The group Human Rights Watch has condemned Argentina for refusing to extradite a former naval officer accused of numerous human rights violations. The Argentine Foreign Ministry Tuesday rejected the extradition requests from France and Italy, citing the principle of "territoriality".
France and Italy had requested the extradition of former naval captain Alfredo Astiz for his role in the kidnapping and disappearance of three Italian nationals, and two French nuns more than 20 years ago. They were among the 15,000 people who disappeared during Argentina's so-called "Dirty War" carried out by the military government against suspected leftists from 1976 to 1983. At the time, Captain Astiz was an intelligence agent, assigned to the Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires which was a notorious torture center. He has never been tried for his crimes in Argentina because he is protected by amnesty laws passed in the late 1980's.
In turning down the extradition requests, Argentine Foreign Minister Adalberto Rodriguez Giavarini cited the principle of "territoriality". He said Argentine courts have the sole power to judge crimes committed on Argentine territory. But Human Rights Watch has condemned the action. Human Rights Watch investigator, Sebastian Brett, says the decision goes against promises made by President Fernando de la Rua in 1999.
"When de la Rua was elected, he did say in cases like this he would send the case to the courts," said Mr. Brett. "Under Argentine law, the Foreign Ministry has the choice of either ruling immediately on the case turning it down as it did in this case or letting the courts decide. That was what de la Rua said he was going to do and he's gone back on this, which is a great disappointment."
A French court in 1990 sentenced the former naval officer to life in prison in absentia for the disappearance of the two nuns. Italy requested his extradition so he could be put on trial for the kidnapping and disappearance of the three Italians, including a woman who was five months pregnant. The woman gave birth while in detention.
Mr. Astiz could be charged for the theft of this baby girl and her transfer to a military family, because it is the type of crime not covered by the amnesty laws. Sebastian Brett of Human Rights Watch says it is now up to the de la Rua government to ensure he is prosecuted.
"The government is not bound to extradite him, but if they don't they have to try him in Argentina," he said. "It is one or the other because Astiz is accused of very serious human rights crimes, which are defined as crimes against humanity, and in cases of crimes against humanity a government has the option of either complying with a foreign court or trying him itself and so far in this case it doesn't look like the Argentine government has fulfilled either side of that obligation."
A spokesman at the Argentine Foreign Ministry says the government has sent details of the Italian extradition request to the courts for investigation and possible prosecution.