The Right to an Identity
The military coup that took place in Argentina on March 24, 1976 led to a calculated method of political persecution involving "the forced disappearance of individuals" and their ultimate assassination by specific groups from all areas of the government.
By means of such "forced disappearance of individuals" and with the systematic creation of concentration camps (there were a total of 465 throughout the country) a new, organized, repressive power was born. The model of concentration camps emerged in Nazi Germany during the Second World War where it functioned as the totalitarian power's master of life and death.
The Nazi model redefined violence to mean a way of life in which terror and helplessness destroy the community's social fabric. The traumatic experience of genocide affects the entire community, thus becoming a historical trauma.
The term genocide, coined by Raphäel Lemkin, was created as a result of the Nazi experience and is described as a crime against people's rights perpetrated in times of peace or war. In other words, it is the criminal exercise of force by the sovereign state.
We should ask ourselves what consequences this historical trauma produces with the acknowledgement that no totalitarian power has ever taken any responsibility for these horrific events and has, in fact, denied the bureaucracy of the assassination practice. For the military, there are no names, no bodies, no dead, no files, and no assassins.
The return of democratic governance in 1983 led to the creation of the CONADEP (National Commission for the Disappearance of Persons) and the prosecution of officers responsible for the repression. However, the "Ley de Punto Final" (Final Point Law), the "Ley de Obediencia Debida" (Due Obedience Law) and finally "Los Indultos" (Pardons) were enacted, halting further prosecution and eventually pardoning those already convicted.
One result of the repressive violence was generational rupture. In pursuit of protecting "the family" the military regime captured families, those of the 30,000 "disappeared" people and the approximately 500 appropriated children, now young men and women, producing a gap in the kinship relation system:
one or several members of the family disappeared, that is to say, representatives of one or several generations
as an unprecedented fact in modern times, said disappearances included minors abducted with their parents and babies born during the captivity of their pregnant mothers. Those children were separated from their relatives and appropriated to people, mostly to military families.
The rupture in the relationship between ancestors and descendants also created a symbolic gap since explanations for the facts were either non-existent or false. By denying society real explanations, the totalitarian regime impeded the discovery of the aggression's origin while also assigning the responsibility to the assaulted person, thereby inducing submission.
These facts generated solidarity and social organization that greatly contributed to the demise of the totalitarian state. The actions of Madres (Mothers) and Abuelas (Grandmothers), when placed in the public arena of the Plaza de Mayo, publicized an originally private scene, that of the "disappeared" person and his/her family. In this public arena, Madres and Abuelas call for recognition, justice, and memory of what seemed to be unmentionable.
An active position is a means of resistance and a way to transform the perception of the "disappeared" person. The private veil is removed and the person is brought back into the public's eye through calls for that person to "appear alive". This demand serves to break the absurdity as well as to decrease the psychological fragility caused by the lack of social support.
We must remember that there are still 500 young men and women who are "disappeared". They are the "living disappeared" who live today "on the other side of the wall", in multiple "fields" (cohabiting with those who appropriated of them) disseminated within society. The "living disappeared" are compelled to stay ignorant of the link between the assassination of their parents and their own abduction:
Some of them were abducted together with their parents.
Others were born during the captivity of their mothers, who were abducted while pregnant. According to testimonies of survivors, doctors, and midwives, we now know that the kidnapped pregnant women gave birth to their babies while gagged and blindfolded, with their arms and legs tied. Their labors were often induced or unnecessary caesarean sections were preformed. After birth, the babies were separated from their mothers and appropriated.
Some children were left with neighbors, who later found their families to return the children.
There were also neighbors who, not knowing their relatives, protected the children until their restitution through Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.
Other children were brought to public institutions as NN (not named) and given up for adoption. Later, some adoptive parents, suspecting the possible origin of the child, contacted Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. In these cases, considering that they acted in good faith, the children were allowed to continue living with their adoptive families, with the agreement of their biological families and in close contact with them. These situations were resolved without legal no intervention.
