International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor


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.  There are a number of governmental and nongovernmental efforts to reduce discrimination and promote interfaith understanding.


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 36.9 million.  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).  In April 2001, statistics provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief indicated the following estimated membership in religious communities, which does not necessarily signify the practice of the religion: Catholics--88 percent of the population; Protestants--7 percent; Muslims--1.5 percent; Jews--1 percent; others--2.5 percent.  However, accurate estimates of the religious affiliations of the population are difficult to obtain.  The available estimates often are based on outdated census data and questionable presumptions, including a presumption that persons of Middle Eastern ethnic origin are Muslims.  Estimates of the number of Jews vary between 180,000 and 450,000 persons.  The Israeli-Argentina Mutual Association (AMIA) had not undertaken its planned demographic study of Jewish community members by the end of the reporting period.


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 Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.  The Constitution grants all residents the right "to profess their faith freely," and 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.  Registration is not required for private religious practices, such as those conducted in homes, but registration is necessary for any public activities.  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 were 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 conducted in the school itself or at a religious institution, as circumstances warrant.  Many churches and synagogues operate private schools, including seminaries and universities.

In April, the military signed an agreement incorporating the Anti-Defamation League's educational materials on anti-Semitism and racism into the military schools' curriculum.  Fernando Maurette, Vice-Minister of Defense, led the campaign and explained that the agreement is intended to improve the military's reputation, which many in the Jewish community still associate with Nazi sympathies.


The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), an independent agency of the Government, is charged with promoting social and cultural pluralism and combating discriminatory attitudes (see Section III).  INADI, which includes representatives from the major religious faiths on its board, 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 conducts educational programs.  In the past, INADI has suffered from lack of funding and institutional instability.  However, in 2002 a president was named, as INADI's formal law directs, and a process to establish autonomy began but had not reached completion by the end of the reporting period.  Nevertheless, INADI continued to investigate discrimination complaints, support victims, and promote proactive measures to prevent discrimination. 


In January 2000, President De la Rua committed the Government to implementing a Holocaust Education Project to be conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force (ITF).  At the June 2002 meeting of the ITF, Argentina became a full member of the Task Force and, as part of its contribution to promoting ITF objectives and expanding Holocaust education, the Government held a Holocaust Education Seminar for teachers in Tucuman province in November 2002. 


The law provides for 3 days of excused and paid leave for those observing the Jewish holy days of New Year, the Days of Atonement, and Passover, and the Islamic holy days of the Muslim New Year.


Restrictions on Religious Freedom


Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free 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 administered by the Secretariat of Worship.  Such subsidies historically have totaled between $2.8 and 3.6 million (8 and 10 million pesos) per year.


Some members of the non-Roman Catholic communities perceive religious discrimination in the military service and in some federal ministries.  Representatives of the Jewish community have claimed in the past that few if any Jewish citizens chose 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 such assertions, current and past administrations have included Jewish government ministers and other senior government officials. 


In late 2002, a gubernatorial candidacy brought to light that the oath of office of the Province of Tucuman provided for the governor to swear on the "Holy Gospels."  A legal challenge to the provision resulted in a provincial Supreme Court ruling that the governor could instead swear by "God and the Fatherland."


Abuses of Religious Freedom   


In early March, the judge heading the ongoing investigation of the 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombing, in which 85 victims perished, issued an international arrest order for 4 Iranian officials suspected of planning the terrorist attack.  They included former cultural attaché Moshen Rabanni, diplomatic courier Barat Balesh Abadi, Iranian intelligence minister Ali Fallahian, and diplomat Ali Akbar Parvaresh.  In mid-May the judge requested the arrest of another suspect, Lebanese national Imad Mugniyeh, whom the Government already sought as a suspect in the 1982 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.  Brazilian national, Wilson dos Santos, who recanted his claim to have warned consulates in Rome of the AMIA bombing, was convicted of perjury, sentenced to 6 years in prison, and released for time served in March.  The trial of 15 Buenos Aires provincial police and 5 civilians, charged as local accessories to the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, continued and is expected to last at least through the end of the year.  The new Government of President Nestor Kirchner has publicly identified resolution of the 1992 Israeli Embassy bombing and the 1994 AMIA bombing as key priorities.  Presidents Duhalde and Kirchner have taken concrete actions to promote the investigation into the bombings, which include providing an intelligence report to facilitate the judge's investigation, giving permission to open sealed intelligence service files and allowing agents from the State Intelligence Secretariat to testify in court. 


