The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 7, 2001; Page A19

Argentine Amnesty Overturned

Ruling Could Bring Trials of Soldiers Involved in 'Dirty War'

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service

LIMA, Peru, March 6 -- An Argentine judge today struck down amnesty laws protecting hundreds of soldiers accused of torture, murder and kidnapping during
Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, potentially opening the way for a wave of trials.

Federal Judge Gabriel Cavallo said in his landmark ruling in Buenos Aires that immunity laws preventing prosecution of all but the highest-ranking officers in the
military junta that ruled Argentina during its "dirty war" against suspected left-wing dissidents are unconstitutional because they violate international human rights
treaties signed by Argentina.

The ruling immediately applies to 11 former officers in the one case before Cavallo, the 1978 murder-kidnapping of a couple and their 8-month-old daughter. But
Argentine legal experts said the verdict could set a precedent for hundreds of other cases related to more than 10,000 dissidents and other citizens who disappeared
or were murdered during the "dirty war."

Although leaders of the military junta faced trial and were jailed briefly in the 1980s, a group including about 400 lower-ranking officers accused of taking part in
abuses staged a series of uprisings later in the decade. Called the Painted Faces because they covered their faces with boot grease, the rebellious officers forced the
incipient democratic government to pass two amnesty laws in 1986 and 1987.

In recent years, key junta members, as well as 30 subordinates, have faced renewed prosecution, but based on allegations that they participated in kidnapping the
children of dissidents detained while they were pregnant, a crime not covered by the amnesty laws. Emboldened by efforts in Chile to prosecute the former dictator,
Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and by the increasingly weak role the military plays in national politics, human rights advocates have begun to press for broader prosecutions
for other human rights violations committed during the "dirty war."

"This is a major step toward doing away with impunity in Argentina and to correcting a stain on our society that continues to blacken our justice system," said
Horacio Verbitsky, a board member of the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group.

Verbitsky said in a telephone interview that the group would immediately press to open at least two new cases, including the disappearance of two French nuns and a
young French Argentine woman, and would file a case against the current commander of the army, Gen. Ricardo Brinzoni, who has been accused of overseeing
human rights abuses in the late 1970s.

"It doesn't benefit anyone or any society that situations as painful as Argentina's still have not been resolved after nearly 30 years," Defense Minister Horacio
Jaunarena, who also held the post when the amnesty laws were passed, told reporters in Buenos Aires. "So anything that leads to a rapid clarification of these actions
and responsibilities seems to me healthy for the future."

The military is sure to appeal the ruling and one analyst said the case could eventually go to the Supreme Court. But the chance of another uprising is thought to be
slim. Although a few high-profile officers allegedly involved in the "dirty war," such as Brinzoni, remain in the active military, the vast majority of the officers charged
have retired.

                                               © 2001