Head of state and government: Fernando de la Rua (replaced Carlos Saúl Menem in December)
Capital: Buenos Aires
Population: 35.4 million
Official language: Spanish
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
There were reports of ill-treatment and torture of detainees in police stations and of killings by police in circumstances suggesting possible extrajudicial executions. Death threats and harassment against human rights defenders continued. A prisoner of conscience remained under house arrest. Human rights violations committed during the period of military government (1976 to 1983) were the subject of legal proceedings within Argentina and abroad.
Elections were held in October for the President, for a number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and for some provincial governors. The new President, Fernando de la Rua, of the centre-left coalition Alianza, Alliance, was inaugurated in December.
Reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by police officers continued. The authorities failed to remedy the lack of effective measures to thoroughly investigate allegations of torture. The non-governmental organization Coordinadora contra la Represión Policial e Institucional, Association against Police and Institutional Repression, recorded more than 80 killings by police during 1999.
- Juan Manuel Valdes was beaten and injured by members of the police at South Police Station in Villa Gessell, Buenos Aires Province, in January. His mother, Lidia Abineme, a human rights activist who had been pressing for a full investigation into the incident, was knocked to the ground by unidentified men and threatened with a gun following a human rights gathering at the Plaza de Mayo Square in Buenos Aires in November. It was alleged that a nearby police patrol failed to intervene.
- In January, 18-year-old Fabián Manríquez was arrested on suspicion of theft at his home, by members of the Mendoza provincial police in Rincon del Medio. He was reportedly severely beaten and shots were fired at his feet. He was taken to the local police station where his head was repeatedly submerged in water until near asphyxiation. He was subsequently transferred to a local hospital where medical personnel lodged a formal complaint about his poor state of health resulting from the torture. A judge dismissed the charges of torture against the police officers and charged them instead with unlawful coercion, which allowed them to remain under provisional freedom.
Some members of the police force were brought to trial and convicted of human rights violations.
- In May the Criminal Court in La Plata, Buenos Aires Province, convicted four police officers of the torture and "disappearance" of Miguel Bru in 1993. After years of legal obstacles and repeated death threats against Jorge Ruarte, the main witness in the case, the Criminal Court sentenced two officers to life imprisonment and two others to two years' imprisonment. Appeals against the sentences were pending at the end of 1999.
Human rights defenders
In a new wave of threats and harassment against human rights defenders, members and lawyers of the non-governmental human rights organizations Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and Mothers Association of Plaza de Mayo were repeatedly threatened during the year. The threats were related to their work on behalf of their "disappeared" children and the legal investigations and court rulings related to past human rights violations.
Past human rights violations
Investigations and judicial proceedings in cases of human rights violations committed during the period of military government were initiated in Spain, Italy and Germany. Investigations of cases of "disappeared" children continued in Argentina. Investigations by the Federal Court of La Plata, Buenos Aires Province, into past "disappearances" continued during 1999 in proceedings known as Juicio por la Verdad (the Truth Trial), directed to uphold the right to the truth of the relatives of the victims.
In November, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón issued an international arrest warrant against 98 members of the Argentine armed forces in connection with investigations initiated by the Spanish National Court in 1996. Among the 98 were former members of the military juntas.
The charges in the indictment included genocide, torture and terrorism. However, the government of President Carlos Menem consistently refused to cooperate with the Spanish judiciary on the grounds that human rights violations committed in Argentina during the military period had already been dealt with by the Argentine courts.
In July the Rome Tribunal was authorized by the Italian Minister of Justice to initiate criminal proceedings against five former Argentine military officers accused of the homicide of three Italian citizens Giovanni Pegoraro, his daughter Susana Pegoraro, and Angela Maria Aieta during the period of military government. The proceedings were the outcome of investigations opened by the Italian judiciary in 1983 following complaints by relatives of Italians allegedly held at the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA), Navy Mechanics School in Buenos Aires, whose fate remained unknown.
In a separate case, seven former Argentine military officers were committed for trial in absentia in connection with the abduction and murder of seven Italian citizens and the kidnapping of the child of one of them, during the years of military rule. The trial, scheduled to open in Rome in October, was postponed until December when, after one day, it was postponed until March 2000.
Other legal initiatives were under way in Italy into complaints of human rights violations committed against Italian citizens as a result of past collaboration between the Argentine security forces and the security forces in neighbouring countries.
In January, Argentina signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
For the first time a member of the military was ordered to pay damages for human rights violations. In August the Supreme Court ordered Emilio Massera, former leader of the military junta, to pay US$120,000 damages to Daniel Tarnopolsky whose family "disappeared" in ESMA in July 1976. The decision of the Supreme Court was unanimous. In the same ruling the Argentine state was ordered to pay US$1,250,000 damages.
In September the Federal Court confirmed the preventive detention of Jorge Rafael Videla and Emilio Massera and rejected the argument that the case had already been judged and that the statute of limitations had expired. The Federal Court's ruling set out important principles such as defining the kidnapping of children as a continuous crime and determining that the statute of limitations does not become effective while the whereabouts of the victim remain unknown. The Court also confirmed international legislation by ruling that "disappearance" is a crime against humanity and so comes within the scope of Article 118 of the Constitution which demands the application of international criminal law for crimes against humanity.
In November, within the framework of a friendly settlement sponsored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, the Argentine government, in the case of Carmen Lapacó, acknowledged and guaranteed the right to the truth as a right unaffected by statutes of limitations. The government made a commitment to introduce legislation allowing national courts to uphold such a right. However, the relevant legislation had not been put forward by the end of 1999.
Prisoner of conscience
Fray Antonio Puigjane, a prisoner of conscience arrested in 1989, remained under house arrest serving a 20-year sentence. Fray Antonio Puigjane, a leading member of the Movimiento Todos por la Patria, All for the Fatherland Movement, was convicted of involvement in an armed attack in January 1989 on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations which he denied.
Disclaimer: © Copyright Amnesty International
This 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.