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Argentina Moves to Limit Rights Trials

May 14, 1987

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Raising the specter of civil war, President Raul Alfonsin proposed legislation that would end the prosecution of hundreds of military officers accused of torture, murder and illegal detentions.

Human rights organizations and relatives of those killed during the armed forces’ ″dirty war″ against suspected subversives in the late 1970s denounced Alfonsin’s proposal, made Wednesday.

Alfonsin, whose 1983 inauguration ended nearly eight years of rightist military rule, sent the measure to Congress and outlined it in a nationwide broadcast address.

The House of Deputies immediately took up consideration of the bill. But after two hours’ debate and raucous protests by human rights activists outside Congress, the measure was tabled pending study by a committee.

In his speech, Alfonsin said three military rebellions last month by about 400 officers and soldiers demanding amnesty for atrocities showed that this country of 30 million people ″was on the edge of a civil war.″

The rebellions ended without bloodshed, one of them after the personal intervention of Alfonsin.

The president said he was not pleased by the prospect of rights abusers enjoying immunity from prosecution.

But ″in almost all the cases, the (abusive) acts were perpetrated by lower-ranking officials″ not responsible for their actions, he said.

The law would absolve lower- and middle-ranking officers on grounds of ″due obedience″ - that they were carring out orders. At the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, Germany following World War II, defenses based on the principle of obedience were rejected.

An estimated 250 to 400 security force members are charged with rights abuses during the dictatorship. The prosecutions of some of them, mainly retired generals, admirals and coronels, could continue under the proposed legislation.

Also, prosecutions of those accused of rape, extortion, stealing property or abducting a child would continue.

About 150 children, either abducted with their parents or born during their mother’s captivity, remain missing.

The weekly magazine Somos on Wednesday published a poll in which 64 percent of the 800 people consulted said the government ″ought not to concede anything″ to officers seeking an end to prosecution of rights abuse cases.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group made up of relatives who lost loved ones during the ″dirty war,″ said in a statement, ″Those who asked for this amnesty are those who have raped, tortured and killed.

″We do not want vengeance, but we shall continue seeking justice,″ they said.

The Center for Legal and Social Studies, one of the main rights organizations, said the bill ″offends the ethical consciousness of the nation and benefits with impunity those who tortured and murdered defenseless individuals.″

Luis Zamora, a human rights lawer and leader of the leftist Movement to Socialism, said the proposed bill should be called the ″Rico-Alfonsin Law.″ He referred to ex-Lt. Col. Aldo Rico, who led the revolt at Campo de Mayo in suburban Buenos Aires and who surrendered in person to Alfonsin.

Alfonsin denied he made a deal with the rebels, but critics noted Rico’s demands included an end to prosecutions.

According to a commission appointed by Alfonsin, nearly 9,000 people ″disappeared″ during the campaign against suspected subversives. The commission said most of the victims were not members of leftist guerrilla organizations operating at the time.

It said most of the ″desaparecidos″ were abducted by security forces, tortured for information and summarily executed.

Human rights groups say up to 30,000 people disappeared.

Five of the nine junta members who ruled Argentina from 1976-83 have been convicted of crimes in connection with the rights abuses, and are serving sentences of from 4 1/2 years to life in prison.

Alfonsin replaced nearly his entire army hierarchy after of the Easter Week rebellions. His army chief of staff and 14 other generals resigned or were dismissed.

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