Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz
Miguel Etchecolatz was born in 1929. During the first years of the military dictatorship in Argentina, he was Commissioner General of Police in Buenos Aires and the right-hand man of Police Chief Ramón Camps. From March 1976 until late 1977, he served as Director of Investigations of the provincial police. During this period, more illegal arrests were carried out in Buenos Aires than in any other province.
According to official sources, 13’000 people were killed or disappeared during the military dictatorship’s “Dirty War” between 1976 and 1983. Human rights organisations estimate that the number is closer to 30’000.
Apart from many other cases of enforced disappearance and murder, Etchecolatz was said to be responsible for the “Night of the Pencils”, an operation in the course of which several students were detained, tortured and killed. He was also said to have operated, together with Camps, at least eight clandestine detention centres in La Plata, Quilmes, Banfield and Martínez.
Miguel Etchecolatz is the author of a book in which he defends the Argentinean military dictatorship.
In 1986, Etchecolatz was sentenced to 23 years in prison for illegal detention and enforced disappearances of hundreds of political prisoners.
In 1986, Etchecolatz was sentenced to 23 years in prison for illegal detention and enforced disappearances of hundreds of political prisoners, but was released due to the amnesty laws in force at that time (the Ley de Punto Final and the Ley de Obediencia Debida).
Etchecolatz however, had to face civil trials which were not covered by the amnesty laws.
In 2004, Miguel Etchecolatz was tried for the abduction of the baby belonging to a «disappeared” couple and the suppression of its identity. The amnesty laws were not applicable to this kind of crime.
Etchecolatz was sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
He served a part of this sentence from 2004 to 2006, partly in prison, partly under house-arrest.
On 20 June 2006, a new trial against Miguel Etchecolatz was opened up. This was possible since in June 2005, the Argentine Supreme Court had struck down the two amnesty laws (see “context”).
Miguel Etchecolatz was charged with murder, kidnapping and torture. He refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court and pleaded not guilty.
More than 100 witnesses were called. Raul Alfonsin, a former president of Argentina, appeared as a witness for the defence.
On 19 September 2006, Miguel Etchecolatz was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was found guilty of the detention and torture of Jorge Lopez and Nilda Eloy, and the murders of Ambrosio Francisco De Marco, Patricia Graciela Dell’Orto, Diana Teruggi de Mariani, Elena Arce Sahores, Nora Livia Formiga and Margarita Delgado.
Shortly afterwards, Jorge Lopez, one of the main witnesses for the prosecution, whose testimony had led to Etchecolatz’ conviction, disappeared. It is not known whether he was abducted as a warning to other potential witnesses, or whether he had gone into hiding after receiving threats. The judges who had tried Etchecolatz also reported serious threats to their own security.
In October 2014, Etchecolatz was sentenced to life imprisonment for the second time in his life.
The Platza tribunal in Buenos Aires rendered this judgement with charges including the use of torture and murders committed in the La Cacha detention centre, on the outskirts of La Plata.
Etchecolatz was sentenced for participation in the genocide committed during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1976 until 1983 in Argentina.
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.