U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 - Argentina

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution states that the Federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith;" however, other religious faiths are practiced freely.

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

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion. However, anti-Semitic incidents continue to occur.

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. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

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

The Constitution states that the federal government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith." The Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies totaling $8 million (8 million pesos), administered through the Secretariat of Worship. The Secretariat 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 was transferred from the Office of the Presidency to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship following the inauguration of President Fernando de la Rua in December 1999. A requirement that the President of the country be Catholic was removed when the Constitution was amended in 1994.

The Secretariat of Worship maintains a National Registry of approximately 2,800 religious organizations representing some 30 churches, including most of the world's major faiths. Religious organizations that wish to hold public worship services and to obtain tax-exempt status must register with the Secretariat, and must report periodically to the Secretariat in order to retain 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.

Religious Demography

The majority of citizens are Catholic, but the Government has no accurate statistics on the number of members that belong to the Catholic Church and the other registered churches. The national census does not elicit information on religious affiliation. According to an article published in the mass-circulation magazine Gente in March 1999, estimates for the religious affiliations of citizens included the Roman Catholic Church, which claims 25,000,000 baptized members (approximately 70 percent of the population). According to the article, approximately 2,900,000 citizens, or about 8 percent of the population are believed to be evangelical Protestants (of which 70 percent are Pentecostal). There are approximately 800,000 Muslims, 250,000 Jews, 100,000 Apostolic Armenian Orthodox, and 4,000 Anglicans in the country. These statistics are not necessarily authoritative. The figure for Muslims, for example, has been disputed as far too high, probably representing persons of Middle Eastern ethnic origins, many of whom actually do not profess the Muslim faith. One prominent local historian put the actual number of practicing Muslims at closer to 15,000. However, a November 1999 article concerning the construction of a new Muslim "megacenter" in Buenos Aires cited an even greater number of Muslims – 900,000. (In the case of the number of Armenian Orthodox, the same historian also disputed the Gente figure as being approximately four times too high.)

The Secretariat of Worship promotes religious pluralism through such activities as conferences at which representatives of the various churches meet to discuss current issues. Leaders of the non-Catholic churches are invited regularly to attend the Te Deum Mass celebrated in the Metropolitan Cathedral on important national holidays. In 1995 a law was passed acknowledging the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) as holidays; however, the law does not require employers to compensate Jewish employees who choose to take these days off. The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas – DAIA), which represents the Jewish community, is seeking to have these days declared as national holidays.

In January 2000, President De la Rua committed the Government to implementing a Holocaust Education Project carried out under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force.

Registered religious organizations may bring foreign missionaries to 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.

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

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

Fifteen former Buenos Aires provincial police officers have been linked to a stolen vehicle ring, which furnished the van used in the 1994 AMIA Jewish Cultural Center bombing, and face various criminal charges (see Section II). In April 2000, President De la Rua announced the creation of a new task force of four independent prosecutors to resolve any remaining questions surrounding the AMIA bombing. During his June 2000 visit to the United States, President De la Rua made a formal apology at the Holocaust Memorial Museum for Argentina having accepted Nazi war criminals as immigrants after World War II.

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

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

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

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations among the various religious communities are amicable. Interfaith understanding is promoted actively by nongovernmental organizations such as Argentina House in Jerusalem. Ecumenical attendance is common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration. In 1997 a memorial mural to the victims of the Holocaust, the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, and the 1994 bombing of the city's Jewish Community Center (AMIA) was unveiled in the Chapel of Our Lady of Lujan in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires. At an ecumenical service in April 2000 commemorating the 1915 massacre of Armenians, religious figures from a number of different faiths, including the Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Armenian Orthodox, Muslim, Maronite, and other religions took part in conducting prayers in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires.

However, anti-Semitism is a problem, and combating this and other forms of intolerance is a priority for the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), an agency of the Ministry of Interior. The Institute 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 carries out educational programs to promote social and cultural pluralism and combat discriminatory attitudes. However, in early 2000, INADI underwent a prolonged process of reorganization, during which its effectiveness was affected seriously.

There were a number of reports of anti-Semitic acts, of anti-Semitic violence, and of threats against Jewish organizations and individuals during the period covered by this report.

In April 1998, a court sentenced three Buenos Aires youths to 3 years in prison for a 1995 assault on a man whom they believed to be Jewish. It was the first instance of an oral trial under the 1988 antidiscrimination law. The court found that the three had acted out of "hatred due to race, religion, or nationality" and in violation of the 1988 antidiscrimination statute. They were given the maximum penalty provided by law. In February 1999, an appeals court overturned the conviction and ordered the three retried in another court. In October 1999, the Attorney General recommended to the Supreme Court that the original verdict be sustained. The Supreme Court has no set time limit within which it must render a decision. At the April 1998 sentencing, some persons in the courtroom had shouted anti-Semitic remarks. The National Institute Against Discrimination, the nongovernmental Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, and the Delegation of the Jewish-Argentine Associations filed suit demanding that the perpetrators be identified and tried under the antidiscrimination law.

In August 1999, two Jewish families in Parana, Entre Rios province, received telephonic bomb threats, and subsequently found military-type grenades, which had to be deactivated by explosives experts.

In September 1999, a Jewish school in the locality of La Floresta was struck by bullets attributed to six unknown individuals, who fled after exchanging gunfire with a member of the Gendarmeria Nacional (border police).