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 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.  NGOs actively promote interfaith understanding.  Ecumenical attendance is common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration.


NGOs promoting religious fraternity include the Argentine Jewish-Christian Brotherhood, an affiliate of the International Council of Christians and Jews, the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom (CALIR), the Foundation for Education for Peace (FEDEPAZ), and the Federation of Arab Entities (Latin America), known as FEARAB.  Cooperation has been particularly notable between FEARAB (Latin America), representing Muslims and Christians of Arab origin, and DAIA, the political representation of Argentine Jewry, to prevent religious tensions stemming from political conflicts in the Middle East.  For example, on February 20, FEARAB, DAIA and the Government issued a joint declaration calling attention to their traditional harmonious relationship and their approval of Argentina's position of support for the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. 


Religious discrimination remains a problem.  Most published reports of antireligious acts involved anti-Semitic activity, although there were also reports of isolated anti‑Muslim and anti-Christian acts.  INADI works to combat religious discrimination and other forms of intolerance (see Section II).


A number of reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents surfaced during the period covered by this report.  The DAIA Center for Social Studies publishes an annual study on Anti-Semitism in Argentina.  The Center found the total number of anti-Semitic incidents dropped from 185 in 2001 to 149 in 2002.  Of the 149 incidents, 35 percent were anti-Semitic remarks, 23 percent anti-Semitic graffiti, and 9 percent were threats against Jewish individuals or institutions.  The issues the DAIA Center highlighted in its 2002 report included:  1) the display and sale of an anti-Semitic tract from the 1930s at a Catholic book fair in La Plata in October/November 2002; 2) the Foreign Ministry's appointment and later withdrawal of that appointment of a "special representative" for themes related to the Jewish Community; and 3) the Chief of the Army's use of a quotation on forgiveness from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in a letter to the son of a "dirty war" political prisoner who declined to participate in a series of conferences sponsored by the military.  Among the positive moves to promote pluralism noted by the Center were: a seminar on religious freedom at the Catholic University in Cordoba and a "Day of Living Together and Nondiscrimination" sponsored by the Municipality of Cordoba; and the campaign to help impoverished children by a local newspaper, an NGO named Red Solidaria, and various religious groups (including the Catholic charity Caritas, the Israelite Congregation, the Anglican Church, and the Islamic Center).  The full study on anti-Semitism can be requested by contacting DAIA at 


In July 2002, vandals damaged 150 tombs in an Islamic cemetery in General Venegas in the Buenos Aires suburb of La Matanza.  The crime remains unresolved but according to a representative of FEARAB, provincial officials have made good faith efforts to work with the community on the case. 


The Government made no known progress in the cases of:  the January 2002 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the Buenos Aires suburb of Berazategui; the investigation into the April 2001 letter bomb received by Alberto Merenson the June 2000 vandalism of religious statues in a Catholic church in Buenos Aires; the September 2000 vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Chaco Province; and the 1999 vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in La Tablada and Liniers, both in Buenos Aires province.  Additionally, the Government made no further developments in the following anti-Semitic incidents: threats against the Jewish country club in San Miguel in February 2000; threats against two Jewish families in Parana, Entre Rios in 1999; the incident in which unknown persons shot at a Jewish school in La Floresta in 1999; and bomb threats made to the new AMIA building and the theater in Tucuman in 1999.


The investigation into the January 2001 bomb attack against the Shiite Islamic Mosque in Buenos Aires continued.  However, the Government has made no notable progress.


The Court has still not scheduled a trial for the third suspect in the 1995 assault of a man they believed to be Jewish by three Buenos Aires youths.


The Government has reported no further progress in the investigation of the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy.  The investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA cultural center continues and has resulted in the issuance of international arrest warrants for four Iranian officials and one Lebanese national associated with Hezbollah (see Section 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 organizations and NGOs that address questions of religious freedom. 


The Embassy continued to provide support for the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing.  For example, U.S. government personnel testified at the trial regarding the findings of the technical analysis of elements from the crime scene and the legal attache continues to respond to investigative leads in the AMIA case from the federal court charged with the terrorism inquiry.


The U.S. Embassy assists on an ongoing basis with the Government's implementation of a Holocaust Education Project, conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force.  For example, in June the Embassy again funded air transportation for two teacher trainees to attend Holocaust Education courses in the United States.