No. 33/02






A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today concluded a working visit to the Argentine Republic.  That working visit, conducted at the invitation of President Eduardo Duhalde, lasted from July 29 to August 6, 2002. 


The busy schedule of activities centered on several petitions and cases being processed by the IACHR.  The delegation also collected information on the situation of human rights overall and, in particular, on such areas as the administration of justice, the role of the public security forces, and the status of economic, social and cultural rights. 


The IACHR is a principal organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate is to promote the observance of human rights in the Hemisphere. Its authority derives mainly from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights, instruments both ratified by the Argentine Republic. The Commission is composed of seven members who are elected in their personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and do not represent their countries of origin or residence. The IACHR delegation was composed of Professor Robert K. Goldman, Commission Member and Rapporteur for Argentina; Dr. Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary; and Dr. Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, attorney at the IACHR.


In the course of its visit, the IACHR delegation interviewed government officials and met with representatives from different sectors of civil society in Buenos Aires, as well as with the relevant officials and petitioners connected with several petitions before the IACHR in Neuquen, Rio Negro, and Salta.  The delegation met, inter alia, with Dr. Eduardo A. Duhalde, President of Argentina; Dr. Juan José Alvarez, Minister of Security and Justice; Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Minister for Human Rights; Min. Carlos Cersale di Cerisano, Director General for Human Rights; representatives of the Ministry of the Economy and of the Ministry of Health; representatives of ANSES; members of the Human Rights Committee of the Chamber of Deputies; Dr. Juan Pablo Cafiero, Minister of Justice and Security of the Province of Buenos Aires; Dr. Mario L. Coriolano, Public Defender for Appeals of the Province of Buenos Aires; Mr. Jorge E. Taiana, Secretary for Human Rights of the Province of Buenos Aires; Mr. Eduardo Mondino, Ombudsman; Dr. Sonia Margarita Escudero, Senator; Dr. Jorge A. Pereda, National Institute for Indigenous Affairs; Dr. Juan Carlos Romero, Governor of the Province of Salta; and various officials from the Provinces of Salta, Neuquén, and Rio Negro.


The delegation also met representatives of civil society organizations, such as the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS); Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo; Mother of Plaza de Mayo; Relatives of Political Detainees and Disappeared; Permanent Assembly for Human rights; MEDH; Argentine League for the Rights of Man; SERPAJ; Coordinator against Police and Institutional Oppression (CORREPI); Buenos Aires Bar Association; Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences (INECIP); Association for Civil Rights; Bar Association of the Federal Capital; Citizen Power Foundation; Legal Action Committee of the Argentine Workers Union; CICOP; Faculty of Health and Human Rights of the University of Buenos Aires; Provincial Memory Committee; Permanent Assembly for Human Rights – Tucumán; Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL); and Committee of Relatives of Defenseless Victims of Social Unrest (COFAVI).


          The delegation thanks the government of President Duhalde, other state officials, nongovernmental organizations and civil society institutions for their cooperation and the facilities extended in the preparation and execution of this visit. 


          The Commission wishes to draw attention to the favorable disposition of the Government, in particular the willingness to cooperate in settling cases pending in the inter-American system.  In this regard, the Commission held meetings in connection with two petitions in process of friendly settlement: Paynemil Communities in Neuquén and Lhaka Honhat Communities in Salta. The Commission also held preliminary meetings in order to examine the possibility of initiating friendly settlement procedures in the cases of Walter David Bulacio, Sergio Andrés Schiavini, Juan Angel Greco, Fernando Horacio Giovanelli and Raquel Natalia Lagunas/Sergio Antonio Sorbellini, with the participation of the competent national and provincial authorities and the respective petitioners and next of kin of the victims. 


          In the framework of cooperation between the Government and the IACHR and in order to help find ways to enhance protection of fundamental rights for Argentine citizens, the Commission, pursuant to the duties and authority of the IACHR under Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, makes public the following observations.


          The Commission received information about the profound impact of the unprecedented social and economic crisis on the situation of human rights in the country.  Both state officials and civil society representatives informed about the chronic problems besetting the public finances, the legal security crisis, and four years of recession with the attendant unemployment, dramatic rise in poverty and extreme poverty, and social exclusion. 


