Monday 28 May 2012

News Round-up

I've been offline for a few days. Here's the best of what I found in my reader when I got back and what I wish I had more time to write on:

Argentina identifies Dirty War victim from 1976 (BBC)

Appeal Case For Notorious Torturer Postponed and Double Agent Denied Compensation (Transitional Justice in Brazil)
Brazil Amnesty (Two Weeks Notice)

Victims of Forced Disappearance Eligible to Vote in Chile (IPS)

Amnesty Denounces Impunity for Human Rights Crimes (IPS)

Humala: Government Won’t Allow “Status Quo” In VRAE (Peruvian Times)
Peru Forced to Confront Deep Scars of Civil War (New York Times - there's a lot in this article: MOVADEF, Putis, the Lugar de la memoria...)
In Peru, wounds of civil war - Slide Show (New York Times)

Sunday 20 May 2012

Brazil: Medical expert promises revelations for truth commission

O Globo carries an interesting interview with retired medical examiner Harry Shibata, which Portugese speakers can read here. I've had a go at translating it (see also note):
The former director of the Medical Legal Institute (IML) in the 1970s, medical law expert Harry Shibata, says that he has revelations for the Truth Commission, which is investigating the crimes of the dictatorship. Aged 85 and living as a recluse in a two-storey house with a swimming pool in Alto de Pinheiros, Shibata denies the major accusation against him, that of falsifying reports and death certificates to cover up torture and deaths during the military regime.

The medical examiner carried out the autopsy on the journalist Vladimir Herzog, known as Vlado, who died under torture, but whose death was reported as suicide. Shibata is accused of having falsified numerous other reports. He conducted the report on Sonia Maria de Moraes Angel Jones, who, after being tortured, had her breasts pulled and was raped with a truncheon. In Shibata's version, she died in a shootout. Shibata was charged with hiding bodies by the public prosecution service following the discovery of the bones of political prisoners in the clandestine cemetery of Perus in São Paulo. In an exclusive interview with O Globo, he confirmed having carried out the report on Herzog, but denied having seen his body.

"I did not do the autopsy because the second expert does not participate, that is normal. He reads the report and talks to the person who did the examination. If he agrees, he signs. I did not say that it was suicide. The report said that he died of asphyxiation caused by hanging. Whether they hanged him or not, if it was suicide, homicide or an accident - this is not the function of the medical expert. That is for the inquest to say."

In spite of giving assurances that he had not seen Vlado's corpse, the medical examiner said that he had secrets to tell the commission and the widow of Vlado, Clarice Herzog, who lives 300 metres from his house. Asked if he would make a revelation, he answered:

"If I am asked to, yes. I don't want you to publish anything before the Truth Commission knows it. For you, it's a scoop, for them, it's a confusion. I don't know what they are really going to be looking for."

Although he denies having seen signs of torture on the political prisoners, Shibata says that it exists "everywhere in the world":

"I don't believe that there is any police force which does not torture," he says, without dismissing the method as a form of investigation. "Look, you have to think in terms of fighting rapists, murderers, evil, in a way that may be cruel, I don't know.

Shibata says that he never made a false report:

"Absolutely never. Think about it. I have to be true to myself. Spiritually, I have a strict doctrine. Jesus always preached the truth, 'Truly, truly, I say to you'," he said, adding that he was going to "correct the media": "It's all lies".

The most famous medicolegal expert of the military dictatorship says that he never saw a "dragon's chair", used for the administration of electric torture.

"What is the dragon's chair? Do you have any idea? I never saw one," he says in conclusion, after the report mentions the electric shocks. "Oh, it gives shocks? So it's a sort of electric chair? If you're saying that the dragon's chair, the electric chair... Shocks don't leave any trace."

Despite having said that he had "honestly" never found any trace of torture, the expert confirms,

"I know that there was torture, but I'm not getting into it".

Shibata denies that the IML received instructions not to describe the general state of the bodies it autopsied and ignore signs of torture.

"There was no interference. The police always asked if the police request had been received, the request for autopsy. If you have a haematoma, we describe the haematoma. Whether you fell or were beaten - that's not our job."

If it's down to Harry Shibata, the whereabouts of the disappeared from the military dictatorship will remain unknown.

"What often happens is that those who do these things do them very well and we will never know. Disappeared is disappeared. I don't know where they are. It's difficult to speculate on how the disappearance was done, isn't it? If the guy was buried under a false name, that happens a lot," he says, talking about the bones in Perus. "The problem has nothing to do with me or with the IML. Burying people is the job of the cemetery."

