Spain Extradites Argentine from Mexico
under Universal Jurisdiction
In a June 2003
decision, the Mexican Supreme
Court allowed the extradition of Argentine ex-navy officer Ricardo
Cavallo to Spain, where a court has charged him with genocide and
terrorism. Cavallo is accused of torturing and killing suspected
dissidents during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from
1976 to 1983.
Cavallo, who denies the charges against him, was arrested in August
2000 while doing business in Mexico under an assumed name. He is
accused of several murders, 100 kidnappings, and more than 200 forced
disappearances. Many of his alleged victims were Spanish immigrants to
Cavallo was indicted in November 1999 by Spain’s
National Audience court, or Audiencia Nacional. He will be
the first Argentine military official to face trial for alleged crimes
against humanity since Argentina passed two amnesty laws in the1980s,
the full stop
law and the
obedience law. Spain, led by National Audience judge
Garzón, has made efforts to put an additional 119 Argentine
military officers on trial for similar crimes, but has been thwarted
by the absence of an extradition agreement between Spain and
Argentina. In July 2003, though, the Argentine government annulled a
decree prohibiting the extradition of Argentines suspected of torture
or murder in the so-called “Dirty War." The move could pave the way
for many officers and former junta leaders to be tried abroad.
In August 2003, Argentina’s Chamber
voted to overturn the two amnesty laws enacted in the 1980s. If
the Senate does the same,
Argentina could begin to try its accused war criminals itself.
|Advance for Universal
Human rights activists have hailed
Mexico’s decision to extradite Cavallo as a success for universal
jurisdiction the idea that certain crimes are so heinous that they
can be tried by the courts of any country, regardless of where the
crimes occurred or what nation's citizens were involved. Reed Brody,
director of special prosecutions for
Human Rights Watch, said that “this will be the first time that
one country extradites a person to another to stand crimes for
something that happened in a third.” For more on the principle of
universal jurisdiction, see Amnesty International’s
the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights’
international justice page, or take a look at the
Principles. Fearing that universal jurisdiction is prone to
political abuse, because it allows local courts to go after
foreigners, a group of experts proposed these principles as guidelines
to try to ensure due process and fairness.
Previous efforts to exercise
universal jurisdiction have failed. In the late 1990s, Baltasar Garzón
the same Spanish judge who has led the cases against Cavallo and
other Argentine suspects tried to have former Chilean dictator
Augusto Pinochet extradited from London to Madrid to face trial on
human rights charges. He was ultimately found unfit to stand trial and
released after 17 months of house arrest. For a chronology of
Pinochet’s extradition battle in the UK and subsequent legal struggles
in Chile, see the BBC’s timeline
the Ugandan leader whose reign left more than 100,000 people dead, now
lives in Saudi Arabia, which has resisted attempts to try him, and
efforts to extradite two Haitians former military ruler Raul Cedras,
who lives in Panama, and former paramilitary leader Emmanuel "Toto"
Constant, who resides in New York - have also failed. For a more
complete list of exiled dictators who have not been subject to
prosecution, refer to Human Rights Watch’s
For more on the trial of Augusto Pinochet, please see our 2001 hot
topic, Pinochet Declared Unfit for Trial in
- Argentina’s Amnesty Laws:
23.492, ratified December 23, 1986 the full stop law or
ley de punto final.
23.521, ratified June 4, 1987 the due obedience law or
ley de obediencia debida.
Federal Court of Buenos Aires Decision, nullifying the amnesty
laws, March 6, 2001.
Mexican Supreme Court decision allowing the extradition of
Ricardo Cavallo to Spain, June 11, 2003.
Spanish order seeking extradition of Ricardo Cavallo to Spain,
September 12, 2000.
documents pertaining to Spanish attempts to apply universal
jurisdiction for crimes committed in Argentina and Chile, provided
by the human rights organization
COMMENTARIES AND REPORTS
Should Have Faced Justice, Human Rights Watch, July 22, 2003
Argentine ex-officers face arrest, Reuters, July 26, 2003.
- Reed Brody,
Historic moment in the fight to ensure there are no safe havens for
mass killers, The Independent, June 30, 2003.
Fourteen Principles on the Effective Exercise of Universal
Jurisdiction, Amnesty International, May, 1999.
- Henry Kissinger,
The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction, Foreign Affairs,
July/August 2001. This article is also available
- Gretchen Peters,
Mexico Gives Boost to Universal Jurisdiction, Christian
Science Monitor, June 16, 2003. This article is also available
- Kenneth Roth,
The Case for Universal Jurisdiction, Foreign Affairs,
Some Alleged Torturers Living in Exile a Human Rights Watch
Backgrounder, Human Rights Watch, July 2003.
Jurisdiction - the duty of states to enact and enforce legislation,
Amnesty International, September 2001.
- Anna Segall, Punishing
Violations of International Humanitarian Law at the National Level:
A Guide for Common Law States, ICRC Advisory Service on
International Humanitarian Law, Geneva, 2001.
August 1, 2003; Last updated August 18, 2003.