Long-standing human rights problems in Argentina include police abuse, poor prison conditions, endemic violence against women, and obstacles keeping indigenous people from enjoying the rights that Argentine and international law afford them. Restrictions on abortion and difficulty accessing reproductive services remain serious concerns; an attempt in 2018 to decriminalize abortion did not pass the Senate.
Impunity for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, vaguely defined criminal provisions that undermine free speech, and delays in appointing permanent judges are other concerns.
Argentina continues to make significant progress protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and prosecuting officials for abuses committed during the country’s last military dictatorship (1976-1983), although trials have been delayed.
Confronting Past Abuses
As of November 2018, the Attorney General’s Office reported 3,007 people charged, 867 convicted, and 110 acquitted of crimes allegedly committed by Argentina’s last military junta. Of 599 cases alleging crimes against humanity, judges had issued rulings in 203.
Prosecutions were made possible by a series of actions taken in the early 2000s by Congress, the Supreme Court, and federal judges annulling amnesty laws and striking down pardons of former officials implicated in the crimes. As of November 2018, 128 people who were illegally taken from their parents as children during the 1976-1983 dictatorship had been identified. Many were reunited with their families.
In May, an appeals court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 people accused of participating in Operation Condor, a regional strategy to coordinate repressive efforts by dictatorships in several Latin American countries. They were sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for participating in an illicit association that kidnapped 103 people.
The large number of victims, suspects, and cases makes it difficult for prosecutors and judges to bring those responsible to justice while respecting their due process rights. Argentine law allows judges to send inmates age 70 and older to serve their time under house arrest. The Attorney General’s Office reported in September that 641 pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were under house arrest. In 2016, the government said it would not appeal judicial rulings granting house arrest to pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners.
Freedom of Expression
In January 2016, police detained Milagro Sala, a prominent social leader in Jujuy province, in connection with her participation in street protests. Sala and others had gathered in the provincial capital to protest a decree the governor had issued purporting to regulate organizations like Sala’s, which implement government-funded housing and other welfare programs.
Sala was charged with instigating protesters to commit crimes and with sedition. Sala was also under investigation for alleged corruption. In August 2018, the Supreme Court ordered that Sala, whom a local judge had ordered returned from house arrest to prison, be returned to house arrest. The ruling cited provisional measures that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) had issued in her favor in November 2017.
In April 2017, the Argentine government committed to reforming the criminal code to modify and narrow the definition of sedition. However, it had yet to present a formal proposal to Congress at time of writing.
Upon taking office, President Mauricio Macri adopted a temporary set of decrees to regulate media and created a temporary agency to implement the new rules. The agency reports to the Modernization Ministry and so is not independent from the executive branch, compromising its ability to act independently from government interests. In 2016, the government said it was drafting a communications law that it claimed would respect free speech. At time of writing, the law had not been presented to Congress and the supposedly temporary agency had issued rulings regulating media.
In 2016, the Macri administration issued a resolution establishing transparent criteria to prevent favoritism in government purchases of media advertising. In 2017, the president appointed the head of a national agency to ensure public access to information held by government bodies, implementing a 2016 law approved by Congress. The agency is also charged with protecting personal data. Between September 2017, when the law entered into force, and October 2018, the number of information requests reached 3,582.
Authorities responded to most requests within a month, but citizens filed 204 appeals before the agency, in most cases after authorities failed to respond to the original requests. However, some provinces and municipalities lack freedom of information laws, undermining transparency at those levels of government.
Prison Conditions and Abuses by Security Forces
Overcrowding, ill-treatment by guards, inadequate facilities, and inmate violence continue in Argentina’s prisons. The National Penitentiary Office, which Congress created in 2003 to supervise federal prisons and protect detainees’ rights, reported the violent deaths of six federal prisoners during the first semester of 2018, but did not identify the individuals responsible. The office also documented 301 alleged cases of torture or ill-treatment in federal prisons between January and June 2018, after 615 cases in 2017.
In December 2017, the federal government created the National Committee to Prevent Torture, charged with monitoring the situation of people in detention.
In July 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWAD) reported that police forces often conduct criminal arrests in a discriminatory and subjective manner. Approximately 60 percent of all people behind bars in Argentina are in pretrial detention, and the period of such detention sometimes lasts up to six years. Largely due to overcrowding, some pretrial detainees are being held in police stations. Prison guards have taken “disobedient” detainees to isolation cells without following predetermined sanction procedures. Security forces have detained children and subjected them to abuse.
Police and other security forces occasionally employ excessive force against protesters, despite a 2011 commitment by authorities in at least 19 of Argentina’s 23 provinces to ensure that force is used proportionately.
In September, a court sentenced six policemen to up to 10-and-a-half years in prison for the arbitrary arrest and torture of two teenagers in 2016. The officers had detained the two, 15- and 18-years-old at the time, while they walked in a low-income community in Buenos Aires. One of them told the court the officers severely beat him on the back and head, kicked him as he was lying on the floor, and threatened to kill him while placing a knife at his throat.
In February, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said the government would modify the criminal code to protect police officers who shoot at a person they believe to be committing a crime. The minister claimed that all actions by police officers should be “presumed” legal. The minister’s pledge followed a well-known case in which an officer killed a man who was running away after stabbing a tourist in Buenos Aires. In December, the Argentine Security Ministry approved a resolution regarding the use of firearms by members of federal security forces that grants federal agents overly broad discretion to use firearms.
