COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
VISIT TO THE ARGENTINE REPUBLIC
delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today
concluded a working visit to the Argentine Republic.
That working visit, conducted at the invitation of President Eduardo
Duhalde, lasted from July 29 to August 6, 2002.
busy schedule of activities centered on several petitions and cases being
processed by the IACHR. The
delegation also collected information on the situation of human rights
overall and, in particular, on such areas as the administration of justice,
the role of the public security forces, and the status of economic, social
and cultural rights.
IACHR is a principal organ of the Organization of American States (OAS),
whose mandate is to promote the observance of human rights in the
Hemisphere. Its authority derives mainly from the OAS Charter and the
American Convention on Human Rights, instruments both ratified by the
Argentine Republic. The Commission is composed of seven members who are
elected in their personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and do not
represent their countries of origin or residence. The IACHR delegation was
composed of Professor
Robert K. Goldman, Commission Member and Rapporteur for Argentina; Dr.
Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary; and Dr. Elizabeth Abi-Mershed,
attorney at the IACHR.
the course of its visit, the IACHR delegation interviewed government
officials and met with representatives from different sectors of civil
society in Buenos Aires, as well as with the relevant officials and
petitioners connected with several petitions before the IACHR in Neuquen,
Rio Negro, and Salta. The
delegation met, inter alia, with Dr. Eduardo A. Duhalde, President of Argentina; Dr.
Juan José Alvarez, Minister of Security and Justice; Dr. Oscar Luján
Fappiano, Minister for Human Rights; Min. Carlos Cersale di Cerisano,
Director General for Human Rights; representatives of the Ministry of the
Economy and of the Ministry of Health; representatives of ANSES; members of
the Human Rights Committee of the Chamber of Deputies; Dr. Juan Pablo
Cafiero, Minister of Justice and Security of the Province of Buenos Aires;
Dr. Mario L. Coriolano, Public Defender for Appeals of the Province of
Buenos Aires; Mr. Jorge E. Taiana, Secretary for Human Rights of the
Province of Buenos Aires; Mr. Eduardo Mondino, Ombudsman; Dr. Sonia
Margarita Escudero, Senator; Dr. Jorge A. Pereda, National Institute for
Indigenous Affairs; Dr. Juan Carlos Romero, Governor of the Province of
Salta; and various officials from the Provinces of Salta, Neuquén, and Rio
delegation also met representatives of civil society organizations, such as
the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS); Grandmothers of Plaza de
Mayo; Mother of Plaza de Mayo; Relatives of Political Detainees and
Disappeared; Permanent Assembly for Human rights; MEDH; Argentine League for
the Rights of Man; SERPAJ; Coordinator against Police and Institutional
Oppression (CORREPI); Buenos Aires Bar Association; Institute for
Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences (INECIP); Association for Civil
Rights; Bar Association of the Federal Capital; Citizen Power Foundation;
Legal Action Committee of the Argentine Workers Union; CICOP; Faculty of
Health and Human Rights of the University of Buenos Aires; Provincial Memory
Committee; Permanent Assembly for Human Rights – Tucumán; Center for
Justice and International Law (CEJIL); and Committee of Relatives of
Defenseless Victims of Social Unrest (COFAVI).
The delegation thanks the government of President Duhalde, other
state officials, nongovernmental organizations and civil society
institutions for their cooperation and the facilities extended in the
preparation and execution of this visit.
The Commission wishes to draw attention to the favorable disposition
of the Government, in particular the willingness to cooperate in settling
cases pending in the inter-American system.
In this regard, the Commission held meetings in connection with two
petitions in process of friendly settlement: Paynemil Communities in Neuquén
and Lhaka Honhat Communities in Salta. The Commission also held preliminary
meetings in order to examine the possibility of initiating friendly
settlement procedures in the cases of Walter David Bulacio, Sergio Andrés
Schiavini, Juan Angel Greco, Fernando Horacio Giovanelli and Raquel Natalia
Lagunas/Sergio Antonio Sorbellini, with the participation of the competent
national and provincial authorities and the respective petitioners and next
of kin of the victims.
In the framework of cooperation between the
Government and the IACHR and in order to help find ways to enhance
protection of fundamental rights for Argentine citizens, the Commission,
pursuant to the duties and authority of the IACHR under Article 41 of the
American Convention on Human Rights, makes public the following observations.
The Commission received information about the profound impact of the
unprecedented social and economic crisis on the situation of human rights in
the country. Both state
officials and civil society representatives informed about the chronic
problems besetting the public finances, the legal security crisis, and four
years of recession with the attendant unemployment, dramatic rise in poverty
and extreme poverty, and social exclusion.
