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ARGENTINA | 12-04-2024 08:45

NGOs accuse Milei government ‘dismantling’ team investigating military records

Injunction against move filed with courts as human rights groups denounce firing of 10 out of 13 researchers that probe archives of Armed Forces to assist investigations into crimes against humanity.

Human rights groups have accused President Javier Milei’s government of “dismantling” an investigative unit that probes the archives of the Armed Forces in order to assist prosecutions investigating crimes against humanity.

In a statement, three high-profile organisations criticised the government’s decision to slim down a team of researchers who dig into military records to assist investigations into crimes against humanity, most of which date back to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

At the end of March, on the eve of the Easter long weekend, Human Rights Director at the Defence Ministry Lucas Miles Erbes confirmed the dismissal of 10 of the 13 workers from the Equipos de Relevamiento y Análisis (Teams of Survey and Analysis, ERyA),

Government sources, quoted by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, said that the programme “is still ongoing” and that “only a few contracts were not renewed.”

The ERyA team, attached to the Defence Ministry, investigates records and documentation kept by the three branches of the Armed Forces. It was created in 2010 during then-Defence minister Nila Garré’s time in office. 

The research unit, made up of experts from different disciplines, carries out crucial work, accessing information and linking it to documentary sources to provide evidence about human rights violations and identify the perpetrators. 

Experts say its work allows prosecutors to understand the way in which state terrorism was carried out by the military junta and the fruits of its labour has been used in trials probing crimes against humanity.

According to reporting by the Pagina/12 newspaper, it has produced more than 170 detailed reports on crimes against humanity during its existence, many of which have been used to support criminal prosecutions.

An injunction against the dismissals and potential shutting down of the research unit has been filed by two lawyers, Pablo Llonto and Mariana Maurer, who have asked the courts to intervene.

Tensions between the Milei government and human rights groups have run high since the President took office last December. Critics have accused government officials of denialism and of relativising the crimes of the dictatorship. 

The Milei administration sparked controversy with a recent video produced to mark the anniversary of the March 24, 1976 coup that brought the military dictatorship to power, in which it called for a “complete memory” of the conflict and claimed the estimate of 30,000 disappeared was manufactured by human rights groups.

As a result of this latest move – which the government denies is designed to prevent trials from progressing – a new chapter of the conflict has been opened.

In a statement, three of Argentina’s most influential human rights organisations this week expressed their “rejection of the dismantling” of the investigative teams.

CELS (Centre for Legal and Social Studies), the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, and H.I.J.O.S. Capital said the move would prevent ongoing efforts to establish the whereabouts of the disappeared, assist the search for those whose identities were appropriated as babies by the junta’s leaders and the reconstruction of truth.

“These teams made fundamental contributions to the clarification and prosecution of crimes against humanity,” said the groups, who said the Defence Ministry’s decision “seeks to obstruct the process of justice and truth-telling.”

“It is urgent that measures be taken to preserve these documents in order to sustain the work of memory, truth and justice,” the groups urged.

Buenos Aires City lawmaker Victoria Montenegro (Unión por la Patria), meanwhile, denounced Defence Minister Luis Petri before the United Nations, asking Fabián Salvioli – UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition – to intervene in the case.

“The disappearance of the ERyA would hinder not only the judicial investigations, but also the access to the truth,” said Montenegro, the daughter of parents who were disappeared during the era of state terrorism.

“By emptying the teams of technicians and technicians, it obstructs their work capacity and hinders access to the documents and archives that make up the Ministry’s documentary heritage, with the same consequences,” she added.

Government sources, quoted by the Noticias Argentinas news agency, said that the programme “is still ongoing” and that “only a few contracts were not renewed.”

During a press event at the City legislature this week, representatives from the ATE Nacional state-workers union warned that military officers would be tasked with the workload, potentially threatening the validity of the information.

“There would be no operational capacity left t ... we assume that these tasks will end up being carried out by people from the [Armed] Forces, which would mean putting the fox to guard the henhouse,” said ATE Human Rights Secretary Valeria Taramasco.

 

– TIMES/NA/PERFIL

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