Three advocates of the view that the sinking of the Argentine Navy cruiser ARA General Belgrano during the 1982 South Atlantic war should be treated as a war crime this afternoon presented their case at The Malvinas in the South American Union seminar being held at the Foreign Ministry.
In their separate presentations the three panelists, City of Buenos Aires Ombudswoman Alicia Pierini, international law professor María Teresa Moya Domínguez and Deputy Federico Storani coincided that the sinking of the former USS Phoenix on 2 May 1982 by the Royal Navy nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror was a war crime and that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher should be prosecuted for her responsibility in ordering the sinking of the Argentine Navy vessel.
Resorting heavily on legal considerations ranging from the fact that the Belgrano was outside the Total Exclusion Zone set up by Britain two hundred miles around the islands, to the fact that it was sailing away from the islands at the time of the sinking, to some previously unheard grounds, for example that Conqueror "did not stop to pick up survivors or inform the International Red Cross of the sinking," the panelists were unanimous in supporting the view that it had been a war crime.
The torpedoeing of the Belgrano on May 2, 1982, with the loss of 323 Argentine lives marked the moment when the confrontation in the South Atlantic turned into a full scale shooting war and was the largest single loss of life in the 10-week war, in which just under 1,000 people were killed.
Despite the fact that the topic had been presented as "The sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano: War crime or casualty of war?" - none of the panelists presented the case that the sinking of the Belgrano may have been an act of war.
Several well known personalities have supported this view over the years including the then Captain of the stricken vessel, Hector Bonzo, the then head of Naval Operations Admiral Lombardo and the former head of the Navy, Enrique Molina Pico as well as many former Belgrano crew members, among others. The Argentine Congress recently voted a resolution declaring that the sinking of the Belgrano had been a war crime and calling for the prosecution of Margaret Thatcher.
Although the presentations made this afternoon were widely supported by the audience in the room, the topic of the sinking of the Belgrano continues to divide Argentine society with many veterans, next-of-kin, historians and politicians disagreeing over the reasons behind the events of 2 May 1982.
The Families Commission, joint organizers of the seminar have long supported the view that the sinking was a war crime, a view clearly shared by the Commission's coordinator of this afternoon's presentation who consistently referred to the debate as being about "the war crime of the sinking of the Belgrano."
Advocates of this view argue that the Argentine cruiser was outside the 200 mile Exclusion Zone when it was sunk and that its sinking violates wartime conventions set down in The Hague in 1907 claiming that the sole purpose was to frustrate peace negotiations being carried out by then Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde Terry.
Nicholas Tozer ? Buenos Aires