          Representatives of civil society organizations and the state expressed skepticism and pessimism at the scale of the endemic weaknesses that plague the judiciary.  This situation has led to a serious lack of confidence in the judiciary on the part of the Argentine public.  In the inter-American human rights system the adequate operation of the judiciary is essential for preventing the abuse of power by another State organ, and, therefore, for protecting the rights of the individual. In order for the judicial branch to be able to serve effectively as an organ for the oversight and guarantee of human rights, not only must it exist formally, but in addition, it must be independent and impartial.  As Article 3 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter says, the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government are essential elements of democracy[SW1].


          Many people expressed concern at the possible authorization of a more active role for the army in internal security matters with the supposed aim of resolving the public security crisis. The IACHR has mentioned on different occasions the need for a clear distinction between internal security and national defense under comprehensive civilian control.  Consequently, the Commission received with satisfaction the words of the President of Argentina categorically discounting such a possibility. 


In the course of the visit, several civil society representatives expressed preoccupation at the deterioration in public security.  In this regard, as the Commission has noted on several occasions, states have the right and the duty to adopt or strengthen measures necessary to protect their population.  Such strengthening must be in the framework of the rule of law and consistent with the parameters contained in the American Convention.  


The Commission received a large number of complaints about acts committed by the security forces, including torture, unlawful pressure, and excessive use of force.  According to the official records for the Province of Buenos Aires, from September 2000 to October 2001 there were more than 1,000 reports of unlawful pressure or mistreatment of children and young people under the protection of the state.  The Public Defender for Appeals of the Province keeps a “Database of Cases of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” which contains more than 1,000 instances (counted from March 2000 to July 2002) committed by individuals in the exercise of the public duties against persons involved in a judicial proceeding.  According to information from the provincial authorities, the number of convictions is virtually insignificant compared to the number of complaints.  The Commission considers that investigation, prosecution and punishment are crucial to the eradication of torture, and that impunity with respect to serious violations of this nature helps significantly to perpetuate it.


          During the visit, the IACHR received information about the acts of unrest of recent months, including the events of December 20, 2001 and June 26, 2002, as well as the respective investigations into those events. It also received information regarding a large number of complaint regarding the so-called “criminalization of social protest”.  In this respect, the Commission wishes to reiterate that the State’s performance of its duty to adopt the necessary measures to protect its population must be within the parameters laid down in the American Convention, including those provided for ensuring freedom of expression.


Furthermore, the Commission received worrying information about overcrowded conditions at many prisons and police station cells, which creates a situation of extreme gravity and risk.  As the Secretariat for Human Rights of the Province of Buenos Aires said in its review, this situation “has led, particularly in the conurbation of Buenos Aires, people deprived of liberty to be subjected to inhuman and degrading detention conditions in breach of constitutional, legal and international human rights standards …”.  It is a particular cause for concern that, according to police reports, there are minors among the persons detained at police stations.


          In light of the gravity of the situation, the Commission values the measures adopted by the authorities of the Province of Buenos Aires to improve protection of fundamental rights in the Province and, in particular, to address the problem of torture and unlawful pressure.  In that connection, the Governor of the Province set up within the provincial administration a Secretariat for Human Rights, whose objectives include eradication of torture and unlawful pressure. To that end, the provincial authorities have created a Program on Torture Prevention, which provides, among other measures, for the implementation of prevention and supervision schemes at prisons and police stations, and a change of leadership in the provincial prisons service.  Such measures represent important steps toward the reform of the police force of the Province of Buenos Aires, which, according to the many complaints received by the Commission, is known for abuse of authority, torture, corruption and other wrongdoings. 


          The Commission wishes to express its concern at the information received in the weeks before and after its visit regarding threats to human rights defenders, as well as against attorneys, community leaders, activists and witnesses. People who work in defense of human rights and the organizations to which they belong are crucial for guaranteeing the free exercise of fundamental rights and oversight of democratic institutions.  Bearing in mind the importance of these activities and the need to protect those who carry them out, the situation of human rights defenders is one of the central concerns of the IACHR.  The Commission has witnessed for itself the dedicated and courageous efforts of human rights organizations in Argentina, both during the dictatorship years, and in the course restoration and consolidation of democracy.    


Continuing this chain of thought, the Commission wishes to note that human rights defenders have a leading role to play in the process of ensuring the full rule of law.  The activities of defenders, inter alia, through the defense of individuals and groups of persons who fall victim to human rights violations; through public denunciation of injustices that harm broad swathes of society; and through their necessary monitoring of public officials and democratic institutions, make them an irreplaceable instrument in the construction of a solid and lasting democratic society.


