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World Report 2013: Argentina

Events of 2012

Argentina continues to make significant progress in prosecuting military and police personnel for enforced disappearances, killings, and torture during the country’s “Dirty War” between 1976 and 1983, although trials have been subject to delays.

Comprehensive legislation was adopted in 2009 to regulate broadcast media,but a 2010 court injunction obtained by the Clarín Group, Argentina’s largest media company suspended the implementation of provisions in the law that limit the ownership of radio and television outlets.  In November 2012, the director of the regulatory body responsible for the law’s implementation indicated that a major media company would lose some of its media licenses in December, when the court injunction was set to expire.In December, the Federal Civil and Commercial Court again postponed implementation of the relevant articles of the media law. 

In recent years, the Supreme Court has defended the right of pre-trial detainees to be held in adequate conditions, the right of critical print media not to face discrimination in allocating official advertising because of their editorial position, and, in 2012, the right to legal abortions.

Significant ongoing human rights concerns in 2012 include poor prison conditions, torture, and arbitrary restrictions on reproductive rights.

Confronting Past Abuses

Several important human rights cases from Argentina’s last military dictatorship (1976-1983) were reopened in 2003 after Congress annulled the 1986 “Full Stop” law, which had stopped prosecution of such cases, and the 1987 “Due Obedience” law, which granted immunity to all members of the military, except those in positions of command. In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the unconstitutionality of the amnesty laws, originally decided by a judge in 2001 ina case brought by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Starting in 2005, federal judges struck down pardons that then-President Carlos Menem issued between 1989 and 1990 to former officials convicted of, or facing trial for, human rights violations.

As of August 2012, the number of persons accused of crimes against humanity had increased to 1,926, from 922 in 2007, according to CELS. There were 799 people facing charges for these crimes, and 262 who had been convicted and sentenced.

Trials have been subject to delays at the appellate level, with appeals normally taking more than two years to be heard after the sentence of the trial court. As of August 2012, the Supreme Court had confirmed final sentences in only eight of the cases reactivated after the annulment of the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws.

In July 2012, a federal court sentenced Jorge Videla, de facto president from 1976 to 1981, to 50 years in prison for implementing a plan to steal babies from women who gave birth while they were being held in torture centers before they were killed, andto hand them over to military families for adoption. More than 400 babies are estimated to have been affected. Other officers, including the head of the last military junta, Reynaldo Bignone (1982-1983), also received prison sentences. The court concluded that the theft of babies was a “systematic and generalized practice.” Videla had been convicted in 1985 for crimes against humanity and was already serving a life sentence.

The “mega-trial” of state agents responsible for crimes committed at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) continued in 2012. In October 2011, a federal court sentenced 12 of the perpetrators to life imprisonment for the illegal arrest, torture, and murder of detainees held at the center. A second trial commenced in November 2012, in which 67 state agents faced similar charges. Seven of them were being tried for their alleged participation in “flights of death,” in which prisoners held at ESMA were drugged and dropped from planes into the Atlantic.

The security of witnesses in human rights trials is a concern. After Jorge Julio López, a former torture victim, disappeared from his home in September 2006—a day before he was due to attend one of the final days of a trial—the government implemented measures to protect witnesses. The fate or whereabouts of López have still not been clarified.

Freedom of Expression

A law to regulate the broadcast media, which Congress approved in 2009, aims to promote diversity of views by limiting the ability of corporations to own large portions of the broadcasting frequency spectrum. The law contains vague definitions of what “faults” could lead to sanctions, including the revocation of broadcasting licenses. The Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFCSA), the regulatory body responsible for implementing and enforcing the law, issued repeated decisions in 2011 and 2012 against Cablevision, the cable TV division of the Clarín Group—Argentina’s largest media corporation and a prominent government critic—for failing to reorganize its channels according to AFCSA regulations.

