Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Arguelles et al. v. Argentina (Inter-American Court of Human Rights)

The Inter-American Court is currently celebrating its 103rd period of sessions at its seat in San Jose, Costa Rica.  Yesterday afternoon it heard the case of Arguelles et al. v. Argentina.  The video of the hearing will be available on the Court's website.  The facts of the case involve the detention of some 50 military officials who were in charge of funds on different Argentine Air Force bases during the period 1978-80, 20 of whom are the purported victims in this case.  They were charged with military fraud and tried under the Argentine Code of Military Justice, a typical military offense for which military courts were created.

This case did not involve human rights crimes but military crimes purportedly committed by the military; crimes for which military courts are created.  The interesting thing about the case is that the members of the military came before the Inter-American Commission (and now the Inter-American Court) alleging that they did not get a fair trial before the military tribunal.  The Argentine Code of Military Justice, for example, did not establish a time limit within which it must decide a case of someone in detention. The purported victims in this case were held in  preventive detention for a period of between 7 and 8 years by the state, without establishing the rationale or justification for such a long period of detention.

The Commission decided that the military norms, prima facie, violated the right to a fair trial and access to justice, facts that were recognized by Argentina and led to the abolition of the Argentine Code of Military Justice on August 6, 2008, as the consequence of a friendly settlement achieved by the  Commission in this case and a companion case.  Despite the achievement of a friendly settlement and the abolition of the Military Code, the victims in Arguelles did not receive reparations and that is the subject matter of the Court's hearing.  The case also raises the interesting question of whether military proceedings, in general, are by their very nature violative of due process guarantees set forth in international human rights law, so that military officials need to request the assistance of international human rights bodies.

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