The judiciary during the Repression
(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
D. Searches of human rights organizations
Sooner or later the quest of the families of the disappeared for advice and support took them to the human rights organizations, where they were given as much help as possible. The result was that a federal judge ordered that the respective headquarters be searched, and documentation prepared for the forthcorning visit of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission be seized.
The reason for this was that the human rights organizations had produced a typical habeas corpus writ with the essential information in the printed text and blank spaces left for the appropriate details of the individual case.
Dorita Marzin de Galizzi, a maid whose daughter had disappeared in 1976, presented one of these writs of habeas corpus to Criminal Court No: 2, Secretariat No. 5, in Buenos Aires city. When she attended the session to ratify the application, she was asked why she had stated, according to the document, that her daughter's kidnappers 'had "prima facie" some kind of public authority in view of the operation they carried out'. The court's questions hinged on whether or not the applicant had seen members of the security forces taking part in the raid. The woman knew only what the people in the raided building where her daughter lived had told her, that the operation had been carried out by persons who arrived in several cars and openly carried weapons. She added that an employee of the Commission for Relatives of the Disappeared and Prisoners for Political Reasons had told her to fill in the blank space with the sentence in question. This explanation did not satisfy the court. On the contrary, it gave rise to an investigation for perjury with quite unforeseen consequences for the human rights organization.
We should point out that the people who conceived the typical printed habeas corpus included in the main partof the text the formula used in the first application of the celebrated case 'Pérez de Smith and others', to be presented to the Supreme Court without making any comments or indicating anything untoward in the construction of the sentence in question. On the contrary, the court passed a highly relevant pronouncement on the case.
The headquarters of the Argentine League for the Rights of Man, the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights were all searched, and a huge amount of material - files, habeas corpus forms, lists of the disappeared, etc. - was seized. A voluntary helper of the Commission for the Families of the Disappeared was also detained for several hours for interrogation but later released because of 'lack of evidence to prosecute her'. In all, two cubic metres of documentation was seized.
The above-named woman, Dorita de Galizzi, also stated that she had been told to talk to 'a Dr Carreño who deals with the disappeared', so the clerk of the court sent two large lorries belonging to the Federal Police Infantry Corps to the address indicated by her - 760 Avenida de Mayo. There they were told that the person they were looking for was Dr Edmundo Vargas Carreño, Executive Secretary of the OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and that its headquarters had diplomatic immunity. It was decided, therefore, not to go ahead with the search.
We should also mention that, instead of giving a legal judgment on the copious material confiscated, the court handed it over to the headquarters of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police for them to assess 'whether or not the material is subversive'.
It is interesting to look at what the report of the OAS InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights has to say about this ('The Position of Human Rights in Argentina', page 289):
a) It is curious that all the documentation was sent to the headquarters of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, when it should have been put at the disposition of the judge.
b) If the accusation referred to one organization, it is difficult to understand why the search order was extended to premises occupied by others.
c) The raid was not only to seize the printed habeas corpus forms, but also involved taking away all other objects and documents found in those organizations.
It is disturbing to note that on 28 July 1979, thirteen days before the raid on the organizations, police officers had seized 4,000 copies of a pamphlet entitled 'Where are the 5,581 disappeared?' from the printers Alemann and Co. This pamphlet was being printed for the Permanent Assembly on Human Rights, prepared jointly with the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights, the Argentine League for the Rights of Man and the Commission of the Families of the Disappeared.
We cannot omit reference here to the dreadful treatment and persistent persecution of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. They suffered all kinds of threats, aggression and even abduction of some of their members, for the sole crime of asking to see their children come back alive. In the blackest moments of the dictatorship, they became the civic conscience of the nation.
The following is an example of this terrible climate when obtaining effective protection for human rights was so difficult.