpus petitions. Despite this, the results continued to be negative and the Judiciary failed to assume a more active role in the investigation the status of the detainees who had disappeared. Sometimes, the courts hearing the cases chose to refer them to examining magistrates for proceedings on illegal detention; however, this route was equally unfruitful in solving the problem and the large majority of the cases ended in a dismissal, owing to the difficult position in which the judges found themselves when they did not receive the due reports from the military or police authorities.
12. This slow process has changed as a result of some recent Supreme Court rulings, notably, the ruling in the case of Inés Ollero, and in three cases entitled Perez de Smith, et al., particularly the final judgment of December 21, 1978. At that time, the Supreme Court explained the reasons why it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case; however, it noted:
In the present proceedings there have been reports from a number of courts which show that the courts have had to reject writs of habeas corpus, because the authorities have flatly reported that the individuals for whom the habeas corpus petitions were entered are not registered as detained.
Faced with this situation, the Court has the unavoidable duty of exercising its implicit powers inherent as the supreme judicial organ, and head of one of the three branches of the Government, powers which it may not renounce—in order to safeguard the effective administration of justice, so that the specific function of the magistrates may have the guarantees and conditions needed to achieve effective results based on decisions of concrete utility with respect to the rights they are asked to protect.
The circumstances referred to at the beginning of the preceding paragraph ultimately involve an absence of justice, since this situation is created not only when the people find it impossible to have their day in court or when the court’s ruling is unreasonable or indefinitely delayed but also when the judges are not provided with the conditions necessary to enable them to perform the duties of their office as demanded by the very nature of the rule of law, in order that the rule of law may produce the positive results for which the Judiciary is responsible under the Constitution. This is all the more true when, as in the situation discussed here; the fundamental rights of man are at stake. And as such, they require inviolable guarantees, because they are the invaluable heritage of the common good.
At a further point, the same document goes on to say:
It must be said that it is not within the purview of this Court to evaluate or to voice general views on situations over which it has no jurisdiction; the specific nature of the Court’s functions prohibits it from so doing, in the context of the basic institutions of the Republic, and on the basis of its repeated holding that the authority of its rulings rests on the assumption that the Court will remain within the limits of its jurisdiction.
But in its capacity as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and as the highest organ of one of the branches of Government, it is its duty to jealously safeguard the proper and effective administration of justice; to this end, it must strive to have the courts provided with the means necessary to exercise their specific jurisdictional function—which emanates from the Constitution and the laws—to rule on situations submitted to them in specific cases and to do so with the effectiveness the law requires. The high mission of administering justice that fails to the members of the Judiciary, and the confidence that the country’s citizens and institutions place in them requires this, in the interests of the common good and social peace.
The foregoing notwithstanding, it should be recalled that the other branches of government are also connected by the purpose that inspired the Constitution—which is valued in and of itself—this purpose is stated in the Preamble and is to guarantee justice. Thus, the other branches must provide full assistance to the Judiciary so that it can ensure that the rights and guarantees set forth in the Constitution are fully operative.
Given that the absence of justice, referred to above, is due to causes outside the jurisdiction of the Judiciary, and which it is not in a position to remedy by simply by its activity in office, this Court considers it its unavoidable duty to bring this situation to the attention of the Executive, and to urge it to employ the measures within its power to create the conditions to enable the judiciary to give complete rulings on the cases brought before it, and to safeguard the freedom of the individual guaranteed by the Constitution, without however, disregarding the objectives of national union, domestic peace and common defense, also sought by the common will of the people, from which it is not lawful for the constituted power to deviate.12
13. As a result of this ruling, innumerable habeas corpus petitions were again submitted, but met with difficulties in the lower courts, which continued to receive the same reports from the Executive signifying that the judicial recourse for detained persons who have disappeared continues to be inoperative.13
The Supreme Court has recognized an absence of justice when Courts are unable to carry out their constitutional mandate because of circumstances outside their control; it has urged the Executive to take such measures as may be necessary for the proper administration of the law, and thus guarantee that citizens receive an adequate response to their petitions permitting clarification of the status of the “disappeared”.
Thus, the writ of habeas corpus, a fundamental safeguard for respecting the security of the individual, has not been operative vis-à-vis the “disappeared”.14
e. Public opinion
14. Despite the importance and significance of this problem the lack of public information has prevented the development of a general awareness in Argentina of the implications of what has happened.
Initially, most newspapers refused to publish any news on the issue, and even refused to print paid advertisements that included the word “disappeared”. Nonetheless, as a result of numerous complaints, and the persistence of the human rights defense agencies, some personal advertisements, denunciations, and list of names of persons who have disappeared have been published.