The expert says that he did not know the president Dilma [Rousseff] during the military regime because he does not follow politics.

"I think she's doing a good job. I voted for [Jose] Serra. I don't know Dilma, I never heard of her in the '70s. I'm not really political. When Carlos Marighella died, I did the autopsy. I didn't know who he was. He died of gunshot wounds. I only found out later when asked to rush the report, the police asked for it urgently.

Shibata explains that, on the orders of the police chief Celso Teles, he did not carry out the autopsy on the body of Sérgio Paranhos Fleury, one of the greatest symbols of the repression, who supposedly died falling off boat in Ilhabela in 1979. According to Capixaba police chief Claudio Guerra in his book "Memories of a dirty war", Fleury was killed by the military and the accident was staged:

"Teles said, look, there's no need for an autopsy. That was wrong. When the death is violent the medical examiner always has to be called. But they called an ordinary doctor. The law says that if there is no medical examiner, the report needs to be done by two doctors. I think it's a fantasy [the assassination theory], but the suspicion exists because the autopsy was not done properly."

Note on the translation: This has been done to the best of my ability and as far as I'm aware, it is correct. However I'd like to be clear that Portuguese is a relatively new language of mine and I cannot rule out the existence of errors. Comments and corrections welcome, anyone wanting to use this translation themselves takes responsibility for doing so and would be well advised to check it first.

Brazil: Dilma Rousseff to receive apology for torture

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is among a group of people to receive apologies and reparations from the state government of Rio de Janeiro for torture suffered during the military dictatorship.

120 people are to be compensated in June, according to a spokesperson. Brazilian daily O Globo reports that 244 people will be issued reparations by 2013. Of the 1,113 victims of the regime who had filed claims, 895 have had their cases approved by the relevant commission and 650 have already been compensated.

The president is said to be donating the money - BRL 20,000 or around $10,000 - to the organisation Torture Nunca Mais. 
"It is an acknowledgement of those who fought for democracy. The money does not solve anything. What is important is the recognition of the state. We cannot forget the past," said Andrea Sepulveda, head of Defence and Promotion of Human Rights in the Rio government.
O Globo also notes that the president has filed similar claims in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, where she was interrogated, tried, judged and sentenced. Rousseff was imprisoned in 1970, served three years, and was tortured.

Brazil: An Apology for Torture (NY Times)
Brazil: Rousseff to receive apology, compensation for torture during dictatorship (Global Post)
Dilma Rousseff será indenizada pelo governo do Rio (O Globo)

Peru: MRTA/Shining Path

This post is just to flag up two detailed articles in English which I've come across.

The first is from AP and deals with the Japanese embassy hostage raid. It has long been suggested that at least some of the MRTA hostage-takers were summarily executed during the process of freeing the hostages - I, for one, have little doubt that that was the case. As forensic pathologist Clyde Snow pointed out,
in the case of [Eduardo] Cruz, a single bullet entered through the back of his neck, "which I've always said is the hallmark of extra-judicial executioners throughout the world." 
The article gives a good overview of the different points of view in the case and the snail's pace of the investigations.

Peru's famed hostage raid investigated (AP)

Then the BBC looks at the latest developments in the struggle against the Shining Path. The group has experienced a limited resurgence in recent years, linking primarily to drug trafficking in the VRAE. The article quotes two analysts, Ruben Vargas and Carlos Leon Moya.
so far in the VRAE, says Mr Vargas, all good intentions have yet to materialise to persuade farmers to switch from coca, the raw material for making cocaine, to cocoa and other alternative cash crops.
"They [the government] talk about projects as if they were already functioning, whereby in reality there's nothing on the ground."
"They have a plan but they've failed to execute it," concurs Carlos Leon Moya. "They lack the ability to do so." 
 It's certainly not possible to write about the Shining Path completely in the past tense. We're a long way from the threats on the capital city which were possible at certain points in the '80s and '90s, but given the geographical remoteness of the VRAE and the persistence of drug trafficking, rooting out the "remnants" is certainly going to be a difficult, and expensive, job. 

Peru faces rethink in fight against Shining Path rebels (BBC)

Thursday 17 May 2012

Argentina: New human rights secretary

Juan Martín Fresneda has been appointed the new Argentine Secretary of Human Rights, taking over from Eduardo Luis Duhalde,  who recently died.

Fresneda is just 36, a lawyer and a child of the disappeared. His parents were abducted in 1977 during the so-called Night of the Ties (Noche de la corbatas), during which the regime went after a group of lawyers who had themselves been investigating forced disappearances. Fresneda is a founding member of HIJOS, the organisation of children of the disappeared. These factors are bound to make him a popular choice for the post among Argentina's human rights community.

