Former Argentine president jailed for crimes against humanity

Amnesty International has welcomed the prison sentence handed to a former Argentine president responsible for crimes against humanity in the 1970s.Reynaldo Bignone, a former military general, was found guilty of torture, murder and several kidnappings that occurred while he was commander of the notorious Campo de Mayo detention centre between 1976 and 1978.The 82-year-old, who was appointed de facto president of Argentina by the military junta in 1982, has been sentenced to 25 years in jail. Five other military officers were also given long jail sentences by a court in Buenos Aires province on Wednesday.”This judgement represents another important step in the fight against impunity that has, until recently, been enjoyed by the leaders of Argentina’s military regime – now infamous for their role in human rights abuses,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International’s Americas Deputy Director. Hundreds of people, including relatives of the victims, testified at the trial, which started in November 2009.Former military officers Santiago Omar Riveros and Fernando Exequiel Verplaetsen were also sentenced to 25 years in prison, while three others were sentenced to between 17 and 20- years for human rights violations. A former police officer was acquitted.Campo de Mayo was one of the largest clandestine camps in operation under Argentina’s military regime (1976 to 1983). It is estimated that 5,000 prisoners were held in the camp.”Victims of torture and enforced disappearance in Campo de Mayo have waited too long for justice. These sentences send an important message to Argentina and other countries that human rights violations will not go unpunished,” said Guadalupe Marengo.Bignone was the last of four de facto military presidents in Argentina during the last military regime, ruling in 1982 and 1983. He is known for granting amnesty to human rights perpetrators and for ordering the destruction of documents about the torture and enforced disappearances of political opponents.During Argentina’s military government thousands of people were forcibly disappeared, unlawfully executed and tortured. The amnesty laws in Argentina that had protected the security forces from prosecution were declared null and void in June 2005. The laws were introduced by the government of President Raúl Alfonsín in 1986-87. Subsequently, the government of President Carlos Menem granted a presidential pardon to members of the military forces implicated in human rights violations.At the end of 2009, more than 600 hundred people were facing criminal proceedings for human rights violations in Argentina. Trials have resulted in more than 60 convictions so far. “Argentina is continuing to take steps in the right direction to end impunity for past human rights violations, despite difficulties and setbacks. The justice process must continue without delay and with the necessary resources to ensure that impunity is brought to an end,” said Guadalupe Marengo.