Representatives of civil society organizations and the state
expressed skepticism and pessimism at the scale of the endemic weaknesses
that plague the judiciary. This
situation has led to a serious lack of confidence in the judiciary on the
part of the Argentine public. In
the inter-American human rights system the adequate operation of the
judiciary is essential for preventing the abuse of power by another State
organ, and, therefore, for protecting the rights of the individual. In order
for the judicial branch to be able to serve effectively as an organ for the
oversight and guarantee of human rights, not only must it exist formally,
but in addition, it must be independent and impartial.
As Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter says, the
separation of powers and independence of the branches of government
are essential elements of democracy[SW1] .
Many people expressed concern at the possible authorization of a more
active role for the army in internal security matters with the supposed aim
of resolving the public security crisis. The IACHR has mentioned on
different occasions the need for a clear distinction between internal
security and national defense under comprehensive civilian control.
Consequently, the Commission received with satisfaction the words of
the President of Argentina categorically discounting such a possibility.
the course of the visit, several civil society representatives expressed
preoccupation at the deterioration in public security.
In this regard, as the Commission has noted on several occasions,
states have the right and the duty to adopt or strengthen measures necessary
to protect their population. Such strengthening must be in the framework of the rule of
law and consistent with the parameters contained in the American Convention.
Commission received a large number of complaints about acts committed by the
security forces, including torture, unlawful pressure, and excessive use of
force. According to the
official records for the Province of Buenos Aires, from September 2000 to
October 2001 there were more than 1,000 reports of unlawful pressure or
mistreatment of children and young people under the protection of the state.
The Public Defender for Appeals of the Province keeps a “Database
of Cases of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or
Punishment” which contains more than 1,000 instances (counted from March
2000 to July 2002) committed by individuals in the exercise of the public
duties against persons involved in a judicial proceeding.
According to information from the provincial authorities, the number
of convictions is virtually insignificant compared to the number of
complaints. The Commission
considers that investigation, prosecution and punishment are crucial to the
eradication of torture, and that impunity with respect to serious violations
of this nature helps significantly to perpetuate it.
During the visit, the IACHR received information about the acts of
unrest of recent months, including the events of December 20, 2001 and June
26, 2002, as well as the respective investigations into those events. It
also received information regarding a large number of complaint regarding
the so-called “criminalization of social protest”.
In this respect, the Commission wishes to reiterate that the
State’s performance of its duty to adopt the necessary measures to protect
its population must be within the parameters laid down in the American
Convention, including those provided for ensuring freedom of expression.
the Commission received worrying information about overcrowded conditions at
many prisons and police station cells, which creates a situation of extreme
gravity and risk. As the
Secretariat for Human Rights of the Province of Buenos Aires said in its
review, this situation “has led, particularly in the conurbation of Buenos
Aires, people deprived of liberty to be subjected to inhuman and degrading
detention conditions in breach of constitutional, legal and international
human rights standards …”. It
is a particular cause for concern that, according to police reports, there
are minors among the persons detained at police stations.
In light of the gravity of the situation, the Commission values the
measures adopted by the authorities of the Province of Buenos Aires to
improve protection of fundamental rights in the Province and, in particular,
to address the problem of torture and unlawful pressure.
In that connection, the Governor of the Province set up within the
provincial administration a Secretariat for Human Rights, whose objectives
include eradication of torture and unlawful pressure. To that end, the
provincial authorities have created a Program on Torture Prevention, which
provides, among other measures, for the implementation of prevention and
supervision schemes at prisons and police stations, and a change of
leadership in the provincial prisons service.
Such measures represent important steps toward the reform of the
police force of the Province of Buenos Aires, which, according to the many
complaints received by the Commission, is known for abuse of authority,
torture, corruption and other wrongdoings.
The Commission wishes to express its concern at the information
received in the weeks before and after its visit regarding threats to human
rights defenders, as well as against attorneys, community leaders, activists
and witnesses. People who work in defense of human rights and the
organizations to which they belong are crucial for guaranteeing the free
exercise of fundamental rights and oversight of democratic institutions.
Bearing in mind the importance of these activities and the need to
protect those who carry them out, the situation of human rights defenders is
one of the central concerns of the IACHR.
