Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Argentina
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Author||Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Argentina, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4864667ac.html [accessed 23 July 2014]|
In 2007, in a context of deepening of democracy, repression against the social protest movements that followed the 2001 economic crisis has however continued to intensify. The vast majority of the demonstrations ended with a disproportionate use of force by the police and/or security forces. In numerous cases firearms were used, and physical violence even went to the extent of using knives on demonstrators. There were also arbitrary detentions without any prior judicial decision, and persons were held in custody for longer than allowed by the law.
In 2006, progress had been made, with the first sentences against the authors of crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorship (1976-1983) – after the Supreme Court in 2005 had cancelled the laws prohibiting investigations and trials relating to crimes committed during this period1 – and pronounced at the same time as the completion of the reforms of the National Supreme Court of Justice, thus enabling the advent of a genuine justice to deal with human rights violations committed during the dictatorship. Nevertheless, despite the progress made and in view of the large number of trials initiated, serious obstacles appeared, in particular to the principle that the authors of the violations should be judged in a reasonable lapse of time. In fact, out of the 222 trials opened since 2005, only 17 persons had been sentenced at the end of 2007.
In addition, Mr. Jorge Julio Lopez, a key witness in the trial of the former Director of the Buenos Aires police, Mr. Miguel Etchecolatz, accused of crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorship, disappeared on September 17, 2006, and is still missing; this shows the absence of a suitable policy for the protection of persons linked to trials: families, witnesses and human rights defenders.
Threats, aggressions, breaking and entering, intrusions: a variety of obstacles in the fight against impunity and corruption
During 2007, a certain number of human rights defenders and witnesses engaged in the fight against impunity received threats of various kinds, including against their families, and were subjected to verbal and physical acts of aggression. On April 9, 2007 for instance, Mr. Pablo Gabriel Salinas, a human rights lawyer, received an anonymous letter containing threats and insults aimed at himself and his family. Mr. Salinas regularly condemns bad conditions of detention, torture and ill-treatment in the prisons of the Mendoza province. He also defends victims of police brutality, extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations committed by members of the security forces.
The climate of insecurity is accompanied by equally disturbing incidents, such as breaking into the offices of several organisations and the theft of equipment (computers, fax machines, archives, etc.), in order to remove information on human rights violations. On June 26, 2007, two armed persons broke into the offices of the Committee for the Defence of Health, Professional Ethics and Human Rights (Comité de Defensa de la Salud, la Ética Profesional y los Derechos Humanos – CODESEDH) in Buenos Aires. A computer containing evidence and archives relating to several ongoing trials against the dictatorship were stolen, as well as a videotape.
Journalists denouncing the corruption of the authorities were not spared either. On September 3, 2007, Mr. Sergio Poma, owner of Radio FM Noticias and of a local press agency, was found guilty of "insults" towards the Governor of Salta (northwest), whom he had accused of embezzlement, and was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. Likewise, an independent journalist, Ms. Claudia Acuña, was subjected in July 2007 to police and judicial harassment after having revealed, in the press and in a book, the existence of a prostitution network in Buenos Aires operating under the control and the threats of certain authorities.2
Freedom of association endangered by an amendment to the Criminal Code
Despite the progress made in 2006 with the improvement in the working conditions of human rights defenders, the approval by the national Senate, on June 6, 2007, of an amendment to the Criminal Code proposed by the Government, referring to a category of "illicit associations" whose characteristics would easily fit any organisation according to needs or circumstances, is very disquieting.
According to Article 213 ter, a sentence of 5 to 20 years' imprisonment would apply to any person participating in an illicit association whose aim, by committing an offence, was to terrorise the population or to oblige a Government or an international organisation to undertake an action or to refrain from doing so. According to the same text, the illicit association in question would be characterised by having "a plan of action for propagating ethnic, religious or political hatred", by being "organised in international operational networks", or by having at its disposal "arms of war, explosives, chemical or bacteriological agents or any other appropriate means of endangering the life or integrity of an indeterminate number of persons". This means that under the above-mentioned Article 213 ter, it is possible that participants in a protest, or the organisers, or their organisations be prosecuted in the future for acts of terrorism.
It is therefore very much to be feared that the new law will soon become the main argument for repression invoked by security forces for sanctioning any criticism of a Government policy by defenders, although at the end of 2007 it had not yet been used for that purpose.
Continuation of the criminalisation of social protest
In 2007, the trend towards the criminalisation of social protest in Argentina was confirmed. In 2007, around 5,000 trials were under way against trade union leaders and defenders of economic and social rights, like for example the trial opened against the leaders of the Association of State Workers (Associacion de Trabajadores del Estado – ATE), prosecuted for having organised demonstrations in support of workers and the unemployed.
In certain regions, the disproportionate use of violence was added to the criminalisation, as shown by the murder by police officers, on April 4, 2007, of Mr. Carlos Fuentealba, a member of the Neuquén Association of Teachers (Asociación de Trabajadores de la Educación de Neuquén – ATEN), during a strike for better wages in Neuquén.
Also, several organisations have denounced attempts by members of the police and military security and intelligence forces to infiltrate demonstrations or protests, in order to identify the leaders of the organisations, and also to provoke incidents liable to justify repressive measures and arrests of activists or leaders.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 The "Full Stop" Law (1986) and the "Due Obedience" Law (1987), which exempted the security forces from any legal proceedings, were cancelled in June 2005.
2 See Reporters Without Borders (RSF).