A court in Argentina has sentenced two former Ford executives at the company’s plant there for their role in the human rights crimes committed against Ford workers during the country’s last dictatorship. The workers are represented by IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliate, SMATA (Sindicato de Mecánicos y fines del transporte automotor de la República Argentina).
Pedro Müller was sentenced to ten years of house arrest and Héctor Sibilla to 12 years for participating in the kidnapping and torture of 24 workers at Ford’s General Pacheco plant during the country’s most recent dictatorship in 1976. The judges qualified the acts as crimes against humanity.
The crimes are said to have been committed in the weeks following the coup d’état on 24 March 1976 that marked the start of the country’s most recent civilian-military dictatorship, which lasted until 1983. During this time, thousands of people went missing, were tortured or were killed.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court describes a crime against humanity as any act that violates the fundamental norms and standards of international law, that intentionally causes great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health, and that is committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.
IndustriALL’s vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Raúl Enrique Mathiu, said, “Many people in Argentina have been convicted of crimes against humanity, but this is the first time that two former executives of a foreign company have been sentenced. Forty years on and this unanimous verdict represents a major stand for human rights. As an Argentinian, I am proud that this type of sentence has been handed down, although it won’t take away the suffering that our colleagues at Ford have been through as a result of the persecution and torture they experienced.”
Müller was the plant’s manager and Sibilla was security manager at the time the crimes were committed. According to Spain’s El País newspaper, the judges ruled that Müller and Sibilla were actively involved in the dictatorship’s plan to repress union leaders at large companies.
Both were accused of providing military agents with the workers’ photos, addresses and other personal data so that they could be kidnapped. Argentine newspaper Página 12 reported that some of the workers were just 19 years old at the time, while many others were union leaders.
The investigation focused on determining the criminal responsibility of the executives and did not involve the company itself. The workers and their lawyers now want to attempt to sue Ford for its role in the crimes.
IndustriALL’s deputy regional secretary, Alejandro Valerio, said, “It’s very important that the perpetrators of one of the most atrocious events in Latin America’s history – one in which some 30,000 people were kidnapped, tortured, killed or went missing – continue to be tried and convicted.
“It is also important that there are cases like these that bring the civilian and corporate accomplices of the dictatorship before the courts. They, too, played their part in the persecution and assassination of workers and their representatives.”