Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission reported 121 deaths in 2017 due to unwarranted or excessive force by police in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. A credible domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported there were 258 deaths in 2017 as a result of unwarranted or excessive force by police in the country.
On June 20, 18 police officers were indicted for tampering with the official autopsy to hide signs of violence in the case of Franco Casco, who allegedly died in police custody in 2014, and for failing to register Casco’s original detention in police reports. At year’s end 10 of those officers remained in pretrial detention. Federal prosecutors removed charges against the remaining police officers. The case remained ongoing at year’s end.
On March 8, police fatally shot 12-year-old Facundo Ferreira in Tucuman Province. Ferreira’s family alleged two provincial police officers fired without cause. Criminal proceedings against the officers began on July 3. One officer remained employed on the police force in an administrative capacity, and the other was dismissed for unrelated reasons. The case against the two officers was ongoing at year’s end.
On November 29, a federal judge ruled the death of activist Santiago Maldonado was not a forced disappearance and that there are no criminal penalties applicable in the case. Maldonado was allegedly last seen during a protest on August 1, 2017, and an official autopsy stated that Maldonado died of drowning and hypothermia. His family announced their intent to appeal the ruling.
Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship and the 1974-76 government of Isabel Peron. On August 13, oral hearings began in a trial encompassing more than 800 cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder. The trial against two former Ford Motor executives charged with allegedly helping the military kidnap and torture workers, which began in December 2017 continued at year’s end. The case represented the first time private-sector defendants had faced trial for dictatorship-era crimes.
On December 12, the Supreme Court ruled against a reduced sentence for Rufino Batalla, convicted in 2014 for murder, torture, and kidnapping during the military dictatorship, that counted the time Batalla served in prison before conviction as double the time served toward his sentence. The retroactive application of a controversial 1994-2001 “2×1” law in a separate Supreme Court case in 2017 prompted the congressional passage in May 2017 of a new law preventing the “2×1” sentencing benefit to crimes against humanity.
On March 16, the Federal Cassation Court–the nation’s highest federal appellate court–rescinded house arrest for 88-year-old Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, based on medical testimony concluding Etchecolatz was fit to remain in jail. Etchecolatz, one of the country’s most egregious human rights violators, was convicted five times, most recently in 2016, for kidnapping, torture, and murder as chief of police investigations in Buenos Aires Province from 1976 to 1977, when he oversaw 29 clandestine detention centers.
Judicial authorities continued to investigate cases of kidnapping and illegal adoption of children born to detained dissidents by members of the former military dictatorship. On August 3, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 128th missing grandchild of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials had been identified and made aware of his background.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team continued to provide technical support and assistance in the identification of remains of victims of the military junta.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide. NGOs, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Prosecutor General’s Office, the National Penitentiary Prosecutor’s Office (an independent government body that monitors prison conditions), and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (an autonomous office established by the provincial government) reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials.
The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that in 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, there were 733 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement.
No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture existed at the federal level. On April 23, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment ratified observations by the UN Committee Against Torture in 2017 that there was excessive and arbitrary use of force by police; prison overcrowding and related institutional violence including torture; uneven implementation of torture prevention laws between provinces; politicization and unclear mandates of various torture prevention institutions; and the lack of an ombudsman against torture since 2008.
According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office, 274 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first half of the year; however, only 84 complaints resulted in criminal investigations.
On May 17, a federal prosecutor in Tierra del Fuego Province filed a motion deposing 26 former military officers for human rights abuses by the armed forces against their own soldiers during the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War. Prosecutors argued the officers were implicated in more than 20 cases of alleged torture of army conscripts and a subsequent cover-up, both classified as crimes against humanity. Defendants included a brigadier general, a lieutenant, and two deceased colonels to be tried in absentia. The case, which marked the first legal action against regime officials for allegedly torturing their own troops during the Falklands/Malvinas military campaign, continued at year’s end.
On September 20, a Buenos Aires City criminal court sentenced six Naval Prefecture officers to between eight to 10 years imprisonment for the 2016 torture of minors Ivan Navarro and Ezequiel Villanueva. The officers were found guilty of torture, illegal detention, and armed robbery.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. Particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, which held more than half the country’s total prison population, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment. On April 23, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment highlighted deteriorating and excessively harsh prison conditions and expressed concern about detention practices for juveniles and marginalized communities.
Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate, prison overcrowding remained a problem. Prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 91 percent, while prisoners in provincial police holding facilities exceeded capacity by more than 200 percent, according to CELS and the Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission. In June, NGOs reported a record number of approximately 45,000 detainees in Buenos Aires Province, a 12.5 percent increase over 2017 and an increase of more than 30 percent during the last six years. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.
Inmates in many facilities suffered from overcrowding; poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment, according to reports by human rights organizations and research centers.
Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in minors being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national prison ombudsman noted the law prohibited doing so.
Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and crowded than men’s prisons. Pregnant prisoners were exempted from work and rigorous physical exercise and were transferred to the penitentiary clinic prior to their delivery date. Children born to women in prison may remain in a special area of the prison with the mother until the age of four and receive daycare.
In the first six months of the year, the Federal Penitentiary Service reported 22 inmate deaths in federal prisons, six of which were violent. The Committee of Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission stated that 134 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires in 2017, 60 from health problems and lack of medical attention. The Ministry of Justice had not published official statistics on prisoner deaths since 2016.
On May 12, the chief of Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires Province, turned himself over to federal authorities for charges related to a March 2017 fire that killed seven detainees. The police chief and five other police offers remained under arrest at year’s end.
