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Operation Condor on Trial: Justice for Transnational Human Rights Crimes in South America

  • FRANCESCA LESSA
Abstract

In May 2016, an Argentine federal court concluded a momentous trial, convicting 15 defendants of illegal kidnappings and torture committed against over 100 victims of Operation Condor, and of asociación ilícita (‘illicit association’: conspiracy to commit a criminal offence) to perpetrate these violations. Operation Condor was the codename given to a continent-wide covert operation devised in the 1970s by South American regimes to eliminate hundreds of left-wing activists across the region. The Operation Condor verdict of 2016 broke new ground in human rights and transitional justice, for its innovative focus on transnational crimes and for holding state agents accountable for extraterritorial human rights violations. By analysing this pioneering case, the article brings the question of cross-border crimes into academic debate. As borders become more porous, scholars and practitioners can no longer afford to side-line the topic of accountability for transnational crimes.

En mayo de 2016, una corte federal argentina concluyó un juicio monumental al condenar a 15 acusados por secuestros ilegales y tortura cometidos contra más de 100 víctimas de la Operación Cóndor, y por asociación ilícita para cometer estos delitos. ‘Operación Cóndor’ fue el nombre en clave dado a una operación encubierta a nivel continental desarrollada en los años 1970 por regímenes sudamericanos para eliminar a cientos de activistas de izquierda a lo largo de la región. El veredicto de la Operación Cóndor llevó a los derechos humanos y a la justicia transicional a nuevos terrenos, por su enfoque novedoso en cuanto a los crímenes transnacionales y por hacer responsables a agentes estatales de violaciones a los derechos humanos extraterritoriales. Al analizar este enjuiciamiento pionero, el artículo lleva la cuestión del delito extra-fronterizo al debate académico. En la medida que las fronteras se hacen más porosas, los académicos y practicantes legales no pueden ya marginar el tema de la rendición de cuentas para los crímenes transnacionales.

Em Maio de 2016, uma corte federal Argentina concluiu um julgamento histórico, condenando 15 réus acusados de sequestro e tortura cometido contra 100 vítimas da Operação Condor, e de associação criminosa para cometer estes crimes. A Operação Condor foi o codinome dado à operação secreta, abrangendo todo o continente, concebida nos anos 70 pelos regimes sul-americanos para eliminar centenas de ativistas de esquerda da região. O veredicto da Operação Condor em 2016 abriu novas perspectivas em direitos humanos e justiça de transição pelo seu foco inovador no julgamento de crimes transnacionais e por responsabilizar agentes do Estado por violações de direitos humanos em nível extraterritorial. Através da análise desse processo pioneiro, este artigo leva a questão de crimes transnacionais para dentro dos debates acadêmicos. À medida que fronteiras se tornam cada vez mais permeáveis, acadêmicos e profissionais já não podem deixar de lado assuntos como a responsabilidade por crimes transnacionais.

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Earlier versions of this article were presented at the International Congresses of the Latin American Studies Association in New York City and Lima in 2016 and 2017.

I would like to especially thank all the interviewees who kindly agreed to participate in this research project for generously donating their time and sharing with me recollections of often painful personal and family stories. I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to all the members of my family, friends and colleagues who have stood by me and relentlessly supported me since I received death threats in early 2017, a direct consequence of the research I carried out into Operation Condor and impunity in Uruguay.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 702004 (2016); the University of Oxford's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account no. IAA-MT14-008 (2015); a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant no. SG142423 (2015); the John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund grant no. 122/686 (2013); and it has also been supported by the Open Society Foundation's Human Rights Initiative.

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1 Skaar, Elin, Garcia-Godos, Jemima and Collins, Cath (eds.), Transitional Justice in Latin America: The Uneven Road from Impunity towards Accountability (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).

2 Sikkink, Kathryn, ‘Latin America's Protagonist Role in Human Rights’, Sur – International Journal on Human Rights, 12: 22 (2015), p. 208.

3 Lessa, Francesca and Payne, Leigh (eds.), Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

4 Lessa, Francesca et al. , ‘Overcoming Impunity: Pathways to Accountability in Latin America’, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 8: 1 (2014), pp. 7598.