15. At the time of the Commission’s visit, some newspapers expressed their concern over the question, noting the necessity of solving it, and indicated that in the field of human rights, the phenomenon of the disappeared was of the greatest concern. During its visit, the Commission was able to sense a certain indifference, and in a few cases, even incredulity, among some sectors of the population. However, it believes that the visit itself and the broad, objective publication of information during the course of its work, helped the Argentine people form a clear picture of this serious problem, and this in itself represents a valuable contribution toward solving it in the future.
f. The Catholic Church
16. As noted earlier, numerous anguished families have approached the Church in an attempt to obtain information.
In May 1977, the Episcopal Conference issued an important document on the issue. There were moves at that time to form a Special Liaison Committee between the military and the ecclesiastical authorities. Unfortunately, this Committee has never had any significant successes. The topic has continued to be a subject of concern to the Church, as it has indicated in a number of statements. For example, the statements of the Argentine Episcopal Conference in its document “Los Caminos de la Paz” (The Road to Peace) summarized its attitude. This document states:
We understand what a difficult undertaking it is in practice to watch over the common good, which has been damaged by the terrorist guerrilla which has constantly violated the very elements of peaceful coexistence, and thus, the basic rights of man; we also understand how guarding the common good may be in apparent collision with certain individual rights.
We are aware of an appreciate the efforts of governmental leaders and officials, their dedication and selflessness in service to the Nation, which in no small number of cases has meant giving their lives, and in many others, has meant anguish and lack of security in their personal and family lives, and a renunciation of personal achievements so that they could devote themselves to the common good.
We have often heard of the Christian imprint that the government wishes to give to its actions. This obliges us to recall that the essence of Christian man is making a selfless practical commitment.
It is in the light of these considerations that we may be so bold as to report the following facts which, among others, give us serious concern:
a) The numerous disappearances and kidnappings denounced, while no authority is able to respond to the appeals that are being made; which seems to show that the government does not have an exclusive hold on the use of force;
b) The situation of many inhabitants of our country, who are denounced by families or friends as having disappeared or having been kidnapped by groups identifying themselves as members of the Armed Forces or the Police, while in the majority of cases, neither family members nor the bishops, who have so often interceded, have obtained any information about them.15
17. During its on-site observation, the Commission met with the President of the Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Raúl Primatesta, who said that his concern about the problem had been stressed in documents of the Argentine Catholic Church, in the hope of producing a clarification of the facts.
18. It is also important to recall the expressions of concern over the problems of the “disappeared” in Argentina voiced by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, on October 28, 1979, in a sermon to more than 70,000 faithful, after he had received the Argentine bishops.
F. The Laws on the “disappeared”
1. In August and September 1979, the Government of Argentina promulgated two laws on the disappeared, which are controversial by the very nature of the matters they regulate.
These laws are:
a. Law on Presumption of Death because of Disappearance
2. This Law was promulgated as Nº 22.068 on September 12, 1979. Article 1 establishes that a declaration of presumption of death may be issued if a person’s disappearance from his domicile or residence, without there being further news of him, was denounced in a documented report between November 6, 1974, the day on which the State of Siege was declared by Decree Nº 1.368/74, and the date on which the present law was promulgated, i.e., September 12, 1979.
According to Article 2, this declaration of presumption of death shall be issued by the Federal Judge of the last domicile or residence of the disappeared; in the Capital the federal Judge (Federal circuit, for civil and commercial matters) shall have jurisdiction; the declaration may be requested by the spouse, by any family member up to the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity, or by the State, through the pertinent Ministry. This article adds that this action is exclusive to each person legitimately entitled to exercise it, and it may be exercised “despite opposition by other principal parties.” Article 3 establishes that in no case shall the proceeding be contentious in nature; Article 4, that in all cases, the application for the declaration of death shall indicate the official agency with which the report of disappearance was filed, and the date on which it was filed; Article 5 establishes that when the judge receives the application for the declaration, he shall request information from the agency with which the denunciation was filed regarding the formal veracity of the act and the date of its presentation, and shall order publication of edicts for five successive days in two high-circulation newspapers in the place in question and in the Official Gazette, issuing a summons for the disappeared person. Article 6 establishes that ninety days after the final publication of the edicts, during which time the judge shall de officio request information from the Ministry of the Interior on the information or procedures connected to the reported disappearance, if both are negative, a declaration shall be issued de officio of presumption of death, and the date of decease shall be set as the date of the denunciation, and the ruling shall be ordered recorded in the official agency in each jurisdiction that records births, marriages, deaths and civil capacity. Article 7 provides that the civil effects of the declaration of presumption of death based on the law shall be those established in Articles 28 to 32 of Law Nº 14.394, i.e., for civil effects subsequent to the ruling declaring presumption of death on account of disappearance. Lastly, Article 8 provides for issuing a record of the ruling for presentation to whomever it may concern, at the request of the interested party.16
3. There have been objections to this Law, and a number of its provisions have been questioned, because it only refers to cases of disappearance within a particular time period: those disappearances that occurred between the date when the state of siege was declared (November 6, 1974), and the date on which the law was promulgated; because jurisdiction is given to the federal courts, which is an exception to the Constitution, that is, only judges appointed by National Government and not by the Provinces; nor can the cases be taken up by the civil judges of the regular courts, although it is they who ought to have jurisdiction since the nature of the matters they hear is eminently civil, referring as they do to personal problems which, along with family and inheritance problems, fall within the purview of the Civil Code. There have also been objections and questions because the plaintiff in the action may be, in addition to the spouse, any member of the family up to the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity, and also the State through the Attorney General of the jurisdiction in question, and because the Attorney General is granted standing to act de officio, with the action being exclusive to each person so entitled, who may act despite opposition from other principal parties; because in no case will the action be contentious in nature, that is to say, that there will be no room for argument in the suits, as if it were an administrative procedure; because it is implicit that there will be no writ of habeas corpus and because, the final part, which recognizes the interested parties’ right to request a certification of the ruling issued by the judge, means the equivalent of issuing a death certificate for the disappeared.
