New Convictions against Army Commander and Provincial Police Chief in 'Dirty War' Prosecutions

Ex Commander of the Third Corps of the Army, Luciano Menéndez, and former Chief of Police for the province of Tucumán, Roberto Albornoz, were sentenced to life imprisonment by a federal court in Tucumán, Argentina on Wednesday for their role in the extrajudicial executions of five suspected Montonero militants in May of 1976. [Tucumán Noticias; Clarín; RNW] This is Menéndez’ sixth life sentence for crimes against humanity committed during the Videla military dictatorship; previous charges included extrajudicial executions, torture and kidnapping of minor children. [Clarín]  The judgment will be published in August. [Tucumán Noticias]  There was some debate in Argentina about whether the two elderly men should be allowed to serve their sentences under house arrest, but the court ordered both to serve their sentences in prison. [Tucumán Noticias]

These convictions follow that of former dictator Jorge Videla in December of last year, in addition to approximately 80 other former officials. [CELS]

Over the past five years, the Argentine judicial system has been trying those suspected of involvement in the enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other crimes carried out by State agents during the Dirty War of the 1970s and 1980s. Major impetus behind these prosecutions came from the involvement of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which, through its visit, report and various decisions, urged the timely investigation and prosecution of  the human rights violations; as well as from the government’s creation of a truth commission (la Comisión Nacional sobre la Desparición de Personas), whose report Nunca Más, published in 1984, detailed the atrocities.

The current prosecutions were made possible by domestic judicial decisions which characterized the abuses as crimes against humanity whose prosecution could not be barred by any statute of limitations, and which declared unconstitutional two amnesty laws which had protected those responsible.  The Argentina judicial branch’s Centro de Información Judicial also maintains an updated site on the trials for crimes against humanity. The non-governmental organization Centro de Estudios Legales (CELS) maintains a blog, tracking the trials against military and police officers and other for crimes against humanity. The page on the Army Third Corps is here. See CELS’ video about the trials here and their statistical report on the trials (as of March 2010) here. The well-known Madres de Plazo de Mayo are also involved in some of the trials, and family members of the victims may participate as “querellantes” in the prosecutions. (For further explanation, see Margarita K. O’Donnell, New Dirty War Judgments in Argentina: National Courts and Domestic Prosecutions of International Human Rights Violations, 84 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 333, 351 (2009)).