5 Nino, Carlos S., Radical Evil on Trial (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1996).

6 Roht-Arriaza, Naomi, The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).

7 Lutz, Ellen and Reiger, Caitlin, Prosecuting Heads of State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

8 John Cerone, ‘Out of Bounds? Considering the Reach of International Human Rights Law’, Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, Working Paper no. 5 (2006), p. 2.

9 Ibid., pp. 2–3.

10 The two countries are pioneers in accountability through domestic courts: 982 individuals had already been prosecuted in Argentina by June 2018 (see latest statistics at https://www.fiscales.gob.ar/lesa-humanidad/?tipo-entrada=estadisticas; last access 5 Sept. 2018), and 1,373 former agents in Chile by December 2015 (see http://pdh.minjusticia.gob.cl/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/lista-HISTORICA-2015-1373-procesados-acusados-condenados-1.pdf; last access 3 Sept. 2018).

11 According to the principle of ‘passive personality’, a state can claim jurisdiction over an act committed abroad if the victim is a national of that country.

12 ‘The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies: Report of the Secretary-General’, United Nations Security Council, 23 Aug. 2004, S/2004/616*, para. 8.

13 Lessa, Francesca, ‘Beyond Transitional Justice: Exploring Continuities in Human Rights Abuses in Argentina between 1976 and 2010’, Journal of Human Rights Practice, 3: 1 (2011), pp. 2548.

14 Layús, Rosario Figari, ‘“What Do You Mean by Transitional Justice?”: Local Perspectives on Human Rights Trials in Argentina’, in Schneider, Nina and Esparza, Marcia (eds.), Legacies of State Violence and Transitional Justice in Latin America: A Janus-Faced Paradigm? (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), pp. 316.

15 Cecilia MacDowell Santos, ‘Transitional Justice from the Margins: Legal Mobilization and Memory Politics in Brazil’, in ibid., pp. 37–72.

16 Collins, Cath, Post-Transitional Justice: Human Rights Trials in Chile and El Salvador (Philadelphia, PA: Penn State University Press, 2010).

17 Gready, Paul and Robins, Simon, ‘From Transitional to Transformative Justice: A New Agenda for Practice’, The International Journal of Transitional Justice, 8: 3 (2014), pp. 339–61.

18 Edson Teles and Renan Qunalha, ‘Scopes and Limits to the Transitional Justice Discourse in Brazil’, in Schneider and Esparza (eds.), Legacies of State Violence, pp. 19–36.

19 Ross, Amy and Sriram, Chandra Lekha, ‘Closing Impunity Gaps: Regional Transitional Justice Processes?’, Transitional Justice Review, 1: 1 (2012), p. 3.

20 Haza, Pierre, ‘Beyond Borders: The New Architecture of Transitional Justice?’, International Journal of Transitional Justice, 11: 1 (2017), p. 1.

21 Calloni, Stella, Los años del lobo: Operación Cóndor (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Continente, 1999); Zoglin, Katie, ‘Paraguay's Archive of Terror: International Cooperation and Operation Condor’, University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, 32: 1 (2001), pp. 5782.

22 McSherry, J. Patrice, Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America (Lanham, MD, and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005); Dinges, John, The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents (New York and London: New Press, 2004); Kornbluh, Peter, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (New York: The New Press, 2013)

23 King, Hugh, ‘The Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations of States’, Human Rights Law Review, 9: 4 (2009), p. 521, and Gibney, Mark and Skogly, Sigrun (eds.), Universal Human Rights and Extraterritorial Obligations (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010), p. 24.

24 Milanovic, Marko, Extraterritorial Application of Human Rights Treaties (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 45.

25 Bhuta, Nehal (ed.), The Frontiers of Human Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016); Gibney and Skogly (eds.), Universal Human Rights.

26 Skogly, Sigrun and Gibney, Mark, ‘Transnational Human Rights Obligations’, Human Rights Quarterly, 24: 3 (2002), pp. 781–98.

27 King, ‘The Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations of States’, p. 524.

28 Abduction often constituted an initial step in the process of enforced disappearances. People would be illegally detained and taken to clandestine detention centres, where they suffered torture and inhumane treatment. In most cases, they were later arbitrarily executed and their bodies disposed of in clandestine graves, so that they would never be found. In a few cases, victims of illegal detention would regain their freedom or their detention was eventually recognised by the state.

29 Author's notes from Condor trial hearing, 25 March 2014.

30 ‘Identifican a un desaparecido’, Página12, 21 Oct. 2016.