4. It appears from the communication from the Minister of the Interior to the President dated September 5, 1979, with which he forwarded the proposed law for approval, that the bill is “aimed at regulating the situation afflicting a certain number of Argentine families, as a result of the prolonged absence and fate of some of their family members, consequence of the grave events that our country has faced in the recent past.” It also states that the declaration of the state of siege “is evidence that there exists a situation that has made it necessary to take this exceptional measure provided for in the Constitution, in the face of the chaos unleashed by terrorism, with its wake of death, kidnappings and the disappearances.” The communication adds: “While no small number of the presumed disappeared continue underground or have surreptitiously left the country, there is a reasonable possibility that others have died as a result of their own terrorist activities, and that it has not been possible to determine the whereabouts of their remains or to determine their identity. Elementary reasons of order demand that these situations be defined with certainty and that the various family problems they entail be resolved through the law hereby proposed.”
b. Law on Welfare Benefits when a person is absent
5. The other law on the disappeared was Law Nº 22.062, of August 28, 1979, prior to the law on the declaration of presumed death by reason of the disappearance of a person. It contains the rules governing welfare benefits when a person is absent. Article 1 of the Law stipulates the following:
The absence from his place of residence or domicile in the Republic of a person, concerning whom there has been no news for a period of (1) one year, entitles persons who have a right recognized by national laws on retirement, pensions or noncontributory benefits, subject to the death of that person, to exercise it as laid down in this law.
For that purpose, Article 2 specifies that “the interested parties shall substantiate the report of the disappearance by means of a legal certificate and shall justify the legal grounds and the steps taken to ascertain the existence of the absent person to the National Welfare Institute or the agency responsible for the payment of the noncontributory benefit; it adds that “without prejudice to the evidence offered by the petitioner or to that which is deemed appropriate ex officio, the absent person shall be summoned by notices to be published free of charge in the official Bulletin for five (5) days.” This provision amends the time limits and procedures specified in Law 14.394 of 1954 whose provisions have been incorporated into the Civil Code.17
Although as time goes on matrimonial and property situations concerning disappeared persons will arise as a result of such events, it would nevertheless appear that the provisions of the Civil Code would be sufficient for dealing with or solving these situations; as already stated, the Civil Code was amended by Law 14.394, which shortens the deadlines and provides a pragmatic procedure that guarantees the legitimate interests of the parties and averts risks and delays in the relevant legal processing.
c. Opinions obtained during the on-site observation
6. During the on-site observation, the Commission wished to obtain as many opinions as possible about the laws relating to the disappeared. To that end, it discussed the subject with the governmental authorities and with a number of professional institutions and organizations engaged in the defense of human rights.
7. The associations devoted to the promotion and respect of human rights, as well as many relatives of disappeared persons, expressed views that echoed the objections that have been pointed out and stated some of the legal implications of those laws. They emphasized that as regards the problem of the disappeared, they considered Law 22.068 illegal in that it deals only with welfare problems or possible civil situations caused by the loss of a relative, but does not go into the causes which gave rise to such consequences, i.e., the problem of disappeared persons, which in their opinion persists and is still a burning issue. In addition, these associations and the relatives of the disappeared have informed the Commission that they did not seek the enactment of those laws, nor have they publicly stated that they were necessary, and that, on the contrary, what they have always strived for is a thorough investigation and report about the fate of the disappeared; that their protests have specifically concerned life and liberty; that in their reports, testimony, and appeals, they have gone on record for the basic defense of those values; and that it was precisely on that issue that the Supreme Court stated in the case of Pérez de Smith et al, that there was a deprivation of justice; that their protests have never concerned property questions nor have civil actions even been instituted; and that their attitude in no way minimized the seriousness of the situation caused by their disappearance, in particular their effects on the family, minor children, and property.18
8. The Lawyers Association of the City of Buenos Aires is of the opinion that the Government has endeavored to find a practical remedy to the problem of the disappeared, the existence of which it admits; and that when death is not established with certainty, it seeks to institute a system for solving the problems arising from that circumstance; that such laws are aimed at remedying the situation from the financial and social welfare point of view; that id does not preclude the lodging of criminal complaints or the filing of writs of habeas corpus; and it adds that the basic wish of the Association, what is most important, is that the disappeared persons should appear and steps in that regard should therefore continue to be taken, but the laws can help to solve the legal problem in part.
