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Operation Condor: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in Uruguay

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Operation Condor (Operation Condor: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in Uruguay)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2019-07-31

"Confronting mass atrocities is essential to the consolidation of democracy and the protection of human rights. States must investigate the truth about what happened and bring to justice individuals responsible. Until now, accountability for human rights violations adopted a state-centric lens: addressing transnational crimes remains a pending issue in both scholarship and practice.
The project ""Operation Condor: Accountability for Transnational Crimes in South America"" begins to fill this gap, by tackling transnational crimes in South America. In 1975, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay established a secret transnational network of intelligence and joint operations to persecute political opponents in exile. Codenamed ‘Operation Condor,’ this alliance of criminal states purposed abducted, murdered or disappeared hundreds of individuals. The project analyses the different ways in which these transnational atrocities were investigated after democracy returned in South America. The problem being addressed relates to how to achieve accountability for transnational human rights violations. The project’s main objectives are: (1) studying transnational crimes, by focusing on the victims of Operation Condor and transnational repression; and (2) probing the response of Argentina and Uruguay’s justice systems towards cross-border atrocities.
This research agenda is important for society in two respects. First, theoretically, this project contributes to elucidating the extent of states’ responsibility for human rights violations committed beyond state borders. This issue has not yet received the attention it deserves. Second, practically, the research will impact upon policy-making and practice with regard 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 in the Mediterranean Sea, which are some of the key challenges facing the European Union today."
"The work performed during the 36 months of this project -August 2016 to August 2020 (including a 12-month suspension)- revolved around 6 work packages.

First -archival research- the fellow consulted thousands of records at six state and NGO archives in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and the USA. She specifically selected 3,114 for use in the project and 572 were utilised in drafting the book manuscript.

Second -legal research- the fellow gathered 26 legal documents regarding eight criminal trials relating to Operation Condor’s atrocities.

Third -interviews- the fellow carried out 106 interviews in Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Italy, the USA, Peru and Argentina, specifically targeting three sets of informants, i.e. survivors and victims’ relatives, experts, and legal professionals.

Fourth -training- the fellow attended three PhD-level courses at the University of Buenos Aires and training on research management, IT, and fieldwork safety at Oxford. She also supervised one Master's student and co-taught a postgraduate course at Oxford.

Fifth -dissemination and public engagement- the fellow published an article in the Journal of Latin American Studies in 2019. Another article has been accepted for publication in 2021 in the Latin American Research Review. The 450-page-long book manuscript ""The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America,"" was submitted for the second and final round of reviews to Yale University Press, which had offered the fellow an advance publication contract in late 2019. The fellow wrote 7 op-eds in English and Spanish about accountability for transnational crimes in South America. Further, in Buenos Aires, a seminar series was organised on “Transnational Intersections: Justice, History, and Human Rights,” with six presentations by international academics. Additionally, a workshop on “Investigating Crimes against Humanity in South America: Challenges for the Present and the Future” was held with Argentina's Public Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Humanity. Lastly, the fellow co-organised at Oxford a two-day conference in 2019 on ""Justice for Transnational Human Rights Violations: At the Crossroads of Litigation, Policy, and Scholarship.” The fellow presented project results at 10 academic conferences, 7 workshops, 10 outreach activities, and 16 radio and newspaper interviews. Finally, she created dedicated Facebook, Twitter pages and a project webpage.

Sixth -management- the fellow directly managed all the aspects of the fellowship, in collaboration with the Finance and Administration offices in Oxford, counterparts in the outgoing phase at the University of Buenos Aires and the return phase at the University of Oxford.

The work performed allowed to fellow to generate an unprecedented corpus of rich documentation regarding transnational crimes in South America, comprising historical documents, legal verdicts, and first-hand survivors' testimonies. 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, the workshop and the conference generated a crucial transfer and knowledge exchange between academics and other stakeholders (civil society, the judiciary, policy-makers, etc) working on the issue."
The project 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 800 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 can inform policy-making, particularly regarding redress for transnational crimes. Some of preliminary observations were 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. The fellow also released on a policy brief that is particularly useful to practitioners and policy-makers in South America to improve accountability for crimes against humanity. The brief is freely available online in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and was drafted in collaboration with the participants to the regional workshop. Finally, further societal implications can be appreciated in the project's impact in shaping trials for transnational atrocities. Specifically, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Rome's Assize Appeals Court, and Rome's public prosecutor office used some of the results and research in ongoing investigations.
Oxford conference, Justice for Transnational Human Rights Violations, June 2019
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
Roundtable on Operation Condor at the LASA Conference, May 2019
Presentation at the FLASCO-ISA Conference, Quito, July 2018