Who was Emilio Fermín Mignone?

Emilio Fermín Mignone was an Argentine lawyer and educator, born in Luján, province of Buenos Aires, in 1922. He studied law at the University of Buenos Aires. He specialized in public law, educational and scientific-technological policy and management, contemporary Latin American history, human rights, and religion and society. In his youth he was a leader of the Argentine Catholic Action.

Emilio Mignone was renowned in the area of Education. He worked in the government of Buenos Aires province; he was an OAS official in Washington on educational strategies; he was founder and rector of the Universidad Nacional de Luján; founder and president of the National Council for University Evaluation and Acreditation (CONEAU) and was a member of the National Academy of Education.

On 24 March 1976, a coup détat was staged in Argentina leading to the establishment of the most brutal dictatorship our country has ever seen, characterized by the indiscriminate social persecution of all political or ideological opponents. As part of its illegal acts of repression, it created Clandestine Detention and Torture Centres across the country and engaged in arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and the abduction of babies born to mothers in captivity or kidnapped with their parents, among other mass violations of human rights. During this civic-military dictatorship (1976-1983), Argentina fell victim to State Terrorism, marked by serious violations of human rights.

Upon arriving at his job as rector of the University of Luján, on the day of the coup d'état, Emilio Mignone was intercepted by Army personnel who were searching the place. They ordered him to hand over his office since the de facto government would take over the running of the university. Emilio informed the lieutenant in charge of the operation that he had already sent his resignation to the Minister of Education. In addition, he said, "You don't need that ridiculous display of force when everyone knows that the only weapons here are typewriters, books, and laboratory equipment."

On 14 May 1976, a group of security forces officers, carrying arms and dressed in civilian clothes, burst into the home of Emilio Mignone and his family in downtown Buenos Aires. They abducted Mónica Mignone, Emilio and Angélica’s second daughter. Mónica, then 24, was taken to the Naval Mechanics School (ESMA), where it is presumed she was tortured and later disappeared. Her remains have never been found. To this day, Mónica is still missing, another name in the long list of 30,000 disappeared persons.

After her daughter was abducted, Emilio Mignone ─along with his wife, Angélica Sosa─ spent the rest of his life looking for her and trying to shed light on the events surrounding her disappearance. He wrote open letters and met with military leaders and high-ranking members of the Catholic Church. He also helped to set up the organizations of relatives that were beginning to work in the field of human rights in Argentina.

Emilio Mignone was a very active leader of the human rights movement that worked to denounce, both in Argentina and abroad, acts of State terrorism. After the restoration of democracy in 1983, he helped with the prosecution of those responsible and with the strengthening of republican institutions. He was vicepresident of the Asamblea Permanente de los Derechos Humanos (APDH).

With Augusto Conte and other families, Emilio Mignone founded the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), a non-profit civil organization which was instrumental in documenting the crimes committed by the de facto government, providing assistance to the victims and their families throughout court proceedings, and resorting to the International System for Protection of Human Rights at both regional (OAS) and universal (UN) level.

His national and international activity contributed to the success of the visit of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) in 1979 that published a devastating report about the atrocities committed by the government of Argentina using its repressive policies. The report of the CIDH opened the way for the new argentine democratic government to establish the National Commission on Disappeared Persons (CONADEP) in December of 1983. The report Nunca Más (Never Again), published in November 1984, contains detailed accounts of the treatment by the Argentine armed forces towards the captives.

In 1983, Emilio Mignone received the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights award from the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington (in remembrance of the Chilean ambassador murdered in Washington DC). In 1988, he received the Joseph Award from The Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and the Human Rights award of the Lawyers´ Committee for Human Rights. After his death, in 2007, the New York University’s School of Law Center for Human Rights & Global Justice and the International Center for Transitional Justice established the Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture on Transitional Justice, a yearly conference named for Emilio Mignone in which a distinguished speaker is invited to analyze human rights issues on a national, regional and global dimension.

He wrote many books, among them Iglesia y Dictadura (1984), published in English as Witness to the Truth (1985), about the complicity of Church and dictatorship in Argentina. This book was also published in French, Italian and Portuguese.

Emilio Mignone died at the age of 76 on 21 December 1998, in Buenos Aires. His fight for the promotion and protection of human rights in Argentina and the region is a legacy that lives on.