Monday, August 9, 2010

Intervention: Human Rights Violations in Argentina

United States Intervention on Human Rights Violations in Argentina

The U.S. has never hesitated to get involved in foreign affairs, especially to protect and promote democracy.

For as long as the United States has been an economic powerhouse they've also been very active in international endeavors. Aside from providing economic or military support to foreign nations, the U.S. has also taken on the role of "world police" and protectors of democracy. In the last several decades, however, it has also become common practice to monitor human rights violations that may be occurring around the world. The recent globalization of human rights law has been attributed to two occurrences: human rights have been instilled into most national constitutions; human rights have been incorporated into many widely accepted international treaties.

Many politicians and human rights activists agree that human rights violations should ideally be addressed on a national scale, but weak judicial systems and a lack of accountability have led to a need for international policy regarding human rights regulation. These international practices are a temporary solution for human rights protection. Rather than actually enforce or administer the foreign judicial systems, the principal priority of organizations such as the United Nations or countries like the U.S. is to assist these countries in revising or strengthening their judicial systems so that one day human rights violations can be dealt with on a national level. Though this foreign intervention can be quite productive, it is not immune to criticism, disapproval, or failure. An example of harmful U.S. involvement in international human rights law began during the first stages of Argentina's "dirty war."

Henry Kissinger described diplomacy as the "art of restraining power." The U.S. has balanced diplomacy and force in its interventions with human rights violations in Argentina.

In October of 1976 Admiral César Guzzetti, Argentina's Foreign Minister, paid a visit to Washington to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Because of the brutal murders and disappearances that had been occurring in Argentina, Guzzetti approached the meeting anticipating to receive firm warnings regarding the human rights practices of the government. However, instead he found Kissinger and Rockefeller to be much more passive and understanding, giving friendly advice and urging that the junta control the terrorist issue as a first priority. Accounts of the meeting and the relationship that ensued suggested that the U.S. was aware of the actions of the Argentine dictatorship, but they were deliberately ignored and even quietly advocated because they were seen as necessary for the protection of U.S. interests and the future establishment of democracy in Argentina. However, some U.S. politicians were deeply concerned by this stance. United States ambassador Richard Hill expressed his concern in a cable sent to the State Department, where he claimed that Guzzetti returned to Argentina believing that the U.S. government had no problem with the issue, or the human rights that were being violated in Argentina.

U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Argentine Foreign Minister César Guzzetti meet in Washington in October 1976 to discuss the military actions and policies of the Argentine government.

The junta continued with its violent policies for seven years while receiving mixed and unclear reactions from the U.S. government. Initially, these human rights abuses were ignored and the $30 million of military aid was still granted to Argentina each year by the Ford administration. However, Congress and President Carter ended this financial support in 1978 to express disapproval of the actions of the Argentine military dictatorship. In 1981, President Reagan re-established the aid, only to remove it again in 1982.

Not only did the U.S. government avoid opposition to the actions of the junta, but it failed to significantly reform the national human rights laws of Argentina. Because of this, almost three decades after the conclusion of Argentina's dirty war, the families of those 30,000 victims who disappeared under the military dictatorship are still awaiting justice. The inefficiency of the United States' involvement in Argentina's judicial system along with the lack of intervention in areas where it was needed most, such as outright disapproval of the actions of Argentina's government, ultimately led to a bloody, costly, and chaotic era of corruption in Argentina as well as a question of morality in the United States. However, this would not be the last time that the U.S. would make a notable impact on Argentina's affairs.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher address the media outside of the White House in Washington. Reagan supported Thatcher and the British in their efforts to defend the Falkland Islands against Argentina.

When the Argentine military dictatorship began to feel threatened by increasing national disapproval in 1982, it devised a plan to regain the population's support through the method of war. The Argentine military decided to invade the Falkland Islands, a British colony, in hopes that the British would not be willing to go to war for the islands and that the United States would continue its support of Argentina. However, the dictatorship was wrong on both of these accounts. The British responded with immediate resistance and the U.S. sided with the British and Reagan's good friend, Margaret Thatcher. In only 73 days the Argentine military was defeated, which led to the resignation of President Galtieri. A new president, Reynaldo Bignone, would assume power of the junta, which would only last about one more year. Soon after the civilian government took over in December 1983, many of the high officials of the junta were charged with mismanagement during war and, eventually, human rights violations.

