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Statement by Mirna D. Goransky

I received my first award when I was six years old and my classmates selected me as “best friend”. My father, a very tough character, told me that they had selected me because I was the only blonde with blue eyes in the class. As you can imagine, it has been very difficult for me since that moment to feel that I actually deserve any recognition.

But there are other, more special reasons, why I find it difficult to identify myself with the kind of people who are usually awarded for promoting international criminal law. I have always thought that they are people who have performed heroic acts in dangerous contexts even at the expense of their own lives or physical security.

That is hardly my case. I come from a country where prosecuting crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military dictatorship that ruined my country between 1976 and 1983 is a State policy strongly supported by the vast majority of the population. In this context, my work as Special Prosecutor of the Unit to investigate these crimes did not take place in a hostile environment.

However, that does not mean that it was an easy task. We still faced an extremely slow, bureaucratic, inefficient and poorly effective judicial system even in the most ordinary cases, by no means prepared to deal with these types of crimes. In addition, the courts have been historically reluctant to confront whoever holds some form of power.

In such a context, our biggest challenge was to be very clear about the principles that should rule our work and to ensure that our actions were consistent with those principles.

The main challenge for us was to prosecute extraordinary crimes with ordinary tools or, in other words, we were prosecuting international crimes using domestic laws inefficient even to prosecute people who commit ordinary crimes. Also, Argentine law does not allow discretion to prosecute certain cases, requiring instead prosecution of all known crimes which only serves to conceal personal selectivity that results in irrational or biased decisions.

It is only because of the inapplicability of statutory limitations in the case of crimes against humanity, that these cases have actually been prosecuted and the perpetrators of these terrible crimes convicted, while most of the other cases would normally ‘die of old age’ before getting to trial.

But beyond these, let us say, ‘operational’ problems, we also face deeper challenges. In a context in which prosecuting these crimes is the social and political norm, how do we ensure that international criminal law is not only a legal framework that ensures the prosecution of these crimes but also protects the rights of the accused. Or, more broadly, how to ensure that now that, after years of confronting impunity, justice has won, these cases are not about the winners’ justice.

And if I can say today that in Argentina prosecuting these crimes is a State policy widely supported and that the challenge ahead is to secure a fair trial for all, it is because of the many, many people who have fought tirelessly to get us to this point. Many of whom have worked under those heroic conditions that I mentioned before.

That is why I want to pay a tribute to all of them. First, to the victims (and their relatives) of State terrorism in my country, who have fought for over 30 years in the pursuit of justice, not revenge. If I can mention at least one name, I would like to think of Emilio Mignone who at the height of repression made the illogical decision of creating a center for legal studies to get justice for many people who, as his daughter, Monica, are still ‘desaparecidos’.

Second, I want to thank my team, the people who worked with me at the special prosecutor’s office. If there is one reason why I deserve this award, it is because I am quite good at selecting the people that I work with. These are colleagues with an enormous commitment to the truth and the law; legal professionals with an outstanding sensitivity and empathy with the victims that made a major difference during the process and in the outcome of our trial.

Last but not least, I want to thank all of you, on behalf of the international community that has accompanied this process throughout the years, providing support and technical assistance in the most diverse ways. If there was a turning point that to some extent was the beginning of the end of repression in Argentina, it was the fact-finding mission of the Inter-American Commission in 1979. Today, at this conference where we are studying how to ensure "quality control in international fact-finding outside criminal justice for international crimes", I want to pay a tribute to that pioneer visit and what it meant for us.

In our work in prosecuting these crimes against humanity, we counted on the advances in international criminal law and jurisprudence and used the tools that many of you have developed, such as the ICC Case Matrix that Morten Bergsmo took with him to the end of the world, before it was the land of the Pope, so we could do better work.

The result of all these efforts were the convictions to life in prison for 12 individuals and four other convictions for those accused of running the most horrendous clandestine center of detention in Argentina, where between three and five thousand people disappeared.

For all these reasons, it has been my privilege to work on these trials. It has not been easy and in some cases I had to make difficult decisions that today, thanks to this award, I feel were the right ones.

Thank you very much for your support.

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