Supreme Court Ruling Orders Two Dictatorship-era Federal Judges be Imprisoned

Guillermo Petra at his Trial. Photo via Página 12.

This week, the Supreme Court overturned a decision made by the Cassation Court and revoked a resolution that exempted two former federal judges from going to prison, and determined they be put behind bars permanently. The Chamber of Cassation is highest criminal court in the country, though still subordinate to the Supreme Court.

Evaristo Carrizo and Guillermo Petra – determined to be primary participants in kidnappings, torture, and murder during Argentina’s last dictatorship – were sentenced along with other judges to life in prison in July by a court in Mendoza. Carrizo was investigated as a primary participant in aggravated murder, 14 counts of abusive deprivation of liberty, two counts of aggravated torments, and an illegal raid. Petra was a primary participant in 17 acts of aggravated murder and five counts of aggravated deprivation of liberty.

As Página 12 reported, the judges were part of a large case that investigated the fate of 207 people who were murdered, disappeared, or survived illegal detention during the last dictatorship. The officials were complicit in the suspension of habeas corpus actions – which are presented to a judge when a person is thought to be being illegally deprived from his or her liberty – and not investigating illegal detentions, disappearances, and other forms of state terrorism. Despite the numerous charges, the judges were only removed from their posts by the Council of Magistrates in 2011.

Infobae reported that the judges were part of a larger trial which convicted 12 people of crimes against humanity, including two other law enforcement officials: Otilio Romano, a former federal prosecutor, and Luis Miret, a former federal judge. The officials were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in July.

The proceedings, which began in 2014, considered sexual violence for the first time as a crime independent of kidnapping and torture. Such a decision follows the precedent of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the case of Jean Paul Akayesu, which many scholars credit as creating the legal language to characterize sexual violence as a weapon of war and genocide.

As Harvard political scientist Kathryn Sikkink noted in “From Pariah State to Global Protagonist: Argentina and the Struggle for International Human Rights”, the truth seeking function of tribunals in Argentina has positively impacted both human rights proceedings worldwide and national cohesion in Argentina. “Just as the Argentine truth commission initiated the cascade of truth commissions, the Argentine trials of the juntas also initiated the modern cascade of transitional justice trials,” Sikkink argued.

Accordingly, Carrizo and Petra’s final conviction continues Argentina’s process of national reconciliation and truth-seeking that emerged after the end of the last dictatorship.