Although the final whereabouts of "the disappeared" are still a mystery and many of the human rights abusers of the dirty war are still free, Argentina is making an effort to seek justice though the assistance of foreign powers. However, the United States is not the primary party of this intervention. Rather, Argentina is calling for international resolutions from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Organization of American States Permanent Council has also taken on a role to address these human rights violations. With the encouragement of states to use scientific methods in order to identify the remains of victims as well as promotions to implement truth and reconciliation commissions, Argentina's government has made it quite clear that the right to truth is a priority. Though international intervention is currently necessary, Argentina and the supporting organizations and countries, including the U.S., hope to have established strong human rights laws in the near future so that violations will no longer be tolerated in Argentina.

Works Cited:
Azul, Rafael, and Bill Vann. "US Documents Implicate Kissinger in Argentine Atrocities." World Socialist Web Site. 6 Sept. 2002. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

Charles, Nick. "Falklands War - Events of 1982 - Year in Review -" Latest News, Latest News Headlines, News Articles, News Video, News Photos - 1982. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

Golinger, Eva. "November 2009." Postcards from the Revolution. 2 Nov. 2009. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

Luban, Daniel. "Anti-execution and Anti-stoning Protest outside Iran Embassy London." UK Indymedia. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

Osorio, Carlos, and Kathleen Costar. "The Dirty War in Argentina." The George Washington University. 4 Dec. 2003. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

Spagnoli, Filip. "Human Rights and International Law (2): Why Do Human Rights Need International Law? P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc." P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc. Human Rights from the Perspective of Politics, Art and Philosophy (hence P.a.p.), but Also Law, Economics & Statistics. 19 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

"Argentina Human Rights Watch." Home Human Rights Watch. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

"Dirty War." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

"Intervention and Exploitation: US and UK Government International Actions Since 1945." World Map of US and UK Government Interventions Since 1945. Web. 12 Aug. 2010. .

Disappeared, but Not Forgotten Conclusion: Operation Dignity

The Power of The People

“ We’ll see, we’ll see, who calls the tune—the people united or those military sons of bitches” (Human rights movement refrain).

This concluding post recounts the tale of a song—the stirring voice of the Argentine people melding their voices together as they echoe the chorus demanding justice for their lost loved ones. Although the military had purposed to inculcate fear and submissiveness into the hearts of the citizens in order to create a passive and obedient people, those who had been dealt a cruel blow-- either through personal injury or the loss of a beloved, rose up with defiance and the power to spark the growth of a grassroots activity—the birth of a human rights movement. Public protest became their channel of anguish and sorrow and it soon became a collective action. In particular, the mothers of the disappeared began to protest each and every Thursday at the Plaza de Mayo. “When everyone was terrorized we didn’t stay at home crying—we went to the streets to confront them directly. We were mad but it was the only way to stay sane (Brysk, 300).” Such demonstrations transformed individual suffering into socio-political manifestation that harnessed the energy and strength of the Argentine society.

How do symbolic protests such as the mothers of Plaza de Mayo produce real social change? Alison Brysk, author of The Politics of Human Rights in Argentina, puts forth the principle that: “Persuasion in the form of protests changes political behavior and institutions through changing norms and values (8).” The people of Argentina began to change norms. How? They started the conversation. They provoked people to think, to question the state of affairs, and raised a standard of justice. “The human rights movement was formed by people who were politically marginal but socially legitimate—initially they were somewhat sheltered by their perceived powerlessness. But their ultimate power came from the politicization of their social legitimacy as mothers, clergy, and jurists (Brysk, 10).”

Trouble was stirred when the international community raised a cry of alarm. There had been a fact-finding mission by Amnesty International in November 1976, and reports by the US State Department and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that accused the Argentine military of human rights violations. Such circulating reports became the fuel that stirred the fire in brewing volcano. The explosion then ensued:
On Thursday 1 June 1977, at 3:30 p.m. the opening match of the World Cup Soccer tournament was kicked at the River Plate Stadium. At exactly the same time, about one hundred mothers gathered together and chanted: “ We want our children, that they tell us where they are! That they tell the truth! It became the scene of a riot. One army officer blurted out: “Daughters of bitches, they come to provoke us here, right under our noses, and they let them. They’re all communists, mothers of subversives, and they dare to come and protest. If they would let me, I would clean the square very fast with the bursts of a machine gun. They wouldn’t return (Robben 308). Soon a massive pedestrian crowd gathered around the imposing obelisk at the intersection of Correntes Avenue. Argentina beat the Netherlands in the finals that day and won the World Cup. It was a day that went down in history and its political significance did not escape the newspapers. One reporter related: “The city center offered yesterday evening a spectacle that probably has never been seen. One had to recognize how much the country has won, through the spirit of its people ( Robben, 310).” This joyous crowd had worked magic upon the people by celebrating society itself and renewing a national pride and identity that had ceased to exist in that land. The jinni had been let out of the bottle. Labor unions and human rights organizations began to co-opt nonpolitical crowds for their political purposes. From the March for Life in October 1982, the People’s March for Democracy and National Reconstruction, to rallies led by Pope John Paul II, the people had taken to the streets. Robben here observes: “What is crucial to understand about the human rights movement is that they worked through their social trauma through a symbolic and spatial expansion into the political arena. Their advance inverted the deep repression of the military, and thus regained a certain control over the domains wrested from them so violently. What was private and secret became public and open (317).”