The American Convention says in its preamble that “the ideal of free men enjoying freedom from fear and want can be achieved only if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights[SW2]”.  An analysis of economic, social and cultural rights as they currently stand in Argentina reveals that there is a series of priorities and duties pending.  State and civil society representatives alike informed the Commission about the alarming rise in the proportion of the population living below the poverty line (according to information received, a little over 50%).  That information shows that the number of Argentines who are unable to afford a basket of basic foods has more than doubled since the end of 2000.


During the visit, for instance, the Commission received information and updated studies about the health emergency and its consequences for large segments of the population.  The IACHR has monitored this situation very closely since late 2001, paying particular attention to the issue of access to medicines, even to the extent of holding a general hearing on the matter at its session in March of this year.  According to the applicable standards under both the inter-American and the universal system of human rights, the preservation of health and physical and psychological integrity is a priority that requires, inter alia, special measures of protection for the more vulnerable groups, such as children and the elderly. In the context of the current crisis, the Commission considers it essential to give priority to adequate mechanisms to resolve the health emergency, including ensuring the continuity of medical services and access to medicines for persons who need them to preserve their physical and psychological integrity.  


          The Commission recognizes the efforts of the state to improve the situation of the sectors most at risk, through, for example, the Heads of Household program.  This program, which allocates a monthly subsidy of 150 pesos to unemployed heads of household with minority age children, in order to “ensure that every Argentine household can enjoy a monthly livable income,” and which, according to the information received, benefits more than 1.6 million people, provides a basic underpinning for other crucial steps.  However, given that this program only covers a little over half of the basic food needs of the average family, it is essential immediately to adopt other measures to tackle the social crisis and, in particular, the current disturbing rise in child malnutrition.  In that connection, the IACHR considers that the pertinent international agencies should play a leading role in helping to resolve the present crisis.


          Large sectors of Argentine society are also being harmed by the bank freeze (the so-called corralito), by decrees that suspended certain judicial proceedings or the execution of precautionary decisions and judgments, and by the antigoteo law (a law introduced to enforce the freeze).  In recent months, the Commission has received almost 2000 petitions relating to this situation, and during the visit it met with representatives of the petitioners and with the persons concerned to collect additional information.  The Commission will evaluate the information gathered and the petitions filed in accordance with its Rules of Procedure, and will consider holding a hearing on this matter at its next session.


          The context of the current crisis, including the fact that significant segments of the population are unable to meet their basic needs and that social tension is worsening, as well as the lack of confidence in institutional leaders, has created a climate of uncertainty and fear that may prompt responses incompatible with respect for fundamental guarantees and freedoms.  It is important in the current circumstances in the country, with the political, economic, and social situation badly deteriorated, for all sectors of society, especially national and local authorities and political leaders, to act as prudently as possible and with absolute respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in order to ensure that the coming elections are held in an atmosphere of civility and respect throughout the public.  Full respect for human rights will only be possible through the recovery of confidence in, and the strengthening of, institutions.


          The Commission recognizes that most of the concerns mentioned here predate the current government.  It also understands that the government of President Duhalde only took office seven months ago in circumstances of serious political, economic, and social upheaval unprecedented in Argentine history.  However, the current government has a huge responsibility to prevent this crisis from deepening even further and leading to situations of social unrest and institutional collapse with severe consequences for the future of Argentines.  These observations were made out of a desire to collaborate with the state and its authorities in their duty to comply with its international obligations.


Professor Goldman will inform the plenary of the IACHR about the results of his visit at its 116th regular meeting to be held in Washington, D.C. from October 7 to 25 this year. 


The Commission expresses its gratitude to the Argentine State for the invitation, which constitutes an important sign of its desire to comply with its international commitments in the area of human rights. The Commission also thanks the Argentine authorities for their willingness to discuss and seek solutions to the problems raised.  It also wishes to extend its gratitude to civil society representatives for the important information they supplied during the working visit, and to the media for their interest in the activities carried out.  The IACHR will continue to collaborate with these sectors in the shared task of seeking mechanisms that might help to enhance observance of human rights in the country.


Buenos Aires, August 6, 2002.