The Center for Legal and Social Studies of Buenos Aires
With courage mirrored in personal commitment, brilliant legal skills and passion, the Center provides the necessary evidence of the courts, in a nation’s newly found freedom, to bring to justice those who participated in Argentina’s state-sanctioned terror.
From 1976 to 1983, Argentina came under military rule. During this time, also known as “The Dirty War,” thousands of people were arrested or abducted, invisibly tortured and killed—they simply disappeared, to become what is known as “los desaparecidos,” and were never heard from again. In May of 1976, the 24-year-old daughter of Emilio F. Mignone was arrested by the military. Mignone, a well-known attorney who had worked for both Argentina’s Justice Ministry, and in the U.S. with the Organization of American States on education policy, believed he could secure her release through the court system, but he and his family never saw her again. Disappointed and frustrated by the ineffectiveness of both church and court systems to help him and others learn about their missing loved ones, Mignone decided to devote his life to giving a voice not only to the people who had disappeared, but to their families as well. As their numbers continued to grow, Mignone founded the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (Center for Legal and Social Studies, or CELS) in 1979.
CELS is a “non-governmental organization that has been working since 1979 to promote and protect human rights, and to strengthen the democratic system in Argentina.” It began as a group of lawyers and human rights activists coming together to fight for justice in Argentina. Its goal was to discover the fates of those who had been taken by the military. To that end, CELS built a database of the people who had vanished without a trace in this way, telling their stories. No longer just a number among thousands, each of the disappeared thus regained their identities. CELS began filing lawsuits against the military as well, using this documentation as evidence. When democracy was restored in 1983, CELS continued using litigation to bring to account those responsible for “los desaparecidos” while investigating all manner of civil and human rights abuses against the people of Argentina.
And as the decades go on, CELS uses litigation to influence public policy in order to effect social change. The Center works with other organizations on issues of human rights and environmental justice. In addition, CELS has founded a legal clinic attached to the University of Buenos Aires Law School. The clinic provides training and practical experiences to students interested in becoming human rights lawyers. Free legal advice and consultations are available for all kinds of reasons, including immigration and requests for asylum. Treatment for victims of abuse is also available.
The Center for Legal and Social Sciences came about as a result of the crimes committed when Argentina was under military rule, and thousands of people disappeared forever. CELS was created to make certain that their lives aren’t forgotten, and that theirs and other human rights abuses are exposed and addressed, and continues to work for the protection of its people.