Article publlished in the Buenos Aires Herald .com: http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/219059/

By Tomás Brockenshire Herald Staff

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Shimon Samuels on the prospect of trying suspects in absentia

As Director for International Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Europe office, Shimon Samuels is headquartered in Paris but spends much of his time on the road advancing the Center’s priorities. Samuels travelled to Buenos Aires last month, meeting with the Herald to discuss not only the 22nd anniversary of the AMIA Jewish community centre bombing but also the prospects of holding trials in absentia and the relationship with the Mauricio Macri government.

Aside from the AMIA commemorations, what are your primary objectives for this trip to Buenos Aires?

From our perspective, there has been a major change in at least the political will. Doors are open, there appears to be an understanding. Certainly the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Iran is gone. The team that has been set up to investigate the AMIA bombing headed by Mario Cimadevilla seems to be getting their act together. We've met and agreed to assist where we can.

There’s the question of holding a mock trial. We’ve had them before and they are good for raising public consciousness but they do not bring closure for the victims. And they are not really going to solve the issue. I am not against a mock trial, anything that will keep the flag flying is OK. Half of Argentines were born after the bombing, and there has been so much since. We are here talking about July 18 but by July 19 the issue is gone. But of course with any trial you have to be serious about it, and really assess the possibilities to attain closure.

Even if a trial in absentia goes forward, the suspects clearly have no interest in participating in any kind of trial and will not pay heed to whatever the court decides. What then?

First, the Iranians are not going to be happy with this mock trial. It is not going to make them look good. Secondly, there is the issue of the Interpol Red Notices. We've worked for years on Interpol and Red Notices; it is the basis for Simon Wiesenthal's work on war criminals. Red Notices that are disregarded have a multiplier effect. Having this trial in absentia may accentuate the concept that if these guys go travelling then they are in danger of being picked up. There is some satisfaction that they are less likely to go have a good meal in Paris or go see their bank account in Geneva or go to New York for some fun. They are under a cloud. But it's not enough. Definitely not enough.

How so?

Not enough for the whole concept of justice. Impunity is impunity. Simon Wiesenthal used to say that longevity is not an excuse for impunity as long as the suspect understands the charges. And a good detective keeps his dossier open. We understand that there is a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction, as there is in any of these cases.

The government has spoken about increasing its assistance to the AMIA investigation. What else but increased resources can be provided, given that the judicial system is supposed to operate independently?

As you said, with resources. I don't think that the AMIA unit has the sufficient resources. And it is not just Argentina. I had a meeting with OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro, and we have said to him that the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) is under-funded. There is very little exchange of information between intelligence services across the hemisphere. The frontiers are porous. It is nice to say that the frontiers are going to be closed by Argentina, but I am not sure how they are going to do that as it is a very large country. And if Alberto Nisman, rest in peace, was half-right about his report, then in that case that is enough to terrify anyone. And nobody is doing anything about that as far as I know.

One of the first things that the Macri government did upon being sworn-in was to withdraw the appeal against a ruling on the constitutionality of the MOU, effectively repealing it. Are you seeking any other kind measures like that?

The simplest thing that could happen is to retain the Argentine policy of many years of speaking at the UN General Assembly in September, and from the podium announcing the policy to struggle to bring to justice the five remaining suspects of the AMIA attack sought by Interpol is back. This is also a slap in the face of Interpol. Interpol is not the greatest, but it is by far and above better than others. Europol does nothing. It meets. Interpol has tremendous archives, it has representation in almost all member states. It could galvanize the situation.

Do you have any reason to believe that will happen this year? Have you discussed that with the government?

No, we haven't discussed that but maybe we should closer to the date.

You were in Istanbul for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee immediately before travelling to Buenos Aires...

Yes, there is a resolution to rename the only two Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem, to the detriment of the Jewish and Christian narrative in the Holy Land, and we were horrified to see that Argentina gave its vote in support earlier this year. We raised this with the Pink House soon after and they were completely unaware of the resolution. The attempted coup blew everything asunder but the issue is coming back at the end of October or early November. Argentina is not a member of the Heritage committee but it is on the Executive Board. We are very interested to see Argentina taking on a role as a caucus of integrity of countries that do understand the implications. And when I spoke to the Argentine delegation in Istanbul there was an understanding. But this is a snapshot; it’s not a commitment. There are many countries taking positions simply because it's a horse trade. That’s normal. When it comes down to it, that issue will persist and it is not going to go away. I am pretty sure that they got an order from the Casa Rosada to look carefully at this issue, and that is all that we are asking for, that they realize that this issue is important and that it has a price.

How do you view the participation of youths belonging to a neo-Nazi political party at an official event at the Casa Rosada?

We’ve crossed swords in the past with Biondini. So this is not new, to me it seems very low-level. If there was to be a government figure, or some opposition figure involved, then yes it is more substantial. I think that it’s important that the authorities should be able to know who these people are.

But does the incident not surprise, given that Bandera Vecinal attempted to participate in a political event for youth groups to which they were not invited?

It’s worrying in the sense that they were youths. Because this is the fourth generation carrying a Nazi flag. If that were to happen in an European country they would probably be arrested and certainly if they are denying the Holocaust — which is illegal in most European countries — action would be taken against them, particularly by organizations like ours. But if you're going to compare that with some, who may or may not have a link, throwing a stone with what appears to be an ISIS flag into a synagogue or a Jewish institution, that is much more worrying today. I don’t think that these youngsters really are going to take lethal action.

You mentioned meeting with Almagro. Is Latin America a concern given what seems like greater problems in other regions?

We're dealing with a global issue with different facets and parallels. We are definitely interested in Latin America. Our job is to alert, and we have 2,000 years of experience in alerts. Our responsibility is to sensitize the ears of our neighbours to any impending danger before it hits them. We try to work with people who are like-minded in terms of research or outreach.