The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice is a day of commemoration held on March 24 in Argentina to honor the memory of those who died during the state-sponsored terror known as the “Dirty War.” On this day Argentinians, especially those who lost loved ones during the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983, call for justice for those lost and ask for further investigations into the circumstances that led to the death and disappearances of over 30,000 people. It is to these people — the ones hurt and missing to this day — that the Argentinian government makes amends, honoring the sacrifices made and holding a celebration of their memories.
History of Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice
On March 24, 1976, the military took over the government in Argentina, overthrowing the existing president, Isabel Perón. A new National Reorganization Process led by Lt. General Rafaél Videla began running the country. This period of rule is commonly referred to as the ‘Dirty War’ or ‘La Guerra Sucia.’
During their years in power, the military was involved in many violent acts of suppression against more liberal citizens. Anyone considered a threat to the ruling government was persecuted, including socialists, journalists, artists, students, and other political groups. They banned books, music, films, plays, and magazines they considered a risk to their rule. Families opposing this rule suddenly found their children taken away to be raised by military-affiliated families. Official numbers put the missing people at 30,000, although various estimates conclude this number could be way higher. Getting these numbers is hard, as the military government destroyed all records at that time.
Seven bloody years later, Argentina held a democratic election, and the Dirty War finally ended. The pain of the lost children lingered, however, and led to an organization called the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo or Las Madres y Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Consisting of family members of many victims of the war, this group was vociferous in demanding justice for their loved ones. While the new government took a few steps towards justice, the military leaders’ trials and punishment caused unrest in a land already ravaged by civil war. And so, official efforts fell short, and many perpetrators were not punished for their crimes. The Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo thought this was unacceptable and increased their efforts to get justice for the missing. They took to the streets in protest and wore headscarves embroidered with the names of the loved ones they lost in the war. The Argentinian government finally declared a special day to commemorate these victims in 2006, which is celebrated to this day.
Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice timeline
A military junta led by Gen Jorge Videla seizes power and starts a campaign to wipe out left-wing opponents.
Economic collapse and a resurgence of democracy, among other factors, sees the ‘Dirty War' finally end and a democratic government elected.
After democracy is restored in Argentina, the government tries to prosecute the military for their actions during the Dirty War, but the military threatens another coup and force the passage of the Full Stop Law, which halts prosecutions of their crimes.
In a bid to reduce unrest, the president pardons and releases imprisoned military persons accused of crimes in the Dirty War. This sparks massive protests, leading to the establishment of a special day to commemorate the victims.
Three years after the Argentine Congress repealed the Full Stop Law, the Argentine government re-opens its investigations on the genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Dirty War.
The Argentine National Congress puts forth a law for a special commemoration of the victims of the Dirty War; it is implemented in 2006.
The 30th anniversary of the coup, also the first time the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice is held in Argentina, is marked by massive public demonstrations and marches.
Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice FAQs
How is the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice celebrated in Argentina?
Argentinians hold peaceful rallies and marches on the streets, sometimes carrying photographs of those who were lost to the ‘Dirty War.’ They also join countless organizations and relatives of disappeared people in demanding justice for the victims.
Why is it called the Dirty War?
The term “Dirty War” was created and used by the military junta themselves who claimed that war – with “different” methods – was necessary to maintain social order and eradicate political subversives. During the 1985 Trial of these Juntas, it was suggested that the term was a euphemism used to conceal gang and terrorist activities as if they were legitimate military activities.
What did Jorge Videla do?
Jorge Rafael Videla was the leader of the 1976 coup that overthrew Isabel Peron from the presidency and led to the Dirty War. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1985 for homicide, illegal detention, and other human rights violations, but he was later pardoned by Argentine President Carlos Saul Menem in 1991.
Why is May 25 important to Argentina?
The ‘Día de la Revolución de Mayo’ or the Anniversary of the First National Government on May 25 commemorates the creation of what most people see as the first patriotic government of Argentina. It was formed on this day in 1810, and was commonly called the ‘Primera Junta.’
What are the other important holidays in Argentina?
The Anniversary of the First National Government on May 25 and Independence Day on July 9 are two of the most prominent holidays in Argentina. Both are considered national days by the country.
How to Observe Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice
Paint a white handkerchief
You will find white handkerchiefs painted on the streets of Argentina as a reminder of the state-sanctioned violence. On Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, you can paint your white handkerchief on a wall or floor.
Watch films and documentaries on the war
Check out feature films and documentaries that portray the effects of the Dirty War. Organize a special watch party on this day to spread awareness of this tragic period in Argentinian history.
Spread the word
Every year in Argentina, there is a demonstration on the streets calling for continued investigation into the matter and better government policies protecting human rights. You can observe the day by joining in the demonstrations or by calling for an end to injustice.
5 Intriguing Facts About The Dirty War
The military junta was rumored to dispose of bodies by flinging them from airplanes into bodies of water.
When the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo first protested, government officials tried to trivialize them by calling them “las locas” (madwomen).
Terror across generations
The Argentine government tried to silence the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo by kidnapping and killing one of its founders in December 1977.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo took advantage of the 1978 World Cup being hosted in Argentina by protesting at the event and gaining international coverage.
An American geneticist, Mary-Claire King, helped find some of the missing children by developing a controversial method of using the mitochondrial DNA of bereaved parents to match with the DNA of their lost children
Why Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice is Important
It's a chance to honor the victims
This day keeps alive the memory of every person affected by the war. We can commemorate and commiserate with the relatives of every victim and hopefully see justice being done.
It reminds us that truth is important
This day in Argentina is a stark reminder of what happens when the core systems of truth and justice fail. It makes us draw a sobering conclusion — basic rights need to be fought for constantly or the world risks chaos and suffering for many people.
It’s a call for justice
Some of the perpetrators of the crime still walk free and there is not enough effort in getting justice done. The Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice calls the attention of the global community to the happenings and increases the press for justice and truth.
Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice dates