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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Argentina

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Argentina, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa2d10.html [accessed 11 July 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

 

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 recently reelected to a second term which runs until July 1999. His Justicialist Party won a majority of seats in both houses of Congress.

The President is the constitutional commander-in-chief, and a civilian Defense Minister oversees the armed forces. Since the end of conscription in 1994, the armed forces are composed of volunteers only. The responsibility for maintaining law and order is shared by several law enforcement agencies. The Federal Police report to the Interior Minister and the Border Police and Coast Guard report to the Defense Minister. Provincial police report to the individual provincial governors.

Provincial policemen continued to commit human rights abuses.

Argentina has a mixed agricultural, industrial, and service economy that continued a dramatic turnaround after decades of mismanagement and decline. An economic reform and structural adjustment program, begun in 1989, led to 3 years of high growth with sharply reduced inflation, and spurred competitiveness. An extensive privatization program, largely completed at the federal level, is now underway in the provinces. However, as a result of privatization and private sector adjustment, the national rate of unemployment rose to a record 18.6 percent in 1995. The high cost of living has affected those on low fixed incomes the most, although the entire country benefited from the end of hyperinflation. Poverty has sharply declined since implementation of the adjustment program.

The Constitution, revised in 1994, 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 local police. However, provincial authorities investigated, tried, and convicted a number of police officials for such abuses. The judicial system is subject to inordinate delays, resulting in lengthy pretrial detention. Societal discrimination and violence against women are also problems. Revelations of extrajudicial killings by former military officers who served under the 1976-83 military government sparked a national debate over a full accounting for those who disappeared during that period. The debate included an unprecedented public acknowledgement by the army commander that the army committed grave human rights violations at that time. The Government and the armed forces said, however, that they have no information about those who disappeared beyond that collected by the National Commission on Disappeared Persons in 1984 and the Interior Ministry's Subsecretariat for Human Rights since then.

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 reports of politically motivated extrajudicial killings.

However, provincial police were responsible for a number of other extrajudicial killings. Under Argentina's federal system, the provincial police are not subject to federal government authority. Provincial governments have, however, investigated, and in some instances, detained and tried officials. In January in the province of Buenos Aires, a local judge ordered the detention of two police officers and one other person in the shooting death of a 19-year-old youth who came upon the officers while they were stealing a tape player from an automobile. In February a judge charged a policeman with manslaughter after he shot a 20-year-old youth fleeing arrest without giving him the opportunity to surrender. In Villa Mercedes, a judge ordered the preventive arrest of five policemen accused of beating a 22-year-old to death while he was in police custody. In another incident in Florencio Varela, a judge ruled that the death of a 16-year-old boy was due to resisting arrest and released a policeman accused of beating the youth. Police, however, opened an internal investigation into the matter. Another youth died from a beating in Batan Prison in Mar del Plata. The authorities arrested six guards and a prison doctor in that incident.

Several cases from previous years have remained in the public eye. One army officer and two noncommissioned officers are standing trial in Neuquen for the 1994 murder of Omar Carrasco, a young army recruit who was beaten to death during a hazing incident. Two other noncommissioned officers are accused of obstruction of justice and the investigation has widened to examine the role of higher ranking military officers in the case. In January police captured an ex-policeman wanted for participating in the kidnaping and murder of a Bolivian woman suspected of drug trafficking; another former policeman and five others are being held for trial in Buenos Aires province. In September the Cordoba policeman accused of killing Miguel Rodriguez in 1994 was convicted and sentenced to an 8-year prison term. Ten days later, a key prosecution witness in the case, Sergio Perez, was killed in a confrontation with police officers. The police say he was shot in a firefight, but friends of Perez who were at the scene say he was deliberately shot in the back at point-blank range. A local judge is investigating.

There were no new developments in the case of the 1994 death of Diego Rodriguez Laguens or in the 1987 murder of three teenagers.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

In February a former navy lieutenant commander disclosed to the press that during the 1976-83 military regime, he and his fellow officers of the Navy Mechanics School had participated in drugging political prisoners and throwing them, still alive, out of airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean or the Rio de la Plata. Although his revelations were not new, he was the first former military officer to publicize the story. The resulting storm of controversy led to demands by human rights groups and relatives of victims of the "Dirty War" to demand a full disclosure of the identities of all those who disappeared at that time. In March a federal court, responding to a petition brought by the families of two French nuns who were kidnaped and disappeared in 1977, ordered the executive branch, including the three branches of the armed forces, to provide lists of those who disappeared. The navy officer convicted in absentia in France for the disappearance of the nuns was forced to request early retirement. The Government and the individual branches of the armed forces replied that no such lists exist.