In July, President Macri announced the Armed Forces would “collaborate in interior security” operations linked to combatting drug trafficking at Argentina’s borders. He later adopted a decree outlining a new defense policy that includes some vague language that would, for example, allow the Armed Forces to respond to threats that do not come from another state and to protect unspecified “strategic objectives.” Defense Minister Oscar Aguad said troops would not be deployed in public security operations.
The delayed appointment of permanent judges by the Council of the Judiciary has led to temporary appointments of judges who lack security of tenure, which the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 undermines judicial independence. As of November 2018, 260 of 985 lower-court judgeships remained vacant.
Impunity for the AMIA Bombing
Twenty-four years after the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured more than 300, no one has been convicted of the crime.
The investigation stalled when Iran, which Argentina’s judiciary suspects of ordering the attack, refused to allow Argentine investigators to interview Iranian suspects in Argentina. In 2013 Argentina and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that allowed an international commission of jurists to review evidence and question Iranian suspects—but only in Tehran—likely rendering the interviews inadmissible in an Argentine court. A federal court declared the MOU unconstitutional; the Macri administration did not appeal.
Red notices—a form of international arrest warrant—that the Argentine government requested from Interpol to detain several Iranians implicated in the attack remain in force. In September, President Macri called on Iranian authorities to collaborate with the investigations during his speech at the UN General Assembly.
In January 2015, Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in charge of investigating the bombing, was found dead in his home with a single gunshot wound to the head and a pistol beside him matching the wound. His death came just days after he had filed a criminal complaint accusing then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Héctor Timerman, then-foreign affairs minister, of conspiring with Iran to undermine the investigation.
A federal court dismissed Nisman’s complaint, but, following an appeal, in 2016 the judiciary ordered the case reopened. In March 2018, an appeals court upheld a decision ordering the pretrial detention of Fernández de Kirchner for her alleged role in the cover-up. It has not been implemented because she has parliamentary immunity as a senator. Timerman passed away in December 2018. As of November, courts had not determined whether Nisman’s death was suicide or murder.
In 2015, several officials—including former President Carlos Menem, his head of intelligence, and a judge—were put on trial for alleged interference with the initial investigation into the bombing. The trial continued at time of writing.
Indigenous people in Argentina face obstacles in accessing justice, land, education, health care, and basic services. Argentina has failed to fully implement existing laws to protect indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior, and informed consent when the government adopts decisions that may affect their rights—a right provided for in international law.
In July, the UNWAD reported that demonstrations by members of indigenous communities had been “violently repressed,” that these groups had been subject to abuse by security forces and private security guards, and that members had been detained without respect for their basic rights.
In November 2017, Congress approved a law extending the deadline for completing a survey of indigenous lands to 2021. The survey is being conducted, but slowly.
Abortion is illegal in Argentina, except in cases of rape or when the life or health of the woman is at risk. But even in such cases, women and girls are sometimes subject to criminal prosecution for seeking abortions and have trouble accessing reproductive services, such as contraception and voluntary sterilization.
In May 2018, a 10-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather faced obstacles to obtaining an abortion in Salta province. A decree by the governor only allowed abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and a provincial protocol required an interview by a team of psychologists, despite a Supreme Court protocol asserting that a woman’s statement that she has been raped is enough to allow an abortion. Although the governor lifted the decree in response to the public outcry generated by this case and the girl was eventually allowed to have an abortion, the family decided that she should not.
In June, following massive protests, the House of Representatives passed a bill intended to decriminalize abortion completely during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and, after that period, to allow women and girls to end pregnancies when they are the result of rape, when the life or health of the woman or girl is at risk, or when the fetus suffers from severe conditions not compatible with life outside the womb. The Senate rejected the bill in August.
Despite a 2009 law setting forth comprehensive measures to prevent and punish violence against women, the unpunished killing of women remains a serious concern. The National Registry of Femicides, administered by the Supreme Court, reported 251 femicides—the murder of women based on their gender—but only 12 convictions, in 2017. In May 2018, the Attorney General’s Office adopted a special protocol for investigating and prosecuting femicides.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
In 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage. The Civil Marriage Law allows same-sex couples to enter civil marriages and affords them the same legal marital protections as different-sex couples, including adoption rights and pension benefits. Since 2010 more than 18,000 same-sex couples have married nationwide.
Key International Actors and Foreign Policy
In January 2018, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances closed its urgent action on the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, an artisan who had gone missing in August 2017 while visiting a Mapuche indigenous community in Chubut province. Community members had told authorities they saw federal security forces take Maldonado away from a demonstration. His body was found two months later near a local river. Forensic examiners concluded that he had drowned and his body showed no evidence of abuse. Also in January, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights closed the precautionary measures it had granted requesting that the Argentine government protect Maldonado’s life and physical integrity when he went missing. The criminal investigation into the circumstances of his death remained open at time of writing.
The UNWAD’s July 2018 report on Argentina, based on an in-country visit in 2017, outlined concrete recommendations to address the abuses against detainees that it had documented.
President Macri has repeatedly and publicly criticized Venezuela’s poor human rights record and called for the release of its political prisoners. His administration has allowed Venezuelans to apply for the same permits to stay in Argentina granted to residents of Mercosur member countries, despite Venezuela’s expulsion from the regional trade bloc. The number of Venezuelans moving legally to Argentina has constantly increased since 2014, reaching over 140,000 in December.