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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Argentina

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Argentina, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f30125ce.html [accessed 24 April 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.

Political context

In 2008, Argentina got a new Government, led by Ms. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, elected on October 28, 2007. The country went through a political crisis between March and July, during which groups of rural producers protested against Government measures tending to increase withholdings (export taxes) with an aim of improving income distribution. The demonstrations shook the country and led to the resignation of the Minister of the Economy, Mr. Martín Lousteau.

Judicial proceedings within the "Truth Trials" (Juicios por la Verdad) have been initiated by victims or their families since 2005, and continued in 2008. Since the Supreme Court annulled the amnesty laws in 2005, about 340 judicial proceedings for crimes against humanity committed under the military dictatorship (1976-1983) have been opened and remain pending. As of the end of 2008, eight oral and public trials had been held, leading to the sentencing of key State terrorism figures. Despite this progress, however, only one sentence had been confirmed by the Supreme Court at the end of 2008, and 74% of the cases were only at a preliminary stage. This lack of speed in the proceedings led the Supreme Court to order several detainees to be released in December 2008, after the limit for pre-trial detention was overstepped. In this case, however, this decision "should not be implemented immediately". It must also be added that more than 190 of the accused are already dead.1

In connection with the trials related to the dictatorship, human rights organisations have on several occasions underlined central issues that the Government needs to address urgently, and that are important to the advancement towards truth and justice: the unjustified delays in the trials and the officials' indolence. Also, the new push to the truth and justice trials was accompanied by numerous threats and acts of harassment against witnesses and victims linked with the trials, who cannot trust police protection. This situation results from various factors: victims and witnesses are deeply involved in identifying the responsible persons as the latter carry the burden of proof; the State witness and victim protection programme has flaws; and acts of harassment and intimidation lack efficient investigation. For instance, Mr. Jorge Julio López, one of the key witnesses in the trial against Mr. Miguel Etchecolatz, remains disappeared since September 2006. Similarly, Mr. Juan Evarista Puthod, a detainee and a victim of enforced disappearance under the military dictatorship and a witness for the prosecution in various trials, in particular against former Superintendent Luis Abelardo Patti, was kidnapped for 24 hours on April 29, 2008 as he was preparing a homage to Mr. Pereyra Rossi and Mr. Cambiasso, detained by former Superintendent Patti and missing during the dictatorship. Mr. Puthod later said that he had been threatened and abused during his detention. He had also received threats before. As of the end of 2008, however, the investigation into his harassment had not yielded concrete results.

Acts of intimidation against defenders fighting against impunity

Defenders who fought the impunity of human rights violations committed during the dictatorship, especially NGO members, lawyers, witnesses and judges, continued to be subjected to acts of harassment and intimidation in 2008. For instance, on April 25, 2008, Ms. María del Carmen Verdú, a lawyer and member of the Coordinating Committee Against Police and Institutional Repression (Coordinadora contra la Represión Policial e Instituticional – CORREPI), was threatened by two men on a motorcycle as she was leaving a demonstration organised by CORREPI in commemoration of the 17th anniversary of the assassination of Mr. Walter David Bulacio.2 No progress had been made in the investigation into those events as of the end of 2008.

Furthermore, Ms. Viviana Beigel, a lawyer for the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights (Movimiento Ecuménico por los Derechos Humanos – MEDH) in Mendoza, received several anonymous telephone threats in November, after she opposed the presence in the provincial Government of a person responsible for human rights violations during the dictatorship and who was not convicted. In addition, a woman looking like her was raped in front of her own house in April 2008. Moreover, Ms. Alicia Morales, the President of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos – APDH) in San Rafael, Mendoza, was threatened with red ribbons on the railing in front of her house on November 13, 2008.3 Likewise, since 2002, Ms. Laura Figueroa, a lawyer and human rights defender in the Tucumán province,4 was subjected to threats and various acts of harassment, in connection with hearings against persons responsible for human rights violations in Tucumán during the dictatorship. In August 2008 for instance, two former police superintendents who had escaped custody and who should have been in prison for crimes against humanity threatened Ms. Figueroa as she left court. On the morning of November 20, 2008, the same men made serious threats and insults during a radio interview, urging the population to support them in their resistance to their arrest warrant.

