Newly Discovered Military Archives May Throw Light on Past Abuses in Argentina

Source: Open Society Foundations

Argentina’s Defense Minister Agustín Rossi has just announced the discovery on October 31st of some 1,500 files belonging to the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976-83. The documents were found in safes and filing cabinets in the basement of the Condor Building, the HQ of the Argentine Air Force, after information on their whereabouts was provided by Air Force chief Mario Miguel Cellejo.

The documents include minutes of 280 secret meetings held by the Armed Forces during the crucial period from March 24, 1976 to December 10 1983. One of the meetings, in September 1976, involved an exhaustive briefing on Papel Prensa, the main supplier of print to newspapers in Buenos Aires city and elsewhere. Its main shareholder, David Graiver, disappeared in September 1976, allegedly in a plane crash, and his widow was illegally detained, reportedly in order to force her to sell the printing press to Argentina’s three main newspaper publishers.

The prosecutor’s office has an open file concerning Papel Prensa and the newly discovered archives may provide crucial evidence. The documents are believed to include other evidence of human rights violations and crimes, including so-called “black lists” of entertainers and public figures who the military regime considered to be dangerous.

These files are just the latest archives containing evidence of human rights violations discovered to have been hidden by a military dictatorship.

Hiding such files violates international human rights law and standards, as recently summarized in a set of Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information, drafted by 22 civil society organizations, facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative.

In particular, Principle 15 of what are known as the Tshwane Principles, named after the South African province where it was finalized, states that “[p]ublic authorities have a duty to preserve, manage, and maintain information according to international standards” and that “[i]nformation may be exempted from preservation, management, and maintenance only according to law.” Moreover, each public body “should create and make public, and periodically review and update, a detailed and accurate list of the classified records it holds, save for those exceptional documents, if any, whose very existence may legitimately be withheld.”

These principles were endorsed earlier this year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as by the four intergovernmental experts on freedom of expression/ media, and the UN special expert on counterterrorism and human rights.

The Justice Initiative is now working with the National Security Archive at George Washington University, with senior archivist Trudy Peterson, and other archivists to collect good practices concerning the  handling of military archives and, in particular, the declassification and disclosure of information of high public interest, including information that may provide evidence of human rights violations and other crimes.