Thursday, December 9

ESMA: Historic conviction in Argentina for sexual crimes perpetrated in the largest detention center of the dictatorship | Society

Former captain Jorge Eduardo Acosta, alias Tigre, in the reading of a ruling for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Argentine dictatorship, in 2017.
Former captain Jorge Eduardo Acosta, alias Tigre, in the reading of a ruling for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Argentine dictatorship, in 2017.JAVIER GONZALEZ TOLEDO / AFP

For the first time, an Argentine court convicted repressors of the Argentine dictatorship for sexual crimes perpetrated in the largest clandestine detention center that operated during the regime, the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA). The ex-military Jorge Tiger Acosta and Alberto González were sentenced to 24 and 20 years in prison after being found guilty of exercising sexual violence against three women who were kidnapped at the ESMA between 1977 and 1978.

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The Federal Oral Court 5 of Buenos Aires found them guilty of “rape aggravated by having been committed in collaboration with two or more people, repeated on at least ten opportunities”, dishonest abuse, illegitimate deprivation of liberty and torture, crimes that were declared imprescriptible for being against humanity.

Acosta, a former frigate captain in the Argentine Navy, was chief of intelligence and of the ESMA task force during the dictatorship. Judges Adrián Grunberg, Daniel Obligado and Adriana Pallioti declared him criminally responsible for dishonest abuse and rape against the complainants Mabel Zanta, María Rosa Paredes and Silvia Labayrú. González, who was also a member of task group 3.3.2. As an intelligence officer, he was convicted of crimes committed to the detriment of Labayrú.

The complaint was made in 2014, but did not reach an oral trial until 2020, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Through private hearings held by the Zoom platform, the complainants reported the abuses, rapes and psychological violence to which they were subjected during their kidnapping in that clandestine detention center located in front of one of the great avenues of Buenos Aires and for which about 5,000 detainees passed through.

The sexual violence carried out against the detainees at the ESMA had already come to light in previous trials, but it had never been tried as an autonomous crime. Both the prosecution and the plaintiffs agree that the sentence contributes to making these crimes perpetrated in clandestine centers visible. “There were many women raped like me at the ESMA who, out of fear or for other reasons, did not report it. This sentence pleases me because it may allow other women to think that it is possible to report and are encouraged to do so ”, Labayrú responds from Spain.

Some of the survivors “are still not aware that they were victims of rape,” according to journalist Miriam Lewin, also a survivor of ESMA and one of the first to expose the abuses committed against women kidnapped by the dictatorship in her book Whores and guerrillas. “Shame and guilt, social condemnation, re-victimization are barriers for all rape victims, even today,” Lewin told the Télam news agency.

“Justice is not only the conviction of those responsible, but also reparation and memory”, highlights Alejandra Naftal, director of the museum that works in the former ESMA, now converted into a memory center. In 2019, that institution exposed some of the testimonies of survivors who were victims of sexual crimes and is preparing a new sample on the subject for next year.

The penalties received this Friday by Acosta and González are unified with the life sentences they had already received in previous trials for kidnapping, torture and murder. Both are serving their prison sentences.

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