However, on March 31 the Ministry of the Interior did release a list of 290 names of persons who disappeared, supplementing the list of 8,961 originally prepared in 1984 by the National Commission on Disappeared Persons. The names on both lists were compiled based on voluntary public testimony from friends, relatives, and other witnesses. Nevertheless, human rights groups continued to accuse the Government of failing to produce a complete list of persons who disappeared. In an unprecedented and widely praised speech on nationwide television in April, army commander Martin Balza acknowledged that the army committed reprehensible crimes during the military regime. He stated that no one in the army should be obliged to carry out immoral orders, and those who do so should be severely punished.

Under new legislation passed in 1995, the Subsecretariat for Human Rights began to process compensation claims by families of those who disappeared during the Dirty War. Those whose claims are validated are eligible for one-time payments of $200,000.

For the first time since the end of military rule, a federal judge ordered the detention of an ex-navy officer and his wife for the illegal adoption of a baby boy born in captivity to a Uruguayan couple abducted and killed by security forces in

1977. The judge also issued a warrant for the arrest of a police doctor who allegedly arranged the delivery of the child to the couple. The doctor, who was a fugitive for several months, surrendered to law enforcement authorities in September. This case arose from an investigation by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group that has been working to reunite the offspring of disappeared couples with their nearest natural next-of-kin. The group is working with the National Commission on the Right to Identity, and the Interior Ministry's Subsecretariat for Human Rights in the search for children of couples who disappeared during the military regimes. The grandmothers helped return 2 children to the families of their birth parents, bringing the year's total of reunited families to 32.

In a more recent case, investigators unearthed the remains of Andres Nunez, a La Plata youth who disappeared in 1990 after local police arrested him. Seven policemen are in custody in this case; four others are fugitives.

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 remains a serious problem. In Entre Rios province, a teenager accused local police of severely beating him while in custody following his detention in connection with a street brawl. The case was being investigated. In another instance of police misconduct, authorities arrested three Entre Rios policemen for having abducted and raped a 23-year-old woman. An additional 10 agents were dismissed from the force, the chief of the unit and his deputy were relieved of duty, and 33 other officers were transferred to other assignments as a result of the incident. There were no new developments in the investigation of the 1994 beating of Juan Carbajal.

In order to reduce such abuses, the Interior Ministry conducted courses designed to heighten awareness about human rights issues for public officials, and the Justice Ministry attempted to educate the public about the legal rights of detainees. The Interior Ministry's Subsecretariat for Human Rights and the United Nations Center for Human Rights sponsored courses to educate and sensitize federal law enforcement officials. This human rights training first began in 1994.

Prison conditions are poor in a number of overcrowded jails where the facilities are old and dilapidated. In Buenos Aires province, for example, no new prisons have been built for 26 years, and the prisons are filled to a level that is 40 percent above capacity. Human rights groups say this problem is serious and that some prisons are virtual powder kegs of discontent. To help relieve the overcrowding, the Government has solicited bids for the construction of two new prisons in the province to be opened by late 1996 or early 1997. The new prisons are designed to incorporate modern penal technology; they will be more secure and offer better living conditions for inmates.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Penal Code places limits on the arrest and investigatory power of the police and the judiciary, but 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 detain teenagers and young adults sometimes overnight, sometimes for an entire weekend, without formal charges. They do not always provide such detainees the opportunity to call their families or an attorney. These detainees are released only upon a complaint from relatives or legal counsel.

The law provides for the right to bail, and it is utilized in practice. Nonetheless, the 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 1994 Congress passed a law that set a 2-year limit on pretrial detention. After 2 years, detainees would be granted 2 days of credit toward their sentences for every 1 day served before sentencing. In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled that the measure applies not only to those who had not been sentenced, but also to those whose pretrial detentions exceeded the stipulated 2 years prior to their sentencing.

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. While it is nominally independent and impartial, its processes are inefficient, complicated, and, at times, subject to political influence. The judicial system is hampered by inordinate delays, procedural logjams, changes of judges, and incompetence. Allegations of corruption are widely reported, especially in civil cases.

