Thursday, 6 August 2009

Argentina: How Many Disappeared?

“The figure of 30,000 is neither arbitrary nor capricious, although it is regrettable to reduce the dimensions of the Argentina tragedy to an accounting problem,”
[Human Rights Secretary Eduardo Luis Duhalde]
Former Argentine official Graciela Fernandez Meijide, who not-so-coincidently has a new book out, has attempted the rekindle the debate on how many Argentines were disappeared during the last militar dictatorship. She criticised the Kirchner administration for sticking to the '30,000' figure which tends to be propagated by human rights organsations, asking why it is used when CONADEP documented only 9,000 cases.

I'm pretty sure that Fernandez Meijide knows exactly what the reasoning behind the 30,000 is, but not everyone else does. Let's take the words of the TRC itself:
The Commission on Disappeared People has compiled two lists of victims of the repression. The first of these is of those persons who disappeared; the second, of those who although they are still missing, have been seen in secret detention centres.
In the first category there are 8,960 people, but clearly the list is not exhaustive. It was compiled on the basis of depositions received by this Commission (the number for each respective file is also given alongside the name) and compared with other lists drawn up by other national and international organizations.

Up until the last minute the list was being cross-referenced by computer. However, there may still be mistakes, for instance, in an individual case - though not in a series of cases - as someone may have failed to inform the relevant organizations that they are no longer missing.

We also know that in many cases depositions were not filed at all, either because the victims had no relatives or because the relatives were frightened or lived a long distance from the centre of town. This was confirmed by the Commission when we went to the interior of the country. Relatives of people who had disappeared said that in the past few years they had not known where to go for help.

The list of people seen in secret detention centres is also a partial one: we could find the complete names and surnames of only 1,300 people.

However, we know that thousands of people passed through these camps, who were only known by their nicknames to prisoners who were freed; or by a superficial physical description; or by their province of origin; profession, political affiliation or some other isolated characteristic. There are 800 cases of this type. Nonetheless, by continuing to work patiently - and with adequate technical support - It will be Possible to increase this provisional list.

Finally, it has to be said that a complete list of people who disappeared and an account of what happened to them may only be provided by those who were responsible for causing the disappearances, so long as a record of their deeds was kept intact, and not tampered with or destroyed, which constitutes a crime under the Penal Code and which has been formally denounced when necessary by the Commission. [emphasis mine, source here]

So, to take the 9,000 figure as final is clearly wrong. 30,000 comes from cross-referencing testimonies and stats from different organisations - it may be somewhat high, but I would guess not by a great margin. And, as many people have pointed out, there is more to remembering crimes against humanity than a numbers game. Activists and politicians are now lining up to criticise Fernandez Meijide.

Argentines Argue Over How Many Were Killed By Junta (LAHT)
Deberian bajar condenas a represores por informacion (Clarin)
Desaparecidos: el Gobierno salio a cruzar a Meijide (Clarin)

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