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The BBC's James Reynolds
"A court ruling that may change the way Argentina deals with its recent past
 real 56k

Luis Moreno Ocampo, human rights lawyer
"It's not a real political struggle, it's just a case in which the victims are demanding justice"
 real 28k

Dr Celia Szusterman, St Anthony's College, Oxford
"It is very difficult to describe the whole range of horrors perpetrated by the military"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 19:45 GMT
Argentinian judge revokes amnesty
Jorge Videla, Roberto Viola and Carlos Suarez Mason,
Videla, Viola and Suarez Mason, three of Argentina's military leaders
An Argentine judge has revoked two amnesty laws which have protected military officers accused of involvement in human rights abuses committed during the country's so-called "Dirty War".

Although the legal decision only applies to the one case, legal experts say it could clear the way for the trials of hundreds of people accused of having committed crimes during the 1976-1983 military regime.

Official estimates say about 10,000 people were killed during this period, many of them kidnapped, tortured and then murdered. Human rights groups say the number is much higher.

At the moment, almost 1,200 low-ranking officials are thought to be immune to prosecution by the "Full Stop" and "Due Obedience" laws introduced in 1987.

Before the ruling was made public, Argentina's new Defence Minister, Horacio Juanarena, said the abolition of the amnesty laws would "not be healthy".

Landmark case

Judge Gabriel Cavallo ruled the amnesty laws "unconstitutional and invalid" in the case of a couple and their baby who were kidnapped in 1978.

Graves for those killed during the military regime
Human rights groups say 30,000 people were killed
Jose Roblete Roa and his wife Gertrudis Marta Hlaczik were imprisoned and disappeared, and their eight-month-old girl was handed over to a lieutenant colonel. She only learnt of her true identity last year.

Eleven officers have been implicated in the case, two of whom have already been arrested.

The abduction of babies is not covered by the amnesty, but other crimes such as torture, murder and "disappearances" have been so far.

Now human rights groups hope Judge Cavallo's decision to hear this case will set an important precedent.

So far they have succeeded in putting a 11 former military leaders in jail, or under house arrest, for charges relating to the abduction of babies.

Several of the leaders had already been imprisoned in the late 1980s for human rights abuses, but were later pardoned by then-President Carlos Menem after he came to power in 1989.

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See also:

19 Aug 98 | Crossing Continents
The Living Disappeared
12 Feb 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Argentina's missing babies
06 Mar 01 | Americas
Amnesty case gives new hope
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