You can read more about La noche de las corbatas (in Spanish) here and here

Juan Martín Fresneda appointed Human Rights Secretary (Telam)
La agrupación H.I.J.O.S. de Córdoba expresó su satisfacción por la designación de Fresneda (Telam)

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Argentina: Madres' former financial director arrested

Nearly a year after a scandal broke concerning financial irregularities at the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the organisation's former financial manager has been arrested. Sergio Schoklender has been charged with embezzlement of funds intended for use in social housing. Sergio was arrested following a court hearing, while his brother Pablo also turned himself in to police later and a third man, Alejandro Gotkin, has also been detained.

The leader of the Mothers, Hebe de Bonafini, said she was "satisfied" with the developments. The BBC rightly points out that the scandal has not been good for the group.

Meanwhile, the Buenos Aires Herald notes that the judge in the case has defended himself against accusations that it has not been making fast enough progress.

Argentina ex-human rights official charged with embezzlement (BBC)
Los Schoklender, presos por el caso de las Madres (Clarin)
Detienen a los Schoklender por desviar $ 280 millones (La Nacion)
Oyarbide justifies time it took to arrest Schoklender brothers (Buenos Aires Herald)

Brazil: Truth commission comes together for first time

Brazil's truth commission members are meeting for the first time today at a ceremony led by president Dilma Roussefff. It is being attended (as I write) by former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, José Sarney and Fernando Collor.

The BBC focuses on the commission's difficult task of balancing the opposing demands of human rights activists and the military.

"Of course there were terrible things that happened in this period but there were victims on both sides and they only want to tell one side of the story," says retired Vice Admiral Ricardo Antonio da Veiga Cabral, chairman of Rio de Janeiro's Navy Club.
The Navy Club has designated seven of its members - "seven trusted officers", according to Vice Admiral Veiga Cabral - to form a "shadow commission" to counter whatever accusations may come their way.
"We wanted a 'Truth, Memory and Justice' Commission. With the resources and powers given to the commission I doubt very much they will be able to come up with anything groundbreaking," says Victoria Grabois, president of Rio de Janeiro-based organisation Tortura Nunca Mais (Torture Never Again). 
 Brazil's truth commission faces delicate task (BBC)

Dilma instala Comissão da Verdade nesta quarta-feira (O Globo)

Friday 11 May 2012

Brazil names truth commission members

After some foot-dragging, Brazil has named the members of its upcoming truth commission (Comissão da Verdade).

They are: Rosa Maria Cardoso da Cunha, who was Dilma Rousseff's lawyer during the dictatorship; José Carlos Dias, a specialist in criminal law and former justice minister; pyschoanalyst and writer Maria Rita Kehl; former attorney general Cláudio Fontelles; José Paulo Cavalcanti Filho, lawyer and writer; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, professor of political science and former secretary of state for human rights; and Gilson Dipp, minister of the supreme court.

The commission will be tasked with examining the serious human rights violations which took place between 1946 and 1988 and will have two years to prepare its report recommending measures and policies to prevent human rights abuses. That is a seriously long period to cover in that timeframe, I would suggest. 

Dilma Rousseff sanciona lei e cria a Comissão da Verdade (Bom dia Brasil)
Rousseff benennt Mitglieder der Wahrheitskommission (Blickpunkt)

One of the new commissioners, José Paulo Cavalcanti Filho, commented,
"I feel a little scared, but very aware that it is an honour to write a piece of history of the country."

'País tem direito de conhecer a verdade', diz Cavalcanti Filho (G1)

The choice of commissioners has been praised by the human rights organisation Tortura Nunca Mais and by Vera Paiva, whose father Rubens Paiva was disappeared during the dictatorship.

Filha de desaparecido elogia escolha de integrantes (Folha)

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Memory/history and tourism

Yesterday the Guardian's "Comment is free" section ran a piece by Chris Jenkins criticising "conflict tourism" in Belfast, including viewing the sectarian murals and the euphemistically-named peace walls in the city, sites of bombing and the infamous Maze prison. Jenkins condemns this "gaping" as "deeply immoral" and maintains,
If this were history perhaps it would be more acceptable – but it's not. These lines are still a very real part of everyday life for communities in Northern Ireland.
 I've never been to Northern Ireland, but I have visited such sites in many other places, including Peru and Argentina. The comments from readers to Jenkins' piece generally disagree with him and draw comparisons with visiting World War I battlefields or former concentration camps like Auschwitz. But these would probably be acceptable to Jenkins since they count as "history".

