ARTICLE THREE: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
In 1994, a group of sons and daughters came together at a memorial service for their parents. But they had never seen their parents' bodies, or even knew for sure their parents were dead. Their parents were among the 30,000 men, women, and children who vanished without a trace during the Argentinean dictatorship of 1976-1983. The population was terrified and paralyzed. A generation of sons and daughters lost parents and grandparents. Memories were lost; history was broken; life was taken.
Even now, many of the torturers and soldiers involved in the disappearances go free.Together, beginning with that memorial service, these sons and daughters decided to reclaim the memory that had been taken from them and their country by these agents of fear.
They founded Hijos Por la Identidad y la Justicia Contra el Olvido y el Silencio (Daughters and Sons for Identity and Justice against Forgetting and Silence), or HIJOS. HIJOS seeks to reclaim the memory that the disappearances destroyed. By bringing their parents' assasins to justice, HIJOS is claiming life for a new generation. Read their story.
A bloody military dictatorship ruled Argentina from 1976-1983, during which time an estimated 30,000 men, women and children vanished without a trace. Political activists, individuals involved in armed struggle, and other potential or imaginary opponents of the government became the targets of repression.
The dictatorship made use of kidnappings, torture, murders and disappearances to impose a reign of state terror and a culture of fear. Many sectors of society, such as politicians, corporations, and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Supported the government in its abuses. Although there were rumors about killings and missing people, night raids, informers and wiretapping made people afraid to speak out.
"Counterinsurgency operations" against suspected government opponents involved the torture of disabled people, children witnessing the torture of their parents, the design of special torments for pregnant women, prisoners thrown alive from airplanes into the sea, mass executions followed by the corpses being dynamited. The chronicles of horror are macabre, and brutal.
When civilian rule was finally established in 1983, there was a hope that the perpetrators of these crimes would be brought to justice. A commission was appointed to investigate disappearances, and the military juntas were put on trial. However, investigations were limited, the congress passed amnesty laws that granted legal impunity to members of the government and pardons were granted to the few who were in prison.
As a result, today hundreds of torturers and assassins walk freely through the streets of Argentina. Among the main challengers to this legal impunity is Hijos por la identidad y la justicia, contra el olvido y el silencio (HIJOS), an organization formed by daughters and sons the women and men who were kidnapped, tortured, killed and disappeared, of the survivors of imprisonment and of those forced into exile.
HIJOS' members are the new breed of human rights activists. They are perpetuating what was initiated more than two decades ago by The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the only people who dared to make a public protest in the midst of the worst repression. Wearing white headscarves and carrying photographs of their missing children and loved ones, these brave women met weekly in the Plaza de Mayo, the central square of Buenos Aires, and walked in silence to demand for the whereabouts of their disappeared children.
HIJOS wants those responsible for crimes during the military dictatorship to be brought to justice. They demand the annulment of amnesty laws and decrees on the grounds of unconstitutionality: they violate international agreements on crimes against humanity. HIJOS members also wants to have an explanation of what happened to their parents and to recover their brothers and sisters who born in captivity and secretly adopted by military personnel.
The group gathered for the first time in 1994, at a memorial event organized for their missing parents by their parents' surviving classmates. In 1995, they organized a camp for victims' daughters and sons from all over Argentina with the idea of getting to know each other and share their experiences. The movement continued to grow, and by their first anniversary they had already six hundred members in regional units such as Argentina, Spain, Mexico, France, Uruguay, The Netherlands, and Venezuela.
HIJOS is a heterogeneous group. Members' ages range from twenty to forty years. Some of them witnessed how their parents were murdered or taken away. Others were "disappeared" themselves but eventually given back to relatives. Wishing to vindicate the political struggles of their parents, they demand legal and social condemnation for all those responsible of crimes against humanity. They reject historical explanations that do not recognize the genocide carried out against activists who wanted a different society. "Quiero reconocerte cuando estÚs entre la gente (I want to recognize you among the people)," raps Actitutad Maria Marta, an Argentinean hip-hop rap duo, one of whose members is daughter of a desaparicedo, or disappeared person.
HIJOS undertakes a variety of activities, ranging from investigations to education. The group is best known for its public campaigns of protest and social condemnation: the "Escraches." These demonstrations aim to expose the hundreds of torturers and assassins benefited by amnesty laws and unknown to the majority of the population. Escrachar, a slang expression, means "to reveal, to make public the face of a person that wants to go unnoticed." In the absence of justice, HIJOS wants to curtail the peaceful impunity enjoyed by former assassins. The "Escraches" expose the past records of these criminals so that their co-workers learn what they did during the dictatorship, their neighbors know there is a torturer living next door and they are recognized in their local bar or the grocery store.
