Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was no information available during the year regarding arbitrary or unlawful killings by police.
The Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) reported 126 deaths during 2015 as a result of police using unwarranted or excessive force in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires.
In February authorities elevated to a criminal cause of action the April 2015 killing of a youth in San Martin, Buenos Aires Province, by a police officer on patrol. The officer chased two youths who were suspected of stealing a motorcycle and shot at them as they fled on the motorcycle, killing the passenger. Following the incident authorities dismissed the officer for excessive use of force.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in disappearances, killings, and torture committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. On August 25, the Cordoba Federal Oral Courthouse No. 1 sentenced former Third Army Corps commander Luciano Benjamin Menendez to an additional life term in prison for murder, torture, and crimes against humanity, bringing his full sentence to 14 prison terms and 12 consecutive life sentences for human rights violations. Menendez was one of 43 defendants in the La Perla megatrial. Six defendants were acquitted, while the others received sentences ranging from two years to life imprisonment. On March 29, the Salta Federal Oral Court convicted former bus company owner Marcos Levin for conspiring with two former police officers to kidnap and torture a former employee in 1977. The court sentenced Levin to 12 years in prison, making him the first businessman to be sentenced for crimes against humanity during the military dictatorship era.
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 October 4, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 121st 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 cooperation with the National Institute of Industrial Technology, which provides 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, CELS, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Penitentiary Authority (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.
No unified registration system to record acts and victims of torture exists at the federal level.
The Buenos Aires Provincial Criminal Court of Cassation’s Office of Public Defenders reported that from January to April there were 221 complaints of torture and mistreatment by law enforcement officers during arrest or institutional confinement, of which 52 cases involved minors. A 2015 Santa Fe Provincial Office of Public Defenders survey, the latest available information, reported 503 alleged victims of abuse, mistreatment, and human rights violations committed by provincial security force personnel in the penitentiary system. According to the report, 21 percent of the victims were 18 years old or younger, and mistreatment most frequently occurred in detention centers and while in transit.
On July 18, a court sentenced five police officers from the Buenos Aires Provincial Police to life imprisonment for the torture and murder of detainee Gaston Duffau in the locality of Ramos Mejia in 2008.
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, there were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment.
Physical Conditions: While prison capacity in federal penitentiaries was marginally adequate (approximately 103 percent of capacity), prisoners in Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries exceeded facility capacity by an estimated 87 percent, according to a CELS report during the year. 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.
According to the Penitentiary Prosecutors Office of the Nation, 257 cases of torture and mistreatment were registered in the Federal Penitentiary Service during the first semester of the year; however, only 42 percent of the complaints of torture and bad treatment resulted in criminal investigations.
The Federal Penitentiary Service reported 20 inmate deaths in federal prisons, seven of which were violent, between January and June; however, CELS statistics for the province of Buenos Aires for 2015 reflected 50 prisoners died from violence, while another 89 died from health problems and lack of medical attention.
Administration: Information on the adequacy of recordkeeping was unavailable. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Local NGOs noted, however, that access to a public defender was sometimes limited and that 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.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
On October 21, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the release of Tupac Amaru social activist Milagro Sala, opining that her preventive detention was arbitrary. On January 16, authorities arrested Sala as she led a protest against the Jujuy provincial government’s reforms to social spending. Authorities initially charged Sala with sedition; however, the Jujuy province prosecutor later dropped the sedition count and brought new charges of assault, fraud, and embezzlement of public funds. International NGOs criticized the detention and the provincial government’s rejection of the UN Working Group’s opinion. On December 28, a federal court convicted Sala of “aggravated material damages” and sentenced her to a three-year suspended prison sentence. On December 29, Sala was convicted by a state court of civil disturbances charges. She was fined 4,363 pesos ($235) and prohibited from holding office in any civil organization.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The federal police generally have jurisdiction for maintaining law and order in the federal capital and for federal crimes in the provinces. Other federal police authorities include the airport security police, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, and the Bureau of Prisons. 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 and by law do not participate in internal security. Through executive decree the government sought to expand the scope of the armed forces to provide logistics support and surveillance of national borders. The federal security forces have authority to conduct internal investigations into alleged abuses and to dismiss individuals who allegedly committed a human rights violation. In September the minister of security dispatched additional federal security force personnel to Santa Fe Province for one year to combat complex crime and corruption.
