Argentine ESMA Trials a New Phase for Democracy: Interview with Pablo Parenti


Media around the world announced "the closing of the ESMA trials" in Argentina following the historic ruling October 26 convicting 16 people accused of crimes against humanity during the 1976–1983 dictatorship.

But this does not conclude the quest for justice, says Pablo Parenti, coordinator of the Attorney General’s Unit for coordinating and monitoring cases involving human rights violations.

"There is still much to do, many crimes left to be tried, many accused. This was the first trial, in which there were 18 people* accused by 86 victims. But we now have the cases of 700 victims and 70 accused, set to go to trial. We are in the midst of this process.”

ICTJ spoke with Parenti about the trial which investigated human rights violations and crimes against humanity that occurred at the Naval Mechanics School (ESMA), used as a detention and torture center during the Argentine dictatorship.

Parenti discussed the next steps and challenges that lie ahead in Argentina’s quest to achieve accountability for the crimes of the dictatorship. He emphasized the vital role the trials have played in establishing a narrative about what occurred during the dictatorship, while highlighting the corresponding importance of reparations and memorialization initiatives.

"These trials are important for that very reason, for exposing the truth so people know what the horror was like, know what society is capable of doing," he said. "However they are not isolated events; they fit into a whole policy or remembrance and reparation to the victims."

The interview also examines what lessons other countries can draw from the Argentine case. On the one hand, Parenti said, Argentina is an emblem of what horror was, especially referring to the practice of enforced disappearances.

And on the other hand, "the Argentine example is also very important as a clear example of how these trials can be held without social trauma," he said. "The democratic system is not at risk; on the contrary, these trials have been a founding experience here, a new phase for democracy."

Read the transcript of the interview (translated into English from Spanish).

Listen to the podcast (Spanish only).

*Two of the defendants were acquitted.

Cover Photo: ESMA building with artistic memorial in honor of the missing and those tortured during the military dictatorship in Argentina. Courtesy of: David W.