Trials are public and defendants have the right to legal counsel and defense witnesses. 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. Oral trials are less time consuming, and they have helped to reduce the number of prison inmates awaiting trial (see Section l.d.). A Ministry of Justice report indicates that 44 percent of those held in federal prisons have been tried and sentenced compared to 38 percent in 1991. Nevertheless, 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.

Constitutional reforms in 1994 provided for a blue-ribbon Council of Magistrates which would have responsibility for federal court administration and the selection and removal of judges. However, due to disagreement over the composition of the Council, Congress missed the August 1995 deadline for the Council's enabling legislation.

International human rights groups have alleged that Fray Antonio Puigjane, a Capuchin priest, is a prisoner of conscience. Fray Puigjane was convicted and sentenced to prison as a co-conspirator in the 1989 attack on the La Tablada military regiment when some 39 individuals were killed.

There were no other reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices. Government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to legal sanction, although in practice, local police have the right to stop and search individuals without probable cause.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

There was one reported attack on a journalist: Guillermo Cherashny, a reporter for a weekly newspaper, El Nuevo Informador, was shot and wounded near his home in Buenos Aires. The case has not been resolved, and the motive for the attack is unknown.

The Government proposed legislation to stiffen libel and slander penalties and fines for those convicted of defamation. However, media and political criticism of the legislation was so strong that the Government withdrew the proposal. An attempt by a Justicialist Party senator to introduce legislation that would have imposed severe penalties on those convicted of disseminating "secrets of state" met a similar fate; the executive branch itself rejected the proposal.

However, in September a federal judge issued a warrant for the search and seizure of documents from several leading Argentine newspapers, La Nacion, Cronica, and La Capital de Mar del Plata to obtain information about journalists' sources in a 2-year-old libel case. The Association of Newspaper Organizations (ADEPA) condemned the action as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press but also noted that it was an exception to the rule of judicial prudence in press freedom cases.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution and law provide for these rights and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

The Constitution and law provide for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

The Government recognizes as refugees those persons who meet the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees as modified by its 1967 Protocol. The Refugee Eligibility Committee is responsible for determining a refugee's status, and a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative can attend and participate in Committee hearings but cannot vote.

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 periodic free and fair elections to choose federal, provincial, and municipal office holders. Universal suffrage for those age 18 and over is obligatory in national elections. Political parties of varying ideologies operate freely and openly. The revised Constitution provides that all adult citizens shall enjoy full participation in the political process, and they do so in practice.

In May President Carlos Menem was reelected; this time to a 4-year term. His Justicialist Party won a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The election campaign was conducted in a fair and open manner; all political parties had full access to the communications media. Representatives from the major parties were stationed at polling places to insure an honest vote count.

A September gubernatorial election in Santa Fe province was marred by technical problems, and the leading opposition candidate for the Radical Civic Union Party denounced irregularities. The Santa Fe election tribunal thereafter conducted a vote count by hand to determine the winners.

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 implementing a 1991 law required that a minimum of 30 percent of all political party lists of candidates be female. As a result, the presence of women officials is increasing. The number of women in the Chamber of Deputies doubled from 34 to 63 when the new Chamber was installed in December. Between 1991 and 1995, the number of women representatives increased 420 percent (from 15 members to 63). Two women, or 4 percent, are members of the Senate, which is in the process of adopting direct election procedures under the 1994 Constitution. Women are also 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

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating human rights cases and publishing their findings. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, 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 ranging 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 to abridge these rights by the Government or private groups.

Women

Violence and sexual harassment against women is a problem; insensitivity among police and judges sometimes discourages women from reporting assaults, especially in domestic violence cases. In response, the Congress approved a law aimed at helping victims of family violence by, among other things, excluding the perpetrator from his home for up to 48 hours. The National Women's Council has been working with the enforcement authorities to include material on handling cases of violence against women in their police training curriculum. More than 40 public and 80 private institutions offer educational programs of prevention and provide support and treatment for women who have been abused. In November 1993, President Menem signed a decree against sexual harassment in the Federal Government.