Justice Served

A Government that respects human rights is almost always the legacy of persistent national political struggles against human rights violations. Most governments that respect human rights have been created not from the top down, but from the bottom up (Jack Donnelly “International Human Rights”).

On Saturday 10 December 1983, an immense crowd accompanied the open sedan driving President Raul Alfonsin after his inauguration at Congress. A reporter wrote: “This was a truly civil celebration. A celebration of freedom, democracy, and hope that was, however, laced with anxiety about the fate of the disappeared.” On that eventful day a piece of paper was slipped under Alfonsin’s windshield wiper, exclaiming:“ Cain, where is your brother?” Five days later Alfonsin installed the National Commission on Disappeared Persons –CONADEP—to discover if there were still disappeared persons alive (Robben, 319). This commission was established as a permanent provincial bicameral commission with investigative powers and active in enforcing the executive for police and penal reform, promoting symbolic and educational projects, and building a nonpartisan consensus on human rights (Brysk 69).” CONADEP worked for nine months, and documented almost 9,000 cases of unresolved disappearances. It identified 340 clandestine detention centers and evaluated patterns of disappearances. CONADEP was particularly dependent on the work of local human rights activists who assisted in identifying and visiting the sites of former secret detention centers, morgues, hospitals, and prisons. The work of the CONADEP commission gave rise to numerous emotional testimonies in books, magazines, newspapers, and radio and television programs. However, its greatest compilation of information was presented to the Argentine people in the documentary “Never Again” (Nunca Mas)—see image below. This documentary begins with the images of the disappeared men, women, and children. It explains and presented the shocking results for the people to see. And then the narrator asks a most profound question: “Why this atrocious enigma?” (Rock 321).

When President Raul Alfonsin took the reins of command, he not only instituted the operation of CONADEP, he sought to administer justice by placing a number of convicted military commanders on trial. Thus the Buenos Aires Court of Criminal Appeals selected the 670 strongest cases from the CONADEP report to “prove that the nine junta members had designed and executed a secret plan to eliminate the guerrilla organizations by unlawful means (Rock 98).” In my opinion this trial was more of a symbolic gesture than a true trial of justice as it only convicted a very small number of those who were guilty. Yet it stirred the people, giving them a taste for recompense, which they doggedly pursued in the years to come.

The Alfonis administration’s goals were the reestablishment of the rule of the law and military self-discipline, stressing that it was not trying the military as an institution, but rather members of the institution who had violated the law (Brysk 75).” Public hearings began in April 1985 and the trial was presided over by six judges and observed by an audience of several hundred people. The court heard a total of 78 days of testimony from 833 witnesses, and excerpts from the day’s testimony were broadcast on the television news every night for nine months (Robben 476). Then on December 9 1985 the verdict was decreed as follows: “The commanders were found guilty of organizing and ordering a secret criminal ground plan of systemic abduction, torture, disappearance, and assassination of Argentine civilians, and allowing subordinates ample freedom to decide about the fate of their victims in clear violation of due process (Brysk 78).” Two commanders were given life sentences; others prison time ranging from 4 to 17 years. The people responded by declaring: “We Argentines have tried to gain peace based in forgetting and failed...We have tried to search for peace through violence and extermination and failed…With this trial and condemnation of the military juntas, the responsibility rests with us to found a peace based, not on forgetting, but in remembering, not in violence, but in justice. El Diario del Juicio (Journal of the trial 74). Davis and Warner echo these very same sentiments in their article, Reaching Beyond the State: “In the face of the legacy of catastrophic political violence, victims frequently look to the courts to reconstruct the rule of law and to provide justice. Accountability provides a direct, moral, and ethical response to victims on behalf of society that demonstrates that the state is validating their innocence and their lack of culpability in their deeds.
(236): Mayerfeld deepens this argument by stating that: “effective judicial dispute resolution systems “encourage social reconciliation by modeling a fair procedure for the just disposition of violence conflicts fueled by bitter political and ideological divisions.” Not only does a court offer justice, it sets a standard. Even if the Alfonis trials did not accomplish the feat of bringing each and every individual to justice, it showed its people and the international community that it now abides by a rule of justice as demonstrated through the conviction of the military commanders. Ruti Teitel states, “when criminal justice denounces these crimes, such prosecutions establish knowledge of past actions committed under color of law and its public construction as wrongdoing is the necessary threshold to prospective normative uses of the criminal law (Warner 237).” Justice was served—not only for the past, but also for the future of the Argentina citizens.