31 Author interview with Roger Rodríguez, investigative journalist, Montevideo, Uruguay, 4 Oct. 2013.

32 Condor Trial Judge Adrián F. Grünberg coined the term, quoted in Alejandra Dandan, ‘Con el Cóndor, el país fue un coto de caza’, Página12, 2 Oct. 2016.

33 Author's notes from trial hearing, Buenos Aires, 31 Oct. 2014.

34 Dinges, The Condor Years.

35 See Minutes of the Conclusions of the First InterAmerican Meeting on National Intelligence (Secret), Meeting Minutes, 28 Nov. 1975: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB514/docs/Doc%2003%20-%20Acta%20document%20translation%20and%20original.pdf; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

36 Kornbluh, The Pinochet File and McSherry, Predatory States. Also see a report presented as evidence by the US National Security Archives’ analyst Carlos Osorio to the Condor trial on 6 March 2015. This report, dated 2/3 Aug. 1976, by Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Harry Shlaudeman to Henry Kissinger concerned security coordination in South America and was entitled ‘The “Third World War” and South America’. It is available at http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB416/docs/0000A02E.pdf; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

37 Author interview with Sara Méndez, victim and survivor of Operation Condor, Montevideo, Uruguay, 8 Oct. 2013.

38 Author interview with former member of Chilean Socialist Party, Mendoza, Argentina, 13 Oct. 2016.

39 Centro Internacional para la Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (International Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights, CIPDH), Operación Cóndor: 40 años después (Buenos Aires: UNESCO, 2016), p. 260, downloadable from: http://www.cipdh.gob.ar/2017/08/28/libro-operacion-condor-40-anos-despues/; last access 3 Sept. 2018.

40 See list of ‘disappeared’ and recovered children of Uruguay's Secretaría de Derechos Humanos para el Pasado Reciente (Human Rights Secretariat for the Recent Past, hereafter SDHPR): http://sdh.gub.uy/inicio/institucional/equipos/centro_de_documentacion_y_comunicacion/documentos_equipo_historia/Investigacion+historica+sobre+detenidos+desaparecidos+y+asesinados+politicos+%28actualizacion+2015-febrero%29/4ra+Seccion+Secuestro+y+Desaparicion+de+Ninos+y+Adolescentes/; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

41 The estimate of 300 victims of Automotores Orletti is taken from information provided by Argentina's largest human rights NGO, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Centre for Legal and Social Studies, CELS), available at this link: https://www.cels.org.ar/web/2016/09/comienza-un-nuevo-juicio-por-automotores-orletti/; last access 3 Sept. 2018.

42 See the testimony of Nelson Eduardo Dean Bermúdez, Feb. 1979, AI Index 52/18/79, copy emailed by Amnesty International to the author on 2 Feb. 2015.

43 Larreta, Enrique Rodriguez, ‘Kidnapped in Buenos Aires’, Index on Censorship, 6: 4 (1977), pp. 22–9.

44 See for example Rodríguez Larreta's testimony to CONADEP, 17 June 1985: http://www.desaparecidos.org/nuncamas/web/testimon/rodlarre.htm; last access 7 Aug. 2018.

45 Informe de la Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas – Nunca Más (Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 2006), pp. 268–76.

46 Decree no. 1.003 of 6 Oct. 1989 exonerated José Nino Gavazzo, Jorge Silveira, Manuel Cordero and Hugo Campos Hermida in respect of case no. 42.335 bis: ‘Rodríguez Larreta Piera, Enrique s/denuncia’. See the website of the Sistema Argentino de Información Jurídica (Argentine Judicial Information System, SAIJ), ‘Indultos, Decreto nacional 1.003/1989’: http://www.saij.gob.ar/legislacion/decreto-nacional-1003-1989-indultos#parte_2; last access 3 Sept. 2018.

47 Simon Watts, ‘How Paraguay's “Archive of Terror” put Operation Condor in Focus’, BBC News, 22 Dec. 2012.

48 See case no. 42.335 bis: ‘Rodríguez Larreta Piera, Enrique s/denuncia’ filed in Buenos Aires (see note 46) and lawsuit no. 90-190/1984 of 12 April 1984 before Montevideo's Criminal Tribunal No. 2 under the title ‘Rodríguez Larreta, Enrique su denuncia’.

