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Diplomacy in Action

Argentina


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

The Constitution states that the Federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith" and provides it some privileges not available to other religions.

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

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom; however, discrimination, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, continued 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. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 1,056,642 square miles, and its population is approximately 36,960,000. The Government has no accurate statistics on the percentage of the population that belongs to the Catholic Church and the other registered churches because the national census does not elicit information on religious affiliation. The Roman Catholic Church claimed 25 million baptized members (approximately 70 percent of the population). Approximately 2.9 million persons, or about 8 percent of the population, are believed to be evangelical Protestants (of whom 70 percent are Pentecostal). There are approximately 180,000 Jews (0.5 percent), 100,000 Apostolic Armenian Orthodox (0.3 percent), and 4,000 Anglicans (0.01 percent) in the country. These statistics were published in the mass-circulation magazine Gente in 1999 and are not necessarily authoritative. For example, the number of Muslims was estimated at 800,000 (2 percent of the population), but this figure is disputed by various experts as too high, probably representing all persons of Middle Eastern ethnic origins, many of whom actually do not profess the Muslim faith. One prominent local historian estimated that the actual number of practicing Muslims was closer to 15,000 (0.04 percent). A 1999 Gallup poll estimated that approximately 7 percent of the population (about 258,700 persons) do not profess any religion.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Constitution grants to all residents the right "to profess their faith freely," and also states that foreigners enjoy all the civil rights of citizens, including the right "to exercise their faith freely."

The Constitution states that the federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith," and the Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies. The Secretariat of Worship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship 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 of Worship maintains a National Registry of approximately 2,800 religious organizations representing approximately 30 religious denominations, including most of the world's major faiths. Religious organizations that wish to obtain tax-exempt status must register with the Secretariat and must report periodically to the Secretariat to maintain 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. A new draft law on religion under consideration by Congress would make registration voluntary and would change other elements of the existing law.

The Secretariat of Worship promotes religious pluralism through such activities as conferences at which representatives of the various religious communities meet to discuss current issues. Leaders of the non-Catholic faiths are invited regularly to attend the Te Deum Mass celebrated in the Metropolitan Cathedral on important national holidays. The Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are holidays. After some confusion as to whether employees had to be paid their normal salary when they were not working on these religious days, the national Congress passed a law in 2000 requiring that such employees must be paid. The legislature also decided that the same rules should apply to Muslims on their religious holidays. The Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), the leading organization representing the Jewish community, is seeking to have Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur declared as national holidays on which most schools and public offices would be closed.

Registered religious organizations may bring foreign missionaries into 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. There have been no reports of any groups being denied visas for their foreign missionaries.

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 and synagogues operate private schools, including seminaries and universities.

In January 2000, President De la Rua committed the Government to implementing a Holocaust Education Project to be carried out under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force. In late 2000, a senior diplomat was appointed as the country's representative to the Task Force. Representatives have attended meetings of the Task Force as official observers, although the Government has applied to the president of the Task Force for consideration for full membership. The president of the Task Force has not indicated when the country could be integrated as a full member. The Government also began a number of projects including a Holocaust memorial in front of the Congressional building in Buenos Aires and donated a building for a Museum of the Holocaust. On April 19, 2001, in commemoration of the National Day of Tolerance, the Task Force organized a forum on the Holocaust and issues of cultural diversity in the National High School of Buenos Aires. The Ministry of Education is working to include Holocaust education in primary and secondary schools, and has provided training for provincial teachers on Holocaust issues.

The federal government sponsored a number of religious conferences and task forces in cooperation with local nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). In April 2001, the "Holocaust: Memory and Education Forum" was held in Buenos Aires. In May 2001, a conference on the role of religious organizations of social action in conjunction with social programs of the state was held in Buenos Aires.

In May 2000, the Secretariat of Worship created a formal advisors group. The 12 advisors are all laypersons representing different religions. They report directly to the Minister of Worship and advise the Secretariat on issues of common concern, including the new draft law on religion.

The Government, under the lead of the Secretariat of Worship, is in the process of drafting a new Law on Religion, in conjunction with various representatives of religious groups. Draft provisions of the law would define the term "religious liberty," make registration of religious groups at the Secretariat of Worship voluntary, make religious groups other than the Roman Catholic Church eligible to receive funds from the federal government, and create an Advisory Council on Religious Freedom composed of representatives from a variety of religions, as well as theology experts.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion; however, the Government provides the Catholic Church with some subsidies not available to other religions, and some other religious groups have made allegations of religious discrimination in the military and some federal ministries. The Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies totaling approximately US $8 million per annum (8 million pesos) administered through the Secretariat of Worship.

