N° 64/10




Washington, D.C., June 21, 2010—The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), carried out a visit to the Republic of Argentina on June 7-10, 2010, as part of a standing invitation extended by the Argentine State to the IACHR. The delegation was composed of the Rapporteur, Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil, and staff of the IACHR Executive Secretariat. The Inter-American Commission would like to thank the Argentine government for its cooperation and for the unrestricted access to detention places provided during the course of the visit. It also thanks Argentine nongovernmental organizations and the Provincial Memory Commission for the information and cooperation provided.


In the city of Buenos Aires, the delegation met with the National Deputy Foreign Minister, Victorio Taccetti; the National Minister of Justice, Security, and Human Rights, Julio Alak; the Director of the Federal Prison Service, Alejandro Marambio; and the Vice President of the National Supreme Court of Justice, Elena Highton de Nolasco. In the city of La Plata, capital of the province of Buenos Aires, the delegation met with the President of the provincial Supreme Court of Justice, Hilda Kogan; the Attorney General, María del Carmen Falbo; the Minister of Justice and Security, Ricardo Casal; the Deputy Secretary for Criminal Policy, César Albarracín; and the Chief of the Buenos Aires Prison Service, Javier Gustavo Mendoza. The delegation also met with Mario Luis Coriolano, Appeals Defender for the province of Buenos Aires and a member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


The members of the delegation visited the Greater Buenos Aires Northern Complex; Sierra Chica Unit 2; Lisandro Olmos Unit 1; the Ensenada Police Station, Third Precinct (El Dique); the Berisso Police Station, First Precinct; and the Lomas de Zamora Police Station, Sixth Precinct. During these visits, the delegation met with the respective officials in charge of the facilities and interviewed many individuals in custody.


In the framework of the collaborative relationship that exists between the government and the IACHR, in order to help seek greater protection of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, and pursuant to General Assembly resolutions and based on the functions and powers it is granted in Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Commission brings to public knowledge the following preliminary observations.


The IACHR Rapporteurship would like to express its deep concern about the detention conditions experienced by persons being held in custody in the province of Buenos Aires. In this regard, the Rapporteurship stresses that considering the special position of the State as guarantor for persons deprived of liberty, the State must not only respect their right to life and to humane treatment, but must also ensure minimum detention conditions that are compatible with human dignity.


According to information provided by the authorities, as of March 2010 the province of Buenos Aires had a prison population of 30,132 inmates, of which 4,040 were held in police detention centers. According to official statistics, 61% of those being held in custody have not been given a final judgment; however, the Rapporteurship notes that this percentage does not include those detained in police station facilities. Civil society organizations, for their part, report that more than 70% of persons deprived of liberty are in preventive custody. The IACHR Rapporteurship is concerned about the abusive use of preventive detention, to the detriment of the principles of presumption of innocence, necessity, and proportionality that must govern this procedural mechanism. In this regard, the IACHR reiterates that the preventive detention of a person is an exceptional measure of a precautionary, not punitive, nature, and is appropriate only to ensure that the accused does not impede the efficient development of investigations or evade justice. The IACHR Rapporteurship observes that judges opt for the precautionary measure that places the heaviest burden on the right to liberty during prosecution, in order to demonstrate efficiency and avoid complaints from society, the news media, and the political sector itself. The IACHR Rapporteurship notes with concern the latest procedural reforms which restricted access to alternatives to prison and applied substantive criteria for analyzing the appropriateness of preventive imprisonment, contrary to international standards. The IACHR urges the authorities to apply preventive detention using criteria that are predominantly of an exceptional nature and to implement alternative measures. It is also necessary to bring the province's procedural laws in line with international human rights standards.