49 William R. Long, ‘Letelier Murder Case Sentences Upheld in Chile’, Los Angeles Times, 31 May 1995.

51 ‘Pena máxima para Arancibia Clavel’, La Nación, 21 Nov. 2000.

52 The full text of the Arancibia Clavel CSJ review is available at https://www.mpf.gob.ar/Institucional/UnidadesFE/Arancibia-Clavel-CSJN.pdf; last accessed 31 Aug. 2018.

53 Irina Hauser, ‘Crímenes que no borra el paso del tiempo’, Página12, 25 Aug. 2004.

54 Larry Rohter, ‘Judge Declares Pinochet Fit to Face Human Rights Charges’, The New York Times, 13 Dec. 2004.

55 Francesca Lessa, ‘Barriers to Justice: The Ley de Caducidad and Impunity in Uruguay’, in Lessa and Payne (eds.), Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability, pp. 123–51.

56 Lessa, Francesca, Memory and Transitional Justice in Argentina and Uruguay: Against Impunity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

57 Fried, Gabriela and Lessa, Francesca (eds.), Luchas contra la impunidad. Uruguay 1985–2011 (Montevideo: Trilce, 2011).

58 See the sentences published on the website of the Observatorio Luz Ibarburu (Luz Ibarburu Observatory, a network of Uruguayan human rights organisations): Sentence no. 36 (‘Gavazzo Pereira, José Nino. Arab Fernández, José Ricardo – Un delito de privación de libertad’, ficha 98-247/2006, 26 March 2009, hereafter Gavazzo Pereira et al.): http://www.observatorioluzibarburu.org/media/uploads/98_247_2006.pdf; last access 1 Sept. 2018 and Sentence no. 37 (‘Silveira Quesada, Jorge Alberto. Ramas Pereira, Ernesto Avelino. Medina Blanco, Ricardo José. Vázquez Bisio, Gilberto Valentín. Maurente, Luis Alfredo. Sande Lima, José Felipe – Un delito de privación de libertad’, ficha 2-43332/2005, 26 March 2009, hereafter Silveira Quesada et al.): http://www.observatorioluzibarburu.org/media/uploads/2.%20Silveira%20Ramas%20Medina%20Vazquez%20Maurente%20Sande%2026.03.2009.pdf; last access 1 Sept. 2018.

59 Between 1988 and 2005, 23 individuals were sentenced on charges of illegal appropriation of children. See Ministerio Público Fiscal, Procuración General de la Nación (Public Prosecutor's Office, Procurator-General of the Nation, MPF, PGN), ‘A diez años del fallo “Simón”. Un balance sobre el estado actual del proceso de justicia por crímenes de lesa humanidad’ (Buenos Aires, 2015), p. 2: http://www.fiscales.gob.ar/lesa-humanidad/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/06/20150612-Informe-Procuradur%C3%ADa-de-Cr%C3%ADmenes-contra-la-Humanidad.pdf; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

60 One such human rights lawyer was commemorated on the occasion of his recent death: ‘Murió Alberto Pedroncini’, Página12, 6 Aug. 2017.

61 Human Rights Watch (HRW), Argentina – Country Summary, 2002 (New York: HRW, 2002).

62 Namely Chilean Dora Gladys Carreño Araya, Paraguayan Idalina Wilfrida Radice Arriola de Tatter, Uruguayan Sara Rita Méndez, and Argentines Elsa Pavón de Grinspon, Claudia Mabel Careaga and Ana María Careaga.

63 Author interview with Daniel Rafecas, Judge at the Juzgado Criminal y Correccional Federal no. 3 de la Capital Federal (Third Federal Court for Criminal Correctional Matters of the Federal Capital), Buenos Aires, 30 Oct. 2013. Judge Rafecas was not directly involved with the Condor trial.

64 Text of the original querella: copy on file with the author, provided by Jaime Nuguer, lawyer for the original querella, emailed to the author on 21 Nov. 2013.

65 Author interview with Miguel Ángel Osorio, Federal Prosecutor at the investigative stage of the Operation Condor trial, Buenos Aires, 26 Sept. 2013.

66 As highlighted by Chief Prosecutor Pablo Ouviña, the crime of conspiracy under US law lacks the requirement of ‘stability’ (in terms of duration and membership) that the charge of asociación ilícita in Argentina requires. The crime of associazione per delinquere under article no. 416 of the Italian Criminal Code, on the other hand, shares more similarities with the Argentine category. Email communication to the author, 3 Nov. 2017.

