Argentine court follows international jurisdiction on sexual violence

Argentina – Military dictatorship – Sexual and gender-based violence

The judgment on torture and other crimes in the secret detention centers Club Atlético, Banco and Olimpo, announced on 23 March by the second Buenos Aires Criminal Court (Tribunal Oral Federal No. 2 Buenos Aires), takes into account the perpetration of sexual violence in the center. Following the report produced by investigating judge Daniel Rafecas, the court classified sexual violence as a form of torture, and directly referenced the amicus curiae presented by ECCHR and Theo van Boven in October 2010.

This judgment marks Argentina’s recognition that sexual violence was applied systematically as a means of torture in the detention centers Atlético, Banco and Olimpo. This move, in line with international jurisdiction, marks an important step towards ending impunity for those who committed gender-specific violence during the military dictatorship.


In October 2010, ECCHR, along with Theo van Boven, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, had filed two amicus curiae briefs before Argentine courts. The briefs support four different cases in the ongoing trials regarding the military dictatorship. They deal with questions of international law, “sexual violence as torture” and “crimes against humanity committed under military repression.” Of the sixteen defendants – all of them policemen and associates of the military – twelve were sentenced to life imprisonment and four were given prison sentences of 25 years or longer. They were accused, among other crimes, of torture, manslaughter and deprivation of liberty: all crimes which are classified as crimes against humanity according to international law.


In the first brief, the European experts emphasize that sexual violence committed by state agents such as policemen, military, prison and intelligence staff (especially against women imprisoned in clandestine detention centers) was also a method of torture used in order to destroy the personality and integrity of the victims. Sexual violence was systematically committed as an act of torture in every single center of detention, despite their different characteristics.

In the detention center ESMA, for example, army officials used prisoners as sexual slaves. In the detention center Atlético-Banco-Olimpo, rapes and sexual abuses were committed against the helpless inmates, often before their husbands and children. The second brief demonstrates that the massive violation of human rights committed during and by the military dictatorship in Argentina constitutes a violation of international law. This violation does not only affect the victims directly, but also the international community as a whole.

glossary (3)


Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity are grave violations of international law committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population. Crimes against humanity are part of the core crimes against international law and are subject to universal jurisdiction. Crimes against humanity can include acts such as murder, extermination, enslavement and deportation.

Topics (1)



Between 1976 and 1983, the military dictatorship in Argentina kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of people. In the early 2000s, many direct perpetrators and high-ranking officials were brought before courts. However, many dictatorship crimes remain unresolved today, especially with respect to cases of corporate involvement in crimes of the military dictatorship. ECCHR has since its establishment been supporting cases examining corporate liability and high-ranking military officials in Argentina. 

The proceedings against managers of Mercedes Benz Argentina, sugar company Ledesma and mining company Minera Aguilar SA show that dictatorship crimes always also have an economic dimension. In those cases, company employees supported Argentine security forces in abducting trade unionists and other staff members. These actions likely amounted to aiding and abetting the crimes of the dictatorship in order to further their own business interests.

ECCHR submitted legal briefs in ongoing proceedings against Mercedes Benz, Ledesma and Minera Aguilar arguing that the Argentine government and judiciary are obliged to hold economic actors liable for their role in human rights abuses committed during the military dictatorship.

Alongside these cases, Wolfgang Kaleck, founder and general secretary of ECCHR, has for many years been involved in litigation in the case of German citizen Elisabeth Käsemann. Käsemann, who had been politically active in the opposition to the Argentine military dictatorship, was kidnapped and tortured in 1977. The exact circumstances of her death have never been properly examined. 


Discover our Living Open Archive