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November 28, 2014
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CELS criticizes Penal Code bill’s weak points

Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni (left) sits next to Ricardo Gil Lavedra (centre) and Roberto Carlés, members of the commission to overhaul the Penal Code.
By Luciana Bertoia
Herald Staff
Abortion, illegal espionage, freedom of expression among group’s main concerns

The bill to overhaul the Penal Code is gradually emerging from a period of stagnation. The Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) recently filed a proposal to introduce amendments to the draft, which along with other suggestions will have to be analyzed by the drafting commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni. The country’s top human rights organization criticized the Code bill for establishing regulations for social protests, for a recoil regarding the crime of slander and for not including the legal entity of illegal espionage. The group led by pro-Kirchnerite journalist Horacio Verbitsky also complained because the articles of the draft regarding abortion do not meet international standards and highlighted that some amendments had to be made to the chapter of the bill that refers to crimes against humanity and genocide.

When the Code bill was handed to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in February by the members of the commission, Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa launched a campaign to oppose the overhaul of the Code. Criticism emerged from the opposition and the government decided it was time to cool down the controversy, sending the draft to universities to be discussed. Sources from the drafting commission yesterday explained to the Herald that the debate was not over yet and that suggestions for amendments can be filed before August 21. Justice Zaffaroni will then be back in the country and will have to meet with the other members of the commission, former Radical lawmaker Ricardo Gil Lavedra, PRO lawmaker Federico Pinedo, former Socialist deputy María Elena Barbagelata, former Security minister León Arslanián and the coordinator of the commission, Roberto Carlés. They will have to analyze the proposals and modify their own draft. The Executive reportedly wants to submit the bill to the Congress before the end of the year.

Weakest points

In a 32-page document, CELS welcomed the bill’s aim to reduce “criminal inflation.”

The group considered that the bill was ambiguous in the articles that made reference to freedom of expression, pointing that there is no description of what can be understood as slander. The Argentine state was condemned by the Inter-American Human Rights Court in 2008 for using that legal entity to criminalize late journalist Eduardo Kimel. Since the bill reportedly proposes to criminalize media for slander, the CELS says that it contradicts Article 32 of the Constitution.

The organization founded in 1979 suggested the inclusion of the crime of forced disappearance among those listed as crimes against humanity because it could affect the ongoing trials against dictatorship-era repressors.

Another point made reference to abortion. The drafting commission followed the lines established by the Supreme Court, saying that abortion cannot be punished when the woman was raped or if the woman is disabled.

In agreement with Barbagelata — who made an objection to the bill in the articles referring to this issue — the group said that the draft did not meet international standards, affecting low-income women who normally die as a result of illegal abortion practices. According to CELS, around 100 women die per year due to botched abortions.

“Using criminal law to protect life is a debatable option,” they said.

The regulations concerning social protest were criticized by the group, which used to be one of the government’s closest allies. CELS also complained because the bill did not include any articles to punish illegal espionage. After the last dictatorship, the country passed a series of pieces of legislation to prevent the armed forces from carrying out internal security activities.

@LucianaBertoia
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