9. The subject was discussed by the Commission with the Argentine Government. The President, Lt. Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, referring to the problem of the disappeared stated that it is a painful fact and that the law on presumed death takes into account the situation of the relatives, in so far as it is a legislative measure aimed at solving, among other problems, those issues relating to adoptions, divorces, widowhood, all of which require a determination of legal status.
In the interview the Commission had with the Military Junta, the Commander-In-Chief of the Army, Lt. Gen. Roberto Eduardo Viola, said that the purpose of these laws is to help solve the problem of the disappeared and its consequences; that to obtain approval of those laws required lengthy discussions but that finally they were approved in view of requests from within and outside the country to regularize the rights of the disappeared from human rights organizations who now criticize them; and that the intent of the laws is not to preclude writs of habeas corpus, but to clear up the situation of individuals whose whereabouts are unknown due to the civil war in which unidentified persons were killed in conflict, others were executed by terrorists who passed sentences on each other, others clandestinely left the country, and others went into hiding conspiring to endanger the security of the State.
In an interview with the Commission, the Minister of Justice made observations about the role of the Attorney General, the non-contentious nature of the procedure and the fact that the time period is considered short; he stated that the persons who drafted the law did so with a humanitarian sense for the problems connected with the disappeared and that its purposes are merely patrimonial, in that the law is intended for third parties, for the families. He added that the sentence is one of those which doctrine points out as being for “as long as legally appropriate,” that is, until the contrary is not shown. But in no way does this preclude the fact that if the subject is still alive, the sentence does not take effect. Obviously, he said, provisions call for an Attorney General to initiate the action under any circumstance, but whoever wishes to initiate habeas corpus proceedings may do so. He repeated that the sentence did not call for the death of the person except when legally appropriate; as for the issue of eliminating the intervention by the Attorney General, he said he would bring this matter to the attention of the President.
The Minister of the Interior, General Albano Harguindeguy, also answered the Commission’s questions on this subject. He stated that he was aware of the worldwide reaction to the law on the presumption of death and went into great detail on the background of this subject in Argentine law. He further stated that the judgment only had a social effect, that it did not rule out habeas corpus proceedings and other procedures, and that the purpose of providing that the procedure not be contentious, is that the procedure outlined by the law should be followed, that the law was promulgated for the purpose of providing a solution for family and social problems that arose for persons who considered themselves victims of this situation, and that for this reason, the only goal was to shorten the time involved and to accelerate the procedure. At the same time, the Minister of the Interior stated that the State’s official intervention through the Attorney General had never been exercised arbitrarily or abusively, but only under very exceptional circumstances. Finally, the Minister of the Interior turned a document over to the Commission containing a study on this matter. This study was made public by the Argentine Government on September 21, 1979, as an explanation of “reasons for State intervention in the subject governed by Law 22.068.”
d. Foundation of the Law on Presumption of Death by Disappearance, according to the Government
10. The document turned over to the Commission by the Minister of the Interior, which was mentioned above, contains what, in the opinion of the Argentine Government, are the fundamental reasons underlying Law 22.068. These are summarized below:
i. The possibility of State initiation of the procedure for a declaration of absence based on the presumption of death arises from the need to provide a solution for cases involving small children, orphans or abandoned children, whose parents may have died in subversive activities. It is not just a question of property left in the name of the deceased but also that the declaration of absence (with presumption of death) is an essential condition necessary for providing children with the social security benefits to which they may be entitled.
ii. Law Nº 14.394 of 1954 provides that “when a person has disappeared from his domicile or residence and there is no further news of that person and without that person having left any guardian, the judge may, on appeal by the interested party, designate a custodian for the person’s property, provided that the care of such property so requires.” It further establishes that “the Attorney General and any person having a legitimate interest in the property of the absent party may request a declaration of absence and the appointment of custodian.” The Attorney General’s office represents the State and exercises all judicial action corresponding to it.
iii. State intervention of this type is practically universal.
iv. Law 1893 on the Organization of the Courts points out that government attorneys are responsible for intervening in all matters in which a government interest is involved and in all other matters in which the Attorney General must perform functions as provided by the code. The Attorney General must intervene on behalf of the State in cases involving individuals and family rights.
