BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina’s Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced the jail sentence of a man serving time for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Luis Muina was sentenced in 2011 to 13 years in prison for the kidnapping and torture of five people during a military operation. Three of the top court’s five justices decided that his days spent in prison before a firm conviction should count double toward his sentence, meaning Muina could get out eight years earlier.
The court said the ruling was based on an interpretation of a repealed law that had not previously been applied to human rights convictions. The so-called 2×1 law was in effect in 1994-2001, when most dictatorship-era human rights criminals were still free.
“This ruling determined that common crimes are the same as crimes against humanity,” said Andres Gil Dominguez, a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law. “It’s a new judicial and ideological way of looking at human rights crimes by the Supreme Court.”
The two Supreme Court justices who voted against reducing the sentence said the other judges’ “interpretation of the law” should not be applied to human rights abuses.
Activists criticized the decision as setting a precedent that could lead to the early release of other convicted human rights abusers.
“This ruling is abominable,” said Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group. “What kind of crimes against humanity that are part of a state-sponsored terror campaign can be equaled to common crimes?”
Official estimates say about 6,000 people were killed or disappeared in a government-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissidents during Argentina’s “dirty war.” Human rights activists believe the real number was as high as 30,000. Hundreds of babies were also born to prisoners at clandestine torture centres and turned over illegally to the families of military officers and others.
Carlotto said the court’s ruling is in line with what she believes is a dramatic shift in human rights policies under President Mauricio Macri. Former President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, made uncovering human rights abuses and trying perpetrators from the military dictatorship central to their administrations.
“Argentina moved back 20 years in human rights issues,” Fernandez said on her Twitter account. “This ruling would not have happened in the previous government.”