Thirty-one years after traveling to Argentina to investigate human rights violations inflicted by military leaders, former Josef Korbel School Dean Tom Farer, now a University Professor, returned last December at the request of the Argentine Foreign Minister to participate in the Government's celebration of International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
As a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a principal organ of the Organization of American States, Farer and several colleagues went to Argentina in 1979 to conduct an investigation that lasted seventeen tension-filled days. Farer said the on-site inquiry was triggered by the hundreds of human rights violation complaint the Commission had received since the military seizure of power there in 1976.
"Thousands of people lined up in the street to present denunciations of the government," Farer said, recounting the investigation. "We visited all of the known prisons where political prisoners were being held. I myself interviewed hundreds of them, some of whom had originally been held in clandestine centers."
Farer and his colleagues traveled throughout the country for those 17 days. He said that one immediate result of the on-site inquiry and the Commission's discussions with military leaders was improvement in the awful conditions for political prisoners in the regular prison system. The investigation concluded with a 365-page report that Farer later presented at a Foreign Ministers meeting.
"We concluded that most if not all of the many thousands of people who had disappeared had been kidnapped by police or military units, tortured in various clandestine centers and then murdered," Farer said.
Farer added that the report was smuggled into Argentina by human rights activists and reproduced there.
"It is widely believed that the report begin the unraveling of the military regime," Farer said. "After our visit, the disappearances almost ceased entirely."
By 1983 the regime allowed democratic elections and the yielded control of the government. Since then the military has been excluded from politics. Farer said that Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the current Argentine president, is a strong advocate of human rights and has encouraged the criminal prosecution of officers who participated in the massacres that he helped expose in 1979.
-M. Schwinn, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
For Spanish Speakers, click here for a story on Farer's recent December visit to Argentina.