v. Law 14.394 provides that “the absence of the person from his domicile and residence in the Republic, whether or not the person has left a guardian, and provided that there has been no news of the person for over three years, is cause of presumption of that person’s death.” The recent law shortened the time applicable to the common property system by starting with the more convincing presumption of a relationship between the absence and terrorist events that have occurred in the country. Article 24 of Law 14.394 permits “all those who had some right subordinated to the death of a person in question” to request a declaration of absence with presumption of death.
vi. It is universally recognized that the State has a fundamental interest in this subject and to give legal authority to the Attorney General to act in these cases is nothing but a legal recognition of the principle. The judge is the person who in the end accepts or rejects the action taken. The declaration of absence with presumption of death does not imply a definitive and irreversible declaration, and common law itself provides for cases where the absent person reappears, how the measures adopted for his property are nullified and the result of family relations.
vii. Articles 110 to 125 of the Argentine Civil Code, now superceded by Law 14.394, established the system of absence with presumption of death. Article 113 of that Code provided that “the spouse of the absent person, the presumed legitimate heirs, the Attorney General and the appropriate Consulate, if the absent party was a foreigner, may request a judicial declaration of the presumed date of death.”
viii. Reference is made to the Swiss Civil Code, Article 35 of which provides that “in the event of the death of a disappeared person in danger of death or from whom no news has been had thereafter, the judge may declare the absence by the request of those who are entitled to rights subordinated to his death.” It is stated that this formula has been used, as in Argentina, by the great majority of world legislatures.
ix. It is stated that all of the laws currently in effect envisage and regulate the institution of the declaration of absence with presumption of death.
x. All decisions involved in proceedings relating to the declaration of absence with presumption of death, or simply, presumption of death, do not produce the same effects as in res judicata since they do not result from a contentious suit, strictly speaking, and the matter may be taken up as many times as necessary.
xi. The judicial declaration made by a judge in civil court on the presumed death of a person does not imply in any way that the person’s family members may not start or continue penal actions to bring about an investigation of the person’s disappearance, nor does it imply that they are deprived of habeas corpus proceedings in the event that it is thought that the person is being detained. Both procedures are completely unaffected by a judicial declaration of this nature since the declaration has purely civil effects.
e. The opinion of the Commission
11. The Commission has examined objectively the documents it has received from the Argentine Government and those presented by groups associated with the problem of the disappeared. On the basis of these documents and the Commission’s examination of the laws in question, it would like to advance an opinion on this important subject.
In the opinion of the IACHR, the fundamental question is one of ascertaining and communicating in a timely manner with the family members on the situation of the disappeared. It is necessary to establish beyond any doubt whether these persons are still alive or are dead; if they are alive, it is necessary to know where they are; if they are dead, it is necessary to know where, when and under what circumstances they lost their lives and where their remains are buried.
12. Having made this fundamental point, the Commission would like to add that the laws themselves, especially Law Nº 22.068, are a matter of concern to the Commission, independent of the arguments that have been advanced for them, or the commitment made to the Commission by the Government through the Ministry of the Interior, that they would never be applied arbitrarily or abusively.
The Commission is concerned, for example, that in cases in which the State, in accordance with Article 2 of Law 22.068, has legitimate authority to promote the action of declaration of presumed death through the Attorney General, opposition to this procedure may be precluded. This could be the case of objection by the spouse or the parents of the disappeared person, especially considering that the procedure is not contentious in nature and the interpretation could be that the action is the sole right of the State.
Likewise, it is concerned that after the judicial ruling has been made, the family members of the disappeared person may not be able to initiate action of a penal nature or use habeas corpus proceedings for the purpose of investigating their disappearance. Such an interpretation is possible in view of the declarative nature of the ruling of presumed death. This could mean that the family members no longer have any right to act on behalf of the person who legally is considered dead.
The Commission trusts that such interpretations would not be made in practice. However, it would be desirable for the law itself to state this on its face. It hopes that such laws, which amount to explicit and official recognition of the existence of the problem of the disappeared, will never pose an obstacle to the necessary investigation of this dramatic problem, which, sooner or later, the Government and the Armed Forces will have to deal with.
Given the above, the Commission has no alternative but to adhere to the following paragraph of Resolution 445 adopted at the Ninth Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly:
3. To urge states where individuals have disappeared to refrain from adopting or implementing laws that would have the effect of impeding investigation of such disappearances.
G. Magnitude and consequence of the problem of the disappeared
1. The origin of the phenomenon of the disappeared, the manner in which the disappearances occurred, and the astonishing number of victims, are all intimately connected with the historical events that unfolded in Argentina during the last few years, in particular, the organized campaign against subversion. The violence employed by the terrorist groups was more than matched by that of the State security apparatus, resulting in serious abuses incurred in its attempt to suppress the subversion by dispensing with all moral and legal considerations.
