Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone

18.04.2016 ( Last modified: 18.04.2018 )
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facts

Reynaldo Benito Antonio Bignone was born in Moron, Argentina on 21 January 1928. When he was 19 years old, he joined the Infantry. He studied at the National War School (Escuela Superior de Guerra) in Spain during Franco’s regime. In 1964 he was named head of the 6th Infantry Regiment and in 1975, when Jorge Rafael Videla took power as Commander in Chief of the military forces, he was named Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

In 1976, Bignone participated in the coup d’état against President María Estela Martínez de Perón.

On 28 March 1976, he led the military operation in which the Alejandro Posadas Hospital was overtaken and turned into one of the detention centres operated by the military dictatorship.

In 1980, Bignone was named Chief of the Military Institute Command by President Videla. He retired from the army in 1981, after the fall from power of Videla.

Between 1976 and 1980, the Military Institute Command, led by Bignone, had control and command over the “Campo de Mayo”, which is a large military area outside Buenos Aires. During this period, the Campo de Mayo was divided into four different secret detention and torture centres.

After the defeat of Argentina in the Falkland Islands war, General Leopoldo Galtieri, who had succeeded Roberto Viola, stepped down and a vacuum of power was left. Bignone was then elected president and took office on 1 July 1982. During his presidency, political parties were allowed to resume their activities and it was announced that elections would be held in October. Meanwhile, members of the armed forced strove to eliminate the evidence of the crimes committed during the dictatorship.

On 28 April 1983, Bignone issued a decree which ordered the destruction of all existing documents on the detention, torture and murder of disappeared persons and of the document which determined their death, the so-called Final Document on the War against Subversion and Terrorism (Documento Final sobre la Lucha contra la Subversion y el Terrorismo).

On 23 September 1983, he approved a self-amnesty law, called the National Reconcilitation Law (Ley de Pacificación Nacional), for all the members of the armed forces for the acts committed during the military dictatorship.

On 30 October 1983, the candidate for the Radical Civic Union party, Raúl Alfonsín, won the elections.

legal procedure

On 21 December 1983, an investigating judge issued an indictment against Bignone for the disappearance of two members of the Communist Youth Federation (Federación Juvenil Comunista). He was accused of illegal deprivation of liberty, omission to denounce and false testimony.

On 22 December 1983, the Congress annulled the self-amnesty law issued by Bignone. With this, any further obstacle for processing those responsible for the political repression during the dictatorship, including Bignone, was eliminated.

On 10 January 1984, Bignone was accused and imprisoned in the barracks of Campo de Mayo by federal investigating judge Carlos Oliveri, who ordered unconditional imprisonment without right to bail. Bignone would be tried for the disappearance of the conscripts Luis Pablo Steinberg and Luis Daniel García in 1976, when they were doing their compulsory military service in the military academy, which was at that time directed by Bignone. The Supreme Military Tribunal, however, ordered his release from prison on 28 June 1984.

At the same time, judge Luis Córdoba investigated Bignone for the disappearance in 1978 of industrial technician Alfredo Giorgi.

In 1985, Bignone was found guilty of kidnaps, torture and murder carried out while he was head of the detention camps in Campo de Mayo. However, he was freed before finishing his sentence due to the amnesty laws of 23 December 1986 (Due Obedience Law) and of 8 June 1987 (Full Stop Law) issued by Alfonsín.

CASE « SYSTEMATIC PLAN »

In December 1986, six members of the organization “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo” (Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo) filed a complaint against several retired military leaders for the preparation and execution of a systematic plan to abduct the children born to detained or disappeared mothers and to replace their identities. Among the commanders involved was Bignone. The grandmothers demanded the investigation of the kidnap of around 200 children. This was the beginning of a preliminary phase of a new process against Bignone.

On 21 January 1999, Bignone was arrested and put in preventive prison for the alleged abduction of children born to detained mothers. The judge however, granted him the benefit of serving house arrest due to his age, i.e. 71 years.

In September 1999, the Federal Chamber determined that the crime of systematic child abduction was not subject to statute of limitations, thus rejecting the arguments of the defence of the military. The magistrates also determined that the crime of child abduction could not be considered res judicata because it is a permanent crime and a crime against humanity according to the Inter-American Convention of Forced Disappearance of Persons, which was incorporated into the Argentinean Constitution in 1994. Neither was this crime covered by the amnesty laws Full Stop Law and Due Obedience Law, nor by the pardons granted in 1990 by then President Carlos Menem.

