* Alfredo Astiz, a former captain and navy spy, has been sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-83 Argentinian military dictatorship. He and 10 other former Argentine military and police officers together faced 86 cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder of leftist dissidents. Astiz was accused of participating in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of two French nuns, a journalist, and three founders of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo. Fifteen other former military officials were also convicted of crimes against humanity; 12 were sentenced to life in prison without parole, and four received jail sentences ranging from 18 to 25 years. The court has the ability to sentence former officials as the result of a 2005 Argentina Supreme Court ruling that denied amnesty to military figures who committed crimes during the military dictatorship.
* Last week, Uruguay followed suit by passing a law that eliminates the effects of the country’s 1986 Amnesty Law, which protected police and military personnel from being prosecuted for human rights violations, and repeals a statute of limitations that would have prevented victims from filing criminal complaints as of today. In addition to this revocation of amnesty, dictatorship-era kidnappings, torture, and killings are now classified as crimes against humanity. About 30 leftists were kidnapped and/or killed during Uruguay’s 1973-85 dictatorship. Also last week, Brazil’s Congress unanimously approved a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate more than 40 years of human rights abuses. The commission will have subpoena power, can demand any document it wants from the government, and put witnesses under oath. But it won’t result in prosecutions, since the country’s 1979 amnesty remains intact. It must look at any rights crimes from 1946 to 1988, when Brazil’s current democracy began.