Much of the testimony and information which the Commission has received appears to support the fact that in the campaign against subversion, special units were established with participation, at different levels, of each of the branches of the Armed Forces whose command units were autonomous and independent in their operations.
The activities of these command units were directed against all persons who, actually or potentially, could pose a danger to the security of the State by virtue of their real or presumed ties to the subversive movement.
This campaign, unleashed for the purpose of totally annihilating the subversive movement, had its most sensitive, cruel and inhuman expression in the thousands of disappeared persons, today presumed dead, whom it left in its wake.
It appears evident that the decision to form the command units, that were involved in the disappearance and possible extermination of these thousands of persons, was adopted at the highest level of the Armed Forces, for the purpose of decentralizing the antisubversion campaign. As a result, each of the command units had unlimited power to eliminate terrorists or those suspected of being terrorists.
The Commission is morally convinced that, in general, these authorities could not have been ignorant of the events as they were occurring and did not adopt the necessary measures to terminate them.19
2. The Commission has received statements to the effect that the Government “has won the war” and that the subversion is now under control. Despite this, however, the problem of the disappeared persons continues. Even though it is true that compared with 1976, 1977 and 1978, there was a smaller number of disappeared detainees20 in 1979, and that since October 1979, the Commission has received no new claims of disappearances. The fact that the Government has not taken all measures within its reach to clarify earlier situations means, in the opinion of the Commission, that the problem is not being taken care of.
Even while the Commission was on its visit to Argentina there was an operation very similar to earlier ones involving the disappearance of an entire family which was kidnapped by security agents. This situation prompted the Commission immediately to intervene with the Argentine authorities.21
3. The Commission is not able to give an exact number of the disappearances in Argentina. Of all the lists of disappeared persons that have been received, the Commission believes that the most reliable, since it agrees with the number of complaints that it has received, is the list turned over to it by the Minister of the Interior, General Albano Harguindeguy. This list was prepared by the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, the Committee of Family Members of Disappeared and Detained Persons for Political Reasons, the Argentine League for Human Rights, and the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights.22 This list includes 5,818 persons who, between January 7, 1975 and May 30, 1979 were “apprehended in their homes, places of work or in public places by armed groups, who prima facie, and almost always stating so specifically, acted under the color of authority, using procedures conducted in the open, with a full display of men—uniformed at times—weapons and vehicles and carried out with a promptness and detail that confirm that those involved were working in a manner typical of the security forces.”
The aforementioned list does not include persons whose families have not presented testimony to the agencies that prepared the list. In the opinion of these agencies and the Commission, this means that it does not include all disappeared persons.
During the Commission’s interview with General Harguindeguy, the General pointed out that his Ministry has carefully examined the list in question and that of this list his Ministry had received complaints of disappearances for 3,447 persons. Of these 2,092 had no information about them, 172 names were repeated, 16 persons were currently detained at the disposition of the Executive, 73 had appeared under different circumstances and 18 had died.
4. Whatever is the final number of disappeared persons; it is nonetheless impressive and does nothing if not confirm the extraordinary seriousness of this problem.
Furthermore, the lack of clarification of this problem of disappeared persons has affected many families in the Argentine community. The uncertainty and lack of all contact with the victims have upset the families greatly and especially the children who, in some cases, witnessed the kidnappings of their parents and the mistreatment to which they were subject during the raid. Many of these children will never see their parents again and will thus inherit a number of psychological problems from their memory of the circumstances of the disappearance.
On the other hand, many men and women between 18 and 25 years of age are affected by the anxiety and length of time that has passed without any knowledge of their parents or brothers and sisters.
Spouses, both men and women, who have been violently separated, live in an environment of severe mental disturbances, accentuated by the many economic and legal problems that this separation poses for them. Many men and women do not know whether they are widowed or still married. Many of them will never regain personal peace, harmony or security because of the exhaustion produced by their attempts to carry on in a home where the physical and moral absence of the father or the mother is felt every day.
These and other problems cannot be resolved as long as the situation of these thousands of disappeared persons is not clarified in a final and responsible manner.
5. The Commission took special interest in exhausting all possibilities to determine, without any shadow of a doubt, the truth of the present situation of the “disappeared”. To this end, it made inquiries at prison establishments, military installations, cemeteries, the resocialization center, all those places where there was the slightest possibility that persons apprehended by police or military groups might be held or might have been buried. All of its efforts have been in vain.
These circumstances, combined with the information received by the Commission, lead the Commission to the painful conclusion that the great majority of the disappeared are dead, the causes of which it is not in a position to determine but which, in any event, involve a great responsibility for their captors or those who kept them detained.