"Escraches" are publicized events to which the community is invited. Marchers invade the neighborhood where an assassin has been located, carrying banners and singing slogans such as: "Alert! Alert! Alert all neighbors: there's an assassin living next door!"; or "Just like the Nazis it will happen to you, wherever you go we'll go after you."
They hand out fliers with the targeted person's photo, name, address and a list of the human rights violations in which he or she is implicated. The march ends at the assassin's home with a public gathering that includes speeches, performances, painting of slogans on sidewalks and usually the throwing of red paint - symbolizing blood - onto the building.
Paradoxically, the assassins under siege are requesting and receiving police protection. Hence, many "Escraches" have been violently repressed, an unmistakable sign of their effectiveness. Campaigns have begun to bring the criminals to trial at foreign courts so that the suspected assassins can no longer leave the country without risking being arrested abroad. The HIJOS are ensuring that it is becoming hard for them to leave their homes without being shunned. They may be legally free but metaphorically they are now imprisoned.
LESSON ON ARTICLE 3: CONFRONTING HUMAN RIGHTS HISTORY
Every community on the globe has some history of human rights abuses. However, a defining difference among them is how a community deals with that history. Some "sweep it under the rug," acting as though it never happened and granting impunity to violators, as was the case in Argentina. Others attempt to learn from the experience and ensure that such abuses will never happen again. The work of HIJOS illustrates the importance of not allowing violators of human rights to escape with impunity. It also sets an example of citizens taking non-violent action to further social justice.
This activity invites students to construct a graphic human rights history and discuss how violations have been dealt with in their national and personal experience.
See also the activity "Perpetrator, Victim, Bystander, Healer" in the lesson on Article 4, which addresses the many ways in which people relate to experiences of human rights violations
ACTIVITY: A HUMAN RIGHTS TIMELINE (1 hour)
1. Construct a Timeline Chart: On the wall, blackboard, or a large sheet of butcher paper, prepare a chart with the decades of the 20th century equally spaced across the top.
a) Make three rows below labeled "PERSONAL," "NATIONAL," and "GLOBAL" along with the dates as follows:
c) Give each participant cards or post-its in three different colors. Ask them to write a personal, national, or international human rights event on the designated color and post them at the appropriate position on the timeline. Combine similar cards.
2. Survey the Timeline: Invite students to all come up and read the resulting communal human rights history, ideally in silence.
3. Discuss the Timeline: Lead the discussion to address how this community has dealt with human rights violations and/or taken action to promote and protect rights.
Source: The Human Rights Education Handbook by Nancy Flowers, (Human Rights Resource Center, University of Minnesota, 1999).
1. Perpetrator, Victim, Bystander, Healer: The activity in Article 4, "Perpetrator, Victim, Bystander, Healer," could also be used effectively with this story.
2. Research Local History: Encourage the development of a human rights history of your community, including both examples of activism to promote and protect rights and examples of violations. Encourage students to analyze how their community has responded to its history of violations.
3. Research the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission: In the late 1990s, following the overthrow of the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa (see Article 18 on Stephen Biko), the new government of South Africa undertook a landmark inquiry into the abuses of the past. Rather than trying former officials for their crimes, the government granted those who came forward and confessed immunity from prosecution. During these painful hearing many painful truths and horrible deeds were revealed from both sides of the conflict.Have students find out about this historic process and discuss its effectiveness. Debate the issue of impunity.
4. The Nasty Girl: If possible, show the class "The Nasty Girl" (a German film available on video). Discuss what should be done when a whole town has some responsibility for human rights abuses. What are the implications of letting the truth be known?
TAKING ACTION ON ARTICLE 3
1. RESEARCH LOCAL HISTORY: Develop of a human rights history of your community, including both examples of activism to promote and protect rights and example of violations. Interview local people who have witnessed or experienced both human rights violations and victories. Analyze how the community has responded to its history of violations. Possibly work with local historical societies. Publish your work in local publications or on the Internet. Recognize local human rights heroes from the past, perhaps on Human Rights Day, December 10.
2. RESEARCH THE SOUTH AFRICAN TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION: In the late 1990s, following the overthrow of the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa (see Article 20 on Stephen Biko), the new government of South Africa undertook a landmark inquiry into the abuses of the past. Rather than trying former officials for their crimes, the government granted those who came forward and confessed immunity from prosecution. During these painful hearing many painful truths and horrible deeds were revealed from both sides of the conflict. Find out about this historic process and discuss its effectiveness. Debate the issue of impunity. Do you think such a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be effective in your community?