40 Years since Operation Condor: "Justice without Borders" Conference in Santiago de Chile, December 17-18, 2015
The Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford and the Ministry of Justice of Chile, together with the Senate (Centro de Extension) and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, held a two-day event in Santiago (Chile) on December 17-18, 2015 within the framework of the project “Justice without Borders: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in South America,” funded by the ESRC’s Impact Acceleration Account of the University de Oxford, The Leverhulme Trust, The British Academy, and also supported by Open Society Foundations’ Human Rights Initiative.
The event was held to coincide with the anniversary of the foundational meeting of Operation Condor between late November and early December 1975, in Santiago. The transnational network of Operation Condor - set up by the regimes of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay – facilitated the persecution of political opponents beyond borders throughout South America, resulting in hundreds of illegal detentions, murders, and disappearances.
On Thursday, December 17, the conference “40 Years since Operation Condor: Justice without Borders” was held in a symbolic location, the former Congress, shut down by the Pinochet dictatorship and later moved to Valparaiso. The Opening Panel inaugurated the event with the words of the Chilean Sub-secretary of Justice, Ignacio Suárez, and with the participation of Ricardo Brodsky (Director of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights), Humberto Henderson (UN OHCHR Deputy Regional Representative for South America), Fernando Silva (Executive Director of the Senate’s Centro de Extension) and Dr Francesca Lessa (Researcher and project leader, University of Oxford). The panel’s moderator was Sergio Campos, from Radio Cooperativa, an emblematic voice that accompanied Chileans through the dark days of the dictatorship.
The second panel focused on the Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires and the speakers were Jaime Nuguer (lawyer for the original lawsuit), who outlined the origins of the historic prosecution in 1999; Martin Rico (lawyer from Argentina’s Ministry of Justice Human Rights Secretariat), who discussed the background and features of Operation Condor; Luz Palmás Zaldua (lawyer from Argentina’s Centre for Legal and Social Studies) that analysed the strategic role played by human rights NGOs in the struggle for justice in Argentina for three decades, and Pablo Ouviña (Prosecutor in the Argentine Operation Condor trial), who through the emblematic case of Chilean-Swiss Alexei Jaccard Siegler, discussed the inner workings of Operation Condor. The moderator was Maria Florencia Gonzalez from the Human Rights Unit of the Ministry of Justice.
The third panel tackled the status of investigation about Operation Condor crimes in Chile. It began with former Appeals Court judge for human rights, Alejandro Solis, who discussed the case of the 1974 Operation Condor assassination in Buenos Aires of General Carlos Prats and his wife, a case he investigated. Subsequently, Paulina Zamorano Valenzuela, from the Human Rights Programme of the Ministry of Interior and Public Security, outlined the current Operation Condor case, as well as some of the obstacles and challenges of this specific investigation. Laura Elgueta Diaz recounted in a moving testimony the suffering of her family that, after leaving Chile to take refuge in Buenos Aires in 1974, had to live through the disappearance of her brother Luis Enrique in 1976 and her own detention in 1977 in Argentina. Eduardo Contreras, who filed the historic lawsuit that led to Pinochet’s being prosecuted for human rights violations in Chile, narrated some of the precedents and contexts to Operation Condor. Lastly, Dr Patricio Bustos, Director of the Legal Medical Service, described the forensic work of this unit. The panel was moderated by MP Tucapal Jimenez.
The conference concluded with the screening at the Museum of Memory of the new documentary “Operacão Condor: Verdade Inconclusa” (Operation Condor: an unfinished truth) with the participation of its director Cleonildo Cruz, an event attended by over 80 people.
On Friday, December 18, a closed-session workshop was held at the Miguel de Cervantes University with the participation of human rights activists, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and members of national ministries, for a total of invited 24 participants, including Mario Carroza, judge of the Operation Condor case in Chile. Taking as starting point the Operation Condor trial in Buenos Aires, but also investigations in Chile on the same subject, the discussion focused on the legal and factual challenges associated with investigating transnational crimes. After an introductory session, two separate groups, with Argentine and Chilean participants, worked for 1.5 hours to address debate and exchange experiences in relation to the Operation Condor trial and the investigation and prosecution of transnational crimes. Working in the two groups, led by the project consultants Lorena Balardini and Marcos Kotlik (both PhD students at the University of Buenos Aires), the aim was to develop suggestions for concrete tools and strategies to implement at the national and regional levels to facilitate the investigation of Operation Condor crimes. Among the key recommendations discussed were the creation of a regional database to simplify the exchange of information and proofs among judges and prosecutors, as well as the creation of multidisciplinary research teams. These conclusions, together with those gathered in the subsequent events in 2016 in Brazil and Uruguay, will be then presented to regional organisations and justice ministries.
Links to press Notes about the events
Interviews (in Spanish)