a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were alleged reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On August 19, closed circuit cameras captured a police officer kicking Jorge Martin Gomez in the chest during an arrest. As a result of the kick, Gomez fell, fractured his skull, and ultimately died. Local authorities argued that the officer, who remained under investigation for homicide at the end of the year, used the kick to maintain distance from Gomez, who had a knife and appeared “drugged.” Gomez’s family members argued that no knife was visible in the camera footage and police could have subdued Gomez without injuring him.
The Committee against Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission reported 120 deaths in 2018 due to unwarranted or excessive force by police in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires. A domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported there were 333 deaths in 2018 at the hands of police forces. The commission asserted that investigations into police violence and the use of lethal force in the province were limited.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of the government or security forces during the year.
On September 5, a federal appeals court judge reopened the case of Santiago Maldonado, an activist found dead in 2017 in Chubut Province. Last seen alive during a protest broken up by members of the National Gendarmerie, the official autopsy stated Maldonado died of drowning and hypothermia with no clear signs of foul play. A lower court judge closed the case against several gendarmes, initially accused of “forced disappearance.” The appeals court subsequently ordered the judge to investigate the gendarmes for neglect by failing to rescue Maldonado from drowning.
In September federal prosecutors took 19 police officers to trial for the “forced disappearance” of Franco Casco in 2014. Casco was found dead in the Parana River after being held in police custody, although the police filed no report on his detention. As of October, nine of the officers remained in pretrial detention, and proceedings continued.
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 June 25, a court in San Juan Province began a combined trial of 35 individuals for human rights violations during the military dictatorship. The defendants included police and military members. One defendant was a former prosecutor accused of covering up illegal actions of torture, homicide, and sexual crimes. Of the 35 accused persons, 11 had previous convictions and were sentenced to life in prison in a previous combined trial. This trial was novel in that it accused an institution–San Juan’s provincial police–of state-sponsored terrorism.
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 June 10, the NGO Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo reported that the 130th missing grandchild of the estimated 500 persons born to detained and missing dissidents during the dictatorship and illegally adopted by former military officials was identified and provided information about his background.
In December 2018 a court convicted two former automotive executives as accessories to the military kidnapping and torture of 24 of their company’s workers. The case represented the first time the state tried private-sector defendants for dictatorship-era crimes.
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 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 (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 558 cases of torture or mistreatment in 2018. As of June the PPN recorded 232 cases. Although the office 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).
In June a federal judge in Tierra del Fuego Province indefinitely delayed the planned depositions of 26 former military officers accused of committing human rights abuses against their own soldiers during the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War. Defendants to be tried included a brigadier general and a lieutenant in absentia, and two deceased colonels postmortem. Prosecutors implicated the officers in more than 20 cases of alleged torture and a subsequent cover-up. In justifying the delay, the judge claimed to lack the personnel and necessary space to undertake the depositions.
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. Citing a sharp increase in the prison population in recent years, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights declared a three-year “prison emergency” in March. According to the PPN, as of March 29, the federal penitentiary system held an estimated 13,900 prisoners, approximately 14 percent above capacity. Buenos Aires provincial penitentiaries operated at approximately 113 percent of capacity in 2018, with 42,000 inmates in facilities designed for 20,000, according to the provincial Memory Commission. Many pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners.
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.
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.
In the first quarter of the year, the Federal Penitentiary Service reported 10 inmate deaths in federal prisons, five of which were violent. By contrast, the Committee of Torture of the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission stated that 140 prisoners died in the province of Buenos Aires–101 from unattended health problems. The Ministry of Justice had not published official, nationwide statistics on prisoner deaths since 2016.
On September 2, a local appeals court began the trial of Alberto Donza, the former chief of Police Station No. 1 in Pergamino, Buenos Aires Province. Donza and five officers faced charges of abandonment and neglect after failing to intervene to save prisoners during a 2017 fire in the station. Seven detainees died as a result, and Donza spent more than one year as a fugitive before surrendering to authorities in May 2018.
Investigations continued into a November 2018 fire at a police station in Trasradio, Buenos Aires, where four inmates died and 10 others were injured. The Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission denounced the prosecutor leading the investigation in May, accusing him of a lack of impartiality, objectivity, and balance.
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 the authorities must immediately notify the state attorney’s office of the arrest. The state attorney can approve detention for up to 72 hours. In exceptional cases a judge can 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 July 3, authorities placed the former police chief of Luque, Cordoba Province, in pretrial detention for allegedly detaining an individual without a warrant or probable cause. According to local media, Eduardo Armando Gonzalez lied to investigators about arresting the person and then attempted to destroy records of the arrest. As of December the investigation continued.
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 60 percent of prisoners were awaiting trial during the first three 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. NGOs criticized the government for the use of inappropriate procedures to fill judicial vacancies, despite a law establishing rigorous criteria be used in merit selection to prevent the naming of judges who did not go through the proper bidding and confirmation processes; and to assign judges to specific cases. The Council of Magistrates continued to investigate a number of these alleged irregularities.
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, 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, Mendoza, 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 Rio Negro and San Juan.
In December 2018 Congress passed a new code of federal criminal procedure. In June, Salta and Jujuy became the first provinces to implement this new code, which is to progressively extend to the rest of the country. The code transforms the country’s hybrid federal inquisitive system into a full accusatory system, with expanded prosecution responsibilities for the attorney general. The new code imposes time limitations on prosecutions (most cases under the new system must be disposed of in three years), expands victims’ rights, implements the use of new investigative techniques, and provides for expedited deportations of foreigners in lieu of prosecution. The code creates direct interaction between security forces and prosecutors, who assumed investigative responsibilities previously exercised by 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. They may also appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, to include the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
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.