67 Código Penal de La Nación Argentina, Libro Segundo, Título VIII, Delitos contra el orden público, http://servicios.infoleg.gob.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/15000-19999/16546/texact.htm#22; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

68 See the commentary on the website of the Asociación Pensamiento Penal (Penal Thought Association), an Argentine NGO: ‘Código Penal Argentino comentado de acceso libre, Art. 210 y 210 bis Asociación Ilícita’: http://www.pensamientopenal.com.ar/system/files/cpcomentado/cpc37788.pdf; last access 1 Sept. 2018.

69 Text of the original querella.

71 Author interview with Pablo Ouviña and Mercedes Moguilanski, Chief and Assistant Prosecutors, respectively, in the Operation Condor trial, Buenos Aires, 26 Sept. 2013.

72 Author interview with human rights lawyer Pablo Llonto, Buenos Aires, 26 Sept. 2013. Lawyer Llonto was not directly involved with the Condor trial.

73 Author interview with Federico Jorge Tatter Radice, son of a victim of Operation Condor, Asunción, Paraguay, 6 Sept. 2016.

74 Lourdes Heredia, ‘Operación Cóndor: Videla Procesado’, BBC Mundo, 27 Sept. 2001.

75 Author interview with Judge Daniel Rafecas.

76 Alejandra Dandan, ‘El plan de la represión sin fronteras’, Página12, 4 March 2013.

77 CELS, Derechos humanos en Argentina: Informe 2010 (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2010), p. 71. I would like to thank Lorena Balardini for clarifying this issue for me.

78 Author interview with former CELS human rights lawyer and private prosecutor (see note 89) Marcos Kotlik, Buenos Aires, 19 Sept. 2013.

79 One of the eight defendants was General Pinochet: ‘Piden extradición de Pinochet’, BBC Mundo, 20 July 2001.

80 Human rights activists played a fundamental role in achieving this extradition. In particular, Brazilian campaigner Jair Krischke located Cordero living in a city on the border between Uruguay and Brazil. He was finally uncovered in 2005 when he went to sign a proxy at the local Uruguayan consulate so that his brother-in-law could collect his pension. See ‘Cordero fue extraditado a Argentina’, La República/La Red 21, 24 Jan. 2010.

81 Fiscal, Ministerio Público, Procuraduría de Crímenes contra la Humanidad (Prosecutor of Crimes against Humanity, MPF, PCH), La judicialización de la Operación Cóndor, Informe de la Procuraduría de Crímenes contra la Humanidad (Buenos Aires: Procuración General de la Nación, 2015), p. 8: http://www.fiscales.gob.ar/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Informe-ProcuLesa-Op-C%C3%B3ndor-Final.pdf; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

82 Feedback by Luz Palmas Zaldua on a conference presentation of the paper, Buenos Aires, Sept. 2015.

83 Miguel Angel Furci, a former intelligence agent, had already been prosecuted in the 1990s for the illegal appropriation of Mariana Zaffaroni, the daughter of two Uruguayan exiles detained and ‘disappeared’ in Buenos Aires in 1976. Mariana finally rediscovered her identity in 1992 and, subsequently, in 1994, Furci and his wife were sentenced to five and three years in prison respectively for the crimes of hiding and detaining a minor. Mariana Zaffaroni's case file can be accessed by clicking on the ‘Descargar ficha’ (‘download file’) button on the SDHPR's webpage: http://sdh.gub.uy/inicio/institucional/equipos/centro_de_documentacion_y_comunicacion/documentos_equipo_historia/investigacion+historica+sobre+detenidos+desaparecidos+y+asesinados+politicos+%28actualizacion+2015-febrero%29/4ra+seccion+secuestro+y+desaparicion+de+ninos+y+adolescentes/fichas_personales; last access 3 Sept. 2018.

