‘Mega Justice’: Argentina sentences 28 officials for dictatorship-era crimes

BUENOS AIRES – In a landmark ruling, Argentina has sentenced four former federal judges to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s last dictatorship.

The people of Argentina have finally received the so-called “Mega Justice” following over 200 hearings, 300 witnesses testimonies, and a painful investigation of documents, files, and other evidence relating to crimes against humanity committed by 28 former officials in Argentina’s military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1975 to 1983.

The former judges – Otilio Romano, Guillermo Petra Recabarren, Luis Francisco Miret and Rolando Carrizo were among the most powerful officials during the period of military dictatorship, and continued to serve as top magistrates following Argentina’s transition to democracy.

Twenty-eight armed service members, prison guards, police officers and civilians as well as the four former judges stood accused of perpetrating or colluding in rape, torture, murder, kidnapping and enforced disappearances affecting approximately 200 victims.

The court in Mendoza province Wednesday ruled that the ex-judges participated in kidnappings, torture and murders. The men were tried for their failure to investigate petitions of habeas corpus filed by relatives of dissidents who disappeared during the military dictatorship.

During the trial, which began in 2014, prosecutors asked to change the charges against the four from being accomplices to primary participants in crimes, arguing their inaction on the petitions preceded the disappearance of more than 20 dissidents.

One of the judges, Romano, served on the Mendoza Federal Chamber until his dismissal in 2011. He fled to Chile but was extradited back to Argentina in 2013.

Eight of their co-defendants also received the maximum penalty. Four defendants were freed, with three facing acquittal and another defendant receiving a minor sentence. The remainder of the defendants received sentences ranging from five to 20 years.

Official estimates say about 7,600 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship, but rights activists believe the number was actually as high as 30,000.

“Society is with us,” said Norma Ríos from Argentina’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, who traveled from Buenos Aires to be present for the sentencing.

From early morning on, over a 1,000 human rights activists gathered around the federal criminal court in the city of Mendoza in anticipation of the sentencing, which is a landmark moment for the human rights cause.

“This is the most important trial in the history of the province of Mendoza,” said prosecutor Pablo Salinas of the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights.