GENEVA (30 June 2016) - The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Argentina on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report, Leandro Despouy, Ambassador, Special Representative for Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, stated that Argentina had a very long history with international instruments. The coups d’état which had resulted in military dictatorships until 1983, had been followed by efforts to fight against impunity, as well as efforts to promote reparations and truth. Argentina had done a lot in that respect, ratifying practically every single human rights instrument. The consolidation of democracy which started in the 1980s, had happened with the help of a reconnection with the international community and human rights. The fight for truth in Argentina could be used in the world as an example for the fight against impunity. The ratification of the Covenant had been extremely important for the country and the fifth report was a good reflection on the implementation of the recommendations and the views of the Committee.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts sought clarifications on conditions in mental health institutions, freedom of expression, implementation of legislation on indigenous issues, including legislation concerning land titles, on the high rate of maternal death as a consequence of illegal termination of pregnancy, and on the mechanism or recourse in place for challenging judicial decisions. Experts were concerned about the overcrowding in prisons, the slowdown of the protection of witnesses and victims programme, for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship period, the instances of torture in detainment, which one Expert noted were an echo of the past, and the rights of persons of African descent.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Despouy stated that Argentina had started with a very dire situation, and had shown that it a was possible to walk that long road, hand in hand with human rights organisations. The human rights process had started in 1983, and there still remained many shortcomings.
Anja Seibert-Fohr, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said that Argentina had been at the forefront of the fight against impunity and enforced disappearances. More efforts had to be undertaken for implementation of the Covenant on the provincial level and area of concern that remained included excessive use of force, the use of lethal weapons by officers off duty, the conditions in detention centres, and torture in prisons.
The delegation of Argentina included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, the Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism Secretariat, the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to discuss General Comment Number 36 on the right to life, on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The fifth periodic report of Argentina can be read here: CCPR/C/ARG/5.
Presentation of the Report
LEANDRO DESPOUY, Ambassador, Special Representative for Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, stated that Argentina had a very long history with international instruments. Coups d’état which had resulted in military dictatorships until 1983 had been followed by efforts to fight against impunity and to promote reparations and truth. Argentina had done a lot in that respect, ratifying practically every single human rights instrument. The consolidation of democracy, which had started in the 1980s, had happened with a reconnection with the international community and human rights. The fighting for truth could be used in the world as an example for the fight against impunity. It had been extremely important that the country had ratified the Covenant at that time. Mr. Despouy said that the fifth periodic reports provided a good chance to reflect to what extent the country had accepted the recommendations and the views of the Committee. A constitutional reform had been undertaken to implement the recommendations. Therefore, the Covenant was in Argentina’s domestic law. Progress had also been made on non-punishable abortion.
Mr. Despouy informed that, due to the conditions in prisons, the Government had declared an emergency there. Argentina was working on the implementation of the mechanisms and the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture. A law had been passed in that regard, but the Parliament had not adopted the measures necessary for the implementation. In that respect, there was a lacuna with which the Committee could help. Preventive detention was a mechanism, as a part of the judicial reform under the National Programme 2020; it was a structural problem. No fundamental obligation had been fulfilled in the Ombudsman institution, which remained a concern. In addition, freedom of expression, the protection of permanent data, and other issues remained.
Questions by Experts
An Expert recognised the high level of expectations of Argentina in human rights on the federal level. What was the Government doing to improve implementation of the Covenant in the provinces? Representatives of Argentina were commendable, including the current Chairperson of the Committee, who had left his mark.
On the lack of the appointment of the Ombudsman, the Expert stressed that it had to be done, and as soon as possible. The Amnesty Law was another general concern that the Committee had. The Argentine Doctrine in the area of human rights could not be questioned as the norms themselves were up to date. However, there was a lack of resources, and a lack of coordination and mechanisms for the protection for human rights. There was a certain type of regress, noted the Expert.
Could the delegation explain how the police functions were separated from the military functions?
There was a significant weakening of certain structures for the protection of human rights. The Committee had high hopes for the prison situation. What was the plan of emergency and what impact was expected to upgrade places of detention? What was the plan for training prison guards and the police in the area of human rights?
Question was asked about the law on equal rights of marriage.
An Expert inquired about the process of reparations for former political prisoners, and how State responsibility for violence was being addressed.
In the creation of the National Periodic Report System, was there participation of civil society, asked the Expert. What public policies had been designed to deal with reports and reviews, and how was data collected? Was there a possibility to provide more resources for cases that were backlogged? Only 16 percent of cases were being followed up. Could the delegation make a proposal in that regard? When would the bicameral commission come into effect? There seemed to be an institutional weakening, noted the Expert, and asked if that had anything to do with the change in Government. Why, at the end of March 2016, had the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Security been dissolved?
What were the reasons for the dismissal of certain State functionaries who were working with particular victims? The delegation was also asked to comment on the ESMA case and instances of institutional violence.
How had the Truth and Justice Programme been strengthened? Why had the central bank providing information for the investigations been set aside? There was a very alarming trend of diminishing the protection of human rights based institutions.
Question was asked over the lack of implementation of the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture. After four years, that mechanism had not become functional, for institutional problems, lack of finances and so on. Was there a fixed deadline to consolidate that mechanism? The use of waterboarding, electrodes, ill-treatment in places of detention continued, and was alarming. There was a concern over the lack of investigation in that respect. The cases of torture did not coincide with what had been discovered. What additional measures were being developed to deal with torture? Was the Istanbul Protocol being implemented and how? Why had disaggregated statistics not been provided? Torture and harassment were linked to institutions, corruption, police abuse, so how would the Government deal with these situations?
An Expert wanted to know about plans being undertaken in order to comply with the National Law for the Total Protection of Children, with respect to corporal punishment. Argentina was among countries with the highest rates of bullying in schools. What were the steps undertaken to eliminate such actions?
Another Expert asked what measure was taken to ensure compliance with the Covenant and the Optional Protocol as per the two communications, on the federal level.
What measures had been undertaken to counter the pay gap between men and women?
Was maternity leave fully or partially paid? What evaluation mechanisms were adopted to provide information on violence against girls and femicide? More information as also requested on measures taken to eradicate violence against women.
Could the delegation provide updated information on trafficking in persons, including children? Could the delegation also clarify the role of the authority responsible for trafficking? The delegation was also asked to provide statistics on complaints received by the free telephone help line.
What results were recorded of the National Plan Against Discrimination? What steps were taken to combat discrimination against migrants and persons with disabilities? Had the four percent employment quota for persons with disabilities been realised, in accordance with the law?
Another Expert was extremely concerned regarding the ban on abortion, and the extremely strict legal restrictions, including in cases of rape. In particular, could information be provided for the 12-year old girl who had been raped and who had not been granted abortion? What was the number of criminal prosecutions in that respect? Abortion was one of main causes of maternal death, accounting for 21 percent of all mortalities. Did the statistics cover both legal and illegal abortions? What was being done to curb those figures, and to enable sex education and contraception?
The same Expert stated that allegedly pre-trial detention could be imposed for a period of up to two years, and could last up to six years. Could the delegation inform whether that was indeed allowed by the law, or whether it was just a practice? What alternatives were provided to pre-trial detention?
On the right to life, the Expert asked the delegation to clarify whether the use of Tasers in Buenos Aires was allowed. Were those in circulation and was there any mechanism in place to ensure their use did not amount to torture and abuse? Were the principles of necessity and proportionality applied?
Question was also asked on whether progress had been made in the investigation of the AMIA bombing of 1994, following the revocation of the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, and the death of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman?
Another Expert was highly concerned by abuse of force by the police, including enforced disappearances perpetrated by the police, and named several cases in which individuals had either been killed, disappeared or injured at the hand of the police. In that respect, he asked the delegation whether more was being done other than just investigations.
An Expert regretted that he did not see a black representative in the delegation. Noting that he had worked in diplomacy for a long time and he had never seen a black Argentinian diplomat, he inquired whether black people enjoyed equal rights in Argentina and wanted to be reassured that statements such as “blackout” and “we have dealt with the black problem” were marginal and did not constitute a general trend.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stated that the Government had been working to ensure a continuous improvement of the human rights situation, including through institutions, civil society and the strengthening of the democracy. The commitment was serious and sound, and had been recognized by international organisations. The policies of truth and reparations were sincere. The first significant milestone had been the decision to move the Office of the Human Rights Secretariat to the clandestine detention centre, as a symbol. The idea had been to protect and defend the policies in order to preserve the memory of the country. There was a true commitment to memory and truth, and no programme had been shut down or cancelled.
There was, admittedly, a backlog in cases, stemming from the entire democratisation of the State. The Government’s agenda reflected the United Nations 2030 Agenda and promote human development for all sectors of society. The Human Rights Secretariat was now called the Human Rights and Cultural Pluralism Secretariat. That change was meant to reflect the promotion of inter-culturalism and rights for all living in Argentina.
One of the key aims of the new Government was to work with society, and one of its first steps had been to include indigenous peoples in the agenda. Following a decree signed by the President at the end of May 2016, the first dialogue between the Government and the indigenous peoples would soon take place, with an outcome document covering the environment, employment, basic needs, and other issues.
Directorate for Sexual Diversity had also been established, however there was still a gap between what was legal and what was reality, said the delegation.
National Directorate for Pluralism and Multiculturalism had also been put in place. Argentina had 57 migratory communities and diversity was part of the nuances of the nation. The most marginalised were the Roma and the people of African descent. The Government was observing the Decade for People of African Descent, which entailed many activities on the national level.
The Justice 2020 Programme had seen a lot of participation from civil society. More than 7,000 groups and individuals were involved in it, and the institutional work was being carried forward. It was an integrated comprehensive programme which enshrined a vision, a space for inter-institutional and citizen dialogue. The underpinning principle of that system was justice, democracy and an open government. It reflected many of the recommendations from the 2010 review of Argentina and allowed for the settlement of conflicts in a full way. The independence of the judiciary was a cornerstone of the trust by society. Closer, more modern and transparent justice were the three guiding principles. Institutional justice, criminal justice, community, management, human rights, and access to the justice system were amongst the main elements of the programme.
A delegate rejected the claim that there had been dismantling of institutions in cases of human rights. The Truth and Justice Programme was running, and many reports had been made about the vulnerability of witnesses. More than 340 witness victims had been examined.
On the alleged incompatibility regarding the Truth and Justice Programme, it was explained that the Prorgramme was currently under the Ministry of Justice and would soon be transferred under the Secretariat for Human Rights.
The total number of femicides for 2015 was 235; and 58 percent of the perpetrators of the crimes were partners of the person. The delegation informed that 29 percent were under trial, 41 percent were currently under investigations, and three percent were under the statute of limitations. There was definitely room for improvement.
On the wage gap, a delegate said that one of the goals was to reduce it from 25 percent to 20 percent. Many programmes were established in that direction.
The National Institution against Discrimination and Xenophobia had many programmes, which included people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Many measures were also in place to curb domestic and sexual violence.
On legal aid, it was explained that there was a body of lawyers, a database would be implemented and there was a 24-hour hotline. There were 9,800 phone-calls to the hotline per year, with a significant increase in their use. The number of shelters had also increased.
The delegation informed that a new bill would give broader access to abortion and would regulate the right to contraception as well as the right to life.
On sexual abuse and forced labour, most of the denunciations had been for sexual exploitation. 165 sentences had been handed down for exploitation, said the delegation.
It was explained that Argentina was a federal state, and in that respect, the provinces were autonomous and had their own bodies.
The National Preventive Mechanism for Torture set up a National Committee, provincial and regional councils. That was a matter of priority for Argentina.
Questions by Experts
An Expert mentioned the case of a woman prosecuted for murder after she had an abortion. The Expert wanted to know which aggravating circumstances had been invoked for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy. Did the delegation have statistics on the number of cases in that respect?
Another Expert raised the issue about the 400 children who had disappeared during the dictatorship, and asked for an update on the issue.
Were electric shocks still being used? Why was there recourse to psychiatric sterilisations, an Expert wanted to know.
Replies by the Delegation
The Government was determined to strengthen all areas of human rights.
A settlement of conflict for vulnerable sectors of society had been initiated. A special unit with a multicultural approach had been created for victims of sexual violence.
The programme searching for children victims from the Plaza de Mayo was working at full speed. Staff had been increased by 10 percent, and the Association Plaza de Mayo had been given additional funding. The Secretariat for Human Rights was in charge of the process. In Tucuman, at the Federal Human Rights Meeting, the President of the Plaza de Mayo Association would receive a medal. There were 26,300 requests from the earlier Government which had not yet been processed, and the Government was working systematically on strengthening that legal process. The “Dr Fernando Ulloa” Centre for the Assistance of Victims of Human Rights Violations, which had been operating since 2010, within the sphere of the Government’s Human Rights Secretariat, was functioning fully. The Work of the Ministry of Security continued to be fully coordinated with the Secretariat for Human Rights. The Archives had a responsibility to provide information to the Justice Ministry.
Concerning Taser weapons, the delegation explained that those had never been incorporated in the Buenos Aires Police Department and were not being used. Electric shocks were not allowed in psychiatric facilities, except under extremely special circumstances. The requirement by the psychiatrist for that purpose had to be in writing.
Concerning questions raised on two specific cases, the delegation confirmed that Ms. Ramona Gonzales had been given compensation by Argentina. Compensation had also been given to the woman who had suffered because she had initially not been allowed to undergo a legal abortion. A public apology had been extended to the victim.
Regarding perpetrations of violations of human rights by State authorities, the delegation said that those cases had been investigated and/or were being prosecuted.
Torture was forbidden and would be prosecuted if used. Recognizing the number of torture cases in prisons, the Government had declared an emergency in order to counter that trend. The delegation would send in writing specific information regarding the directorate and various programmes in that respect. Cases were being investigated, and special attention had been given to the Belen case in Tucuman.
Questions by Experts
On conditions in mental health institutions, an Expert commended the plan to create community-based health services, establishing that restrictive measures could only be used as a measure of last resort. He requested the delegation for an update on steps in that direction. In the case of Dr. Alejandro Korn Hospital in La Plata, 133 patients had been reported to have died in a timespan of three years. Allegedly no investigations had been undergone. Could the Committee be informed whether investigations were required by the law, and, if so, how many had been undertaken and what were the results? In addition, were there monitoring and reporting mechanisms in place to ensure that there was no violation or violence on behalf of personnel in such institutions? Had legal or administrative action ever been taken in that direction? Could the delegation confirm the number of patients that had died in the reporting period? Was there a procedure of the review for patients’ health? Notably, the Committee had been informed of the case of a person who had been held for 71 years without interruption.
The Expert raised the case of a person who had been acquitted, then convicted, and denied the right to review the conviction. How was the right to question a verdict guaranteed? Could the procedures under ordinary appeal be clarified? Was it automatically guaranteed that the case would be accepted by the Supreme Court? Was it correct that the Criminal Court did not always grant the right of appeal, the Expert asked.
On the Public Defender’s Office, the Expert welcomed reflections on the funding of that office, which would provide for its adequate work.
Another Expert said that the Committee had received information that there was over 80-percent overcrowding in prisons, while the report stated that there was no overcrowding. Could statistics be provided in that respect? What measures had been taken to bring down the high level of people who had not been sentenced yet, but who were being held?
On access to medical aid for people in detention, the Committee had received information that that was provided as an award. The strategic law had mentioned a draft law that would bring a fundamental change in penitentiary treatment. Which of these measures had been covered by the strategic plan? Or were those part of the emergency plan that was temporary in nature? The Committee had received reports of deaths of people, namely 121 deaths in Buenos Aries due to tuberculosis. Could disaggregated data be provided for deaths from natural and non-natural causes?
