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Operation Condor: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in Uruguay

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Operation Condor (Operation Condor: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in Uruguay)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2018-07-31

Confronting past atrocities is essential to the consolidation of democracy and the protection of human rights. In the aftermath of unspeakable crimes, states are under the obligation to investigate the truth about what happened and bring to justice individuals responsible. Until now, accountability for human rights violations has adopted a purely state-centric lens. Addressing crimes of a transnational nature remains a pending issue in both scholarship and practice.

This project, ‘Operation Condor: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in South America,’ begins to fill this gap, by tackling the transnational dimension of past atrocities in South America. In 1975, the dictatorships of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay established a secret transnational network of intelligence and counterinsurgency operations to persecute political opponents in exile. Codenamed ‘Operation Condor,’ this alliance of criminal states was responsible for kidnapping and murdering hundreds of people across South America. The project analyses the different ways in which these transnational atrocities were investigated after democracy returned to the region. The problem being addressed relates to how to achieve accountability for human rights violations that transcend state borders. The project’s main objectives are: (1) studying transnational crimes, by focusing on the case study of the victims of Operation Condor; and (2) probing the response of Argentina and Uruguay’s national justice systems to these cross-border atrocities.

This research agenda is important for society in two respects. First, on a theoretical level, this project contributes to shedding light on the extent of states’ responsibility for human rights violations committed outside of national borders. This issue has not yet received the attention it deserves in the field of human rights. Second, on a practical level, the research will impact upon policy-making and practice with regard to issues relating to access to justice, human rights, and cross-border crimes. This is an especially pressing matter in light of contemporary manifestations of transnational crimes, such as the illegal smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea, which are some of the key challenges facing the European Union today.
The work performed during the first 24 months of this project (August 2016 to July 2018) revolved around six work packages.

First - archival research - the fellow consulted hundreds of records at five state and NGO archives in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and the USA and specifically selected 3,114 for use in the project.

Second - legal research - the fellow gathered twenty-five legal documents regarding eight criminal trials relating to Operation Condor’s transnational atrocities.

Third - interviews - the fellow carried out 105 interviews in eight countries, namely Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Italy, the USA, Peru and Argentina. These interviews specifically targeted three sets of informants, namely survivors and victims’ relatives, experts, and legal professionals. The interviews were transcribed for subsequent analysis and use in academic and policy publications.

Fourth - training - the fellow attended two PhD-level courses at the University of Buenos Aires: ‘Human Rights, Transitional Justice, and Memories of Political Violence in Argentina' and ‘Civil Society and Collective Action’.

Fifth - dissemination and public engagement - the fellow has published an article about the Argentine Operation Condor trial and its implications for human rights in the Journal of Latin American Studies, which will be released in 2019. She has also written three op-eds in Spanish about transitional justice in Latin America. Further, a seminar series was organised on the topic of “Transnational Intersections: Justice, History, and Human Rights,” with six presentations delivered by academics from Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and the USA. Additionally, a regional workshop on “Investigating Crimes against Humanity in South America: Challenges for the Present and the Future” was held and organised in close collaboration with Public Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Humanity of the Republic of Argentina. Lastly, the fellow delivered talks and interviews about preliminary project results at: five academic conferences, six workshops, six outreach activities with non-academic actors, and eight radio and newspaper interviews. Finally, she additionally created dedicated Facebook, Twitter pages and a webpage for the project.

Sixth - management - the fellow was involved in all management aspects of the fellowship, working in close collaboration with the Finance and Administration offices back at Oxford and the counterparts in the outgoing phase at the University of Buenos Aires.

The work performed allowed to fellow to generate an unprecedented corpus of rich documentation regarding transnational crimes in South America, encompassing historical documents, legal verdicts, and first-hand testimonies of survivors. The richness and variety of the material gathered is crucial for the preparation of the book manuscript. Further, the training received helped the fellow sharpen and deeper her understanding of local dynamics relating to accountability for past atrocities in South America. Meanwhile, the organisation of the seminar series and the regional workshop contributed to generating a crucial transfer and knowledge exchange between academics and other stakeholders (civil society, the judiciary, policy-makers, etc) working on the issue.
The project clearly progressed beyond the state of the art. Originally, the fellow had highlighted two main shortcomings in the literature: the lack of attention paid to transnational crimes and the absence of analysis of judicial accountability efforts to redress Operation Condor crimes. The work conducted undoubtedly contributed to pushing the boundaries of our understanding of human rights obligations, in particular their application to extraterritorial crimes, and notions of state responsibility for transnational atrocities. Furthermore, the fellow has begun building a new database that maps approximately 400 cases of transnational crimes in South America. Upon completion, this unprecedented database will help provide answers to crucial questions surrounding transnational crimes in South America, including when they started and ended, the breakdown of victims by nationalities, the modalities of transnational terror, and trends over time.

In terms of societal implications, the insights from this project will be used in informing policy-making, in particular with regard to redressing transnational crimes. Some of these preliminary remarks will be published in the Journal of Latin American Studies, discussing how the experience of the Argentine Operation Condor trial can be employed to design responses to current cross-border atrocities. By the end of the project, more specific guidelines will be drafted.
The fellow, in collaboration with the Public Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Humanity of the Republic of Argentina, is also working on a policy brief that will be of interest to practitioners and policy-makers in the region on accountability for crimes against humanity.
Regional Workshop with Legal Professionals and Practitioners, Buenos Aires, May 2018
Talk delivered at the Washington Office on Latin America, Washington, April 2018
Talk delivered at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Washington, April 2018
Presentation at the FLASCO-ISA Conference, Quito, July 2018