Human rights: new narrative?
By Luciana Bertoia
Questions after tuesday’s speech
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s backing of César Milani’s appointment as Army chief seems to have opened a grey area, raising questions about the government’s human rights’ narrative.
In a national broadcast on Tuesday, Fernández de Kirchner said she did not want to attack institutions, and that her aim was to take to court the former members of the Armed Forces who individually committed crimes during the seventies, seemingly not wanting to examine the responsibility of the forces as a whole. Continued from front page
The newly-appointed Milani not only generated controversy among Kirchnerites and opposition leaders, but also led to a wider discussion of the Armed Forces’ responsibilities over the crimes committed during the last dictatorship that reigned between 1976 and 1983.
“It seems problematic to say we are only examining personal and not institutional responsibilities,” sociologist Daniel Feierstein told the Herald. “This is more similar to what former president Raúl Alfonsín used to say.”
Feierstein, who currently heads the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS), also highlighted that military was involved in disappearances and abductions as members of the Armed Forces and not as individuals.
“In the trials that have been taking place across the country, it was confirmed that the repression was part of an institutional decision from the forces, not only in Argentina but in the whole region. Based on the National Security Doctrine, they conducted a national reorganization process through terror, which was not the decision of merely a few members of the military,” he added.
In Argentina, since 2006, members of the Armed Forces and civilians involved in human rights violations during the military regime have been taken to court. Since then, more than 426 people have been condemned and 45 of them acquitted according to the information provided by the Human Rights Prosecution Unit. Fourteen proceedings are currently under way, some of them examining three over-arching cases, such as the crimes perpetrated at the ESMA (Buenos Aires), La Perla (Córdoba) and Arsenales (Tucumán) clandestine detention centres.
Sociologist Valentina Salvi, who studies Armed Forces issues at the UBA’s Gino Germani Institute, explained to the Herald the need to judge the members of the Armed Forces, but not to say they were all responsible for the human rights violations of the past.
“In the context of trials, it seems difficult to continue condemning the whole institution, even though it has been done politically,” Salvi argued. “We should differentiate the different levels of responsibility. Criminal responsibility is never referred to the institutions. Political responsibility is certainly linked to institutions and implies revising their roles and traditions.”
NEW ARMED FORCES
In May, the President embarked on an effort to reshuffle the Defence Ministry. Then-Minister Nilda Garré was removed from office and replaced by Agustín Rossi. Since then, the former head of the Victory Front (FpV) caucus at the Lower House has been assigned the responsibility of “restructuring” the forces, as Fernández de Kirchner reminded the country on Tuesday.
“Kirchnerites are seeking to give a new role to the Armed Forces in a democratic nation,” Salvi said. “That means they should assume new tasks, and that is why Fernández de Kirchner appeals to the Armed Forces and the people, between whom the relationship has been broken.”
According to Salvi, the Kirchnerite administration has been re-assessing aspects of the forces linked to its role in industrial development. For instance, Fernández de Kirchner days ago decided that the Military Industries Directorate would be under the Defence Ministry’s jurisdiction, and would promote an import-substitution strategy.
“This is necessary to reform the Armed Forces, but that project must also be supported by society and politicians. It is essential to make the youngest members of the military aware of the previous role the forces played, to reconfigure the hypotheses of conflict and their relation toward society,” Feierstein said. “If someone believes this project has already been carried out, it’s a misunderstanding.”
Milani’s appointment as head of the Army is important within that context because “reforming the military forces is a process and, as part of that, it is important to see what role is given to people who were involved” in the dictatorship, he said.
Both experts agreed that if reports on Milani for alleged crimes during the dictatorship have been unveiled, it is necessary to review his appointment.
For its part, the government seems determined to keep the man accused of being involved in abductions and disappearances as Army head, in spite of clashes with some human rights organizations that used to support the Kirchnerite administration unconditionally.