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Fri Jul 6, 2012 8:47AM
Argentina’s last dictator Reynaldo Bignone (L), and former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (R) at a trial on February 28, 2011.

Argentina’s last dictator Reynaldo Bignone (L), and former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla (R) at a trial on February 28, 2011.

Two former Argentinean leaders during the country’s military rule have been found guilty of conducting systematic abduction of babies from leftist political prisoners. A court in the capital Buenos Aires on Thursday sentenced Jorge Rafael Videla, who ruled the country from 1976 to 1981, to 50 years in prison. Reynaldo Benito Bignone, another general who was dictatorial president of the South American nation from 1982 until December 1983, was given 15 years. Several other former junta officers also received sentences of up to 40 years for their roles in kidnapping the babies of female activists, during a trial that began in February 2011. Thousands of people were killed in Argentina during the brutal repression of left-wing activists and militants from 1976 until 1983 known as Dirty War. Many of the victims, estimated by official figures to be 13,000, were pregnant women who were “disappeared” right after they gave birth in covert maternity wards, believed to be on a second floor of ESMA, a torture center in the capital. It is believed that about 500 children were stolen from the female prisoners, and many of them were given to the families of the military personnel at the time. According to survivor testimony, the prisoners gave birth while shackled and hooded and majority of them were not even allowed to see the face of their babies. Many of the mothers were later thrown from a military plane into the sea while naked and still alive. Human rights groups said the country’s military forces killed or kidnapped some 30,000 people during the military rule, following its campaign against leftist guerrillas and opposition activists. "This is an historic day. Today legal justice has been made real, never again the justice of one's own hands, which the repressors were known for," said a renowned human rights activist Tati Almeida outside the courthouse, where scores of jubilant people were watching the ruling on a screen. The two dictators are already serving in prison. Videla was given a life sentence in 2010 for the torture and deaths dissidents during his rule. Bignone was also sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2011 for the torture and murder of political activists. SAB/MA
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