Concerning protection of witnesses and victims, were judges and magistrates part of the witnesses protection programme, asked an Expert. Did the authorities have the necessary resources for the implementation of the measures under the protection of witnesses for crimes against humanity. There was a slowdown in the prosecution and judging for individuals who had committed crimes against humanity during the 1976-1983 dictatorship period. That was especially true for high level individuals, from the private and public sector, including judges. The direct responsibility of national and international enterprises had not been reflected. Despite the adoption of a law in 2016 setting up a joint commission between the two parliamentary chambers, to identify the financial entities that cooperated with the dictatorship, it seemed that such an organ had not yet seen the light of day. It seemed that the Government had reduced staff in its Collectives for Memory and Justice National Human Rights Office, which was part of the Ministry of Security was dissolved. Could the Delegation comment on all that?
Another Expert inquired about the rights of adolescents in prisons. She commended the fact that no adolescents were serving life sentences and that Argentina was taking the necessary custodial measures for as short a time as possible. Could statistics be provided for the sentencing of adolescents? What kind of awareness-raising programmes were provided?
On the freedom of expression, there were concerns regarding transparency with regard to some decrees. Could the delegation clarify those issues? How did the current legislation comply with the international standards regarding plurality, diversity, and rule of law? Could concrete information be provided on the entity for public information?
Another Expert stated that the Committee had previously voiced concern on the slow progress of the implementation of legislation on indigenous issues, including legislation concerning land titles. The law on land tenure and evictions had been adopted in 2006 as an emergency legislation, and extended twice. However, the land demarcations and surveys had not been completed. Furthermore, even when those had been completed, individuals were required to undergo judicial proceedings to be provided land titles. That caused delays, which was a cause of violence between indigenous peoples and other individuals in those territories, as well as with the police. Could the State Party explain reasons for the delays in demarcation and delimitation process even when the process had been conducted?
When would the collective titles to the 71 Lhaka Honhat communities in Salta be delivered? What was the current infrastructure in place to ensure resettlement of families outside of those territories? Could measures be undertaken to ensure access to justice? What measures were taken to investigate and convict by public officials and private institutions, who were violating indigenous communities rights in that respect?
Allegedly, no legislation was available on the right to prior consultation as well as on regulating the procedure for informed and transparent consultations with indigenous peoples. How did the Advisory Council for Participation for Indigenous Peoples function ? Were indigenous peoples consulted when legislation concerning their rights was being drafted?
Referring to the dismantling of institutions, cuts in budgets and in staff, another Expert, stated that a firm commitment was needed from the delegation, and not only declarations. Numbers backing up the facts were needed. The instances of torture in detainment were an echo of the past, and the Committee needed a firm commitment in that respect.
On the termination of pregnancy, some cases were quite dramatic and there was a serious concern in that regard. The idea that 23 percent of maternal deaths were associated with women resorting to clandestine abortion was of concern. The willingness of the State Party to have a new law was welcomed, however, the conscientious objection issue and other obstacles were still problematic. What could the State Party to do counter the stigmatisation of abortion? Had an impact study been done to establish that broadening knowledge on that matter would affect the statistics? Were there disaggregated data in that regard?
Another Expert stated that there was a lack of a public policy to address the problem of violence against women, including paternalistic mentality. What systematic public policy was intended to be put in place to address that problem?
Was there a mechanism or recourse in place for challenging judicial decisions that clearly imposed inadequate sanctions for torture? If so, could clear examples be provided?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation noted that the number of questions asked by Committee members exceeded 140, and found that some were repetitive, forcing the delegation to confirm the implementation of the policies it has previously mentioned. He insisted that there was no deliberate policy to dismantle fundamental rights.
People of African descent were equal to all people and all human rights policies affected them.
On the indigenous peoples, the delegation said that there had been a paradigm change, abandoning the public assistance logic for a new one. On access to justice, there was professional staff for all services concerned, addressing, among others, the indigenous issues.
Regarding the Ombudsman for radio and television, a delegate invited the Committee to look at that institution’s website, which provided information on the extensive work undertaken.
