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Text of the letter of resignation of Enrique Vázquez to APDH

Since 2004 the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights has been undergoing a transformation which makes it today unrecognisable before the mirror of its own history. There is an irredeemable incompatibility between its present form and the ethical principles on which it was first based on 18th December 1975.

The APDH is a not-for-profit organization which, until a few years ago, was characterised by its internal tolerance, its acceptance of dissent and the effectiveness of its methods of battling against State terrorism.

In that December nearly 40 years ago the streets of our country would awaken to the sight of abandoned bodies, during the night bombs would explode and the sound of machine gun fire could be heard. Kidnapping - whether for extortion or preliminary to clandestine executions - was a constant. Sectors of the far left confronted those of the far right; the former were vulnerable to an increasing and illegal repression or a conviction in the courts, whilst the latter relied on the explicit protection of the constitutional government and thus enjoyed impunity.

It was in this background of chaos - and with the imminent prospect of a military coup - that various individuals from religious, political and social sectors who until then had been unconnected and frequently even at loggerheads, united together to demand a cessation of the violence and a guarantee of assistance to the victims. Amongst these many individuals were the Catholic bishop Jaime De Nevares, the Methodist bishop Federico Pagura, the rabbi Marshall Meyer, the teachers' union leader Alfredo Bravo, the pacifist architect Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the writer Ernesto Sábato and the political leaders Oscar Alende, Raúl Alfonsín, Simón Lázara, Atos Fava, Jorge Taiana (Senior) and the recently deceased Susana Pérez Gallart.

At a glance what stands out is the heterogeneity: Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Atheists, Communists, Radicals, Socialists, Peronists and Independents, voluntarily united by the urgency of the moment. There was no "hegemony".

That same heterogeneity continued even after a considerable number of relatives of the victims of State terrorism joined the Assembly who were not only seeking to ascertain the whereabouts of their children, brothers, husbands, wives or friends but also interested in helping others in the same situation. Thus the most important archive of the dictatorial repression was born and this had two historic applications: the first by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) when it arrived in the country for an inspection visit in 1979 and the second by the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP) set up by President Alfonsín in 1983, the conclusions of which formed documentary evidence in the Trial of the Juntas.

It would be ridiculous to try to pretend that there were not many and serious internal arguments which even caused institutional rifts but with respect to the individuals, even the leaders who established sister organisations remained members of our Presidential Council. An example of this was Emilio Fermín Mignone, a Catholic educator who approached the Assembly to denounce the disappearance of his daughter Cecilia, a catechist in a shantytown.

In 1980, Mignone, well-connected in the commercial world, proposed that the Assembly accept a donation from the Ford Foundation to assist with the trials which our lawyers had to pursue in the courts. The Assembly rejected the offer because this would imply the professionalisation of a task which until then had been voluntary and altruist. In addition it ran the risk of establishing a relationship of unacceptable dependence on a foreign organisation. With those funds and solely to give a legal direction to the recognition of Human Rights, Mignone founded, together with the Christian Democrat Augusto Conte McDonnell, the Centre of Legal and Social Studies (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales - CELS), although neither of these two persons ceased to be members of the APDH.

Economic shortages were a constant for the almost 40 years of the Assembly's history. In the beginning and until well into the democratic transition, our organisation survived thanks to the contributions of its members, made by monthly quota in accordance with each individual's respective income; and by donations of non-governmental, non-commercial organisations such as the World Association of Churches which committed part its parishioners' tithes to the struggle against the third world dictatorships and the strengthening of democratic governments.

But in 2004 - with the sudden discovery of Human Rights by the government and the resulting recommencement of criminal trials against the repressors - lawyers and law office employees closely tied to officials in the national government joined en masse. The Human Rights Secretariate offered subsidies so that the Assembly could hire professionals for the trials for crimes against humanity and these were accepted by the new internal majority. Many of the founders had died or were not physically in condition to continue the task within our organisation and the new configuration of leaders and activists slowly adopted a pro-government bias perhaps influenced by the subsidies or by the possibility to occupy positions in public entities created in places where clandestine detention centres had existed.

This relationship of mutual convenience was made evident relatively recently when the secretary of Human Rights of the Nation, Martín Fresneda, agreed the annual renewal of the subsidy to the APDH in exchange for political "favours": that we disavow Dr. Rubén Arroyo, President of the APDH-Córdoba, because of an article that he agreed to in his personal capacity which appeared in the newspaper"La Voz del Interior" - in which he criticised the background of that official and his attachment to money even in trials of social interest; and that we give "a warning" to Dr Horacio Ravenna who, on behalf of the Procurator of Prisons, had expressed to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva a reproach of the negligent management of the National Penitentiary Service in whose prisons torture, punishment of solitary confinement and the "suicide" of prisoners are all commonplace.

Following the meeting with Fresneda, the then co-Presidents Aldo Etchegoyen and Miguel Monserrat proposed to the Board, on their own initiative, that Arroyo's authority be withdrawn and that Ravenna be warned; they validated the suggestion by offering a copy of "La Voz del Interior" in which the article that so upset Fresneda appeared and a photocopy of a French newspaper containing the complaint about the Federal Penitentiary Service. Both motions were rejected as a result of the intervention of various members of the Board.

From then on - in 2013 - events overtook until we reach the scenario now in evidence.

The qarache of the Qom community La Primavera, Félix Díaz, a member of our President's Council, spent 6 months camping at the intersection of the Avenida de Mayo and Avenida 9 de Julio, demanding an interview with the President of the Republic; from the APDH not one word of support for his petition has been issued. What is worse is that the head of the Secretariat of Original Peoples was removed from office, suspended for 6 months, and the co-President, Ernesto Moreau, headed an Assembly delegation which travelled to Formosa to interview the officials of the genocidal government of Gildo Isfrán, undermining the political representation of Félix Díaz and exposing the residents of La Primavera to new and even more bloody repressive measures to make them abandon their ancestral lands.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the removal of co-President Horacio Ravenna after he submitted an extremely serious complaint asking for an investigation into the receipt of payments in the "Jehovah's witnesses" case.

It is worth noting that this complaint was made after innumerable and futile requests for an internal investigation by a group of colleagues who, as a minority, firmly opposed the sanctions against Ravenna. The request for the investigation was supported by individuals who were unquestionable models for human rights in the country.

Remarkably, a self-serving majority decided not to investigate the complaint but to suspend the complainant; in other words, they pardoned the alleged corrupt individual and, using falsehoods and slanders, they convicted the person who had exposed the corruption with overwhelming documentary support.

Given this state of affairs, it is morally untenable to remain a member of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights. Our "locomotive" in ethical and political matters, Susana Pérez Gallart, died of a heart attack while encouraging with enthusiasm and firmness the preparation of this collective document. We have no doubt that the tension which existed between her affection for the Assembly and the need to abandon it, ended her life.

Buenos Aires, 1 August 2015

Enrique Vázquez
Translation into English from the original Spanish version made by Equipo Nizkor on 04Sep15

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small logoThis document has been published on 04Sep15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.