A Memory --Never To Be Forgotten

Can a protest create social change? The answer may now seem obvious. It can become a political force that the government must contend with and the means to mobilize a downtrodden people. Yet there is also something much deeper than just the mere political aspect of the revolts and fervent cries for recompense: there was a voice uplifted for the memory of the disappeared. Roxanne Altholz (Harvard Human Rights Journal) aptly points out that allowing victims an opportunity to create a historical record and to express their suffering is an essential element in seeking justice. One relative of desaparecido explained why she chose to participate in the Mother’s movement, saying: “They had a public presence that I feel is very important. The big change from the movement is in us, to come and to protest for our children for other people’s children (Brysk 14).”

Argentina will never, ever forget those who disappeared. Buenos Aires proclaimed the 24th of March an annual Day of Memory to commemorate the 1976 military coup. A large memory park was created in August 2001—with a prominent “ Monument to the Victims of State Terror" (see photo) and a sinuous fissure traversing the park to symbolize the open wound left in Argentina by the disappeared.

Remember. They will remember. The disappeared will never be forgotten.

This last report was brought to you by Ava Munson, University of Washington.

Works Cited:

Robben , Antonius . Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press , 2005 .
Brysk , Alison . The Politics of Human Rights in Argentina . Stanford : Standford University Press , 1994 .
Rock, David. Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press, 1987.

The White Shall by Anna Banchik

The white shall, tied neatly, tightly, under a stern chin: the sight is a familiar one in the Plaza de Mayo in the heart of Buenos Aires. The popular square, which was the scene of the 1810 revolution, has been political gathering place for protests as early as the mid-forties. Arguably, the most renowned group to establish their presence over the years has been the handkerchief-donning Madres.
During the Dirty War of Argentina lasting from 1976-1983 an estimated 30,000 people were “disappeared”: kidnapped, tortured, raped, brutally murdered then buried in mass graves, thrown in the river, or disposed of through other methods. Although some of these “disappeared” members of society were leftist guerilla fighters or organizers meetings to overthrow the military dictatorships in power, the majority of them were university students, academics, or other liberals who at one time might have vocalized a critique of the government. Some of the “disappeared” were not even dissenters but rather unfortunates who happened to show up in an address book of interest to the government.

The mothers of the “disappeared” would knock on doors to obtain information regarding the whereabouts of their children; they visited the Ministry of the Interior, police departments, churches, barracks and tried to make contact with Military chiefs and members, to no avail. In order to get leverage and put more pressure on officials to respond, they decided to meet in the Plaza de Mayo across the street from the Casa Rosada, or the Pink House. As word of their demonstrations quickly spread, their numbers grew from 14 founding members to hundreds (newspapers were censored from addressing any “disappearances”).

Three or four hundred white handkerchiefs, embroidered with the names of lost and loved ones, could be seen, every Thursday from 3:30 to 4 PM. Some Mothers went abroad to Europe and the United States in order to protest their “disappeared” children and ask for support. Other family members soon attended; wives and husbands, sisters and brothers, fathers, children, and grandsons joined the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and in other cities around the country.

The Abuelas of Plaza de Mayo have, infact, been arguably as successful. Their mission is to search for their grandchildren, who might have been born in captivity and adopted after the disappearance and probable murders of their mothers. In 30 years, they have located 87 of the disappeared children. Today, their work focuses on the rights to an identity, an inclusion in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child known as the “Argentine clauses”, articles 7, 8, and 11. Another success by the organization was the National Committee for the Rights to Identity, or CONADI, created by the National Executive Power of the gov
ernment in 1992. Through petitioning, the Abuelas were able to create this organization which aids young adults in finding their identity through the retrieval of documents and the taking of blood tests.

The Madres Today
The association split into two groups in the mid-eighties, after the fall of the juntas and the democratic election of a new President. One faction focuses on legislation in persecuting past officials and gathering remains of the deceased. Laws to block the prosecution of such officials were originally drafted in 1986 and 1987 by Raúl Alfonsín’s government in an effort to quell a military rebellion incited by officers that were angered at human rights trials, says Human Rights Watch. The efforts of the Madres have helped convict former police officials and higher-ranking officials since the annulment of those amnesty laws which had guaranteed impunity for 20 years.