Some neighbors appropriated the children, preventing them from knowing their histories. These cases (when the child was found by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo) were solved through judicial intervention, which, after blood histocompatibility tests, ordered the child's restitution to his/her biological family.
There were some situations, in which relatives from the maternal or parental line kept the child without informing anyone because of fear or because they ignored the data of the other side of the family. Some of these situations were resolved by the institution and others, after democracy, by a search began by the rest of the family
Violence was committed against these children, considering that:
they were abruptly separated from their parents, since they were not abandoned but illegally abducted and appropriated
their identities were concealed, this included changes of first and last name, changes of birth date and age, as well as falsification of birth certificates through forgery
there were apparently legal adoptions of children who were placed in institutions as NN without even knowing the origin of the child
children were murdered during the abductions
babies were murdered in the womb
pregnant women's wombs were tortured and raped
these children were forced to cohabitate with those who appropriated them, maintaining a relationship based on "forced disappearance" and the subsequent murders of their parents
Violence increased with the careful work of those who appropriated the children and the State apparatus, which erased any link with their origins.
According to the information available to us, there are more than 250 denounced and documented cases, of which 87 have been found by Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. However, we presume the number of young men and women appropriated to be about 500, since many cases have not been denounced.
A recent phenomenon has been young people who, doubting their origin, approach Abuelas and ask to be analyzed. In the past few years, about 570 youngsters have come to the organization "Abuelas" or to CONADI (National Commission for the Right to Identity).
With the systematic disappearance of minors, the Argentine State violated sections one and sixteen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ratified by the United Nations in 1948), section ten of part three of the International Pact for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by the United Nations in 1966), and sections seventeen and eighteen of the International Pact of Civil and Politic Rights (part of the San José de Costa Rica Pact of November 1960). Furthermore, in terms of national law, several sections from the Statements and Guarantees of the National Constitution were also violated.
Criminal Law has yet not legislated on the "forced disappearance of people", however, in relation to minors, some crimes have been considered:
the crime of abducting a minor, section 146
the crime of suppressing and misrepresenting civil status, section 139
the crime of ideological forgery of public documents; sections 292 and 293
the Illegal Deprivation of Freedom, section 142
During the re-establishment of democracy, and at the insistence of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Act Number 23,511 was enacted in 1987, creating the Banco Nacional de Datos Genéticos (National Genetic Data Bank). This Bank maintains blood samples of relatives of documented cases for the young men and women who wish to know their identities. The purpose of this Bank is to make reports and technical statements, and to carry out genetic tests (under judicial orders) to determine the identity of a minor who might be a son or daughter of a disappeared person.
The Argentine Government enacted two laws regarding human rights policies. The first, the "Ley de Punto Final" (Final Point Law), law number 23,492 passed in 1986, established a deadline for denouncing new cases of human rights violations committed during the dictatorship. The second, the "Ley de Obediencia Debida" (Law of Due Obedience), law number 23,521 passed in 1987, limited prosecution of these crimes to high authorities only. However, the crimes of suppression of civil status and of abduction and identity concealment, crimes closely related to "disappearance" but that these laws failed to mention by name, were excluded from these laws. Therefore, criminal proceedings prosecuted for crimes against minors have not been affected by these Acts.
Within the framework of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by General Assembly of the United Nations on November 29, 1989, the inclusion of sections seven, eight, and eleven regarding the right to an identity (also known as the Argentinean clauses) was a direct result of pressure from Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo.
See "Convention on the RIGHTS of the CHILD"
Appropriated minors were abducted from their families and violently included in an environment that denied what had been instituted by the parents. This abduction, supported by the terrorist state, constituted the perpetrators' victory over the disappeared parents. It further perpetuates the effect of the disappearance by forcing the child into a relationship that denies reality. As accomplices of those behind the illegal act, they behave as if nothing had happened, knowing that the relationship is based on the murder of the child's parents.
The parent-child bond is a tie supported by legal institutions. This bond is a concept that must be treated as a "political principle of organization" that allows a connection between biological, social, and subjective aspects of family relations. "Being born" is not enough. Genealogy functions as a means of institutionalizing relationships between and within families, which guide an individual's perception of belongingness in life and in society.
