Justice without Borders: Accountability for Plan Condor Crimes in South America  


Dr Francesca Lessa, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow, Latin American Centre, University of Oxford


Since May 2015, thanks to funding received from the ESRC’s Impact Acceleration Account of the University of Oxford, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, and the Open Society Foundations’ Human Rights Initiative, a partnership was developed between the Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford, Chile’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and the NGO network Observatorio Luz Ibarburu of Uruguay. Subsequently, the Chilean Senate (Centro de Extension) and the Museum of Memory joined this collaboration in late 2015, while the Human Rights Secretariat of the Uruguayan central trade union, PIT-CNT, and the Montevideo Municipal Government also did so in 2016.

This partnership had three objectives: (a) to share and exchange experiences at the regional level on investigations into Plan Condor crimes; (b) to evaluate the Plan Condor Trial in Argentina and the implications of the final verdict within the region; and (c) to develop strategies and suggest specific tools to facilitate and promote the investigation of Condor crimes in each country and at the regional level.

In order to archive those goals, two knowledge exchange events were organised, one in Chile in December 2015 and one in Uruguay in June 2016, with two sets of activities in each: a conference on the first day and a closed-session workshop on the second. The conferences, with presentations from local judges, prosecutors, lawyers and human rights activists directly involved in investigating crimes, assessed accountability efforts undertaken in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina in trying to clarify Condor atrocities. Moreover, two workshops also took place, involving a total of 60 participants specifically invited, encompassing academics, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, public policy experts and members of civil society. The policy brief gathers the main conclusions and recommendations that emerged from this collaboration over the past few months.

Executive Summary

Forty years on, accountability for the transnational crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s by the coordinated repression known as Plan Condor remains a largely unresolved matter in South America. Dealing with the crimes of the past is essential to ensure human rights protection in the future and requires concerted efforts at the regional level. This policy brief is based on a multi-year study carried out between 2013 and 2016 on accountability for Plan Condor crimes and, in particular, two knowledge exchange workshops, in which academics, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, policy experts and members of civil society from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay participated. The brief highlights the main challenges and obstacles that have delayed and slowed down the elucidation of past transnational atrocities in South America. It also sets out three recommendations to overcome these hindrances across the region:

• Setting up multidisciplinary teams dedicated to investigating human rights atrocities;

• Establishing a regional database or repository with information on Condor crimes;

• Strengthening regional channels ensuring a smooth flow of evidence for use in criminal trials.

The report is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.