Argentina's legal community initimidated by the military government, or so complaint, that it has failed utterly to defend the rights of Argentines, according to a report released today by a delegation from the New York City Bar Association.
The group of five New York lawyers accepted the estimate that about 10,000 persons have disappeared under circumstances indicating they were arrested by the miltary and listed 92 lawyers believed to have been seized that way.
The names of another 99 lawyers who have been imprisoned without trial was also given in the report, which was prepared after six days of interviews in Argentina last month.
"A very high proportion" of the missing or imprisoned lawyers "have been involved with the defense of political dissidents, of people critical of the government, of labor organizations," the report said and their fate "has chilled the willingness of lawyers to represent the unpopular and made the process of repression of rights far simpler for the government."
The one group that might have resisted this intimidation effectively was Argentina's most prominent bar association, the Buenos Aires Lawyers' College, the mission said.
Instead, the College issued a report in August lauding the armed forces for reestablishing order after widespread guerilla warfare under the previous Peronist government and praising the military's "irreproachable manner even down to the last technicality" in that campaign.
At the end, the College's declaration called for even "a greater rule of law" now that "the war is over."
The New York group's report said, "From this declaration, as well as our two-hour conversation with the College's officers, we gathered the strong impression that the College's primary concern has been the detrimental effect of left-wing terrorism on Argentine life."
Heading the mission to Argentina was Orville H. Schell Jr., a former president of the New York Bar Association and now the American Bar Association's observer at the United Nations. The ABA endorsed the mission.
In discussing Argentina's courts, the report cites repeated cases in which they have defferred to the military insistence on a free hand.
The report noted two recent cased in which the courts resisted actions of the executive branch, but the American lawyers took a wait-and-see attitude. In contrast Argentine diplomats here have suggested a major shift is under way.