In April 2001, the Jewish community organization DAIA criticized the provincial government of Catamarca over the issue of teaching religion in public schools. Article 270 of the provincial Constitution, in place since 1988, made the teaching of religion in public schools to minors obligatory as long as the parents agreed on the creed being taught. The Article specified that all students would receive instruction in their parents' faith, thus separating children according to religion in a potentially discriminatory fashion. The Article did not take effect until 1999 and affected the 2000 and 2001 school years. After DAIA's initial statements to the media, the provincial governor, Oscar An�bal Castillo, revoked the article by ministerial decree in April 2001. Catholic religious leaders demanded that the Article be reinstated. The provincial government and leaders of various religious groups agreed to negotiate a compromise allowing schools in Catamarca to make religious instruction an optional activity which would be held after school hours; however, by the end of June 2001, the negotiators had not reached a final agreement as to the curriculum and where and when it would be enacted.

Some members of the non-Roman Catholic communities perceive religious discrimination in the military service and in some federal ministries. It is difficult to characterize this discrimination accurately and to measure it. Representatives of the Jewish community claim that there have been few if any Jewish citizens who have chosen to seek employment with the military or selected ministries largely due to a perceived fear of future discrimination in obtaining higher rank and appointments. Despite this assertion, there have been government ministers and other Jewish senior government officials in the current and past administrations.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

Fifteen former Buenos Aires provincial police officers were linked to a stolen vehicle ring, which furnished the van used in the 1994 AMIA Jewish Cultural Center bombing. They face various criminal charges (see Section III).

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including 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 III. Societal Attitudes

Relations among the various religious communities are amicable; however, religious discrimination, especially anti-Semitism, remains a problem. NGO's actively promote interfaith understanding. Ecumenical attendance is common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration.

In May 2001, the Interfaith Center for Social Responsibility (CIRS), an NGO, was officially inaugurated in a ceremony that took place in the National Congressional Chambers. The board of CIRS is made up of religious leaders from the Jewish, Catholic, Methodist, and Muslim faith communities. The goal of CIRS is to reach, inform, and mobilize persons to take social action, primarily through their religious organizations. The first public campaigns of CIRS addressed increasing organ donation awareness and ending child labor.

Religious discrimination remains a problem. Most published reports of antireligious acts were anti-Semitic in nature, although there are also reports of isolated anti-Muslim and anti-Christian acts. Combating religious discrimination and other forms of intolerance is the stated goal of the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), an agency of the Ministry of Interior. The Institute, which includes on its board representatives from the major religious faiths, 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. Despite serious problems due to institutional reorganization in early 2000, the agency has renewed effectiveness, although it still has no legal power.

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. There was also one report of anti-Christian and one report of anti-Muslim violence.

Representatives of the Jewish community, including researchers at the DAIA Center for Social Studies, claim that the number of anti-Semitic incidents decreased somewhat over the period covered by this report. The most frequent incidents include occurrences of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi graffiti and posters in cities throughout the country.

In June 2000, religious statues were vandalized at a Catholic church in Buenos Aires. No arrests or leads have been reported.

In July 2000, three female Jewish teachers at a school in Buenos Aires received threatening e-mail containing anti-Semitic language. School officials reacted quickly, and a conference on tolerance was organized within the school.

In September 2000, several tombs were vandalized in a Jewish cemetery in the Chaco Province. The police investigated the case, but have no leads. Investigations continued into vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Ciudadela (1998), La Tablada, Buenos Aires province (September 1999), and Liniers, Buenos Aires province (October 1999), but there have been no arrests.

There was no progress in the case of three youths 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 January 2001, unidentified persons threw a bomb at the windows of a Shiite Islamic Mosque in Buenos Aires. The blast caused significant damage to the Islamic bookstore located in front of the building and injured a police sergeant guarding the mosque. Following a government official's declaration, the police provided increased security for all religious institutions. No progress has been made in the investigation into this bombing.

Following the January 2001 attack on the mosque, the San Justo Islamic Cultural Center in Buenos Aires reported that they received an anti-Islamic threat.

