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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Argentina

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Argentina, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa2512.html [accessed 23 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

 

Argentina is a federal constitutional democracy with an executive branch headed by an elected president, a bicameral legislature, and a separate judiciary. The President, Carlos Saul Menem, was elected in 1989, under an electoral college system, for a single 6-year term. In August a Constituent Assembly of popularly elected delegates revised the Constitution, changing the presidential term to 4 years, abolishing the electoral college system, and permitting one successive term in office.

The President is the commander in chief, and a civilian Defense Minister oversees the armed forces. The Government abolished military conscription in September, partly as a result of the public backlash generated by the beating death of a young army recruit earlier in the year. The Federal Police, which report to the Interior Minister; the Border Police and Coast Guard which report to the Defense Minister; and the provincial police share responsibility for law and order. The police continued to be responsible for human rights abuses. Argentina has a mixed agricultural, industrial, and service economy that continued its dramatic turnaround after decades of mismanagement and decline. An economic reform structural adjustment program, begun in 1989, led to 3 years of high growth, sharply reduced inflation, and spurred competitiveness. An extensive privatization program has been largely completed at the federal level and is now under way in the provinces. However, while employment grew rapidly during the first years of the program, national unemployment rose to a record high of 12.2 percent in 1994, and the cost of living rose sharply. The high cost of living has most severely affected those with fixed incomes, although the entire country benefited from the end of hyperinflation.

The newly revised Constitution incorporates nine international human rights conventions and also provides for a wide range of freedoms and rights which the Government generally protected. There continue to be instances of extrajudicial killings and physical mistreatment of detainees by the police and military. However, the central and provincial governments tried and convicted a number of police officials for such abuses. The judicial system is subject to inordinate delays, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention. The Government-sponsored National Commission on the Right to Identity has worked closely with human rights groups to locate children of parents who disappeared during the military dictatorship and reunite them with their biological families.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no credible reports of politically motivated killings by government forces.

However, police and military personnel were responsible for a number of extrajudicial killings. The most publicized case of an extrajudicial killing was the beating death of a young army recruit, Omar Carrasco, whose body was found on April 6 in the province of Neuquen. At the end of the year, three soldiers were being held pending trial for murder. Two other soldiers were awaiting trial (but not in prison) for covering up the crime. Because of a slipshod investigation at the time of Carrasco's disappearance (nearly 1 month passed before his body was found), the federal Attorney General ordered the case reopened in August to determine whether senior military officers had engaged in a coverup of the original investigation.

Police officers committed several other extrajudicial killings. In July a police inspector allegedly killed a 15-year-old, Miguel Rodriguez, for having stolen a ball from his son. The inspector was held for trial on murder charges. Cordoba Governor Eduardo Angeloz fired the province's Police Chief, Deputy Chief, and Director for Internal Security after a serious altercation between police and residents in the town of San Jorge. In another instance, a court in the province of Buenos Aires convicted two police officers convicted and sentenced them to life in prison for having brutalized 57-year-old Ramon Buchon until he died of a heart attack. The case of Diego Rodriguez Laguens, who police allegedly beat to death while in their custody in San Pedro in February, continued under investigation at year's end.

Provincial and federal authorities made a greater effort to arrest and try the offenders in 1994 than they did in previous years. A federal judge sentenced four policemen to life imprisonment for the kidnaping and murder of three businessmen, Eduardo Oxenford, Benjamin Neuman, and Osvaldo Sivak in 1978, 1982, and 1985, respectively. A court sentenced three policemen, accused of killing three teenagers in 1987 in a Buenos Aires suburb, to 11 years in prison but released them pending appeal. In the town of Wilde, Buenos Aires province, a court tried and convicted seven policemen for killing four people in a shootout. A court in San Nicholas, Buenos Aires province, sentenced two policemen to life in prison for killing a 57-year-old carpenter in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances in 1994. Current cases stem from unresolved disappearances in previous years, especially the 1976-83 military rule.

A La Plata court began the trial of 7 of 11 Buenos Aires provincial police officers implicated in the disappearance of a La Plata youth, Andres Nunez. Three witnesses testified they heard him being beaten in a nearby room at the time of his captivity 3 years ago. In April the authorities detained six additional police officers and continued to seek four others, who are fugitives. The case of Pablo Guardati, whom Mendoza police reportedly abducted in 1992, remains unresolved. The authorities released three of the four police officers charged in this case in late 1993, and freed the fourth in March, all for lack of sufficient evidence.

