Truth Commission: Argentina

Truth Commission: National Commission on the Disappeared
Duration: 1983 - 1984
Charter: Decree No. 187/83
Commissioners: 13
Report: Public report

 

Truth Commission: National Commission on the Disappeared (Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, CONADEP)

Dates of Operation: December 16, 1983 - September 20, 1984 (9 months)

Background: After a military coup in March 1976, a series of military juntas exercised power in Argentina, while an opposing leftist guerrilla movement grew. A seven-year armed struggle between the military dictatorship and opposition "subversives" resulted in the systematic yet secret, disappearance, torture, and death of thousands of individuals suspected by the government of supporting the left-wing agenda.

The regime of Reynaldo Benito Bignone was forced to allow general elections in 1983 because of the combined effect of increasing domestic and international pressure to clarify the fate of the disappeared, an economic crisis, and the military defeat in the war against Great Britain over the Malvinas/Falklands islands. Raúl Alfonsín was elected as president. During his first week in office, he created the CONADEP on December 16, 1983 and repealed the military amnesty that had protected its members from investigation.

Charter:
Decree No. 187/83, (PDF-470KB) December 15, 1983 (Decreto 187, 15 diciembre 1983), reprinted in Anales de Legislacion Argentina (1984), Tomo XLIV-A, LA LEY, pp. 137-138.

Mandate: CONADEP’s mandate was to investigate the disappearances of people between 1976 and 1983 and uncover the facts involved in those cases, including the locations of the bodies.

Commissioners and Structure: The commission was composed of thirteen commissioners: twelve men and one woman. Of them, ten were non-legislative members appointed by President Alfonsín and three were elected by Argentina’s legislative Chamber of Deputies of Congress. (The other house of Argentina’s legislature, the Chamber of Senate of Congress, was asked to designate three additional members but failed to do so.)

Report: The CONADEP commission's full report, issued on September 20, 1984, was commercially published in a shorter form under the title, Nunca Más: Informe de la Comision Nacional sobre la Desaparicion de Personas. Editions of the English language translation of Nunca Más (Never Again) were published in 1986 by Faber and Faber: London and Boston as well as Farar, Strauss & Giroux: New York. The full report is available online in English as well as in Spanish.

Findings: According to the commission's report, approximately 9,000 disappearances were documented between 1976 and 1983, but due to families' fears of coming forward, the commission estimated the real numbers to range between 10,000 and 30,000.

Conclusions:

  • The commission reported 8,960 disappearances during the 1976-1983 military rule.
  • Disappearances, torture, secret detention, and the disposal of bodies in unknown sites were systematic practices.
  • All of the disappeared people were killed, and the lack of information provided about these people was an intentional strategy by the government to prevent cohesiveness among survivors.
  • The repressive practices of the military were planned and ordered by the highest levels of military command, but then de-facto President General Reynaldo ordered the destruction of military documentation that could have proven responsibility within the chain-of-command.

Recommendations:

  • The commission recommended establishing a reparations program for the families of the disappeared and continued prosecutions and follow-up investigations concerning persons who remain missing.
  • Judicial reform and human rights education were also recommended.

Subsequent Developments:

Reforms

  • President Alfonsín officially endorsed the findings of the commission and authorized the airing of a two-hour documentary on the commission’s work. The military, however, rejected the report.
  • In 1992, the National Commission for Right to Identity was created, centralizing the search for missing children who disappeared during Argentina’s “Dirty War”.
  • In 1994, Argentina reformed its constitution to enhance democracy and to raise international treaties ratified by the Congress to the status of constitutional law. The reformed constitution obligates the state to adopt positive measures to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights.

Prosecutions

  • Information collected by the commission was crucial in the trial of the military junta, and five generals were eventually imprisoned. However, legislation in the late 1980s halted prosecutions against other perpetrators.
  • The series of amnesty laws, passed by the military regime in 1983, were later repealed by the civilian government in 2003. The repeal of amnesty laws resulted in a wave of trials against nearly 700 people. As of 2010, slightly more than fifty convictions have resulted.

Reparations

  • In 2004, $3 billion USD was provided for reparations to victims of unlawful detention. To be eligible for compensation, victims had to prove that they had been detained without trial between 1976 and 1979. The military, however, was uncooperative and did not provide much of the needed documentation.

Special Notes: The commission did not hold public hearings, although it did have a prominent public profile, taking over 7,000 statements including 1,500 statements from survivors.
 

Sources:

  • Argentina Comision Nacional sobre la Desaparicion de personas. Nunca Más: Informe de la Comision Nacional sobre la Desaparicion de Personas. Eudeba, 1984.
  • Argentine National Commission on Disappeared. Nunca Mas: The Report of the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared. Faber and Faber: London & Boston, 1986; Farar, Strauss & Giroux: New York, 1986.
  • Cuya, Esteban. "Las Comisiones De La Verdad En América Latina." Ko'Aga Roñe'Eta iii, (1996): July 1, 2008. Available at http://www.derechos.org/koaga/iii/1/cuya.html (accessed July 1, 2008).
  • Ferguson, Sam. “Argentine Dirty War Victims Cautiously Embrace Trials, Hope for More”. Truthout, November 28, 2009. Available at http://www.truthout.org/11280901 (accessed October 26, 2011).
  • Hayner, Priscilla B. Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Lampmann, Jane. "Report on the `disappeared': Argentina Struggles to Come to Terms with a Brutal Past." Christian Science Monitor, 1987. Available at http://www.csmonitor.com/1987/0127/dbnunc.html (accessed July 1, 2008).
  • "The National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP)." The Vanished Gallery. Available at http://www.yendor.com/vanished/conadep.html (accessed July 1, 2008).
  • Peterson, Trudy Huskamp. Final Acts: A Guide to Preserving the Records of Truth Commissions. Washington, D.C.; Baltimore: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Available at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/book/final-acts-guide-to-preserving-the-records-truth-commissions (accessed October 26, 2011).

 

December 16, 1983
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