Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina tries doctors for 'baby theft' during military rule

Mothers of "disappeared" children protest in Argentina in this 1977 photo Image copyright AP
Image caption Mothers of "disappeared" children protest in Argentina in this 1977 photo

Two doctors and a midwife have gone on trial in Argentina charged with kidnapping babies born in captivity to left-wing political prisoners during the 1976-83 military government.

It is the first case of medical staff being tried for allegedly falsifying the babies' birth certificates.

An estimated 500 children were stolen at birth from their mothers during what was known as the Dirty War.

They were then given illegally to other families who raised them as their own.

The real parents were either killed or disappeared.

'We want justice'

Prosecutors in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, accuse the two doctors, Norberto Bianco and Raul Martin, and the midwife, Luisa Yolanda Arroche, of "providing essential assistance" to hide the babies' identity and hand them over to sympathisers of the Argentine military government.

The medical staff are now in their 80s.

Two former commanders at one of the clandestine military hospitals, the Campo de Mayo base outside Buenos Aires, are also being tried.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Estela de Carlotto (right) was reunited with her long-lost grandson, Guido, last month after 36 years

"It's a very important trial because it will judge the complicity of doctors and midwives who were directly responsible for these crimes against humanity," said 36-year-old Francisco Madariaga, who was delivered by the midwife at Campo de Mayo and taken from his mother at birth.

"With this trial we'll be able to learn what they did with our mothers the day after we were born, know that there will be a punishment and justice will triumph because we are the living proof of the crime," he told AFP.

Mr Madariaga's mother, Silvia Quintela, a leftist militant, has never been found.

The trial deals with the cases of nine stolen babies, five of whom were eventually able to recover their true identity.

Dirty War timeline

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ex-military leader Jorge Rafael Videla died in 2013 whilst serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity

1976 - A military junta led by Gen Jorge Videla seizes power; opponents of the regime are rounded up in the Dirty War which sees thousands of people "disappear"

1978 - Argentina win the football World Cup, which is hosted in the country amid little international awareness of the junta's aggression

1981 - Gen Leopoldo Galtieri heads the military's regime

1982 - Argentine forces temporarily occupy the British-held Falkland Islands - known as Las Malvinas in Argentina

1983 - Civilian rule returns to Argentina

1984 - The Argentine Truth Commission reports on human rights violations during military rule, recording 9,000 cases of forced disappearance

An estimated 30,000 people were killed or disappeared during the Dirty War, a period of state terrorism in Argentina against left-wing guerrillas, political groups and anyone perceived to be associated with socialism.

Of the 500 babies stolen from their captive mothers, more than 100 have been found through genetic testing and the efforts of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a rights group founded by women fighting to locate their stolen grandchildren.

The group's president, Estela de Carlotto, was reunited with her long-lost grandson, Guido, last month after 36 years.

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