In August 2000, the Supreme Court of Justice determined that the trial with regard to the crime of child abduction during the military dictatorship had to take place before the federal tribunals, instead of the military tribunals.

In August 2003, the Congress declared the Full Stop Law and the Due Obedience Law void, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the Supreme Court declared these laws unconstitutional with ex tunc effect.

On 23 April 2007, federal judge Guillermo Montenegro determined that Bignone and six other military commanders would face a public oral judgement.

The trial started on 28 February 2011. Bignone was accused in 34 separate cases of children who were taken from mothers held in the clandestine torture and detention centres at the Navy Mechanics School and Campo de Mayo army base. On 5 July 2012, the Federal Tribunal of Buenos Aires sentenced Bignone to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity and particularly for the implementation of a systematic plan to abduct and appropriate 31 minors.

FIRST TRIAL FOR CAMPO DE MAYO

On 8 March 2007, the federal magistrate of the town of San Martin (province of Buenos Aires), Alberto Suaréz Araujo, ordered the arrest of Bignone to face criminal accusations for his alleged participation in cases of forced disappearances and human rights violations committed in the detention centre of Campo de Mayo during the military dictatorship.

On 2 November 2009 a new trial began against Bignone before the Federal Criminal Oral Tribunal of San Martin for crimes against humanity committed in the jurisdiction of Campo de Mayo against 56 victims between 1976 and 1978. He was charged with illegal deprivation of liberty aggravated by torture, unlawful entry and aggravated robbery.

On 20 April 2010 Bignone was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity. Namely, he was found guilty of involvement in 56 cases of murder, torture, deprivation of liberty and illegal break-ins. Bignone who had been under house arrest for many years had to serve his sentence in a regular prison.

The Federal Chamber of Criminal Appeals affirmed the verdict and sentence on 7 December 2012.

SECOND TRIAL FOR CAMPO DE MAYO

The second trial with regard to the Campo de Mayo case started on 27 September 2010.

On 14 April 2011 the San Martin Federal Tribunal sentenced Bignone to life imprisonment. The Tribunal found him guilty of illegal deprivation of liberty, torture, homicide aggravated in case 246 «Diego Muniz Barreto y Juan José Fernández».

The Federal Chamber of Criminal Appeals in its decision of 7 December 2012 confirmed the conviction and sentencing of the first instance tribunal.

CASE HOPITAL POSADAS

On 20 October 2011, a new trial started against Bignone in the case of the clandestine detention centre “Hospital Nacional Profesor Alejandro Posadas”. He was accused of illegal deprivation of liberty of 22 persons and torture of five of them.

On 29 December 2011, the Federal Tribunal of Buenos Aires sentenced Bignone to 15 years in prison for crimes against humanity and particularly illegal deprivation of liberty of 15 persons.

On 28 November 2012, the Federal Chamber of Criminal Appeals confirmed the verdict and the sentence.

THIRD TRIAL FOR CAMPO DE MAYO

In the third trial of the Campo de Mayo case, Bignone was charged for his responsibility in human rights violations against 23 people, including 7 pregnant women who were forced to give birth in illegal clandestine centres.

On 12 March 2013, Bignone was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Federal Criminal Oral Tribunal of San Martin for crimes against humanity for his participation in 20 cases of illegal deprivation of liberty, robbery, torture and murder.

TRIAL OF THE « FACTORY WORKERS »

In July 2014, a new trial started against Bignone dealing with the cases of 60 workers, 28 of whom were allegedly kidnapped and tortured and 32 disappeared. Most of the victims were trade union activists.

On 7 October 2014, Bignone was convicted, by the Federal Criminal Oral Tribunal of San Martin, of the kidnapping and torture of 32 factory workers by the military forces in the northern periphery of Buenos Aires. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison for the forced disappearances of the victims.

TRIAL OF “PLAN CONDOR”

On 5 March 2013, the «Operation Condor» trial started in which 25 accused, including Bignone, were charged with crimes against humanity committed from 1976 to 1983. Operation Condor was a plan set up by the dictators of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 80s which allowed secret police units to cross into one another’s territory to kidnap, torture and kill political opponents who had fled across the border.

On 27 May 2016, Bignone was sentenced to 20 years in prison for being part of an illicit association, kidnapping and abusing his powers in the forced disappearance of more than 100 people. The Court argued that statutory time limits did not apply for in many cases the bodies were not found and the crime of covering up their deaths therefore is continuing.

context

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.