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Abolishment  of Argentina's Amnesty Laws Could Lead to Trials for Former Military Leaders

Argentina's Senate has voted to abolish laws giving amnesty to members of the former military regime accused of human rights abuses. The measure was approved early Thursday, after several hours of debate. The action is another step toward possible trials for former military leaders.

A week after the lower house of the Argentine Congress approved the bill, the upper house followed suit early Thursday morning. It overwhelmingly approved a decree that would wipe out the amnesty laws that have protected former military men since democracy returned to Argentina in the 1980s.

Senator Cristina Kirchner, the wife of President Nestor Kirchner, urged fellow lawmakers to follow her lead and repeal the acts.

"I want to remind you all that the Due Obedience Laws are in themselves a violation," Senator Kirchner said minutes before the vote.

Up to 30,000 people disappeared during the country's so-called "Dirty War" from 1976 to 1983. Laws put into place in the mid-1980s by then-president Raul Alfonsin essentially ended the trials of the men accused of murder, rape and torture during the seven-year dictatorship.

In 1990 President Carlos Menem pardoned all the officers, a controversial move that he said was done for national reconciliation.

Current President Nestor Kirchner has taken bold steps in recent weeks to bring these military leaders to trial. In July he scrapped a law that prevented the military men from facing charges abroad. A judge in Spain has requested the extradition of several dozen former leaders to face charges there.

Now that both houses of the Argentine Congress have approved the decree, the Supreme Court will address the issue.

Human rights activists say that the Supreme Court judges are aligned with the military and having the amnesty laws completely overturned will prove difficult. If they are overturned, those officers currently facing extradition to Europe will likely stand trial in Argentina.