On another matter, with regard to the use of police station detention facilities, the IACHR Rapporteurship verified that in the province of Buenos Aires, the length of time a person is detained by judicial order in one of these facilities depends on the Prison System's available capacity. In practice, given the current shortage of prison space, this can take months and even more than a year. The Rapporteurship emphasizes that police station facilities are intended for temporary detention and lack the infrastructure and basic services to ensure decent detention conditions. In addition, due to their training, police personnel are not prepared to fulfill the function of guarding prisoners, which is the job of public servants trained in the custody and treatment of persons deprived of liberty—in this case, the Provincial Prison Service. The Rapporteurship urges the State to adopt the necessary measures to end the use of police station facilities as places to house individuals permanently, so that, as a result, these facilities cease to function as detention centers.


The IACHR Rapporteurship also expresses its deep concern about information received indicating that torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment are inflicted in detention centers. Specifically, it learned about frequent beatings, many times followed by cold showers; the practice of falanga or pata-pata, consisting of blows to the soles of the feet; mistreatment through the firing of rubber bullets; prolonged isolation in punishment cells; and overcrowding and poor material conditions. During the visit, the Rapporteurship even learned about cruel treatment inflicted on a member of the Prison Service as part of an "initiation ritual" to join an elite group of this body.


In this regard, the IACHR reiterates that international law absolutely prohibits torture, and that the States have the duty to protect those deprived of liberty from all types of threats and actions against their physical or mental integrity. This includes the duty to refrain from using as disciplinary punishment any methods that could be classified as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. According to the information received, from February to June 2010, there were a total of 241 cases allegedly involving torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, of which 115 cases were formally reported to the authorities. The Rapporteurship also received information from various sources on the State's unwillingness to investigate and punish the actions that are reported, on the prevailing impunity, and on the lack of an official record of these actions that would make it possible to have reliable information about the real extent of the problem and to design prevention policies. In this regard, it must be noted that the lack of punishment encourages practices that go against the respect for integrity and human dignity. In this regard, the Rapporteurship urges the Argentine State to take the necessary measures to prevent torture, and in particular, it urges judicial authorities to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for acts of torture, taking into account in determining the legal charges the gravity of such acts and prevailing international standards.


The Rapporteurship is also concerned about the overall poor state of physical structures and installations, particularly sanitary, plumbing, electrical, and internment facilities. The conditions for housing inmates are incompatible with the principle of humane treatment that all persons in custody should receive. They should have adequate space, daily exposure to natural light, and ventilation and heating that are appropriate to the climate conditions of where they are being held in custody. They should also have access to sanitary facilities that are hygienic and of sufficient quantity for all those being detained; basic products for personal hygiene; and water for washing themselves. On this point, the Rapporteurship was able to verify that some of the physical structures of the detention centers are very old and require substantial repairs, upkeep, and maintenance. In particular, in the case of the police stations, it was evident that the facilities used for detention were not originally designed for this purpose, but structures designed for other purposes and later modified.


In terms of the Prison System's housing capacity, the provincial authorities informed the Rapporteurship about a program to build 23 departmental detention centers (alcaidías) with a new system for provisional detention and a group-home program (Casas por Cárcel), designed to strengthen the principle of progressiveness in the enforcement of sentences. The Rapporteurship welcomes the efforts of the provincial government of Buenos Aires, but considers them insufficient to completely address the magnitude of the problem. The IACHR Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty believes it is essential to establish mechanisms to remedy prison overcrowding, in keeping with the Commission's Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas


On another matter, the IACHR Rapporteurship noted with concern the existence of a policy of transferring prisoners as a form of maintaining internal control or administering disciplinary punishment, which is applied successively and indiscriminately by Prison Service authorities, with the aggravating circumstance that during the transfers inmates are submitted to inhuman and degrading treatment. Taking into account the vast geographical expanse of the province of Buenos Aires, the prisoner transfer policy seriously impedes inmates' regular contact with their families and keeps them from having access to education and employment programs that would help them in the process of readaptation into society.


