Monday, July 28, 2008

Putting Human Rights Violators in Jail, from the Caribbean to Argentina

Last week, Argentina sentenced Lucio Benjamin Menendez, 81, to life in prison for his role during Argentina's "Dirty War," along with six others. Menendez's conviction was particularly important as he was head of the military in the Argentine province of Cordoba; as the story points out, the torture center in the region, which Menendez oversaw, had only 17 survivors of its more than 2200 political prisoners. And that's worth stopping to think about and repeat: only 17 of the more than 2200 people who passed through there survived.

In spite of these numbers, Menendez's conviction (as in the cases of other, previous convictions of military leaders involved in human rights abuses) focused on four specific incidents, finding Menendez guilty in his role of "overs[eeing] the kidnapping, torture and murder of four activists who protested against the military government that lasted from 1976 to 1983." Prosecutors in Argentina (as well as Chile and elsewhere) have used this approach to great effect, not overextending their cases and relying on the few that will virtually guarantee convictions and make sure those men who participated and are still alive will spend the rest of their lives in jail for their deeds; such is the case with Menendez. The fact that Menendez (and the other 6 officers and one civilian, about whom I can find nothing) was found guilty is nothing less than great.

And in the northern half of the hemisphere, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, a former Haitian paramilitary, is also going to find himself in jail. While Constant was under investigation for mortgage fraud in the U.S., his role as the head of the FRAPH paramilitary group (which was in part bankrolled by the CIA) came to light. Constant and FRAPH involved in the Raboteau massacre against Aristide supporters in 1994, when dozens (estimates are between 26 and more than 50) people were massacred as the military took over the Haitian government. While U.S. authorities had agreed to a plea deal with Constant for time served (10 months) in the mortgage fraud and larceny case, upon learning of his role in the Raboteau massacre, the judge ordered Constant to stand trial for the mortgage case.

This week, Constant was found guilty in New York, and is facing up to 15 years in jail. This reporter hit it on the head: "[Constant's] a thief as well as someone who commits human rights violations." One can still hope that he stands trial in Haiti for the actual human rights abuses, but regardless of how he ends up in jail, it's great news that Constant is going to jail, one way or another.