In October 2010, the Supreme Court upheld an injunction in favor of Clarín and suspended application of an article of the law that would oblige the company to sell within a year its outlets that exceed the new legal limits. In May 2012, the court ruled that the suspension would finally be lifted on December 7, 2012, even though a lower court was still considering the law’s constitutionality. AFCSA’s director, Martín Sabbatella, stated in November that only one media group had not agreed to present proposals to restructure its holdings before the December 7 deadline—a clear reference to Clarín— and that AFCSA would begin procedures for reassigning its excess licenses if it failed to do so.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld an administrative court ruling in favor of Perfíl publications, which had filed for an injunction against the government of President Néstor Kirchner for refusing to allocate official advertising to Noticias and Fortuna magazines, and to the Perfíl newspaper, because of their critical editorial positions. The current administration of President Cristina Fernández has failed to comply with the court’s ruling that it must provide advertising to Perfíl’s publications in “reasonable balance” with that provided to similar outlets without reference to their editorial positions. In August 2012, an administrative appeals court ordered the government to comply with the Supreme Court ruling within 15 days. Following a successful government appeal against this order, the Supreme Court was expected to give a final decision on the case.

Argentina does not have a national law ensuring public access to information held by state bodies. A bill to this effect has been stalled in the Chamber of Deputies since it received Senate approval in September 2010.

Prison Conditions

Overcrowding, inadequate physical conditions, and inmate violence continue to be serious problems in prisons. In the province of Buenos Aires, inmates continue to be confined in police lock ups not designed or equipped to hold detainees for long periods, although their number has declined significantly since 2010 when the provincial authorities began relocating detainees after expressions of concern by national and international human rights bodies. Detention cells in 138 police stations in the province were closed in 2011 and detainees transferred to the already-overcrowded Buenos Aires prison system, according to CELS. According to the Committee against Torture of the Provincial Commission for Memory, 127 prisoners in Buenos Aires prisons died in attacks by other inmates, suicides, and accidents in 2011, the last year for which figures were available.

Torture and ill-treatment by prison guards are common problems. In its 2011 annual report, the National Register of Torture and Ill-Treatment reported 584 cases of physical violence by prison guards. The group is a monitoring organization set up by the National Penitenciary Procurator (ProcuraciónPenitenciaria de la Nación), an official body created by the legislature.

Counterterrorism Legislation

In December 2011, Congress approved additions to Argentina’s criminal code that double the penalties for crimes committed with the aim of "terrorizing the population,” or of obliging the authorities to take an action or refrain from doing so. The broadness of this language—and its applicability to any crime in the criminal code— raises concerns about possible misuse of the law against those responsible for actions that fall short of terrorism, such as violence during public protests. 

Transnational Justice

At this writing, no one had been convicted for the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires in which 85 people died and over 300 were injured. Judicial corruption and political cover-ups hindered criminal investigations and prosecutions from the outset. Iran, which is suspected of ordering the attack, has refused Argentina’s requests for the extradition of former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and six Iranian officials. In September 2012, in a joint statement following a meeting at the United Nations, the Argentine and Iranian foreign ministers said they would continue to search for “a legal mechanism that is not in contradiction with the legal systems of Argentina and Iran” until a “mutually agreed” solution was found.

Reproductive Rights

Abortion is illegal in Argentina, with limited exceptions, and women and girls face numerous obstacles to reproductive health products and services, such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape (one of the circumstances in which abortion is permitted).  As a result of these barriers, women and girls may face unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies.

In a landmark ruling in March 2012, the Supreme Court determined that prior judicial authorization was unnecessary for abortion after rape. The court urged provincial governments to adopt protocols to ensure access to legal abortions. As of September, 10 out of Argentina’s 23 provinces had taken steps to do so, and 5 had announced that they were in the process of doing so.

Also in September, the legislature for the city of Buenos Aires legislature passed a law implementing the ruling in its jurisdiction. However, the city’s governor, Mauricio Macri, vetoed the law, claiming that it went beyond what the court required. The local ministry of health's protocols implementing the court's ruling—which contained requirements that could serve as obstacles for access to legal abortion—remained in effect. In October, after anti-choice groups won a court order that would have prevented the victim of a sex trafficking ring from obtaining an abortion, the Supreme Court intervened to allow the abortion to be performed.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In May 2012, a law entered force establishing the right of individuals over the age of 18 to choose their gender identity and their right to undergo sex-change operations and hormonal treatment without need for administrative or legal authorization.

Key International Actors

In his report on his November 2011 visit to Argentina, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, expressed concern at the large number of evictions of indigenous communities due to “the grave situation of legal uncertainty over indigenous land.” The special rapporteur also observedthat those who resist eviction or protest against it may be subject to a “disproportionate use of force by police” and criminal prosecution.

At  the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in June 2012, Argentina’s foreign minister publicly questionedthe role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), suggesting that it should not be critical of the region’s “democracies” today in the same way it had been critical of “dictatorships” in the past.