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ARGENTINA | 14-06-2024 17:07

IACHR holds Argentina responsible for for failings over AMIA attack

Top human rights court deems Argentine state responsible for not preventing, nor properly investigating, the lethal 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) on Friday held the Argentine state responsible for deficient prevention and investigation of the attack on the Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish community centre 30 years ago that left 85 people dead. 

The top human rights court in Costa Rica also blamed the state for efforts to "cover up and obstruct the investigation," robbing victims and their loved ones of justice.

"Argentina [is] responsible for not having adopted reasonable measures to prevent the attack" and "not having complied with its duty to investigate with due diligence and within a reasonable period of time the attack and its cover-up," the San José-based IACHR Court said in its ruling.

On 18 July 1994, a truck drove into the AMIA Jewish community centre. Laden with explosives, it detonated in what would become the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history. Besides the 85 dead, more than 300 people were injured. 

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members. 

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request.  

In April, an Argentine court blamed Hezbollah for the attack it called a "crime against humanity," and labelled Iran a "terrorist state."

It found that the attack and another on the Israeli Embassy in 1992 that killed 29 people, were likely triggered by the government under then-president Carlos Menem cancelling three contracts concluded with Iran for the supply of nuclear equipment and technology.

After that ruling, Buenos Aires asked Interpol to arrest Iran's Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, whom it accuses of masterminding the attack.

Tehran denies any involvement. 


‘Real and immediate risk’

On Thursday, the IACHR found Argentina "responsible for not having adopted reasonable measures" to prevent the bombing.

"The state was aware of a situation of real and immediate risk for sites identified with the Jewish community and did not adopt reasonable measures" to ameliorate the danger, the judges concluded.

"t was known that the attack was going to happen and it was allowed to happen," said Diana Wassner, a member of Memoria Activa, a plaintiff NGO in the case.

Argentina "violated its obligation of prevention," the ruling said, as there were previous situations "that drew attention to the AMIA,” such as the Israeli Embassy bombing.

"Terrorism is a phenomenon that endangers the rights and freedoms of individuals and the American Convention obliges member states to adopt such measures as may be appropriate, necessary and proportional to prevent such acts," the court argued.

The IACHR was particularly critical of Argentina’s failure to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.

After 30 years "it remains unclear what happened or who was responsible or the reasons for which the state used its judicial machinery to cover up and block the investigation," said the court’s president Nancy Hernández as she read the ruling.

Argentina "is responsible for the violation of the rights to life and personal integrity to the detriment of the victims of the attack," as well as principles of equality and non-discrimination, said the top human rights court.

After the attack, it added, the state then failed in its duty to investigate "with due diligence and within a reasonable time," thus violating victims' right to judicial protection.

"It was proven that state agents ... acted in an articulated manner with the purpose of constructing an accusatory hypothesis without factual support, which favoured the cover-up of the real perpetrators," it added.

Paula Litvachky, the director of CELS (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales) human rights organisation and a lawyer for relatives of the victims, said the "historic ruling" showed state actions "prevented truth and justice from being obtained for more than 30 years."


'Total impunity'

The IACHR highlighted “irregularities” on the side of the state in the judicial processes, with the initial investigation botched and tainted by allegations of corruption.

In 2015, an investigation by a special AMIA investigative unit began to review the initial judicial process. That ended in 2019 with the determination that the state had been involved in a “cover-up" that resulted in light sentences for judicial officials and Menem government officials. It did not identify the reasons why.

The cover-up consisted of paying the alleged seller of the van used in the bombing, Carlos Telleldín, some US$400,000 to falsely accuse a group of police officers.

In 2017, a special prosecutor appointed to probe the AMIA bombing, Alberto Nisman, accused then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of orchestrating another cover-up in exchange for oil and trade benefits. 

Nisman was found dead in 2015 under mysterious circumstances as he was about to present his findings before Congress. 

Fernández de Kirchner’s controversial Memorandum of Understanding, which would’ve seen Iranian officials questioned about the bombing, never entered into force.

Argentina’s justice system dropped its obstruction probe against Fernández de Kirchner in 2021, but reopened it last year.

Menem was tried for a cover-up in the case, but acquitted. He died in 2021.

The Inter-American court on Thursday ordered Argentina to remove all obstacles "which maintain total impunity in this case."

The state has not allowed access to information gathered about the event and the intelligence agencies have classified the files as "secret.”

The state should do everything necessary "to identify, judge and punish those responsible for the events of this case, their cover-up and, thus, be able to establish the truth of what happened, all within a reasonable time," it said.

"It’s an unusual decision," said Litvachky.

"We have not yet lost everything," added Wassner.

"The state's failures in its duty to investigate, the unjustified delays in the process and, in general, the lack of clarification and the situation of impunity, have caused the victims' families feelings of anguish, sadness and frustration," the court said.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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