The new government of Argentina, in power since December 2015 and headed by President Mauricio Macri, is revisiting the country's muchlauded approach to human rights cases and introducing changes that benefit the presumed perpetrators of such crimes.
Judges, lawyers, and human rights organizations say that after a decade of prioritizing "memory, truth and justice," the hallmark principles of the previous administration's human rights policy, courts are now being pressured by the government to freeze legal proceedings against military officials, police, business people, church leaders, and others accused of planning or executing crimes against humanity during the civil-military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
There is also a push, they say, to allow people over 70 who have been convicted for right abuses to serve house arrest rather than stay in jail. In the first six months of this year, 53 people convicted of crimes ranging from kidnapping to torture, murder, forced disappearance, and stealing babies born into captivity were released from jail and allowed to return to their homes.
On its website, the Procuraduria de Crimenes contra la Humanidad, an ombudsman's office focused on human rights and officially linked to the Supreme Court, warned of a slow-down in legal proceedings regarding dictatorship-era crimes. It noted that in the first half of the year, for example, courts handed down just nine sentences and scheduled only nine new cases to go forward. The information, presented July 26 and based on data from the country's various federal prosecutors, notes that of the 2,436 people formally accused of human rights violations, only 43.5% are jailed. Of the rest, 16% have died, 2% are on the lam and 38.5% are free.
"The most evident consequence of these delays is the death of the parties involved, namely the victims, their family members, and the accused. They sometimes pass away over the course of a case that drags on interminably," the ombudsman's office said.
Getting off easy
Two legal professionals--a judge and a prosecutor who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity--identified the secretary of justice, Santiago Otamendi, as the person responsible for pressuring the courts to offer automatic house arrest to jailed human rights offenders over 70. The whistleblowers also claim, according to the daily Pagina 12, that in meetings held in the country's various judicial districts, Otamendi justified the move as a cost issue.
"An inmate costs the state...