Human rights in Argentina: Where is Julio Lopez?

Argentina is preparing for a new human rights trial for crimes committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Just days before the start of the latest trial, Argentine police discovered a body thought to be that of a missing witness.  

Police early this morning found a body of a man, who they believed to be Julio Lopez the key witness who went missing last year following the land mark conviction of a police official who ran clandestine torture centers. Forensic officials confirmed today that the body, found without its hands or feet, was not that of 78-year-old Julio Lopez. Police followed a tip off that a dismembered body had been found in an unmarked grave about 6 miles from the city of La Plata, where Lopez was last seen on September 18, 2006.  

The gruesome discovery could have a chilling effect on witnesses planning to testify in a new trial of an accused torturer. On Thursday, a federal court will open the trial of Catholic priest, Christian Von Wernich, charged with carry out human rights abuses while orking in several of the clandestine detention centers used to disappear 30,000 dissidents during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. 

The next individual slated for trial, Catholic Priest Christian Von Wernich, facing charges for kidnapping 45 people, torture, three murders, and the illegal appropriation of a baby born in captivity. Witnesses scheduled to testify in the trial say they won’t be scared off. There are currently 200 former military officers lined up for human rights trials—not even one officer for each of the 375 clandestine detention centers that operated during the dictatorship.  

Juan Ramon Nazar was kidnapped in 1977 and held in a clandestine detention center for 14 months. While in a two-by-two cell in the detention center’s basement, Father Von Wernich visited Nazar to give him "spiritual aid" Nazar, now 75, has agreed to testify to the torture he received at the hands of Von Wernich. He recently stated, "I’m willing to testify before the courts as many times as necessary. I’m not afraid and I’m not going to ask for police protection."  

Lopez, a retired construction worker and former political prisoner disappeared just hours before he was slated to give his final testimony on the eve of the conviction of the former police investigator, Miguel Etchecolatz. Human rights groups are pointing to provincial police with ties to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship for kidnapping the witness.

Etchecolatz’s sentence for crimes against humanity, genocide, and the murder and torture of political dissidents during the dictatorship represents the first time in the nation’s history that the courts have sentenced a military officer to life for crimes against humanity. 

This is only the second conviction of a former military officer charged with human rights abuses since 2005 when Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down immunity laws for former officers of the military dictatorship as unconstitutional. Etchecolatz was arrested and sentenced to 23 years in 1986, but was later freed when the "full stop" and "due obedience" laws implemented in the early ’90s made successful prosecution of ex-military leaders for human rights abuses virtually impossible. 

Marie Trigona is a writer, filmmaker and radio reporter for Free Speech Radio News based in Buenos Aires. She can be reached at For more information on Argentina’s human rights trials visit