In first, an Argentine court convicts ex-officers of crimes against trans women during dictatorship


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Judges overseeing a high-profile human rights trial in Argentina convicted 11 former officials of crimes against humanity on Tuesday, in the first case to focus on the former military dictatorship’s overlooked practice of committing sexual violence against transgender women.

The trial at the court in La Plata, a southern suburb of the capital, spanned nearly four years and added new details and insight to previously chronicled atrocities, deepening the nation’s understanding of its traumatic history. Transgender plaintiffs took the witness stand for the first time in a series of chilling hearings that put a spotlight both on the suffering of the transgender community and on the widespread tactic of sexual violence under the right-wing dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

Human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people suspected of opposing the military government were abducted, systematically tortured in clandestine detention centers and “disappeared” during the time.

In the highly anticipated verdict, 10 defendants were sentenced to life in prison and one to 25 years in prison for their roles in a scheme of violent repression that included killing, torture, sexual violence and the abduction of children born in captivity, among other alleged crimes that took place across four clandestine detention centers in the province of Buenos Aires. The judges acquitted one former official.

“What is different about this trial is that for the first time in Argentina and in the world, crimes against humanity committed against trans women in the context of state terrorism are condemned,” prosecutor Ana Oberlín told The Associated Press. “It was a good verdict, we are more than satisfied.”

The military dictatorship promoted traditional Catholic values and viewed LGBTQ Argentines as subversives in the heterosexual society. Even being openly gay could lead to jail.

Tuesday’s trial involved 600 victims and testimonies from hundreds of witnesses that dredged up accounts of sexual abuse specifically targeting transgender women, as well as cases of soldiers stealing babies from their detained mothers before handing them over for adoption to members of the dictatorship and their loyalists. A former police doctor who oversaw the births of women in captivity was among those who received a life sentence.

Hundreds of men and women in Argentina have grown up with false identities, oblivious to their true origins as the children of the “disappeared.”

Eight of the plaintiffs recounted being raped and tortured in one of Argentina’s largest clandestine detention centers known as the Banfield Pit.

The shouts of “Genocidal, genocidal!” erupted in the courtroom packed with survivors and victims’ relatives. After the verdict was read out, they wept and embraced. Many held portraits of their disappeared loved ones and posters with the slogan: “There are 30,000″ and “It was a genocide.”

The verdict comes as far-right President Javier Milei and his vice president, Victoria Villarruel, have challenged the legal reckoning of human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship, an effort that was championed by their left-wing predecessors. Argentine human rights organizations have raised particular concern over Villarruel’s family ties to the military and activism for victims of crimes committed by leftist guerrillas in the early 1970s. Victims of the dictatorship view that advocacy as implicitly justifying the state repression that followed.

Villarruel and Milei have publicly cast doubt on the toll of 30,000 disappeared, pointing to an independent commission that could identify only 8,960.

Most of the defendants in Tuesday’s trial have already been convicted in other cases and transferred to house arrest because of their age and deteriorating health. They tuned into the hearing by video call. The court ordered the defendants under house arrest to undergo new medical exams to determine if they could go back to prison.

Since the Argentine government in 2004 repealed amnesty laws that protected former soldiers, the country’s courts have handed down 321 sentences for crimes against humanity and convicted 1,176 people. The landmark effort to hold military leaders accountable for past abuses continues, with more than a dozen trials still underway in the country.

Activists hailed Tuesday’s verdict as a long-overdue step forward for Argentina’s transgender rights movement, which gained unprecedented momentum under the socially liberal former President Alberto Fernández.


Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre and Victor Caivano in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report

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