ESMA: failure by justice system to make progress in proceedings for crimes against humanity

The court devotes little time to the hearings. In the final stage of the trial, unjustified motions for judges’ recusal are causing new delays. The past two years of the trial have been spent on the pleadings alone.

The ESMA Unified lawsuit being heard by Federal City Court No. 5 is the largest in the history of Argentine justice. It illustrates in good measure the failings of the justice system to proceed with trials for crimes against humanity. Today, 55 accused are still on trial; since the beginning of the process, 13 people have been omitted  due to health reasons or death.

The court devotes little time to the hearings. Between May 15, 2012, when the first preliminary hearing was held, and September 16, 2016, there were 328. In 2016 there were 71 hearings. Pleadings began in July 2015; those by the defense got underway in April of last year, and by the end of 2016, only 27 of the defendants had done so. The average time the court has devoted to the 28 hearings of pleadings was 1 hour, 41 minutes. The prosecutor in the trial, Abel Córdoba, urged swiftness: “A trial of this historic importance should not have an additional procedure nor should hearings be held only when there are no other tasks to attend to.” The plaintiffs, including CELS, submitted a request to the court to resolve these issues. There was no response. In November and December 2016, there were only eight hearings.

In the final stage of the trial, unjustifiable motions to recuse judges are causing new delays. The defense for nearly half of the accused filed a motion to recuse against Judge Obligado. In another, defendant Ricardo Cavallo challenged Judges Obligado, Pallioti and Bruglia of supposed “manifest partiality,” because 14 hearings were begun without his presence, a delay that was attributable to the Federal Penitentiary Service’s transfers and not to the court. Furthermore, the accused has access to the filmed court records. As plaintiffs, we request that these recusals be rejected. Today, Federal Oral Court No. 1 rejected Cavallo’s assertions, ruling that neither his guarantee to an impartial court nor his right to trial defense are affected.

The debate in these proceedings has gone on for more than four years, two of which were spent on just the pleadings. Swiftness and a prompt conclusion are therefore necessary. The victims and their families have been seeking justice for four decades, including Mónica Mignone, daughter of Emilio, one of CELS’ founders.