Dirty War survivors advocate for justice

Posted: 10/24/2013

Advocates' Society event

Dirty War survivors Rosa del Carmen Gómez and Antonio Savone recount their fight for justice

The Advocates’ Society welcomed Rosa del Carmen Gómez and Antonio Savone last month to share their experiences as survivors of Argentina’s Dirty War.

A Sept. 30 event, at Campbell House in downtown Toronto, was hosted by Peter Lukasiewicz, The Advocates’ Society vice president. Lorne Waldman, a renowned immigration and refugee lawyer, moderated the discussion and invited remarks from Law Society bencher, Paul Schabas.

Argentina’s military dictatorship launched the Dirty War, 1976 – 1983, against left-wing political opponents.

“The Law Society has a statutory mandate to uphold the rule of law. Through the Human Rights Monitoring Group, the Law Society recognizes that protection of the rule of law must include speaking out about attacks on the rule of law abroad,” Mr. Schabas said.

“What happened in Argentina is a reminder of the fragility of the rule of law and the need for us all to be vigilant in its protection.

“Stories of the Dirty War are a chilling reminder of how a democracy can quickly disintegrate and what happens when the rule of law is lost.”

The dictatorship suspended constitutional order, justifying the act in the name of national security. More than 30,000 people lost their lives and thousands more endured cruel and inhumane treatment in secret detention and torture centres.

Speaking in Toronto, with the assistance of an interpreter, Ms. Gómez, recounted the atrocities she experienced as a prisoner in Mendoza, Argentina. While in prison, she was repeatedly tortured, beaten and raped, she said.

Upon her release, Ms. Gómez was unable to prosecute her offenders. Allegations that she was a terrorist left her unable to secure employment. She walked the streets of Mendoza among those who had tortured her.

Mr. Savone described Argentina’s change from a healthy democracy in the 1950s to a country under military rule where freedom of speech was taken away from those who questioned the government.

“It was a systematic plan to persecute the minority,” he said.

Mr. Savone said citizens felt hopeless as the rule of law faded away. Some of those who were charged with upholding the rule of law – including police, lawyers, and judges – were corrupt, he said. Many who tried to defend the rule of law were exiled.

The prosecutor who said he witnessed Mr. Savone’s confession – which had been given under torture – was elevated to Chief Justice of Mendoza. The same man later sought refuge in Chile.

In 1983, a new government was democratically elected. However, it passed laws to pardon those who would otherwise have been prosecuted for crimes committed during the dictatorship.

More than  20 years later, in 2004, the Argentine Supreme Court held that pardon laws were unconstitutional. Victims of torture were able to seek justice against their torturers.

Ms. Gómez and Mr. Savone came forward and testified in court against their torturers.

Their stories highlight the fragility of the rule of law and the need to protect a fair and equitable justice system.

“We need to learn from the dark experiences of places like Argentina. In the long run, a breakdown of civil society leaves each of us shaken, frightened and confused,” Mr. Waldman said.

Mr. Savone underscored the important role of Canadians in defending the rule of law nationally and abroad.