The Commission has witnessed for itself the dedicated and courageous
efforts of human rights organizations in Argentina, both during the
dictatorship years, and in the course restoration and consolidation of
this chain of thought, the Commission wishes to note that human rights
defenders have a leading role to play in the process of ensuring the full
rule of law. The activities of
defenders, inter alia, through the
defense of individuals and groups of persons who fall victim to human rights
violations; through public denunciation of injustices that harm broad
swathes of society; and through their necessary monitoring of public
officials and democratic institutions, make them an irreplaceable instrument
in the construction of a solid and lasting democratic society.
American Convention says in its preamble that “the ideal of free men enjoying freedom
from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby
everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his
civil and political rights[SW2] ”.
An analysis of economic, social and cultural rights as they currently
stand in Argentina reveals that there is a series of priorities and duties
pending. State and civil
society representatives alike informed the Commission about the alarming
rise in the proportion of the population living below the poverty line
(according to information received, a little over 50%).
That information shows that the number of Argentines who are unable
to afford a basket of basic foods has more than doubled since the end of
the visit, for instance, the Commission received information and updated
studies about the health emergency and its consequences for large segments
of the population. The IACHR
has monitored this situation very closely since late 2001, paying particular
attention to the issue of access to medicines, even to the extent of holding
a general hearing on the matter at its session in March of this year. According to the applicable standards under both the
inter-American and the universal system of human rights, the preservation of
health and physical and psychological integrity is a priority that requires,
inter alia, special measures of protection for the more vulnerable groups,
such as children and the elderly. In the context of the current crisis, the
Commission considers it essential to give priority to adequate mechanisms to
resolve the health emergency, including ensuring the continuity of medical
services and access to medicines for persons who need them to preserve their
physical and psychological integrity.
The Commission recognizes the efforts of the state to improve the
situation of the sectors most at risk, through, for example, the Heads of
Household program. This
program, which allocates a monthly subsidy of 150 pesos to unemployed heads
of household with minority age children, in order to “ensure that every
Argentine household can enjoy a monthly livable income,” and which,
according to the information received, benefits more than 1.6 million
people, provides a basic underpinning for other crucial steps.
However, given that this program only covers a little over half of
the basic food needs of the average family, it is essential immediately to
adopt other measures to tackle the social crisis and, in particular, the
current disturbing rise in child malnutrition.
In that connection, the IACHR considers that the pertinent
international agencies should play a leading role in helping to resolve the
Large sectors of Argentine society are also being harmed by the bank
freeze (the so-called corralito),
by decrees that suspended certain judicial proceedings or the execution of
precautionary decisions and judgments, and by the antigoteo
law (a law introduced to enforce the freeze).
In recent months, the Commission has received almost 2000 petitions
relating to this situation, and during the visit it met with representatives
of the petitioners and with the persons concerned to collect additional
information. The Commission
will evaluate the information gathered and the petitions filed in accordance
with its Rules of Procedure, and will consider holding a hearing on this
matter at its next session.
The context of the current crisis, including the fact that
significant segments of the population are unable to meet their basic needs
and that social tension is worsening, as well as the lack of confidence in
institutional leaders, has created a climate of uncertainty and fear that
may prompt responses incompatible with respect for fundamental guarantees
and freedoms. It is important in the current circumstances in the country,
with the political, economic, and social situation badly deteriorated, for
all sectors of society, especially national and local authorities and
political leaders, to act as prudently as possible and with absolute respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in order to ensure that the
coming elections are held in an atmosphere of civility and respect
throughout the public. Full
respect for human rights will only be possible through the recovery of
confidence in, and the strengthening of, institutions.
The Commission recognizes that most of the concerns mentioned here
predate the current government. It
also understands that the government of President Duhalde only took office
seven months ago in circumstances of serious political, economic, and social
upheaval unprecedented in Argentine history.
However, the current government has a huge responsibility to prevent
this crisis from deepening even further and leading to situations of social
unrest and institutional collapse with severe consequences for the future of
Argentines. These observations
were made out of a desire to collaborate with the state and its authorities
in their duty to comply with its international obligations.
Goldman will inform the plenary of the IACHR about the results of his visit
at its 116th regular meeting to be held in Washington, D.C. from October 7
to 25 this year.
Commission expresses its gratitude to the Argentine State for the
invitation, which constitutes an important sign of its desire to comply with
its international commitments in the area of human rights. The Commission
also thanks the Argentine authorities for their willingness to discuss and
seek solutions to the problems raised.
It also wishes to extend its gratitude to civil society
representatives for the important information they supplied during the
working visit, and to the media for their interest in the activities carried
out. The IACHR will continue to collaborate with these sectors in
the shared task of seeking mechanisms that might help to enhance observance
of human rights in the country.
Buenos Aires, August 6, 2002.