The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the National Commission on the Right to Identity, and the Interior Ministry's Secretariat for Human Rights are continuing the search for children of couples who disappeared during the military regime. Using modern genetic testing techniques to prove genetic relationships where blood samples are available, they have located 55 children out of 218 pending cases since the restoration of democratic government in 1983. They have reunited 30 of these children with their biological families and allowed 13 to remain with their adoptive parents who were determined to have adopted the children legally. An additional case moved slowly toward resolution in 1994, which will bring the total number of children reunited with their families to 31.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture, and the Criminal Code provides penalties for torture which are similar to those for homicide, from 8 to 15 years in prison. Nevertheless, police maltreatment of detainees and lack of accountability remain problems. In February Juan Carbajal entered a Buenos Aires provincial police station seeking information and became involved in an argument with several officers. Police beat him and then detained him in a local hospital, telling his wife he was being held because he was mentally deranged. Doctors in the hospital, however, said he was normal and that his bruises were deliberately inflicted. The provincial Director of Security opened an investigation; Carbajal was released after 2 weeks in the hospital, and two police officers were arrested. In August a judge convicted four policemen in Entre Rios Province for physically abusing a suspect. However, he imposed a 2 1/2-year suspended sentence to be implemented only if they did not pass a written examination on constitutional rights and guarantees.

In October the Menem administration recommended the promotion of two navy commanders, Antonio Pernias and Juan Carlos Rolon, to captain. During their confirmation hearings, they admitted to having tortured detainees during the 1976-83 period of military rule. A storm of controversy arose, and a Senate committee, dominated by the President's own Justicialist Party, rejected the nominations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Penal Code places limits on the arrest and investigatory power of the police and the judiciary, but the provincial police often ignored these restrictions, as indicated in the cases cited above. Human rights groups find it difficult to document such incidents, because victims are reluctant to file complaints.

Police will detain young persons (teenagers and young adults are most vulnerable to this practice) sometimes overnight, sometimes for an entire weekend, without formal charges. They do not always provide such detainees the opportunity to call their family or an attorney and release them only upon a complaint from relatives or legal counsel. Human rights groups were also concerned about a proposed antiterrorism bill which would extend the number of hours the police can hold a person without a formal charge from 6 to 12 hours in a police station and from 48 to 72 hours in judicial headquarters.

Prison conditions are poor in a number of overcrowded jails where the facilities are old and dilapidated. In Buenos Aires province no new prisons have been built for 25 years. A circuit judge in Quilmes (Buenos Aires province) denounced lamentable treatment of prisoners who are crowded four or five into a cell no larger than three meters square. A study in late 1993 indicated that 60 percent of those incarcerated nationwide are awaiting trial; some have been detained for 2 years or more. Human rights groups say this problem remains a serious one and that prisons are virtual powder kegs of discontent. A large-scale prison riot occurred in Buenos Aires Province in August 1994.

The law provides for the right to bail, and it is utilized in practice. Nonetheless, law allows pretrial detention, and the slow pace of criminal trials results in lengthy pretrial detention periods. Many untried prisoners are serving more time in prison than they would have served if they had been convicted and had received the maximum sentence for the crime for which they were arrested. In recognition of this problem, the Senate passed a measure in October which would set a maximum 2-year limit on unsentenced prisoners and, after 2 years, grant them 2 days of credit toward their sentences for every 1 day of the served before sentencing.

The Interior Ministry conducted courses for public officials designed to heighten awareness about human rights issues, and the Justice Ministry attempted to educate the public about the legal rights of detainees. The Government created the position of Ombudsman to oversee the observance of individual rights in the prison system. To improve police practices, the Interior Ministry's Secretariat for Human Rights signed an agreement in 1994 with the United National Center for Human Rights to provide training for federal and provincial law enforcement officials.

The law does not permit involuntary exile, and it is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is nominally independent and impartial, but its processes are inefficient, complicated, and allegedly subject to political influence. The judicial system is hampered by inordinate delays, procedural logjams, changes of judges, and widely reported allegations of corruption.

Trials are public, and defendants have the right to legal counsel. A panel of judges decides guilt or innocence. In 1992, some federal and provincial courts began deciding cases using oral trials in lieu of the practice of written submissions. Although such trials are less time-consuming, lawyers and judges are still struggling to adjust to the new procedures, and substantial elements of the old system remain. For example, before the oral part of a trial begins, judges receive written documentation regarding the case which, according to prominent legal experts, can bias a judge before oral testimony is heard.

Reform of the judiciary is a high priority for the Government. The new Constitution provides for changes in the selection of judges and oversight of the legal system.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits the Government from interfering in the private lives of its citizens, and the Government rarely does so.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the right to publish ideas without prior censorship. The media fully exercise this right, disseminating the full spectrum of political, social, cultural, and economic opinion in the country.

