Sunday, 4 March 2012

Argentina: On aging perpetrators "unfit for trial"

Pagina/12 has a great article today about the issue of aging defendants being declared unfit to stand trial for health reasons or, once sentenced, being granted house arrest rather than sent to jail. It focuses on Argentina but there is a wider issue here across the whole continent, given the advanced age of many of the human rights abusers coming up for trial. Here's a summary:

Judges and prosecutors are concerned at the ease with which sentenced perpetrators are receiving diagnoses of disability and house arrest, claims the Argentine daily. In some cases, the medical department of the Supreme Court (Cuerpo Médico Forense [CMF]) appears to be giving very lenient verdicts, or there are even cases in which the same medical professionals act as expert witnesses during the trial and then as medical advisers.

Some judges believes that this has the effect of safeguarding perpetrators and allowing them to serve their sentences at home.

A Rosario prosecutor, Ana Oberlín, explicitly links the process of medical assessments with impunity and calls for the process to be more demanding. There are criticisms of the structure of the CMF and even accusations that its structure favours the perpetrators. It is pointed out that this is the body charged with examining the unidentified ("NN") bodies during the dictatorship.

If an accused wants to claim ill health, he provides a report from his doctor, and then the CMF acts to support or refute this claim, and this support seems to be occurring in a striking number of cases. A further structural problem is that the judge only notifies the prosecutors when the decision has already been made. A possible solution to this would be the establishment of a medical board.

In the case of former Buenos Aires governor Ibérico Manuel Saint Jean, the court's medical reports had stated that he was not fit to stand trial. But the CFM's report was discredited when judges heard him responding ably to questions.

If the court had followed the recommendations of the CFM in 2010, they could never have judged Omar Alonso, who confessed to appropriating María Natalia Suárez Nelson, registering her under his name, and remembered the name of the person who gave her to him.

Former colonel Manuel Fernando Saint Amant
was initially declared unfit to stand trial. This decision was then reversed, then upheld again on grounds that he suffered from depression as a result of the death of his wife and mother-in-law. This was upheld by one psychologist, but disputed by another who held that he was intentionally and crudely overacting during the medical assessment. One of those who held the view that he was insane had also been involved in the cases of Luis Patti, Emilio Massera, and others.
Represores con médico propio (Pagina/12)

I'd say this is definitely an issue in which perpetrators attempt to play the system to either escape trial or get softer conditions after sentencing, and it seems likely that there are people around who are prepared to help them do this, either for ideological or financial reasons. Of course, it's one of the hazards of waiting until people are aged 80+ to start prosecuting them. But given the seriousness of their crimes, there needs to be an efficient and transparent system put in place to judge their fitness to stand trial - and that's not got much to do with choosing your own doctor, using someone who's been in their job since the dictatorship, and the like.

No comments: