Argentina is a federal constitutional republic. In October 2019 Alberto Fernandez was elected president in elections that local and international observers considered generally free and fair. On the same day, the country also held municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Voters elected governors in 22 of the 24 provinces and one-half of the members of the Chamber of Deputies, representing all of the provinces and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires, and one-third of the members of the Senate, representing eight provinces.
Federal, provincial, and municipal police forces share responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of law and order. All federal police forces report to the Ministry of Security, while provincial and municipal forces report to a ministry or secretariat within their jurisdiction. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful and arbitrary killings and torture by federal and provincial police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious acts of corruption; violence motivated by anti-Semitism; and forced labor despite government efforts to combat it.
Judicial authorities indicted and prosecuted a number of sitting and former government officials who committed human rights abuses during the year, as well as officials who committed dictatorship-era (1976-83) crimes.
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 were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On August 6, provincial police shot and killed 17-year-old Valentino Blas Correas when the driver of the vehicle he was riding in attempted to evade a police checkpoint in the city of Cordoba. Authorities arrested one officer, Javier Catriel Almiron, on charges of qualified homicide and attempted murder, as ballistics tied the fatal bullet to his service weapon.
In March prosecutors confirmed they would pursue charges of “unintentional homicide” against city of Buenos Aires police officer Esteban Armando Ramirez in the death of Jorge Martin Gomez. Closed-circuit cameras captured Ramirez kicking Gomez in the chest during an August 2019 arrest. As a result of the kick, Gomez fell, fractured his skull, and subsequently died. Local media reported the officers involved attempted to cover up their actions. Ramirez claimed he had no intent to kill Gomez, but the victim’s attorneys asked for an increased charge of aggravated homicide, which would carry a potential life sentence as opposed to the one-to-three years’ imprisonment that Ramirez faced for the original charge. As of November proceedings were underway.
The Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission reported 134 deaths in 2019 due to unwarranted or excessive force by police in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. A domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported there were 401 deaths in 2019 at the hands of police forces. Both organizations asserted that investigations into police violence and the use of lethal force in the province were limited.
Media reported a rise in homicides in Santa Fe Province during the year, with 330 reported through October, compared with 279 during the same period in 2019. Along with the press, NGOs including Insight Crime attributed the high homicide rate to drug trafficking and organized crime. In September Security Minister Sabina Frederic announced she would send 50 federal agents to support local police. Provincial authorities, however, criticized the move as insufficient and requested greater coordination and assistance with federal authorities.
There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of security forces during the year.
Facundo Astudillo Castro disappeared on April 30 while hitchhiking approximately 75 miles from his home to Bahia Blanca, province of Buenos Aires, shortly after police arrested him for violating the COVID-19 quarantine. Authorities recovered Astudillo’s body in a canal four months later, on August 30, and an autopsy by an internationally respected team of forensic anthropologists could not rule out homicide. Prosecutors told local media that provincial police officers were their primary suspects, but as of November 18, they had yet to charge any officers. On July 10, the UN Committee against Forced Disappearance demanded that authorities undertake an immediate and exhaustive investigation. On October 30, Astudillo’s mother decried the slow pace of the investigation and called for the investigative judge leading the case, Maria Gabriel Marron, to recuse herself.
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. During the year courts heard testimony by videoconference in two “megacases”–one for dictatorship-era crimes in San Juan Province and another for those at the Campo de Mayo facility near Buenos Aires. Thirty-five individuals faced charges in San Juan and 22 in the Campo de Mayo case.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices and provides penalties for torture similar to those for homicide, but there were reports that police and prison officials tortured prisoners. The Prosecutor General’s Office, the Prison Ombudsman’s National Office (PPN), an independent government body that monitors prison conditions, and the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission’s Committee against Torture (CPM), an autonomous office established by the provincial government, reported complaints of torture perpetrated by provincial and federal prison officials, as did local and international NGOs.
The PPN reported 427 cases of torture or mistreatment in 2019. As of June the PPN had recorded 87 cases. Although the PPN created a National Registry of Cases of Torture in 2010, its reporting remained largely limited to the city and province of Buenos Aires (home to approximately 46 percent of the population).
On July 25, police at the sixth commissary in La Plata, Buenos Aires Province, beat and applied electric shocks to a 17-year-old prisoner during an estimated 10-hour detention, according to the CPM. The CPM noted that the officers apparently filmed their actions and distributed them on social media.
On May 13, authorities arrested eight members of the Buenos Aires provincial police for torturing and sexually abusing 14 female detainees at the third commissary in the municipality of La Matanza. According to local media, in December 2019 and January, police officers forced detainees to disrobe and squat down for extended periods and subjected them to violent and unwarranted cavity searches.
Impunity remained a significant problem in security forces at all levels. Corruption and a slow, politicized judicial system impeded efforts to investigate abuses. The government generally denounced reported abuses and took efforts to train military and security forces at all levels on human rights, including through online training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions often were harsh due to overcrowding, poor medical care, and unsanitary conditions. There were reports of forced transfers and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment, particularly in the province of Buenos Aires, which held more than half of the country’s total prison population.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding remained a problem. According to the PPN, as of July 31, the federal penitentiary system was at 95 percent capacity, holding an estimated 11,500 prisoners. As of April, Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries held almost 42,100 inmates in facilities initially designed for 24,000, according to the Center for Legal and Social Studies. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.
In March and April, prisoners throughout the country staged deadly riots to protest overcrowding and to demand transfer to house arrest due to COVID-19. After the riots, which left seven inmates dead, various courts began to transfer thousands of detainees from prisons in the province and city of Buenos Aires to house arrest to reduce overcrowding and limit the spread of the virus. Judges generally prioritized prisoners in high health-risk categories and nonviolent offenders.
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 prohibits doing so.
Women’s prisons were generally less violent, dangerous, and overcrowded 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 were entitled to remain in a special area of the prison with the mother and receive day care until age four.
The Federal Penitentiary Service reported 52 inmate deaths in federal prisons through October 31, of which 19 were violent. By contrast the Committee of Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission stated that 148 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires during 2019–118 due to unattended health problems. The Ministry of Justice had not published official, nationwide statistics on prisoner deaths since 2016.
According to human rights organizations and research centers, inmates in many facilities also suffered from poor nutrition; inadequate medical and psychological treatment; inadequate sanitation, heating, ventilation, and light; limited family visits; and frequent degrading treatment.
In December 2019 a criminal court found former chief Alberto Donza and five fellow officers guilty of neglect after detainees died in a 2017 fire in Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires Province. Donza received a 15-year sentence, and the other officers received between six and 14 years’ imprisonment.
Administration: Authorities sometimes conducted 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.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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. The government generally observed these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police generally apprehended individuals openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. By law police may detain suspects for up to six hours without an arrest warrant if authorities have a well-founded belief they have committed or are about to commit a crime, or if police are unable to determine the suspect’s identity. In all cases authorities must immediately notify the state attorney’s office of the arrest. The state attorney may approve detention for up to 72 hours. In exceptional cases a judge may extend detention for another 72 hours. Human rights groups reported that police occasionally arrested persons arbitrarily and detained suspects longer than the law permitted or did not follow proper notification procedures.
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 judicial system.
Arbitrary Arrest: Local NGOs reported that police on occasion arrested and detained citizens arbitrarily.
On August 19, Buenos Aires city police detained three street vendors of African descent for selling counterfeit goods. Local groups representing informal workers denounced the arrests as an unnecessary and involved excessive use of force. In March 2019 the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent noted that migrants of African descent, especially street vendors, were reportedly the targets of arbitrary arrest and police violence. Human rights organizations also accused police forces of undertaking arbitrary arrests, nominally as a result of a national quarantine against COVID-19, which began on March 20 and ended in phases on November 8. The organizations accused police of failing to register arrests, treating arrestees with excessive force, and placing detainees in settings that threatened their health.
On August 16, onlookers captured video of five police officers violently arresting a woman in Bariloche as she walked her dog in violation of quarantine. Police officials told local press the woman insulted the officers after refusing multiple requests to return home. Bariloche mayor Gustavo Gennuso later announced an investigation into possible excessive use of force.
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 PPN reported that 53 percent of prisoners were awaiting trial during the first six months of the year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but government officials at all levels 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.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
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. At an oral trial, defendants may present witnesses and request expert testimony. 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.
A code of federal criminal procedure passed in 2018 replaced the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system with a full accusatory system. In June 2019 Salta and Jujuy became the first provinces to implement this accusatory system at the federal level, which is scheduled to extend progressively to the rest of the country. The new code generally requires cases to be brought to trial within one year and resolved within three years. It also implements the use of new investigative techniques and expands victims’ rights. Prosecutors in provinces implementing the new code reported cases that previously took years could now be adjudicated in months. The code transfers investigative responsibilities from magistrates to prosecutors, with assistance from security forces. Full implementation of trial by jury procedures was pending in Corrientes and San Juan. The provinces of Neuquen, Mendoza, Salta, Chaco, Chubut, Entre Rios, Rio Negro, and Buenos Aires provide defendants accused of certain serious crimes the right to a trial by jury. As of October there were no jury trials for federal cases.
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. They may also appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, to include the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration, which called on countries to provide for the restitution of property wrongfully seized during the Holocaust, provide access to archives, and advance Holocaust education and commemoration. There were no known claims for movable or immovable property in the country, and it has no restitution laws. The Argentine Commission of Inquiry into the Activities of Nazism, created in 1997, concluded that no looted art was held by the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, although the commission admitted that it had not checked any other state-run museum and that it faced difficulties researching the activities of the country’s art market during the Holocaust. The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
On August 28, a federal judge announced an official inquiry into illegal espionage during the administration of former president Mauricio Macri, citing the former heads of Argentine Federal Intelligence (AFI) Gustavo Arribas and Silvia Majdalani among other officials. Members of AFI were accused of having illegally monitored the activities and private communications of politicians (from both ruling and opposition parties), journalists, labor leaders, and religious figures. The investigation continued as of November.