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Argentina 'Dirty War' moms claim victory
( 2003-08-22 09:39) (Agencies)

Mothers who lost their children in Argentina's Dirty War claimed victory Thursday after Congress repealed two amnesty laws that shielded hundreds of military officers from prosecution for human rights abuses.

Members of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, walk around the Buenos Aires's Plaza de Mayo's Pyramid with grafitti which reads 'Thanks, Mothers,' during their weekly protest to demand justice for their loved ones, Aug 21, 2003. Mothers who lost their children in Argentina's Dirty War claimed victory Thursday after Congress repealed two amnesty laws that shielded hundreds of military officers from prosecution for human rights abuses.  [AP]
The gray-haired women, some holding yellowing photographs of their missing sons and daughters, chanted and clapped after the Senate voted to scrap the laws in an early morning vote, calling it a crucial step in their quest for justice.

Shouts of "The impunity is going to end! Justice will prevail!" went up from the women wearing white scarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a prominent human rights group that emerged during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship.

"This is great victory and an important step forward," said Nora de Cortinas, whose daughter was among the thousands of leftists who disappeared during military rule. "But our happiness is measured today, because we know there is still a lot of work to do."

Argentina's Supreme Court must now decide on the constitutionality of the laws. The nine-member court has not signaled if it will take up the issue, but legal experts say Congress' move and other cases now working through the judicial system are likely to add pressure for the court to act soon. Lower courts have ruled them unlawful.

The "Full Stop" and "Due Obedience" laws were enacted after democracy was restored and in the wake of a series of military uprisings. The government sought to temper anger among military leaders over public trials of high-ranking officials.

Members of human rights groups Mother of Plaza de Mayo, walk during their weekly protest putside Government Palace in Buenos Aires's Plaza de Mayo, to demand justice for their loved ones, Aug 21, 2003. [AP]
Many human rights activists who have spent years fighting to find out what happened to their children said they felt encouraged by the vote.

"Justice is finally coming to life in this country after a long struggle," said Berta Schuboroff, a member of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo group that helps in the search for the missing.

"We are finally beginning to feel at peace and that something is happening in our country."

Human rights groups say as many as 1,300 current and former military officers could face trial if the laws are annulled by the high court.

Official estimates say about 9,000 people died or went missing during the junta years, but human rights groups claim the number could be as high as 30,000. During that time, leftists and dissident opponents were hunted down, kidnapped off the streets, tortured and executed.

President Nestor Kirchner, who was briefly held by the military as a student, had pushed for the laws to be repealed a decision that led to tensions with Vice President Daniel Scioli, who opposed the move.

The differences heightened tensions between the two, culminating in Kirchner's decision to force several of Scioli's closest aides to resign this week.

The vote came as several European countries have sought to extradite former officials to face trial.

This month, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon asked Spain's government to seek the extradition of 26 Argentines. On Thursday he added another 14 to the list, including two former leaders of the military junta, Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera.

Garzon is seeking their extradition under a Spanish law that says crimes like genocide can be tried in Spain even if they were not committed there.

Judges in France, Sweden and Italy are also seeking the extradition of several former military officers.

Following Argentina's dictatorship, many ranking military officers were tried on charges of abduction, torture and execution of suspected opponents of the regime. They were imprisoned in 1985 and later pardoned in 1990 by then-President Carlos Menem.

Many of the junta's top leaders and other officers are now under house arrest on charges of kidnapping children belonging to mothers who "disappeared" during the military's rule.

Those charges were a way to skirt the amnesty laws. Gen. Jorge Videla and Adm. Emilio Massera are among those under house arrest and facing accusations they allowed the adoption of more than 200 children born to mothers who vanished during the Dirty War.

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