Trudy Huskamp Peterson

Certified Archivist

Commentary: "as only archivists can do"

“As only archivists can do,” said the prosecutor. The case was in Italy, but it could have been in Guatemala or Bangladesh or anywhere. Here is the story:

  In January 2017 a tribunal in Rome sentenced two former heads of state and two ex-chiefs of security forces from Bolivia and Peru, two military officers from Chile, and a former Uruguayan foreign minister to life imprisonment for their involvement in the coordinated, cross-border system of repression known as “Operation Condor.” The case involved the “disappearance” of 42 dual citizens – 33 Italian-Uruguayans, 5 Italian-Argentinians and 4 Italian-Chileans. And although the court convicted the five, it acquitted all other defendants (14), of whom eleven were Uruguayan.

 During that trial Giulia Barrera, senior archivist at the national archives of Italy, was an expert witness for the prosecution. At the beginning of the trial, the prosecutor encouraged the court to read at least a few crucial documents regarding the creation of Operation Condor and suggested the court also read the transcript of the testimony of “historian and archivist” Giulia Barrera, who provided tools for understanding the value of such documents “as only archivists can do.” The prosecutor said Dr. Barrera analyzed the documents with “specific technique and made an assessment of the value of sources” so that the documents could be incorporated in the trial with full confidence about their value. The prosecution then presented U.S. declassified documents and documents from the archives of Paraguay, Uruguay and other sources. The court considered these documents crucial evidence of the existence of Operation Condor and of its criminal nature.

 The decision in the first trial was appealed, and the Court of Appeal combined it with other related cases, several of which concerned persons who were kidnapped and killed in international illegal repressive operations carried out in the framework of Operation Condor. Archival documents again played a crucial role. During the appeal trial no witness was admitted, but the lawyer for the State of Uruguay was able to present new archival documents that were recently declassified in Uruguay, including the personal military file of Nestor Troccoli, a Uruguayan Navy officer with dual Italo-Uruguayan citizenship who fled Uruguay to escape trial and took refuge in Italy.

 On 9 July 2019 the Court of Appeal sentenced all 24 defendants to life imprisonment for the murder of Italian citizens (Italo-Chilean and Italo-Uruguayan) who were “disappeared” in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay in the 1970s. Only one defendant, Troccoli, was present; the rest were sentenced “in absentia.” Finally, justice.

 As only archivists can do, indeed.;; ; The entire trial was recorded by “Radio Radicale” and is available here

 Note: The June commentary suggested that the “critical test of the right to be wrong must be whether acting on the belief hurts others.” Antoon De Baets wrote to say that the right to be wrong is supported in General Comment 34 on States parties' obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The only legitimate grounds for restricting the right to freedom of expression listed in the ICCPR are (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; and (b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals. Paragraph 49 of the General Comment says, “The Covenant does not permit general prohibition of expressions of an erroneous opinion or an incorrect interpretation of past events.”