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U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002 - Argentina

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 7 October 2002
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002 - Argentina , 7 October 2002, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
Comments This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State, with the assistance of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, shall transmit to Congress "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." This Annual Report includes 195 reports on countries worldwide. The 2002 Report covers the period from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002.
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.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Constitution states that the Federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith" and provides it some privileges not available to other religions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, discrimination, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, continued to occur. There are a number of governmental and nongovernmental efforts to reduce discrimination and promote interfaith understanding.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 1,056,642 square miles, and its population is approximately 36,960,000. The Government has no accurate statistics on the percentage of the population that belongs to the Catholic Church and the other registered churches because the national census does not elicit information on religious affiliation. The Roman Catholic Church claimed 25 million baptized members (approximately 70 percent of the population). In April 2001, statistics provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief indicated the following estimated membership in religious communities, which does not necessarily signify the practice of the religion: Catholics – 88 percent of the population; Protestants–-7 percent; Muslims – 1.5 percent; Jews – 1 percent; others–-2.5 percent. However, accurate estimates of the religious affiliations of the population are difficult to obtain. The available estimates often are based on outdated census data and questionable presumptions, including a presumption that persons of Middle Eastern ethnic origin are Muslims. Estimates of the number of Jews vary between 180,000 and 450,000 persons. The Israeli-Argentina Mutual Association (AMIA) has announced it plans to undertake a demographic study during the latter half of 2002 to help determine the number, age, and socio-economic status of Jewish community members.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Constitution grants to all residents the right "to profess their faith freely," and also states that foreigners enjoy all the civil rights of citizens, including the right "to exercise their faith freely."

The Constitution states that the federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith," and the Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies. The Secretariat of Worship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship is responsible for conducting the Government's relations with the Catholic Church, the non-Catholic Christian churches, and other religious organizations in the country.

The Secretariat of Worship maintains a National Registry of approximately 2,800 religious organizations representing approximately 30 religious denominations, including most of the world's major faiths. Religious organizations that wish to obtain tax-exempt status must register with the Secretariat and must report periodically to the Secretariat to maintain their status. Possession of a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy are among the criteria the Secretariat considers in determining whether to grant or withdraw registration. Registration is not required for private religious practices, such as those conducted in homes, but registration is necessary for any public activities. Following the change of Government in December 2001, the Secretariat of Worship no longer promotes the changes to existing laws advocated by the De la Rua government.

Registered religious organizations may bring foreign missionaries into the country by applying to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies the immigration authorities so that the appropriate immigration documents may be issued. There have been no reports of any groups being denied visas for their foreign missionaries.

Public education is secular, but students may request instruction in the faith of their choice, to be conducted in the school itself or at a religious institution, as circumstances warrant. Many churches and synagogues operate private schools, including seminaries and universities.

On January 16, 2002, U.N. Human Rights Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Abdelfattah Amor, issued a report based on his April 2001 visit. The Special Rapporteur reported that the situation "in respect of freedom of religion or belief, which is also a reflection of State policy, is generally satisfactory." He also noted that all the religious communities consulted agreed that the situation was satisfactory regarding freedom of religion and freedom to manifest religion. He noted the De la Rua Government's active dialog and cooperation with religious communities, the establishment of an advisory council of clergy and laymen, and the drafting of a bill on freedom of religion. (Government support for the latter two items ended in early 2002.) Among the recommendations the Special Rapporteur offered were: to pursue efforts to establish firmly the principles of tolerance and nondiscrimination; to determine financial grants to communities of religion or belief on the basis of the principle of equality through equivalence; to take measures to ensure that the (then) proposed bill on religious freedom would not result in discriminatory consequences arising from granting of the status of legal persons under public law; to continue investigations to identify those responsible for attacks on community premises; to promote tolerance and nondiscrimination through education and by creating prizes for journalists writing articles on minorities, religion, or belief. He also recommended continuation of a technical cooperation project by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled "Strengthening of Human Rights."

