Mario Sandoval has just landed in Argentina where he will finally have to stand trial

17/12/2019
Press release
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After more than seven years of proceedings and the exhaustion of all possible remedies, Mario Sandoval was finally extradited to Argentina from France to be tried for the kidnapping and disappearance of student Hernán Abriata during the dictatorship. The signatory NGOs welcome this decision on behalf of the Abriata family, who have been calling for justice for over 40 years.

Mario Sandoval, 66, arrived in Buenos Aires on Monday 16 December. According to the extradition decree, Mario Sandoval can only be prosecuted for acts committed against Hernán Abriata, although the federal judge in charge of the investigation in Argentina suspects that he has participated in several hundred acts of human rights violations. French consular officials are able to visit him at his place of detention.

Mario Sandoval will be tried as part of the Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy (ESMA) case. An estimated 5,000 people disappeared at this clandestine detention centre in Buenos Aires during the dictatorship. It is important to remember that, in 1983, CONADEP (the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons) was created to receive complaints from the families of the victims of disappearances during the dictatorship. Investigation procedures were initiated and concluded in 1986 and 1987 with two amnesty laws sanctioned under military pressure. These laws were repealed in 2003. This has allowed the resumption of previous criminal proceedings and, in particular, the opening of new trials related to crimes committed at the ESMA.

Given its volume, the ESMA case was divided into several parts. Four trials have already been held, leading in most cases to convictions.

On Friday 13 December, the judge on duty at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), considering that the extradition did not pose a risk to his physical integrity, rejected the suspension request presented after the decision of the Council of State. At a public session on 11 December, France’s highest administrative court ruled that the extradition decree issued by the French government on 21 August 2018 need not be annulled: Mario Sandoval only obtained French nationality long after the crime of which he is accused was committed, this crime does not fall under the statute of limitations, nor is it political in nature and it meets the requirements of a fair trial.

On 23 May 2019, the Constitutional Council confirmed that the crimes had not expired. On 31 August 2018, French Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, and Justice Minister, Nicole Belloubet, signed the extradition decree. This signature followed the decision of the Court of Cassation of 24 May 2018, which confirmed that the crime of disappearance was "continuous" and that the statute of limitations shall not begin until after the discovery of the victim’s body. As early as May 2014, the Paris Court of Appeals issued a first decision in favour of extradition to Argentina, which was confirmed by the Versailles Court of Appeal in October 2017.

A member of the Argentine Federal Police during the dictatorship, Mario Sandoval was assigned to the Department of Political Affairs between 1976 and 1979. It is said that he specialised in the fight against "subversion" in a unit called ESMA "Task Group" 3.3.2. As such, he may have been involved in 602 human rights violations. However, the Abriata case is the only one in which the Argentine justice system has about ten depositions directly involving him. Mario Sandoval arrived in France in 1985, after the fall of the military junta. He became a French national in 1997.

Hernán Abriata, a university Peronist youth activist, was arrested on 30 October 1976 and was never seen again. The Abriata family, particularly Hernán’s mother, Beatriz, 93, and his wife, Mónica Dittmar, who were powerless witnesses to his abduction, are still awaiting trial. "These are not past events for the family, the pain is still present", the family recalled in a statement from October 2019. 43 years after the events and after many legal proceedings, the wait for truth and justice is never-ending, but today the family is grateful to the French justice system.

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