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Letter to Dr. Julio Nazareno that the Supreme Court Should Resist Army Pressure

Dr. Julio Nazareno
Presidente
La Corte Suprema de Justicia
Via Fax: 5411-4374-1071

Dear Dr. Nazareno,

I was surprised and deeply concerned to read in the press about recent comments reportedly made by Justice Dr. Adolfo Vázquez in a meeting held by members of the Supreme Court with the army bishop, Mons. Antonio Juan Baseotto.

I understand that Mons. Baseotto personally requested the meeting with the justices and that the sole topic discussed was the court's forthcoming decision concerning the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws, which several lower court judges have declared null and unconstitutional in decisions that have been unanimously ratified by the Federal Appeals Court and upheld by the Attorney General of the Nation. At the start of the meeting Mons. Baseotto reportedly said that he had come on behalf of his congregation to intercede for national unity and reconciliation.

During the meeting, Justice Vázquez is said to have reassured the army bishop by saying: "don't worry. We will get the verdict out very soon. This court has already said that the laws are constitutional. We are tired of judges who don't respect the precedents and are scared of the press."

I am most surprised that the court you preside did not decline to discuss with the army bishop sensitive matters affecting members or ex-members of the armed forces that are currently under the court's jurisdiction. Moreover, it is absolutely impermissible for a supreme court justice to anticipate a court verdict by making known the court's thinking before the sentence is announced, let alone express negative opinions about colleagues with whom he disagrees on the issue in question.

I deeply regret that the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Justice Vásquez presented by one of the parties to one of the case, on the grounds that his comments did not constitute an expression of opinion on the case.

The case before the Supreme Court is of the utmost importance, indeed it is crucial to the future of Argentine democracy. The court must reaffirm or deny the right to justice, a right enshrined in human right treaties to which Argentina is a party and which has the status of constitutional law in Argentina.

The State is obliged under these treaties to guarantee respect for human rights by preventing violations, investigating them when they occur, bringing to justice and punishing their perpetrators, and providing reparations for the damage they cause. Failure to meet this obligation amounts to a denial of justice, and, therefore, to impunity. In the words of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, impunity "fosters chronic repetition of human rights violations, and the total defenselessness of victims and their relatives." (Case of Paniagua Morales et al., Judgment of March 8, 1998).

Moreover, the obligation to bring to justice those responsible for gross violations of human rights cannot be delegated or renounced. The incompatibility of amnesty laws with this obligation was implicitly recognized by the World Conference on Human Rights held under the auspices of the United Nations in June 1993. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly reaffirmed that such laws are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Argentina ratified in 1986.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in 2001 that "it is unacceptable to use amnesty provisions, statutes of limitation or measures designed to remove criminal liability as a means of preventing the investigation and punishment of those responsible for gross violations of human rights such as torture, summary, extralegal or arbitrary executions and disappearances." Although this ruling applied to Peru (the Barrios Altos case), it is equally applicable to Argentina.

In view of the concerns I have expressed about undue pressures on the court and the apparent prejudgment of the issues by some of its members, I would urge you to ensure that the court base its decision solely on legal principles, and take full account of the decisions of human rights treaty bodies and the jurisprudence of international tribunals on the matters in question.

Thank you for attention to these important matters.

Yours sincerely,  

José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director

Cc: Dr. Eduardo A. Moliné O'Connor, Vicepresidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Carlos S. Fayt, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Augusto C. Belluscio, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Enrique S. Petracchi, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Antonio Boggiano, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Guillermo López, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Juan Carlos Maqueda, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc. Dr. Adolfo R. Vázquez, Ministro de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Cc: Dr. Juan José Alvarez, Ministro de Justicia
Cc: Dr. Nicolás Becerra, Procurador General de la Nación

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