September 30, 2014
Congress to discuss anti-protest bill
Human rights organizations, social movements resist proposals
Lawmakers will once again analyze a number of bills aimed at regulating social protest today, with the presence of several civil society groups and social movements who are resisting the proposals.
Several organizations, including the influential Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), aired some serious criticisms of the bills, which are likely to be echoed today.
A member of both the Encuentro Memoria, Verdad y Justicia (EMVJ) organization and the Workers’ Leftist Front (FIT) bloc, Myriam Bregman told the Herald there was a need to “decriminalize social protests” and that any moves to regulate them would be illegal.
Representatives from Quebracho and the CTA and CGT labour unions will join the EMJV as invited speakers at today’s committee meeting.
Inverting the debate
A recurrent theme in the critiques put forward last week by CELS, Amnesty International Argentina and former Buenos Aires City Ombudsman Alicia Pierini has been that Congress should focus on regulating how the state manages its response to the protests and not on the protesters themselves.
Many of the bills include provisions seeking to guarantee that protests only minimally disrupt traffic in urban settings. Bills presented by the ruling Victory Front (FpV) as well as the Renewal Front (FR) and the PRO, all specify various requirements for protesters, such as the requirement that authorities receive prior notification of rallies, that protests be restricted to fixed designated areas, or that mobilizations always leave at least one lane available for traffic in either direction.
None of the bills emerged unscathed from last week’s hearing, receiving criticism for “being far from the spirit of respecting the right to freedom of expression” and for implying “that protests are engaging in abusive behaviour.”
Paola García Rey, speaking on behalf of Amnesty International Argentina, noted that the requirement that “protests have prior notification can become a de facto requirement for authorization” if bureaucratic processes are too difficult.
Paula Litvachky, from CELS, went one step further, saying that “Congress doesn’t have the constitutional right to regulate protests, and if a law to that effect is passed, we will have to analyze the next steps.”
Bregman, who will be taking lawmaker Néstor Pitrola’s seat in the Congress at the end of the year as part of a rotation arrangement, chalked up the FpV’s decision to move forward on a social protest bill as “partially an electoral response to Sergio Massa,” while also situating it within this year’s occasionally difficult collective wage bargaining negotiations and the increasing role given to Security Secretary Sergio Berni.
Possible amnesty on the cards
None of the lawmakers present last week spoke in defence of their bills despite the pointed criticism, and Bregman was pessimistic about the possibility of the bills being re-worked as a result of the criticisms. Nonetheless, there is greater consensus about the possibility of an amnesty for the approximately 4,000 people who have criminal complaints against them for non-violent protests since 2003.
The FpV has presented a bill to that effect, and has the support of FIT along with some Broad Front-UNEN lawmakers like Virginia Linares (GEN). The proposals have yet to be fully debated in the committee, but so far only the PRO has strongly come out against it.
“We won’t negotiate nor be extorted into adding restrictions to social protests in exchange for an amnesty,” Bregman promised, rejecting “any kind of deal where we take the carrot in exchange for a bigger stick.”