Monday
May 29, 2017
Friday, May 12, 2017

A state policy, right?

Firstly, the bright side of the dark cloud of last week’s Supreme Court ruling extending the “2x1” clause (two days off the final sentence for every day spent in pre-trial detention after the first two years in jail) to crimes against humanity. The narrowest possible margin (3-2) in the tribunal’s vote must have met with the broadest possible rejection in public opinion or the government would never have changed its tune so rapidly over an initiative which it could heavily be suspected of promoting. Suspicions based on the identity of the justices favouring this nefarious ruling (the two justices nominated by President Mauricio Macri plus a third hostage to her proximity to retirement age which she is resisting) and on Macri’s extremely lame human rights record in general — when it started coming toward the end of last week, the government critique of the ruling sounded like protesting too much. Oddly enough, the official who should have been most outraged by this ruling (Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj) was almost the most indifferent with his “respect for judicial independence” — most of the attempts to distance the Macri government from this impunity might sound like opportunism or hypocrisy but they should still be viewed positively as showing that human rights have become something of a state policy transcending party.

The first (and perhaps most sincere) government voice to be raised against this ruling was Justice Minister Germán Garavano but he also placed the rejection on the wrong footing when he said that the “2x1 law is aberrant for all crimes.” In this apparently spontaneous reaction we see the same old logic of putting state terrorism in the same bag as other crimes (in this case not just guerrilla violence but even minor offences). Yet until an inefficient and cumbersome Argentine judicial system is reformed by Garavano (he seems no better than his predecessors), long periods of pre-trial detention are inadmissible and need correction. Legal experts — including the two justices who lost the vote — have given a number of solid arguments to consider the Supreme Court ruling an aberration. If crimes against humanity are beyond the statute of limitations and not subject to amnesty at both national and international law, they should also be beyond the “2x1.” An alleged “more benign” law which was not in force at the time of the crimes (1976-83) nor when the trials began (in 2004 and the following years, three decades after the events thanks to the impunity laws) nor today, when the fate of the disappeared remains a mystery.

Some of the most notorious names of state terrorism are lining up to take advantage of this ruling but impunity should not celebrate too soon — even before this week’s unanimously approved Congress legislation minimising its scope, the Supreme Court ruling provided a precedent allowing rather than obliging judges and prosecutors to reduce sentences and much of the judiciary might well share the rejection now being professed by the executive and legislative branches. But until then the strongest public and political protests are in order.

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