Adolfo Scilingo

21.05.2012 ( Last modified: 02.06.2016 )
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During the “dirty war” which caused havoc during the period 1976-1983 under the military dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla, between 13’000 and 30’000 people went missing in Argentina.

One of the methods used to get rid of opponents to the regime without trace was to organise “flights of death” during which the people who had been abducted were thrown out of the aircraft, naked and unconscious, into the ocean thousands of metres below.

Scilingo was an Army officer in 1976 and 1977 at the dreaded Esma (Argentine Army’s High School for Mechanics). In this position, he is said to have taken part in two flights of death, during which around thirty people were killed.

On the occasion of an interview with the journalist Verbitsky, as published in the book “El Vuelo” (The Flight), Scilingo, in 1995 admitted that: “They were unconscious. We undressed them and as soon as the aircraft commander issued the order, we opened the hatches and threw them, naked, one after the other, out into the open air.”

In 1997, Scilingo voluntarily travelled to Spain in order to give testimony concerning these events. Nevertheless, the examining magistrate, judge Garzon afterwards had him put under arrest. An arrest warrant was also issued against 97 other Argentinean citizens.

Since then, Scilingo has gone back on his previous statements.


legal procedure

In 1997, Scilingo voluntarily travelled to Spain in order to give testimony concerning these events. Nevertheless, the examining magistrate, judge Garzon afterwards had him put under arrest. An arrest warrant was also issued against 97 other Argentinean citizens.

Since then, Scilingo has gone back on his previous statements.

Scilingo was accused of attempted genocide, since the aim of the military regime at the time was to eliminate, systematically, a whole category of people, namely the opponents of the regime. Furthermore, Scilingo was also accused of terrorism and torture.

His trial was opened up on 14 January 2005 in Madrid.

Dozens of witnesses were heard, most of them survivors of the “Dirty War”. On 7th of March 2005, the Prosecutor requested a sentence of 9138 years imprisonment for Scilingo.

Scilingo’s defence lawyer pleaded that the Court should acquit his client for lack of evidence.

On April 19, 2005, Scilingo was sentenced to 640 years of prison.

An appeal was lodged against this decision.

On 4 July 2007 the Spanish Supreme Court increased the prison sentence to 1084 years. The increase in his sentence corresponded to the addition of offences which had not been taken into account at the time of the judgment handed down by the first trial instance, but which constituted “crimes against humanity according to international law” according to the Supreme Court. This court found Scilingo guilty of 30 murders, of one crime of illegal detention and of complicity in 255 others.

On the other hand, he was acquitted on the counts of torture for which he had also been found guilty by the first instance court.

Scilingo has been imprisoned in Spain since 2001. According to Spanish criminal code, the effective penalty he will be subject to is limited to 25 years maximum.



The case was the first in which crimes against humanity could be tried in Spain under universal jurisdiction, thus even if they had allegedly been committed elsewhere.



In December 1986, the Argentinean Parliament adopted a law called “final point,” which set a statute of limitation of 60 days for offences against international law committed in Argentina.

In May 1987, Parliament approved a second amnesty law called “due obedience,” which exempted from trial all military subordinates who had obeyed orders. This left only about thirty high-ranked military officers to face prosecution. The only crimes not covered by this law – and for which subordinates could still be tried – was theft, rape and the kidnapping of children. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law in June 1987.

By December 1990 the first amnesty decrees were signed.

In all, 1195 members of the military who had participated in the junta received amnesty: 730 because of the “final point” law, 379 with the “due obedience” law, 49 declared by the Supreme Court and 42 by amnesty decrees.

In mid-August 2003, the new Argentinean president, Nestor Kirchner, had the amnesty laws repealed and the absence of statutes of limitation for crimes against humanity recognized.

Prosecutions of those involved in the junta once again became possible in Argentina.

Twenty former military personnel are being held in Argentina for crimes committed within the framework of the “Condor” plan. The total number of soldiers in detention and charged under Argentinean law for human rights violations amounts to 120 – to which should be added two Argentineans held in Spain. Some of these proceedings concern cases where children were forcibly taken away at birth from their mothers who had been imprisoned for political reasons. In the opinion of the judges, the amnesty law never covered this crime. (Source: Le Monde, January 5, 2005).

On 14 June 2005, the Argentinean Supreme Court declared the Amnesty Law unconstitutional, by 7 votes in favour, 1 against and 1 abstention,– “Ley de Punto Final”; Ley 23.492-  and the Due Obedience Law – “Ley de Obediencia debida”; Ley 23.521- sanctioned by President Alfonsin in 1987. The Court maintained that these laws violated article 75, paragraph 22 of the 1994 Argentinean Constitution, which gives constitutional status to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to the Genocide Convention, to the Torture Convention and to the Inter-American Convention, among others. According to the Court, following diverse decisions by the Inter-American Court and by other international bodies, the State has an obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those who have committed violations of the right to life, to humane treatment or those who have engaged in disappearances, an obligation which cannot be limited or abolished by the enactment of an Amnesty or Due Obedience Laws as ruled by the Inter-American Court in the case of Barrios Altos v. Peru.

This historical decision allows the domestic or international investigation, prosecution and punishment of members of the military suspected to have taken part in the torture, disappearance and/or killings of more than 30,000 persons in Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

On 20 September 2006, during the course of the trial of Miguel Etchecolatz, the court for the town of La Plata used the term “genocide” for the crimes committed by the military dictatorship (1976-1983). It was the first time these crimes were qualified as genocide by a court, just like human rights organisations had long argued they should be. This legal qualification is now contained in the judgment against former police officer Etchecolatz, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for torture, murder and abduction of opponents of the regime.

The court emphasised that the crimes were committed in the context of a genocide campaign organised by the state. For future procedures against former members of the police force and the military, this view could be of crucial importance.


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