Database on South America’s Transnational Human Rights Violations

As part of this project, I have also been building a database in order to chart the transnational human rights atrocities perpetrated across South America between 1970 and 1981. It is called Database on South America’s Transnational Human Rights Violations. It encompasses cases of victims that suffered human rights violations as a result of the coordination of political repression during the years of state terror in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, as well as a handful of cases perpetrated in non-South American countries, namely Italy, the USA, and Spain.

The database was constructed by applying criteria derived from a policy brief that had been published as a result of an earlier phase of this project. The brief identified that “the crossing of borders” constituted the key component required in order to properly distinguish and categorise cases of transnational repression. This crossing of borders was further broken down into three component elements, namely: (a) exchanging information about a victim between at least two countries (the victim’s country of origin and the country where the victim is located); (b) the participation of foreign agents in the criminal act(s); and (c) the forceful return of the victim(s) from the country of detention to their country of origin.

A case of human rights violations can be therefore classified as transnational when at least one or more of these elements applies.

The main sources used in compiling the database were: (1) truth commission reports from Chile, Paraguay, and Brazil; (2) data provided by the Uruguayan Secretariat for Human Rights Violations of the Recent Past; (3) data on human rights trials provided by the Argentine Public Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Humanity and by the Uruguayan Observatorio Luz Ibarburu; (4) declassified documents consulted at the National Security Archive in Washington DC; (5) the UNESCO 2016’s list of victims of repressive coordination; and (6) the Operation Condor trial held in Rome, Italy. These were complemented with secondary literature sources and further internet searches.

While this is still a work in progress, so far, the database has confirmed 496 cases of victims of transnational human rights violations in South America between December 10, 1970 and February 19, 1981. Breaking down the cases by nationality, the majority of victims (247) were Uruguayan citizens (50%), 94 were Chileans (19%), 82 were Argentines (16%), 28 were Paraguayans, 13 were Peruvians, 18 were Brazilians, 5 were Bolivians, while 9 encompassed citizens from the US, Italy, France, Cuba, Britain, and Spain. When looking at the typology of crimes perpetrated, the modus operandi of Condor reflected state terror policies in this region, with 240 cases of illegal detentions and torture, 239 instances of murders and enforced disappearances, and 17 cases of kidnapped children. When broken down by country, the database confirms that Argentina witnessed the highest number of atrocities (398 cases), followed by Uruguay (36), Peru (17), Brazil (15), Paraguay (8) and Bolivia (7).

As part of the project, Dr Lessa has additionally mapped domestic criminal prosecutions that have investigated transnational atrocities since the late 1970s. So far, 34 judicial proceedings, at different stages of the judicial progress, have been recorded in eight countries, namely Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Italy, the USA, Paraguay, Brazil, and France. Verdicts have been reached in 21 of the 34 cases: 87 defendants have been condemned for the crimes perpetrated against 214 victims.

The database will be made publicly available upon the project's completion. If you would like to find out more about the dataset, please get in touch with me at francesca.lessa@lac.ox.ac.uk

Victims and relatives awaiting the verdict in the Operation Condor Trial, Buenos Aires, 27 May 2016

The tribunal reads out the verdict, 27 May 2016

The First Appeals Assize Court of Rome reading out the verdict sentencing 24 defendants to life imprisonment on July 8, 2019

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