The Government changed at the end of 2001, and the new officials at the Secretariat of Worship have discontinued the previous Government's efforts related to promoting legal reforms and religious pluralism. However, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), an agency of the Ministry of Interior, continues to promote social and cultural pluralism and to combat discriminatory attitudes (see Section III). INADI, which includes on its board representatives from the major religious faiths, investigates violations of a 1988 law that prohibits discrimination based on "race, religion, nationality, ideology, political opinion, sex, economic position, social class, or physical characteristics," and conducts educational programs to promote social and cultural pluralism and combat discriminatory attitudes. INADI has suffered from lack of funding and institutional instability; however, it has continued to investigate discrimination complaints, support victims, and promote proactive measures to prevent discrimination.

In January 2000, President De la Rua committed the Government to implementing a Holocaust Education Project to be conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force (ITF). The Ministry of Education's ethics and civic program is working with the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina (CEANA) and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation to include Holocaust education in the school system. At the June 2002 meeting of the ITF, Argentina became a full member of the Task Force and, as part of its contribution to promoting ITF objectives and expanding Holocaust education, the Government is planning a Holocaust Education Seminar for teachers in November 2002.

The law provides for 3 days of excused and paid leave for those observing the Jewish holy days of New Year, the Days of Atonement, and Passover, and the Islamic holy days of the Muslim New Year.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, the Government provides the Catholic Church with some subsidies not available to other religions, and some other religious groups have made allegations of religious discrimination in the military and some federal ministries. The Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies administered by the Secretariat of Worship. Such subsidies historically have totaled between $2.4 and 3 million (8 and 10 million pesos) a year.

In April 2001, the Jewish community organization the Delegation of Israeli-Argentine Associations (DAIA) criticized the provincial government of Catamarca over the issue of teaching religion in public schools. The 1988 provincial Constitution, in place since 1988, made the teaching of religion in public schools to minors obligatory provided that the parents agreed on the creed being taught. Article 270, which was implemented in 1999 and applied to the 2000 and 2001 school years, specified that all students would receive instruction in their parents' faith, thus separating children according to religion in a potentially discriminatory fashion. After DAIA's initial statements to the media, the provincial governor, Oscar Aníbal Castillo, revoked the article by decree in April 2001. Catholic religious leaders then demanded that the Article be reinstated. The provincial government, parents, and leaders of various religious groups negotiated a compromise and on July 31, 2001, agreed to make courses in religion an optional, after-school activity.

Some members of the non-Roman Catholic communities perceive religious discrimination in the military service and in some federal ministries. It is difficult to characterize such discrimination accurately and to measure it. Representatives of the Jewish community claim that there have been few if any Jewish citizens who have chosen to seek employment with the military or selected ministries largely due to a perceived fear of future discrimination in obtaining higher rank and appointments. Despite such assertions, there have been government ministers and other Jewish senior government officials in the current and past administrations. Although tensions stemming from abuses committed against Jewish citizens under the military regime continue, in late 2001, the Superior War College hosted an exhibit on the case of French Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus, organized by B'nai B'rith and the Beitler Family Foundation, with sponsorship by the Foreign Ministry, INADI, the Buenos Aires city government and the embassies of Israel, France, and the United States.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Fifteen former Buenos Aires provincial police officers were linked to a stolen vehicle ring, which furnished the van used in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Cultural Center (see Section III). The public trial of 20 accused accessories to the AMIA bombing began in September 2001 and continued at the end of the period covered by this report. In May 2002, some of the accused policemen, who were linked only indirectly to the event, were released because the time they had spent in jail prior to and during the trial met or exceeded the maximum amount of time punishable under the law for the severity of their alleged crime. There have been no apprehensions of those believed to be the intellectual authors of the attack.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations among the various religious communities are amicable; however, religious discrimination, especially anti-Semitism, remains a problem. NGO's actively promote interfaith understanding. Ecumenical attendance is common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration.

NGO's promoting religious fraternity include the Argentine Jewish-Christian Brotherhood, an affiliate of the International Council of Christians and Jews, and the Federation of Arab Entities (Latin America), known as FEARAB. There has been particularly notable cooperation between FEARAB (Latin America), representing Muslims and Christians of Arab origin, and DAIA, the political representation of Argentine Jewry, to prevent religious tensions stemming from political conflicts in the Middle East. This model has been replicated in the region. Both the De la Rua government and its successor Duhalde government through INADI undertook special efforts, along with FEARAB (Latin America), DAIA, and religious groups, to promote understanding and prevent polarization among diverse communities following the September 11 attacks in the United States and the escalation of violence in the Middle East.

