GENEVA / BUENOS AIRES (23 April 2018) – Argentina has come a long way in dealing with its past but much remains to be done to make sure there is no impunity for the crimes committed under the dictatorship and to ensure truth, justice and rehabilitation for victims and their families, says the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer.
“From the trials of the military junta in 1985 to the verdicts in the so-called ‘death flights’ case last year, Argentine society has won many battles against impunity, and has courageously stood up for democracy, accountability and human dignity,” Mr. Melzer said in a
statement at the end of his first fact-finding visit to the country.
“However, in the shadows of these exemplary achievements, some structural, cultural and institutional elements from the past have survived and are still festering in the security and penitentiary system of the country.
“Throughout Argentina, there seems to be a significant hardening of criminal policy in response to popular concerns about violent crime and public security, prompting a sharp increase in the number of people behind bars and a dramatic deterioration of detention conditions,” Mr. Melzer said.
“While I am genuinely impressed by the sophisticated system of safeguards and mechanisms in place to prevent torture and ensure adequate conditions of detention, and by the personal dedication of countless officials at all levels, the sobering truth is that these safeguards have not sufficiently translated into practical results.
“The country’s prisons and police stations are chronically overcrowded and the conditions in many places of detention are clearly incompatible with human dignity.
“Although there are significant differences between individual institutions, I am genuinely shocked that, in some places, prisoners are locked up in cells infested with rats and cockroaches. Many inmates get as little as one square metre of space, and some sleep without mattresses on bare cement or metal racks. Others have no artificial light, broken electrical and sanitary installations, no access to toilets during the night and, in extreme cases, no access to sunlight for periods of up to six months,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.
In many places, prisoners were also found to be deprived of adequate nutrition, hygiene and medical care, or reported to have been exposed to violence or corruption from other inmates and prison officials, Mr. Melzer said.
He also expressed concern that juveniles were being held in excessively harsh detention conditions, and some psychiatric patients were institutionalised in completely unacceptable conditions.
“It is my considered opinion that, in allowing this situation to arise, continue and further exacerbate despite repeated appeals on the part of civil society and international mechanisms, Argentina has become responsible for widespread and persistent violations of the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There can be no justification, whether economic, political, legal or otherwise, to expose human beings to such intolerable conditions,” the UN expert emphasized.
“I have also received numerous accounts of excessive force being used during demonstrations, and of arbitrary police violence, harassment and corruption during searches, evictions and arrests, with some victims reporting to have been shot, slapped, kicked, threatened with firearms, and even suffocated with plastic bags,” said Mr. Melzer.
“These abuses appear to be targeted particularly at marginalised segments of society, such as inhabitants of poor neighbourhoods, migrants of African descent, indigenous peoples and sexual minorities,” he added. “Furthermore, institutional violence does not appear to be effectively investigated in practice.
“Today, as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I appeal to all authorities in Argentina, as a matter of urgency, to commit the necessary resources to improve the conditions of detention throughout the country.
“Moreover, the judiciary should avoid any unnecessary influx of inmates into the existing detention system, and facilitate the release or implementation of alternative measures for any prisoner whose detention is not imperatively required. Where necessary, the legislative branch should provide the legal basis allowing to ease pressure on the detention system, and the Executive should take effective measures to prevent and punish any act of corruption, extortion or ill-treatment on the part of security or prison officials.
“In the past three decades, Argentinian society has repeatedly proven to be capable of standing up against violence, torture and abuse. Today, I appeal to the Argentinian people to live up to that promise, in the name of humanity.”
The Special Rapporteur will present a report of his full findings, observations and recommendations to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow and the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.
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This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org