Francesca Lessa

Expert testimony from Francesca Lessa helps secure human rights verdict against Argentina

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found Argentina responsible for the forced disappearance of two Uruguayan political exiles in the 1970s in a case that included evidence collected as part of her research by Departmental Lecturer Francesca Lessa.

The verdict, released on 21 December, concluded that Argentina was responsible for the enforced disappearance of Mario Julien and Victoria Grisonas, whose rights to life, physical integrity and personal freedom were violated.

Mario and Victoria were living in exile in Buenos Aires with their two children when their house was attacked by Argentine and Uruguayan security officers as part of a military operation in September 1976.

Mario was murdered on the spot, while Victoria and the children were imprisoned in a secret torture centre in Buenos Aires. After the abduction in Argentina, Uruguayan officers took the children to Montevideo in Uruguay, and two months later they abandoned them in a public square in Valparaiso, Chile. The fate of their mother, who was last seen badly tortured in the secret prison, is unknown.

Dr Lessa was an expert witness in the case, Julien Grisonas and others vs Argentina, in May 2021 and submitted a written statement to the Court through a sworn affidavit, which was included as part of the evidence in the case.

The statement drew on her research into Operation Condor – a transnational campaign of political oppression in Latin America in the 1970s that sought to silence critical voices in exile – which includes a database she has compiled recording the cases of hundreds of victims of crimes that occurred between 1969 and 1981.

The Court determined that Argentina had also breached the rights of the victims’ two children, Anatole and Victoria, to judicial protection and guarantees, as well as their right to know the truth regarding their parents’ fate and to locate their remains. The Court established that the crimes suffered by the family unfolded within the framework of Operation Condor.

In the sentence, the Court cited Dr Lessa’s statement several times and particularly to illustrate the following points: that Condor amounted to a system of cross-border repression of political opponents in South America; that Uruguayan nationals were the most persecuted within the framework of Operation Condor; that Argentina was the country where transnational repression of refugees operated most intensely, especially in the city and province of Buenos Aires; and that Condor’s main objective was persecuting and eliminating political opponents to the military regimes in the Southern Cone.  

Read more about Dr Lessa’s work in relation to the case in the latest issue of Oxford Development Matters here.

Read the full text of the verdict (in Spanish) here.