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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated a former Argentine detention center as a world heritage site this week, a decision seen as significant to remembering human rights abuses that occurred during the country’s authoritarian rule four decades ago, Al Jazeera reported.
Located in the capital of Buenos Aires, the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) initially served as an educational facility for the country’s navy, but was later transformed into a site of torture and brutality following the 1976 military coup.
The junta, which ruled until 1983, became known for its widespread human rights abuses in its attempt to eliminate dissent, activism and left-wing political views. As many as 30,000 people disappeared while in military custody. To this day, many disappearances remain unresolved.
There were up to 340 detention centers that sprung up during that period, with ESMA being one of the first.
It even featured a maternity ward where newborns were taken from their mothers, often to be adopted by families associated with the dictatorship. The military regime took extensive measures to hide the crimes committed at ESMA, both during and after the dictatorship.
In 2007, ESMA was reopened as a museum and memorial site, allowing the public to learn about the atrocities that occurred within its walls. Recent additions to the museum’s exhibits include an airplane used in “death flights,” a practice in which drugged detainees were thrown into the sea mid-flight.
UNESCO’s designation for ESMA underscores its historical significance and serves as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging past human rights abuses, the news organization wrote. It is particularly relevant in Argentina’s current political climate, where some high-profile politicians, such as far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei, have been accused of downplaying the brutality of the military dictatorship.
In an address to the UN, President Alberto Fernández emphasized the importance of preserving the memory of such horrors to prevent their recurrence.