In April 2001, Alberto Merenson, a retired musician and former director of the Symphonic Orchestra of San Juan Province, received a letter bomb, which injured him and damaged his home. A swastika was found inside the box. There has been no progress in the investigation of this crime.

On May 20, 2001, at least one person shouted anti-Semitic remarks at the Secretary for Security for the Ministry of Interior, Dr. Enrique Mathov, while he attended the funeral of a member of the Federal Police. No charges have been brought in this case, and the accused is not believed to be associated with a larger anti-Semitic organization.

Anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant incidents also have occurred in the past at several soccer matches, particularly at matches where one of the teams had a connection with the country's Jewish community. In early 2001, the Argentine Soccer Association established rules whereby games can be stopped or cancelled when any ethnically discriminatory incidents or taunting occur. Since its implementation, this measure reportedly has been successful in reducing discriminatory acts at soccer matches.

There were some developments involving cases of antireligious discrimination from earlier years. In April 1998, a court convicted three Buenos Aires youths for a 1995 assault on a man whom they believed to be Jewish. The court found that the three youths had acted out of "hatred due to race, religion, or nationality," and that they violated the 1988 anti-discrimination statute. They were sentenced to 3 years imprisonment, 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 and sentence be sustained. In March 2001, the Supreme Court upheld the 1999 Appeals Court decision and directed that the three youths be tried again. No date for the new trial has been set.

There have been no further developments in the following anti-Semitic incidents: the August 1999 bomb threat against two Jewish families in Paran�, or the Entre Rios and September 1999 incident in which unknown persons shot at a Jewish school in La Floresta. There were no further developments in the cases of bomb threats made to the new AMIA building in 1999, the theater in Tucuman in 1999, or the Jewish country club in San Miguel in February 2000.

The investigations into the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center (AMIA) continued. A December 1999 report by the Supreme Court formally determined that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the embassy 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. No further developments on the embassy bombing took place during the period covered by this report.

There were several developments in the case of the AMIA bombings. In July 1999, the authorities brought formal charges against all the suspects being held in connection with the attack, including a number of former Buenos Aires provincial police officers. The authorities issued charges against Wilson dos Santos, who reportedly had linked Iranian Nasrim Mokhtari to the bombing, arrested him in Switzerland, and extradited him to Argentina in December 2000. The authorities charged him with giving false testimony in the AMIA case in 1999.

Fifteen former police officers are among the 20 defendants who have been linked to a stolen vehicle ring, which furnished the van used in the bombing, and who face various criminal charges. The provincial police officers and others held in the AMIA case are suspected accessories to the crime and not those who are thought to have planned or executed the actual attack. In late February 2000, the investigating judge formally presented for trial the report on his investigation regarding these suspected accessories. The defendants who are former police officers face charges of various acts of police corruption related to the stolen vehicle used in the bombing. The trial of some of these policemen is scheduled to begin in September 2001 after delays caused by a judge asking for leave due to an illness and the defendants filing for a delay in the date. Judge Galeano's investigation of the bombing continued.

In April 2000, President de la Rua created a new task force of four independent prosecutors to investigate certain aspects of the AMIA case. The task force is working in parallel with other investigating authorities. On the sixth anniversary of the AMIA bombing in July 2000, President de la Rua and much of his Cabinet attended a ceremony commemorating the victims at the now-rebuilt cultural center.

In November 1999, Foreign Minister Guido di Tella issued a report of the Government's Commission of Inquiry into the activities of Nazism in the country (CEANA). 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 was sent to Argentina. The report also addressed the extent of Nazi influence on the country during the 1930's and 1940's. CEANA also has published the results of its research in academic journals and has organized seminars in various universities. In April 2001, President De la Rua extended CEANA's mandate through September 2001. In June 2000, President de la Rua, during an official overseas visit, made a formal apology for the country's acceptance of Nazi war criminals as immigrants after World War II.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. U.S. Embassy officers meet periodically with a variety of religious leaders and attend events organized by faith-based and nongovernmental organizations that deal with questions of religious freedom. In April and May 2001, the Embassy co-sponsored with the Simon Wiesenthal Center an exhibit on the Holocaust titled "The Courage to Remember."

In April and May 2001, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the request of Judge Galeano, sent a team of specialists to work with the judge and other Argentine government officials involved in the AMIA investigation.

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



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