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Argentina's Lower House Annuls Amnesty Laws - 2003-08-13

One body of Argentina's Congress has voted to stop legal protections for members of the former military regime accused of human rights abuses.

The Argentine Congress is debating the constitutionality of amnesty laws that have protected former military leaders from facing trial for abuses during the country's military dictatorship.

Thousands of protesters marched for an end to the amnesty Tuesday.

Legislators from the lower house of Congress were debating whether to wipe out the amnesty laws that have allowed former military officers to avoid facing charges stemming from the country's so-called Dirty War.

After eight hours of debate, the lower house unanimously approved the decree.

Human rights activists throughout Argentina praised the decision, but some say they are still waiting for a real change in Argentina's stance on human rights.

Juanita Pargament's son, Alberto, was abducted by police in November 1976 and never seen again. Ms. Pargament says that 26 years of disappointment have taught her to view these kind of decisions with some skepticism.

"We hope with time struggling that we did for 26 years, for our children, let us hope that well arrive in that point that all the all the militaries, the police, their friends at last remain in jail," she said. "With the judges, it will be a difficult because many of them that were in the epoch of the military."

Many military leaders are behind bars following a judge's decision last month that ordered several dozen high-ranking officers to be apprehended. A judge in Spain is trying to get these officers extradited there to face charges for crimes against Spanish citizens.

Argentine journalist Hector Timerman thinks that the ruling by the legislature was a purely political one and says that Argentina's judicial system still has many problems that must be addressed before real changes can be made.

"What happens in Argentina is if you kill one person, you go to jail," he said. "If you kill 20 persons you go to an insane asylum but if you kill more than a thousand persons you get an amnesty law for yourself."

The Argentine Senate will debate this issue next. If it agrees to abolish the amnesty laws, the Supreme Court will then rule to determine whether the former military leaders will face trial at home in Argentina.