On September 17-18, 1999, the eve of Yom Kippur, unknown vandals desecrated some 63 graves at the Jewish cemetery in La Tablada, Buenos Aires province. The attack resulted in unusually vehement criticism by senior government officials. Investigations continued into vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Ciudadela (1998) and La Tablada (1997), but there have been no arrests. In October 1999, unknown individuals desecrated the graves of 11 children at the Jewish cemetery in Liniers, Buenos Aires province. There was no progress in the case where three youths were arrested for smashing tombs in a Jewish cemetery in Liniers in January 1998, or in the case of the two former Buenos Aires provincial police officers who were suspected of December 1997 attacks on two Jewish cemeteries.

In October 1999, a theater in Tucuman was evacuated during a performance of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" due to a telephoned bomb threat. The provincial secretary of culture confirmed that the anonymous caller used anti-Semitic language during the telephone call. In December 1999, the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) (a new building replacing the one demolished by terrorist bombing in 1994) was evacuated as a result of anonymous telephone threats. No organization took responsibility for the alleged bomb. Unknown persons have made bomb threats against the center on several occasions.

In February 2000, a Jewish country club in San Miguel received bomb threats. Following an evacuation of the building, it was established that the threats were spurious.

In April 2000, several tombs were vandalized in the Jewish cemetery at Posadas, in Misiones province. Local police subsequently arrested seven adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 in connection with the crime, but the police maintained that the acts of vandalism had no religious connotations.

The investigations into the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center continued. On May 5, 1999, the Interior Minister called for an investigation into an audiotape that reportedly contained an order from a policeman redirecting a patrol car from the area around the Israeli Embassy just before the bombing. In May 1999, the Supreme Court (which is responsible for leading the investigation into the embassy bombing) released a report that concluded that the bombing was the result of a car bomb exploding outside the Embassy. In December 1999, the Court released a more extensive finding which encompassed the May report. The Court also formally determined that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the bombing, based on claims made by the group following the attack and on similarities with other bombings claimed by the group. In September 1999, the Court issued an international arrest warrant for Islamic Jihad leader Imad Mughniyhah.

In the AMIA case, the investigating judge determined in February 1999 that there was insufficient evidence to hold Iranian Nasrim Mokhtari, long suspected of complicity in the bombing. On July 16, 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that she could leave the country. Wilson Dos Santos, who reportedly had linked Mokhtari to the bombing, again recanted his testimony from early in the year; the press reported in July 1999 that he had offered to return and testify in exchange for money. An investigator interviewed him in Brazil, evaluated the proposed testimony, and rejected his offer. In July 1999, authorities brought formal charges against all the suspects currently being held in connection with the attack, including a number of former Buenos Aires provincial police officers. Fifteen former police officers have been linked to a stolen vehicle ring, which furnished the van used in the bombing, and face various criminal charges. Also in July 1999, the judge released a public notice calling upon any and all potential witnesses to come forward. According to press reports, "Memoria Activa," a group of some of the family members of the victims, has presented a suit before the Organization of American States Inter-American Human Rights Commission charging that the Government did not take sufficient measures to prevent the attack; that the State has not investigated the case actively; and that serious errors have occurred in the investigation. Then-Interior Minister Carlos Corach denied the charges. In late February 2000, the AMIA case was presented formally for trial. In April 2000, the De la Rua administration – which assumed office in December 1999 – created a new task force of four independent prosecutors to investigate certain areas relating to the AMIA case. In the summer of 2000, on the sixth anniversary of the AMIA bombing, President De la Rua and much of his cabinet attended the solemn ceremony commemorating the victims at the now-rebuilt cultural center.

In November 1999, Foreign Minister Guido di Tella announced the issuance of a report of the Government's Commission of Inquiry into the activities of Nazism in the country. The Commission was established in 1997 by President Carlos Menem. The report included a preliminary count of at least 180 "war criminals" from Germany, France, and Croatia, who entered Argentina after World War II, and identified a shipment of stolen gold from Croatia's central bank that also went to Argentina. The report also addressed the extent of Nazi influence on the country during the 1930's and 1940's.

During his June 2000 visit to the United States, President De la Rua made a formal apology at the Holocaust Memorial Museum for Argentina having accepted Nazi war criminals as immigrants after World War II.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

U.S. Embassy officers meet periodically with a variety of church leaders, invite them to embassy social functions, and attend events organized by churches and nongovernmental organizations that deal with issues of religious freedom.

In October 1999, the U.S. Embassy cosponsored a special inaugural screening of the Steven Spielberg film "The Final Days," about the Holocaust in Hungary. In March 2000, the Embassy's Charge d'Affaires hosted a ceremony sponsored by Argentina House in Jerusalem and the International Raoul Wallenberg Committee, at which a sculpture honoring the memory of Raoul Wallenberg was presented to the Embassy.

In April 2000, an embassy officer attended the ecumenical ceremony commemorating the 1915 Armenian massacre, held in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires. In May 2000, an embassy officer attended a DAIA-sponsored ceremony commemorating the 57th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The ceremony also was attended by President De la Rua, who made a speech in which he advocated greater respect for persons of all religions and ethnic groups.

The U.S. Embassy on an ongoing basis assists with the Government's implementation of a Holocaust Education Project carried out under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force.

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 2000 Report covers the period from July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000

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