84 MPF, PCH, La judicialización de la Operación Cóndor, p. 6.

85 MPF, PGN, ‘Operación Cóndor: Con el veredicto previsto para el viernes próximo, llegará el final de un juicio histórico’, Buenos Aires, 20 May 2016: http://www.fiscales.gob.ar/lesa-humanidad/operacion-condor-con-el-veredicto-previsto-para-el-viernes-proximo-llegara-el-final-de-un-juicio-historico/; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

86 Ibid.; emphasis added.

87 ‘Se desdibujaron las fronteras para propiciar un plan criminal’, InfoJus, 18 Aug. 2015: http://www.infojusnoticias.gov.ar/nacionales/se-desdibujaron-las-fronteras-para-propiciar-un-plan-criminal-9468.html; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

88 Author interview with Pablo Ouviña and Mercedes Moguilanski.

89 Verónica Michel and Kathryn Sikkink define private prosecution as the right that ‘allows victims and their lawyers, including domestic human rights organizations, to open a criminal investigation and actively participate throughout every stage of the criminal proceedings’: Michel, and Sikkink, , ‘Human Rights Prosecutions and the Participation Rights of Victims in Latin America’, Law and Society Review, 47: 4 (2013), p. 874.

90 ‘Operación Cóndor: Se probó la asociación ilícita y se impusieron penas de 8 a 25 años de prisión’, 27 May 2016: http://www.fiscales.gob.ar/lesa-humanidad/operacion-condor-se-probo-la-asociacion-ilicita-y-se-impusieron-penas-de-8-a-25-anos-de-prision/; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

91 See for example the verdict in the Contraofensiva de Montoneros trial (Argentina), 31 May 2012: https://www.cij.gov.ar/nota-9197-El-juez-federal-Ariel-Lijo-conden--a-dos-acusados-por-cr-menes-de-lesa-humanidad.html; last access 4 Sept. 2018, and that in the Colonia Dignidad trial (Chile), 9 April 2014: http://www.derecho-chile.cl/sentencia-en-la-investigacion-por-el-delito-de-asociacion-ilicita-en-contra-de-integrantes-de-la-ex-colonia-dignidad-y-de-agentes-de-la-dina/; last access 4 Sept. 2018.

92 For the full text of the verdict see Centro de Información Judicial (CIJ), ‘Lesa humanidad: Difundieron los fundamentos de la sentencia por el “Plan Cóndor”’, hereafter ‘Verdict’: http://www.cij.gob.ar/nota-22663-Lesa-humanidad--difundieron-los-fundamentos-de-la-sentencia-por-el--Plan-C-ndor--.html; last access 20 Aug. 2018. All excerpts from the verdict in this article have been translated from Spanish by the author.

93 The French School of Counterinsurgency emerged out of France's experience in the conflicts in Indochina and Algeria in the twentieth century; this strategy for counterinsurgency revolved around the torture and enforced ‘disappearance’ of captured insurgents, the division of the territory and the importance of intelligence and interrogation methods. While the French applied it in their colonial territories of Indochina and Algeria, the Argentines used it against their own fellow citizens. See DerGhougassian, Khatchik and Brumat, Leiza, ‘The Argentine Military and the Antisubversivo Genocide: The School of Americas’ Contribution to the French Counterinsurgency Model’, Genocide Studies International, 12: 1 (2018), p. 58.

94 Verdict, p. 1222.

96 Ibid., pp. 1225–6.

97 Ibid., p. 5097.

98 Ibid., p. 5098

99 Author interview with Adrián F. Grünberg, Judge in the Operation Condor trial, Buenos Aires, 26 Oct. 2016.

100 Author interview with Pablo Ouviña, Chief Prosecutor in the Operation Condor trial, Buenos Aires, 9 June 2016.

101 Ibid.

102 Glenda Mezarobba, ‘Brazil: The Tortuous Path to Truth and Justice’, in Skaar, Garcia-Godos and Collins (eds.), Transitional Justice in Latin America, pp. 103–25.

103 Known as ‘ESMA Megacausa’, this series of trials tried the cases of crimes against humanity committed against 789 people perpetrated by 54 defendants in the Navy's biggest clandestine detention centre between 1976 and 1983: see CELS’ dedicated webpage http://www.cels.org.ar/especiales/megacausaesma/en/#pagina-ejemplo; last access 4 Sept. 2018.

