An Argentine court on Wednesday sentenced 12 former military and police officers to life in prison for crimes against humanity. The defendants were charged and convicted [La Nacion report, in Spanish] of various crimes that took place in the Escuela de Mecanica de la Armada (ESMA), which was used by the former military dictatorship as a torture chamber. Argentina's military junta used the location throughout the dictatorship's 1976-1983 "Dirty War" [GlobalSecurity backgrounder; JURIST news archive], during which more than 13,000 people were killed. Alfredo Astiz, nicknamed "the Angel of Death" was one of the officers that received a life sentence [AP report]. Astiz is a former navy spy for the dictatorship who was convicted of the murder of two French nuns, a journalist and three founders of a human rights group. Four additional defendants were also convicted, with their sentences ranging from 18 to 25 years in prison.
The ability of the court to sentence former officials is the result of a 2005 Argentina Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] ruling that denied amnesty to military figures [JURIST report] who committed crimes during the military dictatorship. Argentina is not alone in its decision to allow these types of prosecutions. On Thursday, Uruguay's legislature voted to repeal the 1986 amnesty law [JURIST report] which prevented investigations, adjudications and human rights prosecutions of military junta officials during their regime between 1973-1985. Proponents of the law's revocation argue that the amnesty law violates the international human rights principles and treaties signed and ratified by Uruguay. In addition, they claim it is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the American Convention of Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. Rights groups have also urged Brazil and El Salvador [JURIST reports] to revoke their amnesty laws.