LONDON – Last week, the former dictator General Jorge Videla was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his role in Argentina’s “dirty war” of the 1970’s, including the torture and execution of unarmed prisoners. These offenses were perpetrated decades ago. What can such a verdict mean so many years after the restoration of democracy in Argentina?
Prosecuting Videla and other perpetrators was made possible by path-breaking case law undertaken by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court has required that amnesties granted to political and military leaders in Argentina and other countries in the region as part of a transition to democracy be set aside. It has held that accountability for the crimes of the dictators is a human right – and thus trumps the impunity gained by many Latin American dictators as a condition of allowing democratic transitions.