The number of reports of attacks or threats against journalists decreased in 1994. A newspaper editor in Jujuy Province received an anonymous threat, and the wife of a reporter for the Argentine news agency in Buenos Aires was mugged and threatened. A correspondent for a La Pampa province paper also received death threats. In Mendoza, intelligence operatives of the provincial police are alleged to have illegally entered a hotel room and intimidated three visiting Chilean journalists in October. National and provincial government authorities condemned the incident and launched an investigation. There was little progress in the apprehension and punishment of those responsible for these and prior attacks.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution and laws provide for the right of groups and political parties to assemble and demonstrate. Many groups from all sectors of society exercised this right with little or no government interference.

The Government generally respected academic freedom.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of worship is a constitutional right. The new Constitution dropped its previous requirement that the President be a Roman Catholic. In practice, all religious denominations are able to exercise their faith freely.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Documented travel and emigration remained unrestricted in 1994.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Since its return to democratic government in 1983, Argentina has held free and fair elections to choose federal, provincial, and municipal office holders. Universal adult suffrage is obligatory in national elections. Political parties of varying ideologies operate freely and openly. The Constitution provides that all adult citizens shall enjoy full participation in the political process. In 1994 a Constituent Assembly, freely chosen by the electorate, revised and ratified changes to the Constitution of 1853 that permit the President to run for a second term. The changes reduce the President's term from 6 to 4 years. The new Constitution also provides for popular elections of the mayor of the Federal Capital District of Buenos Aires (previously appointed by the President), and mandates Senate confirmation of Supreme Court justices by a two-thirds vote.

The Constitution stipulates that the internal regulations of political parties and party nominations for elections be subject to affirmative action requirements to assure that women are represented in elective office. A 1993 decree required that a minimum of 30 percent of all candidates on political party lists be women. Voters elected 20 new female members to the Chamber of Deputies in the October 1993 elections; 1 female deputy was reelected, and 7 served the balance of terms to which they were elected in 1991. In 1994 women occupied 13 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 4 percent of the Senate. There were few ranking women officials in the executive branch; they are, however, assuming positions of greater authority in provincial and local governments.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Local human rights groups continue to be active, particularly in cases of judicial and police abuse of authority. The Ministry of Interior's Secretariat for Human Rights works with the federal and state governments to promote greater respect for basic human rights among local authorities. There are no restrictions on visits or activities by international humanitarian groups or organizations.

The Ministry of Interior created in 1994 an Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism, located in Bariloche. Institute personnel will, among other things, have free access to files on persons or groups involved in crimes committed during the Second World War.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Sex, Race, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and federal law guarantee equality for all citizens. The 1988 Antidiscrimination Law establishes a series of penalties from 1 month to 3 years' imprisonment for anyone who arbitrarily restricts, obstructs, or restrains a person based on "race, religion, nationality, ideology, political opinion, sex, economic position, social class, or physical characteristics." There is no evidence of any systematic effort by government or private groups to abridge these rights.

Women

Provisions in the new Constitution have greatly enhanced women's participation in politics. However, women encounter economic discrimination and sexual harassment, a situation which has become more serious with the entry of large numbers of women into the workplace in the last 10 years. According to a government report, women occupy a disproportionately large number of lower paying jobs. Within each job category, women are concentrated in the lower ranks and receive the lowest salaries. Often they receive less pay for equal work done by men even though this is explicitly prohibited by law. Female labor leaders pressured their male counterparts for affirmative action programs within the trade union movement to counteract this discrimination. Women also make up a disproportionately large share of the informal sector, which effectively denies them work-related economic and social benefits enjoyed by those in the formal sector.

The National Women's Council and the Presidential Women's Advisory Cabinet, created in 1992 and 1993 respectively, are currently working on a 3-year government action plan to promote equal opportunity and greater participation by women in society. In November 1993, President Menem signed a decree against sexual harassment in the Federal Government.

Violence against women is a national problem; insensitivity among police and judges sometimes discourages women from reporting assaults, especially in domestic violence cases. In response, the National Women's Council has been working with law enforcement authorities to include in their police training curriculum material on handling cases of violence against women.

Children

The new Constitution incorporates the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ministry of Interior's Human Rights Secretariat works with United Nations Children's Fund and other international agencies to promote children's rights and well-being. After detecting several cases of trafficking in babies, the provincial authorities in Cordoba and Buenos Aires began programs to improve registration and identification of newborn infants. The Chamber of Deputies approved a new adoption law which will greatly restrict adoption of children by those not resident in Argentina. It offers more protection to the children and the biological parents.

Historically, Argentina has had numerous programs to provide public education, health protection, and recreational services for all children, regardless of class or economic status. It recognizes there are problems of child abuse and prostitution, and that those affected tend to be younger than previously. The Government's National Council of the Child and the Family works with federal and local agencies to improve child protection programs. Sixteen out of 24 provinces, as well as the Federal Government have adopted child protection laws, the most recent being the province of Buenos Aires which approved new legislation in 1994.

