[JURIST] For the first time in 20 years, a former government official is on trial for crimes committed during the Dirty War [GlobalSecurity.org backgrounder] in Argentina [JURIST news archive]. The trial of Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz [Project Disappeared profile], former chief investigator of the Buenos Aires province police, began Tuesday in La Plata, with the defendant refusing to testify. Etchecolatz told a panel of three federal judges that the court did not have "moral authority" because the charges fell under military jurisdiction. Etchecolatz, who is charged with murder, kidnapping and torture, is the first former official to be prosecuted since the Argentine Supreme Court [official website] struck down two laws that blocked prosecutions [JURIST report] of crimes committed during the Dirty War, the military junta's campaign against its domestic opponents - at least 13,000 of whom "disappeared" from 1976 to 1983. "We are finally seeing the results of last year's historic Supreme Court decision," said Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch [advocacy website], which said in a statement [text] that the trial "marks the end of 20 years of impunity."
The amnesty laws, known as the Full Stop Law [text] and the Law of Due Obedience [text], were passed in the 1980s by the democratically elected government that replaced the junta and were meant to prevent rebellions among the military. Etchecolatz was convicted of illegal arrest in 1986, but his 23-year sentence was vacated by the Due Obedience Law. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of former officials could now be prosecuted. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage. La Nacion has local coverage, in Spanish.