Victim compensation: Argentina's precedent

11 April 2008 by Santiago O’Donnell

Thirty years after the start of its last and most bloody dictatorship, Argentina is debating forms of compensation for its victims. Over the last few weeks, Congress has been the scene of discussions over a new law to compensate political exiles for losses incurred as a result of their having to leave the country. The outcome of this legal, ethical and political debate is difficult to predict, but whatever the conclusion, it will set an important precedent for other Latin American countries.

On 2 March, the Senate approved a draft law on the payment of economic compensation to the exiles of the "dirty war" that took place under the military government from 1976 to 1983. During that period, thousands of political opponents of the military junta were abducted, tortured and disappeared. Thousands of others fled the country after receiving death threats.
The draft law on exiles provides for compensation of nearly $25 per day for each day spent in enforced exile during the dictatorship. The law was spearheaded by the government of centre-left Argentine president, Nestor Kirchner. During his term, Kirchner has promoted an array of initiatives to compensate victims of state terrorism during the 1970s, earning him considerable political kudos and public support. But the law for exiles raises many doubts among human rights activists and the debates in the chamber of deputies have been intense.

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