Despite Falklands diversion; Argentine human-rights issues persist

The conflict over the Falkland Islands has nearly drowned out the voices of Argentina's human-rights organizations.

But the leaders of these groups say they do not intend to remain silent and will continue, with renewed vigor, to publicize human-rights violations by the Argentine military regime and to demand a return to civilian rule.

The human-rights organizations were beginning to gain some limited attention from the Argentine press before the Falkland Islands' invasion of April 2 began to dominate the news. Supporters of the military government then began to argue that this was not a time for criticism.

But human-rights activists say that on balance, internal, as well as international, pressures have created a situation where they can operate more openly than they once did. They are convinced that at some point the ultranationalist sentiments now so evident in Argentina because of the takeover of the Falklands will subside and criticism of the military regime from various quarters will increase.

One of the leading human-rights groups here, the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, has already prepared a statement, to be issued soon, that calls for the lifting of Argentina's state of siege and a return to the rule of law.

The assembly's statement supports the takeover of the Falklands, known here as the Malvinas Islands. But it also calls for the freeing of political prisoners and for a clarification of the fate of thousands of persons who were taken prisoner in the 1970s and have never been seen again. These missing persons, who are widely believed to have been killed by the Argentine military, are known here simply as ''the disappeared.''

According to Charles Maechling Jr., a specialist in international law with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the abductions and murders were reduced to a ''trickle'' by 1981. In an article for the magazine Foreign Policy, Maechling said the Argentine high command then ''systematically tried to wash away the blood stains by destroying all evidence of the atrocities.''

But the issue will not go away.

The memory of the ''disappeared'' is kept alive by the human-rights groups and by the mothers of the missing. Every Thursday afternoon these women march for half an hour in silent protest around the independence monument in the center of Buenos Aires.

Sometimes in the past the police have broken up their meetings. But the mothers seem to be beyond intimidation.

''We have lost our children,'' they seem to say. ''We have nothing to fear.''

For most of the women, it has been years since their sons and daughters were taken away, sometimes off the streets, sometimes from their homes. On their white scarves, the mothers have sewn the dates of the disappearances.

Emilio Fermin Mignone, president of the Argentine Center for Legal and Social Studies and a vice-president of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, says that one reason why the military are most reluctant to return control of the government to civilians is a fear that they will eventually be held responsible for the ''disappearances'' and possibly even be punished, just as Nazi officers were tried and convicted in war trials at Nuremberg.

Mignone's daughter Monica, a 24-year-old educational psychologist who did volunteer work in a Buenos Aires slum, disappeared from his home on May 14, 1976 . Mignone believes her captors were Navy officers. Aside from low-level work for the Peronist political movement, his daughter had no political connections, Mignone says, and had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorists the government was allegedly fighting.

''We are not asking for any kind of Nuremberg trial,'' Mignone says. ''We are only asking for constitutional government and a chance to go to a judicial system which has the means to investigate what happened.''

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