Genealogy, as an institutional system with a legal framework, is imperative for the survival and diffusion of the species because it serves as a law that assigns a child to a parent. Mankind is a sequence of parents and children, and these bonds are the basis of the human chain.
From the psychoanalytical perspective (which enables us to think about the processes through which a person becomes a person) we wonder about the processes needed for a small being to be a person.
The family is the environment where speech develops and it performs a central role in the transmission of culture. Symbolically, the family is the orderly function of culture which separates man from nature, originally enrolling him in language, fundamental laws, and in structures of kinship, which organizes the differences between sexes and among generations.
After birth, due to his immature state the child will need care from his mother and father to survive. However, the exchange between parent and child will not only involve physical needs (feeding, hygiene, etc.) but also emotional needs (care and love)
The child will first construct his identity in relation to his parents. He will receive a symbolic mark from them, a signal which will allow him to create an identity. He will be marked with his name, a symbolic inscription that is not only a name but also an etymology and family history; one names oneself as one has been named, and at naming oneself, one names the relation of oneself with one's ancestors. Identification is an unconscious registry that has symbolic meaning and that particularizes and prevents repetition of the identical. Each registry marks the place the subject holds in the generational order, and opens new links in the kinship system.
It is in this sense that psychoanalysts posit identity: the parents inscribe their child into the kinship system, recognizing both the similarities and the differences between the child and the rest of the family.
We know that with disappeared children, false kinship relations formed and the children were deprived of their right to live with their real families. They could not live with their parents who were first disappeared and then murdered, nor could they grow with the families of their parents, their grandmothers and grandfathers, their siblings, their aunts and uncles, who never gave up to their search for the truth. The families denounced the disappearances, the forgeries, the abductions; they denounce these crimes and they demand justice.
We agree with Abuelas: our objection to the events caused by the state terrorism is ethical. What occurred is something that we cannot accept; the persistence of a vivid memory is our responsibility.
What happened, the dismantling of people's rights through disappearance and murder as well as the abduction of children, today young men and women and still disappeared, led to a break in the human kinship system. It is a massacre of family links and a rupture in collective memory.
It is our responsibility to stress the harm they have done to us, and the harm to which they are still causing the disappeared young men and women. We should also emphasize and denounce the harm which was committed against us as a society.
We know that the link created by the abductors with these children, now young men and women, affects identify formation. We cannot deny the scars, the registries made by those who, acting with impunity, assume the roles of father and mother and take advantage of defenseless children who need care from someone else in order to survive.
By denying that the origin of their relationship is based on the disappearance and murder of the child's parents and by rearing those children as their own, the abductors commit another type of extermination, functioning as if nothing happened and concealing the fraudulent origin for years.
By insisting in the restitution of identity to these young men and women, we imply recognition of their experience living with the appropriator, of their deprivation due to the murder of their parents, and of the irrecoverable effects of these facts. Neither usurpation nor the marks it leaves in the psyche can be magically erased, but we can open a new space to build a historic truth which prevents the murder of the memory.
In other words, it says no to any criminal form of subjectification, it makes public acts that meant to be private and concealed, and it demands a legal and social reply. It is to claim for each of their grandchildren, a name, a surname, a face, a family, and a history. It demands a historical work in which the relationship between memory and oblivion can be identified in a speech. Through the forced disappearance of persons the terrorist state found the principal resource for ruling: abducting children, taking them away from their families, their history, their names, their bodies, their voices. Denial of the children's origins and denial of the abductors' actions also implies denial of denying.
We live in democracy but the dictatorship cannot be over as long as there are still disappeared young adults or young adults who appear in other kinship systems. Walter Benjamin stated that men come back dumb from the horror, with nothing to tell. We believe that with their work, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo try to make legible the signs of the horror and to keep the memory alive, to preserve a lesson that cannot be forgotten in times when the memory of what happened is badly borne.
Lic. Alicia Lo Giúdice
Head of the Therapeutic Board