Antonio Vañek

28.04.2016 ( Last modified: 10.06.2016 )
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Antonio Vañek was born on 9 August 1924 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied at the Inter-American School of Defence, in Washington, and was naval attaché in the United States in 1975. The next year he chaired the Legislative Advice Commission (CAL), an organism that attempted to replace the National Congress activity during the dictatorship. He was Commandant of Naval Operations during 1977 and part of 1978. Then, he became head of operations at the Navy General Staff.

Disappearance was one of the main means of political repression throughout the “National Reorganisation Process” (Proceso de Reorganización Nacional). Hundreds of children victims of this crime were abducted along with their parents or were born at secret detention centres where young pregnant women were transferred. Figures provided by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo show that at least 400 children were disappeared. Those children were allegedly handed over to families unconnected with subversive ideas.

During the dictatorship, the necessary infrastructure to give birth was allegedly used at secret detention centres – the children were then moved away from their parents and handed over to third persons. The babies were allegedly abducted at the Naval Mechanical School (Escuela Mecánica de la Armada – ESMA) as well as at the secret detention centres known as “El Pozo”, Banfield; “Olimpo”; “El Vesubio”; “Automotores Orletti” and “La Cacha”.

Vañek was the second-in-command at the ESMA, only beneath the head of the Navy, Emilio Massera. Throughout his mandate, the births of Ana Castro, María Del Carmen Moyano De Poblete, Miriam Ovando, María Hilda Perez De Donda, Susana Beatriz Pegoraro, Cecilia Viñas De Penino, Susana Leonor Siver, Liliana Carmen Pereyra, Liliana Clelia Fontana, Alicia Elena Alfonsín De Cabandie, Cristina Greco, Patricia Mancuso, Silvina Labayru, Mirta Alonso De Hueravillo and María Graciela Tauro’s children took place in secret.

The proceeding for the disappearance of the babies was opened as a result of a complaint filed by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo on 30 December 1996. At that time, the so-called “Laws of Forgiveness” were in force. However, the “theft of babies” was not exonerated. The Supreme Court of Justice declared these laws unconstitutional in 2005.

Vañek was charged with the abduction of minors of ten years old in the proceeding known as “Systematic Plan” (“Plan Sistemático”) – open for 34 cases of appropriation of minors committed during the military rule.

legal procedure


The proceeding for the disappearance of the babies was opened as a result of a complaint filed by the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo on 30 December 1996. At that time, the so-called “Laws of Forgiveness” were in force. However, the “theft of babies” was not exonerated. The Supreme Court of Justice declared these laws unconstitutional in 2005.

Vañek was charged with the abduction of minors of ten years old in the proceeding known as “Systematic Plan” (“Plan Sistemático”) – open for 34 cases of appropriation of minors committed during the military rule.

In December 1998, Vañek was detained after making a statement in the proceeding. The statement was extended a year after. Due to his advanced aged, house arrest was granted. He is still under house arrest.

On 22 September 1999 Vañek was indicted for command responsibility for the crime of abduction, detention and hiding of 10 minors born in ESMA during the captivity of their mothers between December 1976 and November 1978. He was indicted as well for the crime of giving them new identities. Vañek had been indicted in 1998 in the same proceeding. However, the indictment was overturned by the Federal Court in January 1999.

According to the indictment, Vañek “knew the existence of the births in secret, and his performance was not limited to tolerate them but also to verify that they were carried out in line with the Commander in Chief’s orders. In other words, he was in charge of making sure that those births were effectively carried out in ESMA and then decide over the mother and the new born.”

The trial began on 28 February 2011. On 5 July 2012, the Oral Federal Tribunal N. 6 issued the judgment. Vañek was condemned to 40 years of imprisonment for the crime of abduction, detention and hiding of a minor of less than 10 years old along with making it civil status unknown. Jorge Rafael Videla (50 years of imprisonment), Jorge Eduardo Acosta (30 years of imprisonment), Santiago Omar Riveros (20 years of imprisonment), Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone (15 years of imprisonment), Víctor Gallo (15 years of imprisonment), Juan Antonio Azic (14 years of imprisonment), Jorge Luis Magnacco (10 years of imprisonment) and Inés Susana Colombo (5 years of imprisonment) were also condemned. The tribunal also rejected the requested home imprisonments.

The tribunal rejected the application of statute of limitations requested by the defences “for the facts amount to crimes against humanity, conducted by a systematic and widespread practice of abduction, detention and hiding of minors, making unknown, changing or suppressing its identity during the abduction, captivity, disappearance or death of its mothers – within the framework of a general plan of extermination against part of the civil population under grounds of combating subversion and implementing means of state terrorism between 1976 and 1983 of the last military ruling (art. 118 of the national constitution).

In addition, the Tribunal rejected the application of the amnesty conceded to Vanek by the Decree 1002/89 of 7 October. The decree has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice.

The tribunal scheduled for 17 September 2012 the hearing to read the grounds of the judgment.

The judgment is not final and is pending appeal.

Vañek is likewise indicted in the proceeding N. 17534/08 for having allegedly committed an aggravated crime of privation of liberty against Dagmar Ingrid Hagelin – as necessary participant of Giovanni, Susanna Pegoraro y Angela María Aieta (mother of the peronista Dante Gullo). The judgment is final.


On 5 March 2013, the « Plan Condor » trial started in which 25 accused, included Vañek, would be judged for crimes against humanity committed during last dictatorship.


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.

Fact Sheet
Name: Antonio Vañek
Nationality: Argentina
Context: Argentina
Charges: Crimes against humanity, Enforced disappearances
Status: Sentenced
Judgement Place: Argentina
Particulars: Condemned to 40 years of imprisonment on 5 July 2012. The judgment is not final