Indigenous People

The revised Constitution provides the right of minorities to be represented in Government and incorporates international agreements intended to promote their economic, social, and cultural rights. Estimates of the size of the indigenous population vary from 60,000 to 150,000, but the National Statistical Institute put the figure at below 100,000 as of 1992. Most live in the northern and northwestern provinces and in the far south. Their standard of living is considerably below the average, and they have higher rates of illiteracy, chronic diseases, and unemployment. Indigenous people and groups are sometimes involved in disputes over tribal lands which tend to be prolonged due to the inefficient court system.

Religious Minorities

Two major events heightened the Jewish community's concerns about anti-Semitism in Argentina: The terrorist bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the arrest and extradition proceedings against ex-Nazi official Erich Priebke. Senior government officials, including the President, expressed solidarity with the Jewish community after the bombing and stated their commitment to find the perpetrators. Even before the bombing, anti-Semitic incidents (threats, assaults, graffiti) increased during the first 6 months of 1994. The Government actively investigates these crimes.

People with Disabilities

Congress approved a law aimed at eliminating physical barriers to handicapped persons in 1994. The law regulates standards regarding access to public buildings, parks, plazas, stairs and ramps, and pedestrian areas. However, few buildings and public areas in Buenos Aires or other cities currently offer easy access to persons with disabilities. Federal law also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

With the exception of military personnel, all workers are free to form unions. Estimates regarding union membership vary widely. Most union leaders believe it to be about 40 percent of the work force; government figures indicate union membership at 30 percent.

Unions have the right to strike and the law protects members who participate in strikes. In 1994 major strikes occurred without government interference against the privatized Greater Buenos Aires Electric Power Utility and the aluminum smelting plant in the southern province of Chubut. However, in response to a call for a general strike by trade union opponents of the Government's economic policies, the Government declared the strike illegal on the grounds that the constitutional right to strike is intended to protect workers' economic interests but not to be used as a political weapon. However, the Government did nothing to interfere with the 1-day work stoppage.

Argentine unions are members of international labor associations and secretariats and participate actively in their programs.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law prohibits antiunion practices and the Government enforces it. Argentine labor, the private sector, and the Government reaffirmed these rights in a framework agreement signed in July aimed at reforming labor-management relations in the context of economic restructuring and increasing global competitiveness. The trend towards bargaining on a company level, in contrast to negotiating at the national level, on a sectoral basis continues, but the adjustment is not an easy one for either side. For this reason, the agreement proposes to create a national mediation service to promote more effective collective bargaining.

The Committee of Experts (COE) on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) took note of a Teachers' Union complaint regarding restrictions on collective bargaining in certain specified sectors and asked the Government to inform the ILO of measures it may take or has taken to encourage voluntary negotiations without impediments. Workers may not be fired for participating in legal union activities. Those who prove they have been discriminated against have the right to be reinstated.

There are no officially designated export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, and there were no reports that it was practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law prohibits employment of children under 14 years of age, except within the family. Minors aged 14 to 18 may work in a limited number of job categories, but not more than 6 hours a day or 35 hours a week. Notwithstanding these regulations, a Ministry of Labor report estimated that 200,000 children between 10 and 14 years of age are employed, primarily as street vendors or household workers. Federal and provincial labor authorities were not well equipped to cope with this situation due to budgetary and personnel limitations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly minimum wage is $200 but is insufficient to sustain an average family of four.

Federal labor law mandates acceptable working conditions in the areas of health, safety, and hours. The maximum workday is 8 hours and workweek 48 hours. The framework agreement aims at producing legislation to modernize the accident compensation process and occupational health and safety norms. In responding to a complaint from the Congress of Argentine Workers that work-related illnesses were not covered under the existing workers compensation system, the ILO's COE urged the Government to outline the measures it plans to take to fulfill its obligations under ILO Convention 42 on worker compensation (occupational diseases) which Argentina ratified in 1950.

Occupational health and safety standards are well developed, but federal and provincial governments lack sufficient resources to fully enforce them. In spite of union vigilance, the most egregious cases of inhumane working conditions generally involve illegal immigrants who have little opportunity or knowledge to seek legal redress. In October and November, authorities in Buenos Aires uncovered several "sweatshops" employing illegal immigrants working under deplorable conditions for minimal pay. The Government closed one sweatshop immediately; the closure of the others awaited a court decision.

Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous or unhealthful work situations, after having gone through a claim procedure, without jeopardy to continued employment. Nevertheless, workers who leave the workplace before it has been proven unsafe run the risk of being fired; in such cases, the worker has the right to judicial appeal, but this process can be very lengthy.

 

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