Federal Oral Court 1 of San Martin on Wednesday sentenced 10 former members of the Army, Navy, security forces and police forces to life in prison for crimes committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
The defendants were found guilty of crimes including homicide, kidnapping, torture and rape, in a trial known as the "Campo de Mayo mega-trial" – a court process that brought together multiple trials and that is named after the military base turned clandestine detention centre where the crimes occurred.
The reading of the verdict began with the names of all the victims. In total, Judges Daniel Omar Gutiérrez, Silvina Mayorga and Nada Flores Vega handed down 10 life sentences and nine sentences of between four and 22 years in prison to 19 former members of the Armed Forces and security forces.
In their ruling, the judges said that the acts "constitute crimes against humanity and are therefore beyond the statute of limitations."
Among those who have received the maximum sentence is Santiago Omar Riveros, who already holds 16 other life sentences for various crimes against humanity and served as the head of the Campo de Mayo military garrison.
The others sentenced to life imprisonment were Luis Sadi Pepa; Eugenio Guañabens Perelló, Luis del Valle Arce, Carlos Javier Tamini, Carlos Eduardo José Somoza, Miguel Ángel Conde, Mario Rubén Domínguez, Francisco Rolando Agostino and Luis Pacífico Britos.
The defendants watched the reading of the unanimous court decision via video conference, while the courtroom was filled with victims' relatives and members of human rights organisations.
Among the 350 victims of the crimes at the Campo de Mayo military garrison were 14 pregnant women whose children were stolen and appropriated after birth.
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights organisation estimates that during Argentina's dictatorship, about 400 babies were born in captivity and illegally handed over to other people. Only about one-third have discovered the identity of their original family.
The list of victims included many workers and union delegates from factories located in an industrial zone north of Buenos Aires, including those of German car manufacturer Mercedes Benz and the American Ford Motor Company.
The trial began in 2019 and was mostly held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Initially there were 22 defendants, but a few died during the proceedings. Most had already been convicted in other trials for crimes against humanity.
Guilty verdicts were handed down for crimes including lawful deprivation of liberty, inflicting torture on victims, murder committed with malice aforethought and in some cases rape and gang rape.
Riveros, 98, was the most senior officer handed life imprisonment on Wednesday, though his sentence will likely be served under house arrest due to his age and health.
Earlier this week, the former general was handed another life sentence, along with three other soldiers, for his role in the so-called "death flights," in which drugged detainees were thrown into the ocean and their death from planes.
Crimes against humanity
Since laws granting amnesty for crimes committed under the military dictatorship were annulled in 2006, 278 sentences have been handed down for crimes against humanity across the country, with 1,070 people convicted, many of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Campo de Mayo ‘mega-trial’ involved 347 victims and 126 hearings. It is seen as an emblematic case by many human rights experts due to the size of the clandestine detention centre that operated there and the sheer number of detainees.
On the estate, which covers more than four thousand hectares, political prisoners were held in multiple areas. The site also included a secret maternity ward and military hospital.
Prosecutor Gabriela Sosti said during the trial that more than 6,000 people are believed to have passed through Campo de Mayo and that there was a survival rate of less than one percent.