Repression of defenders of economic and social rights

In a still very fragile economic environment, defenders of economic and social rights were once again victims of harassment. For example, students and teachers from the Don Orione de Wilde school, as well as other activists from the "People's Children" organisation (Chicos del Pueblo), were subjected to threats, acts of intimidation, attacks and kidnappings, in connection with the "Hunger is a Crime" Campaign (El hambre es un crimen), which condemns malnutrition among children in Argentina. Indeed, some young persons who were taking part in the campaign were kidnapped and threatened so that they put an end to their demands. On July 24, 2008, a boy from the Don Orione charity's John XXIII orphanage (Hogar Juan XXIII), in Gerli, was kidnapped, taken into a car and threatened by a group of heavily armed masked men. In the night of September 26, 2008, a teacher from the John XXIII orphanage was kidnapped and brutally beaten by a group of hooded people believed to be parapolicemen, and who demanded that he stop taking part in the above-mentioned campaign. Later, on October 3, 2008, an activist and teacher from the same orphanage was threatened in the street with the same message. Even though the victims were released after each of these incidents, these actions obviously aimed at intimidating a group whose slogan clearly questions the system of capital accumulation.5 The Avellaneda Prosecutor's Office is currently investigating the attacks linked with the campaign, which the Congress has declared of national interest.6 However, the movement claims that although the prosecution is doing all it can, this kind of incidents can never be investigated efficiently unless the intelligence apparatus is restructured.

Several human rights defenders were also convicted in 2008 after taking part in demonstrations in favour of economic and social rights. This trend was especially observed in the city of Buenos Aires and its suburbs, where union leaders of the Argentinean Workers' Confederation (Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina – CTA), including the Institutional Relations Secretary, Mr. Víctor de Gennaro, the Deputy Secretary, Mr. Pablo Micheli, and the Secretary General, Mr. Hugo Yasky, were prosecuted. At the end of 2008, their trial for "road obstruction" was being prepared, in connection with a demonstration that took place in October 2008 against the policies of the Buenos Aires city and the national Government on wage, unemployment and precarious work.7 As of the end of 2008, no date had been set for the trial. On October 4, 2008, twelve workers and union leaders from the National Institute of Industrial Technology (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industrial – INTI), who had organised a union assembly in front of the Institute in October 2007 in connection with a wage conflict, were acquitted of charges of "road obstruction" by the Criminal Court No. 26. However, the Prosecutor appealed the verdict, and requested 15 days' imprisonment as well as great limitations to the individuals' trade union rights. At the end of 2008, the charges remained pending.8

Urgent Intervention issued by The Observatory in 20089

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Ms. Viviana Laura Beigel, Ms. Laura Figueroa and Ms. Alicia NoliThreats / Fear for safety / HarassmentUrgent Appeal ARG 001/1208/OBS 204December 3, 2008

1 See Centre for Legal and Social Studies (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS).

2 Mr. Walter David Bulacio was a young Argentinean who was murdered by officers from the Argentinean federal police in 1991, and whose death became a symbolic case of police brutality. In 2003, the Argentinean State was sentenced by the Inter-American Human Rights Court (Corte Inter-Americana de Derechos Humanos – Co IDH) for these events. However, Argentina has still not implemented the sentence and the responsible police officers have not been sanctioned. See Committee of Judicial Action (Comité de Acción Juridica – CAJ).

3 Ms. Alicia Morales is a survivor of the clandestine detention centre that existed under the Department of Police Intelligence (D2) in Mendoza. The D2 was created by Law No. 3677 in 1970, and included divisions of information collection and investigation. Its main goal, however, was to gather data on activists, organisations, institutions and anyone else who was suspected of having political activities. Ms. Morales stated before the court that she recognised the retired Superintendent Carlos Rico Tejeiro, currently Deputy Security Secretary in Mendoza, in the camp. Mr. Rico Tejeiro remains in his position despite complaints by human rights organisations and the national Government. See Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH).

4 Ms. Laura Figueroa is one of the few lawyers in Tucumán still appearing in cases related to human rights violations committed during the dictatorship. She was a plaintiff in the so-called "Pozo de Vargas case", related to enforced disappearances in Tucumán during the dictatorship. Witnesses asserted that the army dumped dozens of corpses of disappeared detainees at Pozo de Vargas, which lies 20 minutes from the Tucumán provincial capital, from 1975 to 1977. Judge Terán opened an investigation, in the framework of which excavations are made by Tucumán University technicians and experts. Moreover, the Federal Prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Mr. Emilio Ferrer, was also threatened, albeit less intensively.

5 See Service for Peace and Justice (Servicio Paz y Justicia – SERPAJ).

6 See Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo (Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo), SERPAJ and the "Pelota de Trapo" Foundation (Fundación Pelota de Trapo).

7 The demonstration took place in front of the Argentinean National Institute of Statistics and Census (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos – INDEC) in support of INDEC's union delegates, who were being persecuted for demanding clarity in statistics that the Government manipulated, which was condemned by the media and all other sectors, including the business sector.

8 See CAJ.

9 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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