Turning to the draft law on access to public information, a delegate admitted that there had been a deficit due to the fact that Argentina was adopting that kind of law for the first time. The draft law had been sent to the Congress for approval, and had an extremely broad support in the Chamber of Deputies.
The President had issued three decrees, out of necessity and urgency, which was a tool that the Constitution provided.
None of the laws on communication had been abrogated, said the delegation. With the new authorities, 195 licences had been granted. On the General Comment Number 34 on independence of broadcasting bodies, the delegation assured the Committee that the new bodies were independent.
On the emergency situations in prisons, the Secretariat of Human Rights on the Province of Human Rights, the Foreign Ministry and other bodies including the Supreme Court were all together on a panel that investigated the situations in the prisons. The Special Rapporteur on Torture had also been invited to investigate.
Pre-trial detention was an exceptional measure. In Justice 2020, specific alternatives to pre-trial detention, such as house arrest and electronic bracelets, were proposed. The programme included more emphasis for human rights and more funding would be provided in that respect.
The new criminal procedure provided that all court decisions could be reviewed. The doctrine on the Supreme Court and appeal procedures respected all international instruments and practice.
On the law stating a 4 percent quota for employment for persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that some institutions exceeded that, namely the National Institutions against Xenophobia, among others. The Advisory Committee for Integration oversaw the process.
The National Centre for Reproduction promoted sexual health of adolescents and maternal health. Other bodies had the obligation to cover the total cost of contraceptives.
Responses to questions on femicide would be sent in writing as they were very lengthy.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert was concerned that the delegation had stated that only 0.4 percent of the population considered themselves of African descent. In addition, the language “consider themselves” was probably a result of stigma. He specified that he had raised questions on the people who had originated from the slave trade, not Nigerian citizens.
Another Expert required more information on the concentration of media outlets.
Replies by the Delegation
On the people of African descent in Argentina, a member of the delegation stated that the black population during the colonisation times had reached 50 percent. In 1813, slavery had been abolished, and other migration routes had been created in the 1850s. Hence, there had been a change in the proportions of the population. About 3 percent of the population recognized that they had African blood.
With regard to the makeup of the Judicial Council, which appointed judges, currently three of the thirteen members were appointed by the Senate, three were appointed by the Chamber of Deputies, then there were two lawyers, three judges, and one from the executive branch and one academic member.
The law on communications stipulated that media outlets had to guarantee neutrality, openness, plurality and diversity of content. The Commission was diverse, had met six times thus far, and had a broad mandate, including drafting a new law on media.
LEANDRO DESPOUY, Ambassador, Special Representative for Human Rights in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina, regarding the terrorist attacks on the Jewish community centre AMIA and the Israeli Embassy, which had not been resolved, informed that the Government had set up a special unit. However, historically there was a huge deficit because of impunity. Argentina had started with a very dire situation, and had shown that it a was possible to walk that long road, hand in hand with human rights organisations. The human rights process had started in 1983, and there still remained many shortcomings. The prison situation remained one of those, as did the institutional violence and the delicate issues on indigenous peoples. It was important to recognize the sincere efforts to move forward from the situation that had marked Argentina for so long. Argentina welcomed all mandates under Special Procedures mechanisms of the United Nations.
ANJA SEIBERT-FOHR, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the efforts they had undertaken. The Committee recognized the tremendous efforts and great success made in the aftermath of the military dictatorship. Argentina had been at the forefront of the fight against impunity and enforced disappearances. It appeared that more efforts had to be undertaken for the implementation of the Covenant on the provincial level. Several concerns including excessive use of force, the use of lethal weapons by officers off duty, the conditions in detention, and torture in prisons as well as police custody, were of great concern. Committee members had asked for more rigorous investigations of all cases, in order to show the continued commitment by the State party to fight against impunity. The raising number of femicides and violence against women were also of concern. The arbitrary application of criminal legislation in cases of abortion was worrisome. The Committee appreciated the frankness of the delegation in their answers, and would provide concrete recommendations.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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