104 Gavazzo Pereira et al.; Silveira Quesada et al.

105 Author interview with Pablo Ouviña.

106 Hauser, ‘Crímenes que no borra el paso del tiempo’.

107 See MPF, PGN, ‘Dossier de sentencias pronunciadas en juicios de lesa humanidad en Argentina’: http://www.fiscales.gob.ar/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LH_Dossier_23-3.pdf; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

108 Author interviews with Pablo Llonto and with Pablo Ouviña and Mercedes Moguilanski.

109 Author interview with Pablo Ouviña.

110 Pablo Ouviña, email communication to the author, 3 Nov. 2017.

111 Author interview with Jaime Nuguer, Buenos Aires, 8 June 2016.

112 ‘Operation Condor: Landmark Human Rights Trial Reaches Finale’.

113 Ibid.

114 Author interview with Adrián F. Grünberg.

115 Author interview with Martín Rico, lawyer for the Secretaría de Derechos Humanos y Pluralismo Cultural, Buenos Aires, 1 Oct. 2013.

116 Ibid.

117 Author interview with Marcos Kotlik.

118 María Macarena Gelman was kidnapped as a baby, her parents having been ‘disappeared’ in a joint operation by Argentine and Uruguayan forces, and was brought up by a Uruguayan family. Decades later she was found by her paternal grandfather, who, with his granddaughter, sued the Uruguayan state. See http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_221_ing.pdf; last access 23 Aug. 2018.

119 Lucía Barrios, ‘Uruguay está atrasado en impartir justicia por crímenes dictatoriales’, Sputnik Mundo, 31 Aug. 2018: https://mundo.sputniknews.com/americalatina/201808311081627863-victimas-dictadura-militar-uruguay/; last access 3 Sept. 2018.

120 Author interview with Jaime Nuguer.

121 Francesca Lessa, ‘Parliamentary Investigative Commission on the Situation of Disappeared Persons and its Causes (Uruguay)’ and ‘Peace Commission (Uruguay)’, in Stan, Lavinia and Nedelsky, Nadya (eds.), Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice, vol. 3 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 353–7 and 361–6.

122 Skogly, Sigrun, Beyond National Borders: States Human Rights Obligations in International Cooperation (Antwerp and Oxford: Intersentia, 2006), p. 15.

123 Ryngaert, Cedric, Jurisdiction in International Law (2nd edn) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

124 See note 11.

125 According to universal jurisdiction, a state – regardless of the location of the crimes or the nationality of victims and perpetrators – may initiate prosecutions for breaches of international law so serious as to constitute offences to all humankind, i.e. genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity. Prosecutions grounded in this principle are often controversial and such an approach has increasingly been under fire, with Belgium repealing its universal jurisdiction statute in 2003, and Spain limiting the reach of its universal jurisdiction law in 2009. Nonetheless, important investigations have been initiated by reference to this principle, including the indictment in Spain of 20 members of the Salvadorean army for the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and two civilians during El Salvador's civil war.

126 Sikkink, Kathryn and Walling, Carrie Booth, ‘The Impact of Human Rights Trials in Latin America’, Journal of Peace Research, 24: 4 (2007), p. 430.

127 Significant sentences were handed down in foreign trials. In March 2007, a court in Rome sentenced to life imprisonment five high-ranking Argentine officials for the torture and murders of three Italian citizens.

128 Cerone, ‘Out of Bounds?’, p. 2.

129 Ibid., p. 26.

130 Ibid., p. 33.

131 Ryngaert, Jurisdiction in International Law, pp. 101–3.

132 See CIJ, ‘Lesa humanidad: Condenaron a 15 acusados en el juicio oral por el “Plan Cóndor”’, 27 May 2016: http://www.cij.gov.ar/nota-21519-Lesa-humanidad--se-conocer--este-viernes-la-sentencia-en-el-juicio-oral-por-el--Plan-C-ndor--.html; last access 20 Aug. 2018.

* Earlier versions of this article were presented at the International Congresses of the Latin American Studies Association in New York City and Lima in 2016 and 2017.

I would like to especially thank all the interviewees who kindly agreed to participate in this research project for generously donating their time and sharing with me recollections of often painful personal and family stories. I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to all the members of my family, friends and colleagues who have stood by me and relentlessly supported me since I received death threats in early 2017, a direct consequence of the research I carried out into Operation Condor and impunity in Uruguay.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 702004 (2016); the University of Oxford's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account no. IAA-MT14-008 (2015); a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant no. SG142423 (2015); the John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund grant no. 122/686 (2013); and it has also been supported by the Open Society Foundation's Human Rights Initiative.

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Journal of Latin American Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-216X
  • EISSN: 1469-767X
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