Ramón Genaro Díaz Bessone
Ramón Genaro Díaz Bessone was born in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1925. He enters the military college in 1943. He is appointed governor of the Mendoza province then promoted to Commander of the Second Army Corps based in Rosario (Santa Fe province) from September 1975 till October 1976, in charge of six provinces and thus, their detention centres. General Videla appoints him minister of Planification. Bessone leaves the army in 1978.
In 1985, he is indicted for crimes committed in the Parana province but is freed thanks to the Final Point laws of 1987.
In 1989, president Menem grants pardon to most indicted army personnel, including Bessone.
In 1994, Bessone is elected president of the ‘Military Circle’ and re-elected in 1998 when he expels from the Circle general Martín Balza, ex-commander in chief of the Army who, in 1995, had criticized the Army conduct during the dictatorship.
In 2003, French journalist Marie-Monique Robin presents a documentary called « Death Squads, the French school » in which Bessone admits that the argentine military used techniques applied by the French army in Algeria, taught by French militaries in Buenos Aires in 1959. In the interview, he justifies the use of torture and admits that the Armed Forces choose to execute “around 7.000 people secretly so as to avoid criticism from the Pope”.
That same year, president Néstor Kirchner starts a procedure that will lead to the abrogation of the 1987 impunity laws. It is the beginning of numerous trials, including that of Bessone in June 2004 for crimes committed during the dictatorship.
In 2007, he is indicted for the disappearance of a woman opponent but is freed by a Court of Appeal in accordance with a longer than reasonable time of preventive detention. This will be cancelled by a superior court.
In 2010, Bessone and five policemen are put on trial for the illegal arrest and torture of 93 opponents, 17 of which are still disappeared.
n 2010, Bessone and five policemen are put on trial for the illegal arrest and torture of 93 opponents, 17 of which are still disappeared.
PROCEDURE CALLED “FECED CASE”
Since 1984, a group of people who had been tortured in the cities of Rosario and Santa Fe (Santa Fe province), tries to obtain justice against its torturers. They had been detained by the Servicio de Informaciones of the provincial police then under the command of Chief of gendarmerie Agustín Feced followed by the Army commander Díaz Bessone. Nearly 2000 people were tortured there, many of them still disappeared or buried in the Rosario cemetery under NN (no name) or in still secret places.
In 1983, at the return of democracy, an investigation is opened by the Military Council, followed by an official procedure on 31 January 1984. In 1986, the military hospital announces that Agustín Feced had died but does not bring any proof of it.
In 1987, the case is closed after the promulgation by President Alfonsín of the Forced Obedience and Final Point laws (also known as ‘impunity laws’). In 1989, all the indicted military and police are pardoned by President Carlos Menem.
PROCEDURE CALLED “DIAZ BESSONE CASE ex-FECED”
After the abrogation of the immunity laws by President Néstor Kirchner in 2003, the case is re-opened on the 9 June 2004. After Feced’s death, the case is known as “Díaz Bessone Case ex-Feced”, as Bessone is the accused with higher rank. Five policemen are also accused. An investigation is opened in 2008 and 2009 (accumulation of cases n° 120 / 08, 91 / 08, 47 / 09 and 138 / 09).
Federal Oral Tribunal (TOF) n°2 of Rosario accuses Bessone and the five policemen of “illegal arrest by violent means of 93 persons of which 17 were murdered” in 1976 in the central police offices (Jefatura de Policía at the corner of the San Lorenzo and Dorrego streets of Rosario). That is where the secret detention centre known as Information Services was based under the command of Bessone.
Bessone himself is accused of 11 murders and illegal arrests and tortures of 51 persons. The TOF announces a trial for the 9 April 2010, postponed to the 27 April and finally to the 21 July 2010. There are 25 plaintiffs (survivors from the centre and families of victims) and ‘civil parts’ including the Association of families of missing people for political reasons, the Argentine chapter of the International Federation for Human Rights, H.I.J.O.S. (Children for Identity and Justice against oblivion and silence) and the National Secretariat for Human Rights. More than 180 witnesses are expected including several survivors.
On the 21 July, witnesses and survivors relate their ordeal and clearly identify their torturers among the accused. This takes several weeks. The plaintiffs lawyers place torture, murders and disappearances in the historical context and ask that a specific attention be given to sexual aggressions: systematic rape and sexual abuses, pregnant women forced to give birth under inhuman conditions, confiscation of babies, torture of babies before their mother, etc.
Beginning of October, the accused can defend themselves. For his defence, Díaz Bessone declares:
– In Argentina, there was a war because, even before the military government, the constitutional government of Isabel Perón had emitted Decrees 261 / 75 and 2770 / 75 ordering the armed forces “to execute the necessary operations to totally destroy the subversion”, actions that really start after [the coup d’Etat of] 24 March 1976, when the Armed forces take power and establish the “National Reorganisation Process”. Therefore I should be judged by a military tribunal. There has been no commission of penal crimes but the application of State policies coordinated by the Ministry of Defence…
– The Military Code of 1976 orders us “to apply combat power with maximum violence to destroy the subversives…”
– In a war, the enemy is not murdered, he is killed. He is not arrested, he is captured, tortured, interrogated. You do not ask an authorisation to act to a judge, as it was not ask to a judge permission to bomb Hiroshima…
– This a political trial, not a penal one.
– The tortures and murders were executed by the police, not by me.
– Military barracks were not secret detention centres but L.R.D., Places of reunion of detainees.
The defence lawyers of the general start using arguments based on the health of their client: he is unable to instruct them because he suffered a vascular attack. From then on, Bessone will follow the procedure under medical observation in an adjacent room or from the military hospital. When defence insists that their client is mentally disabled, the Court sends him to be examined by three experts linked to the Supreme Court who declare Bessone able to understand and follow the procedure.
The plaintiffs, the civil parts and the public prosecutor all ask the three judges to give a verdict of the highest severity against Bessone who is accused of illegal arrest, torture, murder and disappearance of dozens of persons. They also ask that the crimes be considered as genocide and/or crimes against humanity. For the public prosecution, all the events described by the witnesses show that they were executed under his direction, control and command. He cannot be accused of torture as he did not participate in them but he can be accused of homicides as he was in charge.
Verdict of the Court on 26 March 2012
On 26 March 2012, General Ramón Genaro Díaz Bessone is declared guilty of:
– Having illegally detained 47 persons abusing his functions with the use of violence;
– Having caused the death of 7 persons;
– Being a member of an illegal organisation ready to commit crimes against life, the freedom and integrity of persons, making it worse for being one of the commanders.
These crimes were considered as crimes against humanity. The crime of genocide cannot be retained but Argentina being signatory to the Four Geneva Conventions, even if the Army considered being in a state of war, it should have respected them.
Consequently, Ramón Díaz Bessone is sentenced to prison for life.
INVESTIGATION IN PROGRESS
Díaz Bessone is accused, with 15 other people, of torture and murder of several persons. This case is still under investigation (1 October 2012).
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.