6. After having studied with great thoroughness the response of the Government with respect to all the cases discussed above, the Commission would like to make some general comments:
The Commission cannot fail to point out that during the period 1976-1979, a great number of persons, ultimately recognized by the Government as official detainees, were initially apprehended and held incommunicado in operations identical to those which, according to a great body of testimony received by the Commission, produced the disappearances which remain unexplained.
This information is confirmed by a great number of persons whose detention has been recognized at some point or another by the Government, who have testified to having seen in unofficial detention centers various disappeared persons, and to have seen them at times and under circumstances which coincide with the denunciations received by the Commission.
In a number of cases considered, such as the cases of Mrs. Forti, Ms. Hagelin, and Messrs. San Vicente and Falicoff, and others exhaustively investigated by the Commission, which are mentioned in this report, the explanations of the Government have been extremely inadequate and unconvincing. Most of the Government replies add little of substance, and do not persuasively contradict the occurrence of the alleged events.
In addition, high Government officials have stated that the arrest of persons suspected of subversive activity were carried out on a regular basis by security forces in civilian clothing. Those and other functionaries have implied that the nature of the conflict required the application of measures that violated human rights.
In view of the circumstances, the Commission finds itself compelled to reiterate its conviction that the material facts of the denunciations must be presumed to be true.
1 Several claims mentioned some of the places where it is alleged that persons listed as disappeared have been held: They are: Campo de Mayo; Federal Security Superintendence; Bridge 12 12 the Camino de la Cintura; Mar del Plata Naval Base; Guemes Brigade; the Naval Mechanics School; El Pozo de Arana in the city of La Plata; Infantry Guards in Palermo; Military Regiment “La Tablada”; Police Commissary; and Military Regiment “La Rivera” in Córdoba, as well as other places mentioned in Chapter V.
2 In Chapter V regarding Personal Integrity mention is made of the various torture systems applied.
3 One example is that of Alvaro Aragón, detained under PEN, Case Nº 3999. Mr. Aragón affirms in declarations before the judge who took cognizance of the case of Adolfo Rubén Moldawsky, Case 2398, that he spent this stage of his detention with him, that they talked on several occasions until they were separated, and that as of this date there is no knowledge of the whereabouts of Mr. Moldawsky.
4 See Section C., subparagraph j) relative to “Persons who disappeared and were later released.”
6 The Case of Laura Noemí CREATORE is being processed according to the regulations under Nº 2163.
7 The IACHR adopted Resolution Nº 20 in relation to this case,
on November 18, 1978, during its 45th session. In a note of April 25, 1979,
the Government of Argentina informed the Commission of its “total lack of involvement
in the events denounced.”
8 See page 91.
10These meetings were prohibited by the Government in late 1978.
11An example of such an answer is the case of Nélida Azucena Sosa de Forti (Case 2271) which was examined earlier, and Case 2209 referring to Mónica María Calendaria Mignone. According to the Government’s reply in a note dated September 29, 1977, “steps have been undertaken to determine whereabouts of Miss Mignone since the national authorities have no record of reports claiming her disappearance prior to the denunciations presented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.” However, the claimant showed the Commission documented proof of having asked the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the Commanders-in-Chief of the Army, Navy and Air Force, the Federal Police, the Police of the Province of Buenos Aires, the National Gendarmerie and the Maritime Prefecture for information about her. Faced with this evidence, the Government, one and a half years later, acknowledged its error in a note of February 27, 1979, but did not provide any information on the status or whereabouts of Mónica María Candelaria Mignone.
12The Commission has recently received reports on a new submission before the Court in the case of Pérez de Smith, et al. The decision of the Supreme Court has not been made known as of the date of approval of this Report. This new information indicates that the Executive, one and a half years later, has not told the Court what measures have been adopted to clarify the status of the “disappeared”.
13The case of Inés Ollero (Case 4326) is significant here. This case will be analyzed in greater detail in the section corresponding to habeas corpus petitions in Chapter VI.
14This problem will again be examined in Chapter VI in the discussion of habeas corpus.
15Argentine Episcopal Conference. Los Caminos de la Paz. Buenos Aires, Editorial Claretiana y Ediciones Don Bosco, 1978, pages 18 and 19 (Maestros de la Fe, 31).
16Articles 28 to 32 of Law 14.394 govern judicial proceedings related exclusively to settlement of the property of the person presumed dead, and to authorization for his or her spouse to enter into a new marriage, by dissolution of the previous marriage. Law 14.394 amended and repealed certain provisions of the Civil Code of January 1, 1871, as regard the legal regime on “persons absent and presumed dead”. Law 22.068 on civil effects contains no express provision, only a referral to Law 14.394 on this matter.
