The judiciary during the Repression
(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
B. Detainees at the disposition of the National Executive
We think it is of interest to look at those people put at the disposition of the National Executive under the state of siege. Although not all these people are still missing today, their experiences form part of the general repressive methods which indiscriminately punished broad sectors of the population on the basis of an assumed opposition to the government.
It is inappropriate to talk of the authority of an illegal government in relation to the state of siege since this was intended to be used in the last resort to protect the legal state, and not, as in fact happened, to legalize political persecution by a dictatorship which destroyed our republican institutions.
We believe that this should have been recognized by the country's judicial authorities, and should have made them exercise tighter control over whether the detention orders were reasonable or not, as well as putting a limit on their duration. This would have put a brake on government decisions which denied prisoners their constitutional right to leave the country.
In short, while the need to suspend the exercise of individual guarantees in certain exceptional circumstances is recognized both in legislation and by law, it is also accepted that certain fundamental rights, such as instituting the due process of passing a legal sentence and the prisoner's right of option to leave the country, must be observed.
What actually took place was deplorable in the extreme. The exercise of these powers under the state of'slege in the period 1976-83 meant a considerable increase in the number of detentions, and the length of detention was such that it was equivalent to receiving a severe sentence without charge or trial.
From 24 March 1976, 5,182 prisoners were put at the disposition of the National Executive, bringing to 8,625 the number of people detained for long periods during the last state of siege. Three thousand, four hundred and eighty-five people were detained in nine months of 1976, and another 1,264 in 1977.
The following figures show the number of years prisoners were detained:
- 4,029 people detained less than 1 year
- 2,296 people detained 1-3 years
- 1,172 people detained 3-5 years
- 668 people detained 5-7 years
- 431 people detained 7-9 years
What makes the situation even more serious is that many prisoners passed into the category of the disappeared once the National Executive had ordered their release. This Commission found 157 such cases. It also found twenty cases where prisoners held at the disposition of the National Executive and at the same time being formally tried by the courts disappeared after the judges had ordered their release.
This suggests that the families were not informed beforehand of the prisoner's release, or that the prisoner was generally released in the early hours of the morning, or that the release never coincided with the presence of the family at the relevant prison. This reinforces the assumption that in many of these cases the prisoner's release was just a pretext for his abduction. There was also the case of a release order in which the parents waited in turns for sixty hours at the police station where their daughter was being held, only to be told at the end of that time that she had just left by another door. She has not been heard of since.
The following are examples of this kind of testimony.