Women still encounter economic discrimination, a situation that has been aggravated by the infusion of large numbers of women into the workplace in the last 10 years. According to a 1994 government report, women occupy a disproportionate number of lower paying jobs. Within each job category, women are concentrated in the lower ranks and receive the lowest salaries. Often they are paid less than men for equal work, even though this is explicitly prohibited by law. Female labor leaders pressed their male counterparts for affirmative action programs within the trade union movement to counteract this. Women are also found disproportionately in 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, worked on a 3-year government action plan (1993-95) to promote equal opportunity and participation of women in society. Provisions in the revised Constitution have greatly increased women's participation in politics.

Children

The 1994 Constitution incorporates the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Ministry of Interior's Human Rights Subsecretariat works with United Nations Children's Emergency Fund and other international agencies to promote children's rights and well-being.

Historically, Argentina has had numerous programs to provide public education, health protection, and recreational services for all children, regardless of class or economic status. Child abuse and prostitution are problems but have not increased in recent years, although the National Council on Children and the Family believes that those affected tend to be younger than previously. The Council, which the Government established in 1990, works actively with federal and local agencies to improve child protection programs. Sixteen out of 24 provinces, the federal capital, and the Federal Government have child protection laws on the books.

People with Disabilities

A 1994 law aimed at eliminating physical barriers to disabled persons regulates standards regarding access to public buildings, parks, plazas, stairs, and pedestrian areas. An increasing number of street curbs in Buenos Aires have been modified to accommodate wheel chairs. However, few buildings and public areas in the capital or other cities offer easy access to persons with disabilities. Federal law also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment. Since the establishment of the National Program Against Discrimination in August 1994, the largest single group of complainants has been disabled persons.

Indigenous People

The revised Constitution provides for 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 groups are sometimes involved in disputes over tribal lands which tend to be prolonged due to an inefficient court system unable to expedite conflicting land title claims.

Religious Minorities

Although ongoing concerns over anti-Semitism exist, overt acts of religious discrimination decreased during the year. The Government extradited Erich Priebke to Italy to stand trial for crimes committed as a Nazi officer. The investigation into the July 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center continued. In December an investigating judge ordered the arrest of new suspects, including some active duty military personnel suspected of connections to an arms and explosives sales operation.

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. Trade unions are independent of the Government or political parties, although most union leaders are affiliated with President Menem's Justicialist Party. Unions belong to either the General Confederation of Labor, its dissident wing the Movement of Argentine Workers, or the Independent Congress of Argentine Workers.

Unions have the right to strike, and members who participate in strikes are protected by law. From August 1994 through July 1995, there were 327 strikes or other forms of labor conflict. Approximately 70 percent were in the public sector, most of them as a result of delay or nonpayment of salaries by local governments. The General Confederation of Labor and a number of nonaffiliated unions staged a partial general work stoppage and mass rally to protest the record level of unemployment (18.6 percent) and the Government's labor and social policies. The Government recognized the unions' right to protest and did nothing to interfere.

Unions are members of international labor associations and international trade 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. The trend towards bargaining on a company level, in contrast to negotiating at the national level on a sectoral basis continued, but the adjustment has not been easy for either side. Both the Federal Government and a few highly industrialized provinces are working to create mediation services to promote more effective collective bargaining and dispute resolution.

The Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) asked the Government to comment on a number of complaints brought by the Union of United Maritime Workers and the Congress of Argentine Workers over hiring practices, workers' compensation, rest periods, and wage protection.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution 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 in rare cases where the Ministry of Education may authorize a child to work as part of a family unit. A small number of children work with their parents harvesting fruits and vegetables. 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. The law is effectively enforced except in some isolated rural areas where government enforcement capabilities are poor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national monthly minimum wage of $200 (200 pesos) is insufficient to sustain a family of four.

Federal labor law sets standards relative to health, safety, and hours of work. The maximum workday is 8 hours and workweek 48 hours. As part of its economic restructuring program, the Government has enacted into law reforms aimed at giving small and medium enterprises greater flexibility in the management of their personnel. The Government is also proposing to modernize the system of worker compensation.

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 inhuman working conditions concern illegal immigrants who have little opportunity or sufficient knowledge to seek legal redress. In March, for example, provincial authorities of Entre Rios province discovered a camp of illegal agricultural workers, most of whom were from Paraguay, working under deplorable conditions for minimal pay. The authorities provided medical and other forms of temporary assistance and disbanded the illegal camp.

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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