(Washington, DC) – Argentina should conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into allegations of excessive use of force by the City of Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police to disperse a demonstration at a public psychiatric hospital.

Despite a court injunction, the city government indicated it would go ahead with the demolition of a building used for recreation by patients at the José T. Borda Hospital to build a “civic center” for use by the city government. At least 100 officers arrived at the site at 5 a.m. on April 26, 2013. Doctors, nurses, union leaders, and lawmakers soon gathered at the site to protest the government’s demolition plans.

The city Ombudsman Office issued a news release stating that during the morning the police used excessive force to disperse the demonstration. The violence that subsequently erupted resulted in injuries to dozens of civilians, including patients and journalists, and to 17 police officers, according to media accounts. Media reports also said that eight demonstrators were detained and released later that day.

“Government officials and the police force of the City of Buenos Aires are obliged to fully respect the rights of protesters and any bystanders when policing public protests,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Any use of unlawful violence to disperse a demonstration should be fully investigated and those responsible held to account.”

City officials told the media that they would investigate allegations of excessive use of force but defended the police actions.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provides that law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and preservation of human life respected.