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Part I
The Repression

Nunca Más (Never Again) - Report of Conadep  - 1984


G. The Implications of 'Impunity'

Every society without exception has always been concerned with the possibility that some crimes go unpunished. Concern turns into alarm when impunity becomes a planned component in the execution of the crime, incorporated like an armour plate around events, and part of the modus operandi of systematic criminal behaviour. Then this is a case of state terrorism. Hobbes in Leviathan argued that there is no greater crime than that perpetrated in the knowledge of its impunity. The institutional subversion inherent in such a situation seriously undermines the ethical basis intrinsic to government acts, and for a period which is difficult to measure. Such is the case with the government of the so-called 'Process of National Reorganization'.

The fact that they take advantage of the victim's state of defencelessness says everything about the nature of the oppressors. This phenomenon takes on additional dimensions when those in power from the very beginning of their administration award themselves special authority to plan a complete system of illicit acts. The views of the constitutional President of Argentina are clear in this regard, in his justification of Decree 158/83 for the prosecution of those responsible for ordering and executing illicit acts: 'The Military junta which usurped power conceived and instrumentalized a plan of operations ... based on manifestly illegal methods.'

If we take note of this presidential statement, the criminal events which took place cannot be considered 'excesses' or chance occurrences, undesired by their authors. On the contrary, in line with the above definition, they were from the beginning created as part of a network of crime with no historical precedent; this network was based on the assumption that the responsibility for planning and performing these illegal acts lay with the consciences of those who carried them out, and whose actions were checked by no judicial or legal constraint or consideration.

Tragically, this presidential statement was fully corroborated in the investigation carried out by this Commission. The context of impunity within which those responsible acted reveals itself more clearly in the case of arbitrary detainment, disappearance and/or murder of individual Argentinians who were well known both nationally and internationally. We are referring to men and women who held distinguished positions in public life, were known for the importance of their roles in scientific, diplomatic, religious, political, business, trade union and literary circles; their fate symbolized the conviction of those responsible for State terrorism that they would never be called to account for their acts.

Representatives of this particular group in society have always had access to sources of power and decision, to which they once again appealed, but in this case found no remedy for the clandestine kidnapping and ungrounded accusations of which they were victims. Their relatives immediately resorted to any sources of power - particularly within the Armed Forces - to which they had access. in spite of this, they were unable to reverse injustices which at times turned into tragedies. In addition to those who were special cases because of their outstanding position in the community, there were others who, although not members of these groups, became well known to the public.

The traumatic experiences which they suffered were extensively publicized since eminent individuals or institutions -diplomatic, political, etc.- became actively concerned for their protection, and attempted to save them from uncertainty, darkness and horror. They too failed.

The aim was to seek to instil in the population as a whole a sense of utter defencelessness in the face of a multi-faceted power, through carrying out selective attacks which went unpunished and were impossible to redress, and through demonstrating that traditional methods of personal protection, whether social or legal, were entirely inefficacious. A general conviction that nothing can change the course of events can be a great advantage in the execution of a terrorist, repressive, policy.
We shall make a brief reference to cases of disappearance, torture and death of people whose detention, for very different reasons, mobilized the intervention of highly respected institutions, which were in fact unable to modify the absolute impunity within which illegal repression operated. Without doubt, however, the greatest evidence for this impunity is the thousands of ordinary human beings who disappeared and whose cases have not been clarified.




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