Religious discrimination remains a problem. Most published reports of antireligious acts involved anti-Semitic activity, although there also are reports of isolated anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts. INADI works to combat religious discrimination and other forms of intolerance (see Section II).

There were a number of reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents during the period covered by this report.

In April 2002, researchers at the DAIA Center for Social Studies published a report on anti-Semitism in the country that found the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased slightly in 2001. The researchers acknowledged that this may be due to improved methods of documenting such cases. Over 72 percent of the reported cases of anti-Semitic acts were reported within the capital city of Buenos Aires. The most frequent incidents include occurrences of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi graffiti and posters. There were also a considerable number of reports of bomb threats received by Jewish organizations and threats of violence to Jewish citizens received by mail and e-mail. From July to December of 2001, DAIA documented over 30 reports of bomb threats received by various Jewish organizations and more than 10 cases of personal threats to Jewish citizens. However, a Gallup poll circulated in 2002 to measure attitudes towards Jews and the Nazi genocide showed that public opinion about Jews had improved from previous years.

In early January 2002, eight graves in a Jewish cemetery in Buenos Aires suburb of Berazategui were desecrated. There has been no notable progress in the investigation.

In October 2001, Hebe de Bonafini, a well-known political activist, was quoted in an interview referring to prominent journalist Horacio Verbitsky as a Jew in a derogatory fashion.

Beginning in the fall of 2001, citizens of Middle-Eastern origin reported that they were suddenly perceived as different from other Argentines and subjected to unwarranted presumptions as to their religious and political affiliations. There was a report that school officials, in what was believed to be good faith efforts to protect children, advised parents they believed to be Muslim to keep their children home from school for a time. One expert on Islam in the country believes that cases of anti-Muslim discrimination are underreported because of a common societal belief that victims of discrimination bear some degree of responsibility.

There was no known progress in the cases of: the June 2000 vandalism of religious statues in a Catholic church in Buenos Aires; the September 2000 vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Chaco Province; or the 1999 vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in La Tablada and Liniers, both in Buenos Aires province. There was also no progress in the investigation into the April 2001 letter bomb received by Alberto Merenson. There were no further developments in the following anti-Semitic incidents: The threats against two Jewish families in Parana, Entre Rios in 1999; the incident in which unknown persons shot at a Jewish school in La Floresta in 1999; bomb threats made to the new AMIA building and the theater in Tucuman in 1999; and threats against the Jewish country club in San Miguel in February 2000.

The investigation into the January 2001 bomb attack against the Shiite Islamic Mosque in Buenos Aires continued. There has been no notable progress.

In the case of three Buenos Aires youths, who assaulted a man they believed to be Jewish in 1995, two of the three suspects were retried in December 2001, convicted, and sentenced to 3 years in prison for the beating, which was judged to have been committed out of religious hatred. However, the two have not begun to serve their sentences pending a decision by an appeals court. The third suspect did not appear for the retrial but turned himself in to authorities in May 2002 for yet another trial, which has not yet been scheduled.

There has been no further progress reported in the investigation into the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy. The investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA cultural center continues (see Section II).

In 1999 CEANA reported on the extent of Nazi influence in the country during the 1930's and 1940's. CEANA has published the results of its research in academic journals and has organized seminars in various universities. In March 2002, the Duhalde Government extended CEANA's mandate by decree through December 2003.

The Ministry of Education's ethics and civic program, which has authority for all the provinces other than Buenos Aires and the Federal Capital, is working with CEANA and the Holocaust Memorial Foundation to include Holocaust education in the school system.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. U.S. Embassy officers meet periodically with a variety of religious leaders and attend events organized by faith-based organizations and NGO's that address questions of religious freedom.

The Embassy continued to provide support for the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing. For example, the legal attache coordinated a request for U.S. government personnel to testify at the trial regarding the findings of the technical analysis of elements from the crime scene and continues to respond to investigative leads in the AMIA case from the federal court charged with the terrorism inquiry.

The U.S. Embassy assists on an ongoing basis with the Government's implementation of a Holocaust Education Project, conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force. For example, the Embassy agreed to provide air transportation for two teacher trainees to attend Holocaust Education courses in the United States in August 2002.

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