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(Washington, DC) — The trial tomorrow of a former police commissioner on charges of illegal arrest and torture during Argentina's “dirty war” marks the end of 20 years of impunity under amnesty laws annulled one year ago, Human Rights Watch said today.

The trial in La Plata of Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, the 76-year-old former chief of investigations of the Buenos Aires province police, is the first trial for forced disappearances to be held in Argentina since the Supreme Court annulled the “full-stop” and “due obedience” laws in June 2005. These laws, which blocked the prosecutions of crimes committed under the country’s last military dictatorship, were enacted by President Raúl Alfonsín in 1986 and 1987 to quell military rebellions against human rights trials.

Etchecolatz faces charges of illegal arrest, torture and homicide in eight cases-including five cases of “disappearances”-following the 1976 military coup.

“We are finally seeing the results of last year’s historic Supreme Court decision,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch. “After years of impunity, the prosecution of those responsible for these crimes is at last moving forward.”

Etchecolatz was convicted in 1986 on numerous counts of illegal arrest and sentenced to 23 years in prison, but he was released the following year when his sentence was vacated under the due obedience law. This law established that only commanding officers could be prosecuted for human rights crimes committed during the “dirty war,” with the exception of the theft of babies born to mothers in detention.

In March 2004, Etchecolatz received a seven-year prison sentence for stealing the baby of a couple who had “disappeared” in one of the detention camps under his command.

Between 9,000 and 30,000 people “disappeared” after being abducted by security forces during the “dirty war.” Other trials for torture and “disappearances” that were blocked for years by the due obedience law are expected to begin soon.

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