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Julio Simón et al. v. Public Prosecutor

Court Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme Court), Argentina, Argentina
Case number No 17.768, S. 1767. XXXVIII
Decision title Corte Suprema: Fallo anulando las leyes de amnistia
Decision date 14 June 2005
  • Julio Héctor Simón and others
  • Poder Judicial de la Nación (Office of the Public Prosecutor)
Other names
  • Simón, Julio Héctor y otros s/ privación ilegítima de la libertad, etc
Categories Crimes against humanity
Keywords amnesty, crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, illegal detention, torture
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Julio Simón was a member of the Argentinean Federal Police during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983 and had been charged with kidnapping, torture, and forced disappearance of persons. Julio Simón argued as his defence that he benefited of immunity from prosecution under the Amnesty Laws of 1986-1987.

In 2001 a lower court had declared the Amnesty Laws unconstitutional. After successive appeals the issue came before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Amnesty Laws were unconstitutional and void for several reasons. First, since the adoption of the Amnesty Laws, international human rights law developed principles that prohibited states from making laws aimed at avoiding the investigation of crimes against humanity and the prosecution of the responsible people. By incorporating the ACHR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into the Constitution, Argentina assumed the duty to prosecute crimes against humanity under international law. Because the Amnesty Laws were designed to leave serious human rights violations unpunished, they violated these treaties and the Constitution of Argentina. Moreover, in the Barrios Altos v. Peru case the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held that states should not establish any measures that would prevent the  investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations.

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Procedural history

Julio Simón was indicted on 19 November 2003.

In 2001, in the context of another case, the Federal Court for Criminal and Correctional Matters No. 4 had declared the Amnesty Laws unconstitutional.

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Related developments

After the Supreme Court decision that the amnesty laws were unconstitutional, the case against Julio Simón et al. continued.

On 4 August 2006, Julio Héctor Simón was convicted by the Tribunal Oral en lo Criminal Federal No. 5 de la Capital Federal for illegal detention and torture, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

On 18 December 2007, Julio Simón was sentenced again (to 23 years' imprisonment) in the Guerrieri y otros (Batallón 601) case, for the kidnapping, torture, and disappearance of six people.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Simón et al., nearly 1.000 persons have been subject in Argentina, to a pre-trial investigation in criminal cases related to the Argentinean juntas, of which more than 400 have already been indicted.

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Legally relevant facts

Julio Héctor Simón was an officer of the Argentinean Federal Police during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983. He was indicted in 2003 for crimes against humanity (illegal detention, torture, and forced disappearance), for the kidnapping and disappearance of José Poblete Roa and Gertrudis Hlaczik de Poblete in 1978, and the appropriation of their child, Claudia Poblete.

Julio Simón, and his co-accused, Juan del Cerro, argued they benefited of immunity from prosecution under the so-called Obediencia Debida (law no. 23,492) (due obedience) and Punto Final (law no. 2323,521) (full-stop) amnesty laws of 1986-1987.

The investigating judge and the Federal Court of Appeals held that those laws were void, unconstitutional and contrary to several international treaties hierarchically superior to the laws. The case was referred to the Supreme Court.

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Core legal questions

  • Were Argentina’s Amnesty Laws unconstitutional and contrary to international obligations?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Article 29 of the Constitution of Argentina.

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Court's holding and analysis

The Supreme Court of Argentina declared that its Amnesty Laws, laws 23.492 and 23.521, are unconstitutional for several reasons.

The Supreme Court held that the two Amnesty Laws could no longer be argued to bar the prosecution of crimes against humanity as a 1994 constitutional amendment had given constitutional hierarchy to important human rights treaties. The Court went on to highlight that the Amnesty Laws were aimed at forgetting past human rights violations, and were thus in direct violation of Argentina’s international obligations in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, and Argentina’s constitution, in which these instruments were incorporated.

It also held that the crime of forced disappearance and kidnapping of minors are crimes against humanity. Therefore any statutes of limitation for the crime of forced disappearance occurring during the period of military rule in Argentina were prohibited under international law. Failure to prosecute such crimes, and the enactment of laws designed to avoid prosecution, was, in the Court’s view, a violation of such norms.  

Against the prohibition of retroactivity in criminal law, the Court cited the Barrios Altos v. Perú case (March 14, 2001) before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR): “all amnesty provisions, provisions on prescription and […] measures designed to eliminate responsibility are inadmissible, because they are intended to prevent the investigation and punishment of those responsible for serious human rights violations [...], [and] violate non-derogable rights recognized by international human rights law”. The Court states that the jurisprudence had to be interpreted in good faith. Therefore, the Amnesty Laws could be lawfully nullified with retroactive effect.

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

See also five cases against fellow "Dirty War" convict Reynaldo Bignone:

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Additional materials