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. Authorities investigated and in some cases detained, prosecuted, and convicted the officers involved; however, impunity at the federal and provincial level remained a problem.
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. A June census carried out by the Federal Penitentiary Service revealed that in Buenos Aires Province prisons, 61 percent of prisoners were either in pretrial confinement or awaiting a final sentence. According to several human rights organizations, 30 percent of pretrial detainees were eventually acquitted. A convicted prisoner usually receives credit for time served.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the government did not always respect judicial independence. 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.
A law enacted in June 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 November 2015 the Supreme Court ruled the law providing for the appointment of substitute judges 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 trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Trials are generally public. In federal and provincial courts, all defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to legal counsel and free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, to remain silent, to call defense witnesses, and to appeal. If needed, a public defender is provided at public expense when defendants face serious criminal charges. During the investigative stage, defendants can submit questions in writing. A panel of judges decides guilt or innocence. Although defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence, local NGOs indicated defendants sometimes experienced obstacles or delays in obtaining such evidence. 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. The law extends the above rights to all defendants.
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.
Federal and provincial courts continued the transition to trials with oral arguments in criminal cases, replacing the old system of written submissions. Cordoba, Neuquen, Chaco, and Buenos Aires provinces provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. Additionally, Chaco and Neuquen provinces approved legislation in September 2015 to include special provisions establishing a reserved quota for women and indigenous representatives.
In 2014 Congress enacted supplementary legislation implementing a new criminal procedure code, but the government delayed full implementation until 2017. The law transforms 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 imposes time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expands victims’ rights, and provides for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code also creates direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who will assume prosecutorial responsibilities currently exercised by investigating magistrates.
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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. On July 25, 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 would 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 a criminal complaint alleging the practice constituted a violation of the right to privacy. On September 7, a lower federal court dismissed the charge, stating the facts alleged failed to constitute a crime. On September 8, a prosecutor appealed the decision, and at year’s end the case remained on appeal.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials; nonetheless, multiple reports alleged that executive, legislative, and judicial officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, suggesting a failure to implement the law effectively. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicized judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption.
Corruption: Cases of corruption occurred in some security forces. The most frequent abuses included extortion of, and protection for, those involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, and the promotion of prostitution.
On June 30, a federal judge indicted former Kirchner administration secretary for public works Jose Lopez for corruption and unjust enrichment. Police observed and videotaped Lopez hiding approximately nine million dollars in cash and luxury watches inside a remote convent in Buenos Aires Province. During the year the Office of Anti-Corruption participated in the prosecution and reviewed infrastructure contracts Lopez supervised while in office 2002-15.
Allegations of corruption in provincial as well as in federal courts remained frequent. A trial date remained pending for former vice president Amado Boudou, who was indicted in 2014 for illicit enrichment and other lesser offenses.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights’ Anti-Corruption Office is responsible for analyzing and investigating federal executive branch officials, based on their financial disclosure forms. The law provides for public disclosure, but not all agencies complied, and enforcement remained a problem. The Anti-Corruption Office is also responsible for investigating corruption within the federal executive branch and in matters involving federal funds, except for funds transferred to the provinces. As part of the executive branch, the office does not have authority to prosecute cases independently, but it can refer cases to other agencies or serve as the plaintiff and request a judge to initiate a case. The Anti-Corruption Office analyzed 243 cases of noncompliance during the first half of the year. The office referred 25 cases for legal proceedings and dismissed 169 cases. During the same period, the office initiated 109 administrative investigations against government employees for noncompliance with the financial disclosure requirement and referred one case to the court for alleged illicit enrichment.
Public Access to Information: On September 14, Congress passed a law on public access to information. The law explicitly applies to all three branches of the federal government, the public justice offices, and entities such as businesses, political parties, universities, and trade associations that receive public funding. Responses to citizen requests for public information must be answered within 15 days, with an additional 15-day extension available for “exceptional” circumstances. Sanctions apply for noncompliance. The law exempts classified information for defense or foreign policy reasons, as well as information that could endanger the functioning of the financial system, trade secrets, or in commercial, financial, and scientific cases where disclosure could adversely affect competition. The law also mandates the creation of the Agency for Access to Public Information, an autonomous office within the executive branch.