In this respect, the IACHR Rapporteurship would like to stress that the vast majority of inmates who were interviewed said they had been subject to successive transfers among prison facilities. For example, one of the inmates interviewed said that in six years he had been in more than 40 of the 54 facilities in the Buenos Aires Prison Service, passing through some of them more than twice. The authorities, for their part, accepted the use of this practice as a form of internal control in the prisons. In this regard, the IACHR Rapporteurship urges the provincial government of Buenos Aires to take steps to limit transfers prior to judicial control and to keep transfers from being used as a disciplinary sanction. It also recommends that the State consider the inmate's proximity to his nuclear family, as well as the person's physical condition and participation in education or work programs as basic factors to take into account at the time of deciding on transfers. In accordance with the Commission's Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, transfers should not be carried out in order to punish, repress, or discriminate against persons deprived of liberty, their families, or their representatives.


In terms of medical care, during its visit the IACHR Rapporteurship heard generalized complaints about the precarious nature of and difficult access to medical services and medications. It also learned about the shortage of medications and medical supplies in prison health units, and the lack of a mechanism to ensure the uninterrupted provision of such supplies. Along these lines, the IACHR Rapporteurship received information indicating that the transfer of inmates to health units is not always based on medical reasons, which hampers access to medical attention for those who really need it. The Rapporteurship established that persons deprived of liberty in police station facilities do not receive regular medical attention, but only in case of emergency. At the same time, the Rapporteurship has received information about the lack of adequate judicial control over detention conditions in terms of health care. On this point, the Rapporteurship urges the State to take the necessary measures to provide clinics in prison facilities with adequate health-care infrastructure; with essential human resources; with enough medication and medical supplies to cover the needs of the prison population; and with the security to ensure the physical integrity of the staff. The Rapporteurship would like to emphasize that persons deprived of liberty have the right to health, in particular to adequate medical, psychiatric, and dental care; the permanent availability of suitable and impartial medical personnel; and access to appropriate and free treatment and medications. It also recommends that the State provide regular medical care to persons detained in police stations.


In terms of the food provided to the prison population as well as those detained in police station facilities, the Rapporteurship heard repeated complaints about the insufficient amount of food and its poor quality. The Rapporteurship would like to emphasize that persons deprived of liberty have the right to food in such a quantity, quality, and hygienic condition so as to ensure adequate and sufficient nutrition. The IACHR Rapporteurship verified with concern that in isolation cellblocks, inmates did not have running water and had to eat with their hands. On this point, the IACHR urges the State to exercise quality controls for the food consumed by persons in custody and to ensure that their diet meets the minimum requirements in terms of quantity, quality, and hygienic conditions. The State must also provide those in custody with basic utensils so they can eat in minimum conditions of dignity.


The Rapporteurship also examined with concern the information it received indicating that the Provincial Prison System of Buenos Aires does not have adequate rehabilitation and education programs. Although Article 5(6) of the American Convention on Human Rights establishes that punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as an essential aim the reform and social readaptation of the prisoners, the Rapporteurship was able to confirm that access to existing programs is insufficient for the prison population of the province of Buenos Aires. The Rapporteurship urges the provincial government to allocate the necessary resources to expand and provide enough workshops, schools, and other resocialization programs run by the Provincial Prison System. It also underscores the importance of establishing objective criteria to ensure a transparent, fair way of allowing participation in such programs.


The Rapporteurship urges the State to devote priority attention and political will to improve the situation of persons deprived of liberty in the province of Buenos Aires, for which it believes that strengthening protection mechanisms is critically important. Along these lines, it is necessary to grant the necessary independence and autonomy to the Provincial Public Defender's Office and to set up the mechanism established in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It is also important to guarantee the independence of the members of the judiciary so that they can effectively fulfill their role of controlling the legality of preventive detention and enforcing sentences, free of any type of interference or pressure.


Finally, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty urges the Argentine State, and in particularly the province of Buenos Aires, to design and implement a prison policy in line with the international principles that govern this area and to create a plan designed to address the serious situation faced by persons deprived of liberty and to ensure the effective enjoyment of their human rights.


A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.


Useful links

Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas

IACHR Press Office

IACHR website




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