I think the distinction is false. The sites referred to in this blog are certainly not part of any sort of "history" preserved in aspic - they are still changing, museums are only now being set up, legal proceedings continue, the perpetrators are still alive and live alongside their victims, and so on. That's why I refer to them as "places of memory". But at what point does memory become history? Do we somehow expect that there will be a moment when the development can stop, the period is finished, and then we can look at it in the history books and visit the memorials? It won't happen, and forgetting would be the only consequence of attempting it. Far better to engage with the issue while those affected are still alive to give us their testimony!

Then there is the issue of "gaping", suggesting that looking itself entails a lack of respect. I don't see this at all. I would suggest that actively engaging with the memory of conflict is important, yes, even if this is done by young people or those who are not particularly well-informed, such as foreigners. With cameras. Photos are a key way in which people in the twenty-first century deal with their surroundings and share them with others and photographing is not, I would say, inherently exploitative (the photographing of people might be, but I'm not discussing that here). Why would it somehow be more moral to visit a country as a tourist but ignore its very recent past, which as Jenkins rightly points out still affects large numbers of people?

I, for one, am going to continue seeking out places of memory wherever I go - but then, regular readers probably already guessed that ;-)

Peru: Remember Monterrico Metals?

Back in 2009, I (and others) blogged repeatedly on the exposure of abuses that had taken place at the mine of Majaz/Rio Blanco, owned by Monterrico Metals (if you're interested, use the search function or the label "Majaz").

The crimes that took place there were not prosecuted in Peru but did become the subject of a civil suit in Britain against the miner brought by Leigh Day solicitors. The case was eventually settled out of court with the exact terms not disclosed.

Now Al Jazeera English has devoted an episode of its People & Power series to the Monterrico Metals story, focusing in particular on the issue of pursuing justice and legal settlements. It makes the basic point that while settlements can bring compensation for the victims, they are an incomplete form of justice as they lack the publicity of a full trial - which is, of course, why companies offer to settle. Notwithstanding their poverty, the victims themselves express a clear preference for justice rather than financial compensation.

The programme also mentions how changes to the English legal aid system make such cases less likely in the future.

This is a really good programme, and you can watch the whole thing here.

Peru: Documentary "Lucanamarca"

The documentary "Lucanamarca" (2008, dir. Héctor Gálvez y Carlos Cárdenas Tovar) deals with one of the emblematic events of the Peruvian conflicts. The directors say,
This is a story about memory. Some think memory is a way to go back and dwell in the past, but we think memory is a way to move ahead and look into the future.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Argentina round-up

- One of the founding members of the Abuelas de Playa de Mayo, Nélida Gómez de Navajas, has died. 

Nélida Gómez de Navajas 
Her daughter Cristina was abducted on 13 July, 1976. Only later did Nélida discover a letter revealing that Cristina had suspected she was pregnant; later, survivors confirmed that this had been the case and that she had had her baby. That child would now be 35 years old, but his or her whereabouts are still unknown. President of the Grandmothers, Estela de Carlotto, expressed her sorrow that Nélida was never able to meet her grandchild. 

“Su compromiso siempre fue total” (Pagina/12)
- Argentina continues to mark the key dates of the Falklands/Malvinas war 30 years ago, this time the sinking of the Belgrano:

Falklands tension: Argentina marks Belgrano anniversary (BBC)

Pagina/12 has a rather nice image of president Cristina Kirchner unveiling a large plaque about the islands on its cover page:

- Meanwhile, Hijos, the organisation of children of the disappeared, has come out in support of the conscripts abused by their superior officers during the conflict, arguing that those crimes also formed part of the repression of the dictatorship.
“No tenían defensa alguna” (Pagina/12)

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Paraguay: New memory museum

A ceremony was held on Friday in Abraham Cué, a police station in San Juan Bautista, Paraguay, which functioned as a detention/torture centre in 1976. The timing was arranged for the 36th anniversary of the "Pascua Dolorosa" (Painful Easter), a wave of repression which occurred in Paraguay in April 1976.

Abraham Cué was declared the second memory museum in the country in an event attended by representatives of the interior ministry and victims' relatives, among others. However, none of the news articles I've read give details of the contents of the museum or when it is due to open (or if, indeed, it is already open).

h/t Museo Memorial de la Resistencia Dominicana

Paraguay: convierten ex centro de tortura en museo (Terra)
Abraham Cué, como sitio de memoria histórica (ABC Paraguay)