The judiciary during the Repression
(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
D. Searches of human rights organizations
Arrest and Prosecution of members of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) - File N° 7418
On Friday 27 February 1981, the headquarters of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) in Buenos Aires city was searched on the order of the federal judge appointed to Criminal Court No. 2, Dr Martin Anzoátegui, with the help of his clerk of court, Dr Guillermo Arecha.
On the premises at the time were Carmen Aguiar, Treasurer of the CELS, and a member of its staff, Dr José Francisco Westerkamp, a member of its executive committee; and three visitors.
The search lasted several hours. Eventually all the documentation and papers in the building were taken away. The five people mentioned were arrested and taken to the Federal Police Headquarters.
While the search of the CELS headquarters was going on, the home of Dr Emilio Fermin Mignone was also raided. He was arrested when he arrived home and taken to Police Headquarters, with lawyer Marcelo Parrilli who had been with him. A great many of Dr Mignone's personal papers, leaflets and books were also seized.
At the same time, another group of police officers went to the home of Dr Boris Pasik, a lawyer and Secretary of the CELS, and arrested him. Finally, on the Saturday afternoon, they arrested Dr Augusto Conte MacDonell, Vice-President of the Institute, as he was leaving his house.
The nine prisoners were kept totally incommunicado and put into separate cells. On Sunday 1 March, they released the three people who had been visiting the CELS headquarters, but the other six remained in custody until the morning of 3 March, when they were transferred to the basement of the Palace of Justice.
The judge's inquiries began on the fifth day of their being incommunicado, without their having had any adequate rest.
During questioning by the police, the prisoners had explained in detail what the objectives and activities of the CELS were. They emphasized that it was a legally constituted non-profitmaking institution which acted openly to ensure that fundamental
rights were respected, and all legal methods used to combat violation, discrimination and abuse. They pointed out that the CELS was currently developing three work programmes. The first was of a legal nature: it consisted of processing legal cases involving disappearances, prisoners detained without trial or sentenced by military tribunals, and those arrested for political reasons, etc. The second involved setting up a Documentation Centre for these matters, and carrying out research studies and publications. The third dealt with forming links with similar organizations in Argentina and abroad, and giving advice or services to groups or institutions interested in the same problems. To this effect the CELS was affiliated to the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva and the International League for Human Rights in New York.
During the inquiry Judge Anzoátegui only asked questions which related directly to the accusations arising out of the confiscated material, without enabling the accused to ratify the statements they made to the police.
The only part of the confiscated material found to be relevant was a drawing of the perimeter of a military zone, supposedly the Campo de Mayo. It was drawn in biro on transparent paper and could have been a bad copy of any road map available in the shops. There was also a list of the personnel of a military unit in Córdoba in 1976, with a few comments about the officers and non-commissioned officers on it. The list seemed to have been taken from one of the accounts, openly circulating abroad and more discreetly within Argentina, given by people who had been detained in secret centres and then released.
It is interesting to note that the judge indicated that the searches had been ordered on the basis of a denunciation - the origin of which he declined to give - according to which the CELS headquarters housed military maps and documents which would affect the security of the state. He also stated that he had not ordered the raid on Dr Mignone's home.
Following the inquiry, the judge lifted the prisoners' solitary confinement (they were then able to verify that their individual statements corresponded, because they were true) and ordered their release for lack of evidence (Article 6 of the Penal Code) since he 'did not consider it just or reasonable to prolong the period of detention when, in the light of some of the evidence collected, the complexity of the material demands detailed analysis'.
Nevertheless, on 13 and 14 March the newspapers La Razón, La Prensa and Crónica published articles attributed to court spokesmen containing serious accusations against the members of CELS. These articles, printed within inverted commas to indicate their official sources, declared that 'Judge Anzoátegui is studying the links between the accused and certain international subversive movements'; and that the documentation confiscated 'could prove the links between the Centre for Legal and Social Studies and subversive movements which hide their activities behind the facade of defending human rights'.
None of this had the remotest connection with the facts established by the inquiry. On the contrary, these declarations seemed to be aimed at steering the proceedings towards the formulation of more serious charges, however unfounded they might be. This would, however, have meant a serious violation of the judge's responsibilities inasmuch as they constituted an inadmissible a priori judgment and an accusation which impugned the honour of the accused. The result was that Dr Anzoátegui's authority was challenged, and a request made that he be removed from the case. It was recalled that in a previous case in 1979 when this same judge ordered a raid on the offices of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, the Argentine League for the Rights of Man, and the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights, and the confiscation of their archives, the same system of slanderous leaks taking up a large amount of space in the newspapers had been used.
Bowing to the request for his removal, judge Anzoátegui resigned from the case. The proceedings then passed to the Federal Court under Dr Pedro C. Narvaiz, whose removal was also requested since in October 1980 he served a summons on Drs Pasik, Parrilli, Conte MacDonell and Mignone, together with thirty-three other lawyers, for supporting a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of 329 people detained at the disposition of the National Executive.
Judge Narvaiz duly passed the proceedings on to the judge in Federal Court No. 4, Dr Norberto Giletta. He lifted the injunction closing the premises in question and ordered the return of the confiscated material. Dr Giletta ruled definitively in favour of the accused, with the stipulation that the charges brought unsuccessfully against them should in no way affect their good name and reputation.
The above synopsis gives some idea of the considerable risks and difficulties faced by defence lawyers and organizations representing civilian society at a time when the violation of constitutional rights and guarantees was common practice.