The other group is more politicized, proclaiming to adopt and continue the leftist ideology of their children and at the same time refusing government aid or compensation until formal government recognition of the systematically forced disappearances. This latter group has become more radicalized, evidenced by the defense of the actions of the Sept. 11 hijackers, whom they call courageous, and the inclusion of Saddam Hussein’s writings in their recently published book. The backing of younger militants inspired by the Cuban Revolution can partially explain this faction’s ardent anti-US stance.

Their final march of resistance addressing the disappearances occurred on January 26, 2006. According to the Mothers’ association, the government is no longer indifferent or antagonistic towards the missing persons from the Dirty War. In June of that year, Argentina held its first trial for forced disappearances since the 2005 annulment of the “full-stop” and “due obedience” laws, which had guaranteed impunity for officers of the military dictatorship. Nevertheless, they continue to march every Thursday in support of other social and human rights causes.

Significance and Legacy

The Mothers’ association has established a number of resources upholding the revolutionary ideals of their lost ones. These include an independent university, library, cultural center, and bookstore which subsidize education, healthcare, and other services for students and the greater public.

In Searching for Life, author Rita Arditti comments on the tremendous impact of the Mothers’ vocalizations. She argues that victims dealt with the stress by “retreating into private worlds and turning inward,” separating from each other, and eventually being consumed by a “terror that influenced every thought, action and feeling,” allowing the government to maintain their strict control through fear (Arditti 82). She and others argue that the Mothers combated the isolation promoted by the government in addition to encouraging other mothers and grandmothers to search for their children and grandchildren. Their bravery in itself is a symbol considering especially that, over the years, supporters of the Mothers and three of the founding members were themselves “disappeared.”

Their legacy continues today through countless cultural mediums. A collection of movies and documentaries have been based on or have featured the Madres and the Abuelas of the Plaza de Mayo, including The Official Story, a canonical film of the dirty war set in 1983. In this film, Alicia is a high school teacher who is oblivious to the dirty war until she begins to explore the identity of her adopted child, Gaby, and finally meets Gaby’s real grandmother, an Abuela of the Plaza de Mayo. Joan Baez featured the Mothers in her 1981 documentary There But for Fortune. In addition, Sting and U2 have both written songs about the Mothers within the past three decades and have invited Mothers on stage during their respective performances. Below are the song lyrics; read on, or play the songs and envision a sea of white shalls…

They Dance Alone, by Sting

Why are there women here dancing on their own?

Why is there this sadness in their eyes?
Why are the soldiers here
Their faces fixed like stone?
I can't see what it is that they despise
They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands
They dance alone They dance alone

It's the only form of protest they're allowed

I've seen their silent faces scream so loud
If they were to speak these words they'd go missing too
Another woman on a torture table what else can they do
They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands
They dance alone They dance alone

One day we'll dance on their graves

One day we'll sing our freedom
One day we'll laugh in our joy
And we'll dance
One day we'll dance on their graves
One day we'll sing our freedom
One day we'll laugh in our joy
And we'll dance

Ellas danzan con los desaparecidos

Ellas danzan con los muertos
Ellas danzan con amores invisibles
Ellas danzan con silenciosa angustia
Danzan con sus pardres
Danzan con sus hijos
Danzan con sus esposos
Ellas danzan solas
Danzan solas

Hey Mr. Pinochet

You've sown a bitter crop
It's foreign money that supports you
One day the money's going to stop
No wages for your torturers
No budget for your guns
Can you think of your own mother
Dancin' with her invisible son
They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
They're anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands
They dance alone
They dance alone

Mothers of the Disappeared, by U2

Midnight, our sons and daughters
Were cut down and taken from us
Hear their heartbeats
We hear their heartbeats
In the wind we hear their laughters
In the rain we see their tears
Hear their heartbeats
We hear their heartbeats
Night hangs like a prisoner
Stretched over black and blue
Hear their heartbeats
We hear their heartbeats

In the trees our sons stand naked

Through the walls our daughters cry
See their tears in the rainfall

Photos (in order):

Works Consulted:

Arditti, Rita. Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina. First. University of California Press, 1999. 82. Print.

"Argentina: 'Disappearance' Trial Breaks Years of Impunity." Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 19 Jun 2006. Web. 9 Aug 2010.

"Argentina: Holding Rights Abusers Accountable." Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch, 14 Aug 2003. Web. 9 Aug 2010.

"Historia de las Madres." Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo, 01 May 2009. Web. 8 Aug 2010.

"History of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo." Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, n.d. Web. 9 Aug 2010.

"Madres de Plaza de Mayo." Tourist Guide to Buenos Aires., 25 Jan 2010. Web. 8 Aug 2010.