For seventeen days in the fall of 1979, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) conducted an on-site inquiry in Argentina. With the grudging consent of the military government, it roamed the country, recording thousands of denunciations of the regime’s exterminatory assault on left-wing insurgents and anyone suspected of assisting them, whether materially or intellectually. In the country’s formal detention centers, it privately interviewed hundreds of political prisoners and secured testimony from the fortunate few who, having been dragged into clandestine torture centers and found harmless, had been released. It met also with the country’s highest officials and most powerful interest groups. From this visit there emerged a report which began the process of regime de-legitimation which culminated in the restoration of democracy four years later. This is the story of that visit and its results. It also recounts in brief compass the subsequent effort of Argentine society to consolidate democracy and secure justice. Among other things, this piece is an effort to identify the circumstances in which naming and shaming can save lives and undermine autocracy. It recalls the fluctuating and divided response of the US government to the Argentine slaughter. I was a member of that Commission, helped write its report, presented it to the OAS foreign ministers, testified at the 1985 trial of the junta leaders, and then returned periodically to appreciate the evolution of Argentina’s transition from a terror state to one dominated by a human rights discourse, if not always by ideal human rights practice. This is a personal account, but one which I hope is as coincident with reality as any such account can be.


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pp. 851-927
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