December 12, 2013
‘Massa wants to broaden rights agenda’
Former Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Santiago Cantón was presented last week as Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa’s human rights expert. His incorporation into Massa’s Renewal Front was immediately seen as an illustration of how Massa is not just worried about the October midterm elections. Cantón had a high-profile confrontation with late former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who accused him of supporting a coup against him, describing Cantón as “excrement.”
An Argentine human rights expert, Cantón is currently the director of the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights in Washington, DC. The lawyer talked to the Herald yesterday by phone, saying he has known Massa for years because both lived in San Martín, Buenos Aires province.
“We were not friends, but we knew each other,” he said.
Since Massa launched his campaign, they have been discussing hot topics such as crime control and human rights police.
When Massa introduced you as his human rights “guru” last week, you talked about incorporating “new human rights” to the agenda?
Talking about new human rights is a bit weird. I meant that it is necessary to make progress on rights that are not often promoted. Argentina has been an example in how to deal with human rights violations of the past but there’s still much to do.
Gender violence is always a field that needs more attention. Indigenous communities are the most vulnerable and commonly suffer discrimination. Another issue that can be considered “new” is how business is tied to human rights, corporate social responsibility, and which is linked to environmental rights and extraction industries.
Is Massa in favour of broadening the human rights agenda?
Of course. I have known him for years. For instance, when he was the head of the ANSeS social security agency, he went to the Inter-American Commission to resolve cases relating to pensioners. He has the same initiative with all topics. I do not have any differences with him. Of course, he is looking at issues from a lawmaker’s point of view. He is examining the laws to improve them. He thinks that human rights policy should come from the state and not be partisan.
After his victory in the primaries, Massa said that we should look forward. Isn’t that calling for the end of proceedings for crimes committed during the last dictatorship?
No, it is not and he made himself clear: he said that every nation has to look forward, and we all agree with that, but the future does not mean ceasing to solve fundamental problems. Sometimes the past is the preface. A country cannot make any progress if memory, truth and reparation is not assured.
Though you praise the Kirchnerite administration taking those responsible for human rights violations to court, you were critical of Julio López’s forced disappearance and César Milani’s appointment as the head of the Army. Do those represent pending issues?
First, López’s disappearance is a tragedy for his family and secondly it means that past has not passed, that there are still social sectors capable of causing damage. Days ago, during the seventh anniversary of his forced disappearance, many said that the necessary actions have not been taken, and they were right. Milani’s appointment was a big mistake and a contradictory message, especially if compared to the excellent policies related to issues of human rights violations of the past.
After the primaries, a tough-on-crime narrative became the norm, which included deploying more police officers to patrol the streets. Is that your proposal to decrease crime?
Crime is the issue that worries Sergio the most. He has said that prevention is fundamental. If your policy is to deploy more police officers to the streets, decrease the age of criminal responsibility and increase the number of prisons, what you are acknowledging is that your security policy has failed. Crime control does not begin with police and the courts, it starts before. We could be creating the feeling that things are getting better, but they’re not.
Some members of the Renewal Front celebrated the appointment of Alejandro Granados as the new provincial security minister, do you share their view?
I do not know Granados, but what I read in the newspapers worries me. I cannot focus my analysis on that. Approaching it through the police force is not the solution.
Why did you say you were concerned about freedom of expression in Argentina?
I am concerned about campaigns with slogans like “Clarín miente” (Clarín lies), which are unacceptable coming from the government. I am also concerned about the discretionary management of official advertising. Those are two serious issues clearly focused on certain media outlets.
What do you think of the Broadcast Media Law that is currently being analyzed by the Supreme Court?
I try to be careful when dealing with these issues, especially when the Supreme Court is involved. What I have always said is that it is important to distribute licences, and that when the media is concentrated there is a huge risk. The question is how you define media concentration, and the answer may vary from one country to another. To analyze that, you should take into account the background. If you lead a campaign to smear some media, how should that law be analyzed? In human rights, the background is fundamental.
But do you agree with the idea that only big media can protect freedom of speech?
That’s a difficult question for me. That’s what the Supreme Court has to determine, it’s specific for each country, there’s no international standard.
How did you react to the withdrawal of Venezuela from the Inter-American Commission?
It’s a serious political issue that could risk the human rights system. I think the whole international community and Argentina, in particular, have a responsibility. I think they should have tried to solve the situation before, and that could have happened if they had employed a stronger policy toward Venezuela.