17Article 3 of Law 22.062 stipulates: “On the grounds set forth in this law, the pension or the noncontributory benefit, as the case may be, shall be paid from the day following that of the last day of the first SIX (6) months of absence. On the expiry of THREE (3) years from the time the pension or noncontributory benefit began to be received, evidence of the initiation of judicial proceedings to declare the presumption of the death of the absent person, in accordance with Law 14.394, must be provided in order to continue to enjoy the benefit. Article 4 of the same Law states that: “If subsequently, the death of the absent person is proven or his presumed death is judicially declared, the pension or noncontributory benefit shall be paid from the date of the death or the presumptive date of death judicially established without prejudice to the application, where appropriate, of the statute of limitations. If following the grant of a pension or noncontributory benefit under this law, the absent person should appear or information of his existence be obtained, the pension or noncontributory benefit shall terminate.
18Subsequently, in November 1979, approximately 700 relatives of disappeared persons filed a complaint against the Government of Argentina with the federal civil and commercial Court “to obtain a declaration by the Judiciary of the unconstitutionality of Law 22.068…”. Also in that complaint, they requested that: “changes be forbidden in order to suspend the possible execution of the law and until the court rules on its constitutionality.”
19This profound moral conviction is strengthened by statements made in a farewell address given at the Inter-American Defense Board by the Chief of the Argentine Delegation to that Board, Division General Santiago Omar Riveros, on January 24, 1980 from which the following is excerpted:
… We waged the war with a doctrine in hand, with written orders from the Superior Commands, we never needed paramilitary organizations, despite accusations to the contrary, we had a surplus of our own strength and legal organization for combat against irregular forces in an unconventional war… It is a simple matter of not knowing or being aware that this war of ours was conducted by the Generals, Admirals or Brigadiers in each force. It was not conducted by a dictator or any dictatorship, as world public opinion is being led to believe. The war was conducted by the Military Junta of my country through the Chiefs of the Armed Forces…
20The Commission has received information that the following persons were detained and disappeared during the course of 1979: ABRUZZESE, Julio César, detained April 11; ABRALES, Héctor, detained January 22; AGUILERA, Horacio, detained January 9; BARREIRO, Roberto Marcelo, detained March 12; BEITONE, Noemí Graciela, detained May 13; JARA DE CABEZAS, Telma, detained April 30; MANZA, Julio Martire, detained May 13; MARRERO, Mario, detained April 20; MALOSOWSKY, Hugo Armando, detained May 13; MARTÍNEZ, Héctor, detained February 5; MOLINA, Donaldo David, detained January 8; PAREDES DE BARREIRO, María Rosa, detained March 12; PÉREZ BRANCATO, Jorge, detained May 13; PÉREZ, Carlos Alberto, detained May 13; PRADO, Angel Alberto, detained January 3; RODRÍGUEZ, Elvio José detained April 23; RODRÍGUEZ, Juan Antonio, detained January 9; RODRÍGUEZ, Mario, detained in March; RODRÍGUEZ, Mario Germán, detained January 6; ROMOLI, Ana María, detained January 7; SASSO, Mario Antonio, detained January 4; SCHIPANI DE SASSO, Norma Alicia, detained January 4; SILBER DE PÉREZ, Mirtha, detained March 13; SCIUCA DE RUIZ, Palmira Amelia, detained in January; SZNAIDER, Jorge Víctor, detained May 13.
21This was the case of the González Castaño family. On the night of September 13, 1979, approximately 20 men dressed in civilian clothing entered their home located at Ituzaingó 4640, Munro, Capital. They hooded and carried away Mrs. María Consuelo Castaño de González and her young daughters Delia Teresa, 5 years, Eva Judith, 4 years and Mariana, 3 years. According to the complaint received, the husband and father, Regino Adolfo González, disappeared and was not even seen leaving his home. His present whereabouts are unknown.
On the last day of the on-site observation of the Commission, authorities reported to the Commission that Mrs. Castaño de González and her daughters had actually been detained in the aforementioned operation. They would, however, be released after the necessary interrogation. Before this, during the habeas corpus proceedings, the authorities reported, as in all cases, that the victim was not being detained. As for Regino González, it was reported that he is a Montonero leader and his whereabouts are unknown.
Later on, the Commission was told that the daughters had been placed in the custody of their grandparents, that a Military Tribunal had sentenced María Consuelo Castaño de González to 18 years imprisonment for her “terrorist activities” and that she could not be visited by any family member or defense attorney until the date of approval of this report. As for Regino Adolfo González, his whereabouts are still unknown and he had no contact with any of his family members.
The case of the González Castaño family is on record at the Commission as number 4.600.
22For example, the Commission has recently proven this in two complaints received during the moths of October and November of 1979. Fortunately in both cases the Government reported to the Commission that those persons, after being detained, are under arrest and at the disposition of the Executive (PEN).