On November 15, four inmates died in a fire at a Buenos Aires Province police station. Ten other detainees were injured.
Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. According to local NGOs, prisoners occasionally did not submit complaints to authorities due to fear of reprisal.
Independent Monitoring: The government usually permitted monitoring by independent local and international human rights observers.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the federal and provincial police forces, the armed forces, and other federal police authorities including the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. All federal police forces fall under the authority of the Ministry of Security. Each province, including the city of Buenos Aires, also has its own police force that responds to a provincial (or municipal) security ministry or secretariat. Individual forces varied considerably in their effectiveness and respect for human rights. The armed forces fall under the Ministry of Defense. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation.
On July 24, President Macri issued a presidential decree to expand the role of the armed forces to combat transnational criminal networks, such as drug trafficking organizations, and international terrorism. Local NGOs expressed concern over the possible future domestic implications of this decree and demonstrated against it on July 26.
The federal government can file complaints about alleged abuses with the federal courts, and provincial governments can do the same for provincial security forces. Members of security forces convicted of a crime were subject to stiff penalties. Authorities generally administratively suspended officers accused of wrongdoing until their investigations were completed. While authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem. International organizations and NGOs reported that authorities carried out investigations unevenly while slow judicial processes hampered timely resolution of complaints.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. Police may detain suspects for up to 10 hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime or police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than 10 hours.
The law provides detainees with the right to a prompt determination of the legality of their detention by a lower criminal court judge, who determines whether to proceed with an investigation. In some cases there were delays in this process and in informing detainees of the charges against them.
The law provides for the right to bail except in cases involving flight risk or risk of subornation of justice.
Authorities allowed detainees prompt access to counsel and provided public defenders if they were unable to afford counsel. In some cases such access was delayed due to an overburdened system.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.
Pretrial Detention: The law provides for investigative detention of up to two years for indicted persons awaiting or undergoing trial; the period may be extended by one year in limited circumstances. The slow pace of the justice system often resulted in lengthy detentions beyond the period stipulated by law. The National Penitentiary Prosecutors Office reported that 60 percent of prisoners were awaiting trial during the first three months of the year.
On August 18, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of house arrest for Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala, revoking an August 7 decision by a federal judge to return Sala to prison. Sala was arrested in January 2016 during a protest against a provincial government’s reforms to social spending. In December 2016 a judge convicted her for aggravated material damages and civil disturbance. Despite a three-year suspended sentence on that conviction, Sala remained in detention due to pending charges for financial crimes, assault, and fraud. In December 2017 the Supreme Court directed Jujuy Province to allow house arrest in Sala’s case while affirming the legal rationale for her continued detention.
While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. According to local NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and ordinary courts were subject at times to political manipulation. NGOs also criticized all three branches of the government for use of inappropriate procedures for selecting judges and for manipulating the assignment of judges to specific cases. The judiciary continued to investigate a number of these alleged irregularities.
A law enacted in 2015 allowed the Magistrates’ Council to designate “substitute judges” from congressionally approved lists of judges, attorneys, and court secretaries, circumventing the normal qualifying and order of merit criteria reserved for permanent appointments. Media reported that the government selected substitute judges sympathetic to its interests. In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the civil society organization Fores reported that almost 25 percent of judges remained “substitute” or temporary judges.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free assistance of an interpreter, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit responses to questions in writing. If an investigating judge determines sufficient evidence exists to proceed with a trial, the investigating judge refers the case to a panel of judges, who decide guilt or innocence in a separate oral trial proceeding. During the oral trial, defendants can present witnesses and provide expert witness reports, in addition to the defendant’s own evidence. Defendants have the right to be present at their hearings, and there is no trial in absentia.
Lengthy delays, procedural logjams, long gaps in the appointment of permanent judges, inadequate administrative support, and general inefficiency hampered the judicial system. Judges’ broad discretion on whether and how to pursue investigations contributed to a public perception that many decisions were arbitrary.
Provincial courts in Catamarca, Salta, Cordoba, Chubut, La Pampa, Buenos Aires, Neuquen, Rio Negro, Entre Rios, Buenos Aires City, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Chaco, Mendoza, Jujuy, and Tucuman continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Neuquen, Salta, Chaco, and Buenos Aires Provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Full implementation of trial by jury procedures was pending in Chaco, Rio Negro, Mendoza, and San Juan.
In 2014 congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new code of criminal procedure for the federal courts, but the government suspended its implementation. The 2014 code would transform the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution under the authority of the attorney general and trial by jury. The new criminal code would impose time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expand victims’ rights, and provide for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code would create direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who would assume prosecutorial responsibilities exercised by investigating magistrates. During the year the government and congress worked on a new bill to update the 2014 code, including by incorporating legislation passed in the interim, such as a law authorizing the use of cooperating witnesses in cases of corruption. As of November the federal courts had not implemented the 2014 code of criminal procedure, and congress had not finished debating the bill to update it.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens have access to the courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages or the protection of rights provided by the constitution.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. In 2016 the National Administration for Social Security (ANSES) and the Secretariat of Public Communications under the Chief of Staff’s Office officially announced an interagency information-sharing agreement. The agreement sought to make the ANSES database of citizen personal information available to facilitate government public-service communications to the population. A group of citizens, including some opposition legislators, filed the criminal complaint; on September 6, a federal court ruled such an information-sharing procedure would be a violation of the right to privacy.