January 20, 2018

Gov’t told to ‘protect lives’

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

OAS rights group slams conditions in BA police cells, demands action

Thousands of prisoners are being held in Buenos Aires province police stations such as the one pictured above.

Commission demands gov't ‘protect life’ of prisoners suffering from ‘extreme’ overcrowding

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has made a formal request demanding the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) administration protect the “life and integrity of prisoners” being held in police stations, recognizing complaints filed by attorneys and human rights organizations over the past few years.

In yesterday’s request, the IACHR calls on the government to implement precautionary measures for prisoners held in six police stations in the Greater Buenos Aires districts of Lomas de Zamora and La Matanza.

“Given the extreme overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions, lack of natural light, risk of electrocution, 24-hour confinement, and the alleged use of torture ... the commission has asked Argentina to adopt the necessary measures to protect the life and personal integrity of those being held,” the IACHR said in a statement.

The IACHR also called on the government to adopt an immediate contingency plan to reduce the jail time of prisoners held in police stations, on the grounds that police station cells are suppose to be temporary, as well as take immediate steps to decrease overcrowding in police jails.

In the past few years, the prison population in Buenos Aires province has grown considerably, having increased by 9.5 percent — some 4,000 new prisoners — between 2013 and 2014.

According to statistics provided by the Centre for Legal Studies (CELS) and Provincial Commission for Memory, there are an estimated 34,000 people held in Buenos Aires province’s prisons — an estimated 70 percent of the national prison population. Some 60 percent of those prisoners behind bars have not been convicted of a crime, CELS estimates.

Concretely, the Commission asked Argentina to adopt “the necessary measures to protect the life and personal integrity” of those being held at Police Station No. 8 of Villa Galicia, Police Station No. 10 of Puente La Noria, Police Station No. 1 of Esteban Echeverría, all of which are located in the Greater BA suburb of Lomas de Zamora. IACHR officials also made reference to the situation of Police Station No. 1 of San Justo, the Third Northeast District Police Station of La Tablada (which is for women detainees) and Police Station No. 2 of Virrey del Pino, located in the populous district of La Matanza.

In Villa Galicia, officials detected 16 to 18 prisoners being held in one cell, roughly four by four metres. In San Justo’s Police Station No. 1, 56 detainees are spending their days in cells supposed to be holding 14 people.

The IACHR has demanded Argentina make changes that are in line with international standards, such as providing prisoners’ with adequate hygiene conditions and access to water fit for human consumption, as well as adequate medical treatment for detainees and their health needs.

In this context, the human rights body said the Let’s Change government should reach an agreement with the human rights organizations and the prisoners’ public and private attorneys on what specific measures could be adopted to improve the situation, as well as report to the commission the actions they have taken to investigate the incidents that led to precautionary measures.

Situation worsened since 2013

The growth in the number of prisoners being held in police stations coincided with the appointment of former Ezeiza mayor Alejandro Granados as the province’s Security Minister in 2013, human rights organizations reported. The incarceration rate increased even more after then-governor Daniel Scioli declared a “state of security emergency” in the region.

Although incarceration statistics since the Let’s Change administration of President Mauricio Macri and Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal came to power last December haven’t been released yet, human rights groups claim there haven’t been any signifcant changes in the policies over the past six months. BA security provincial authorities have continued to permit police to hold prisoners in police stations as local prisons continue to remain overcrowded, and insufficient funds have been provided to create more prisons to address this issue.

“This is very significant as it confirms what we’ve been denouncing all this time ... that a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that deemed unconstitutional the holding of prisoners in police stations is not being heeded,” Eva Asprella, the criminal and prison violence policy coordinator of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) told the Herald yesterday.

Asprella emphasize how after that ruling was given, the number of people incarcerated in police stations started to decrease, but that those gains retrogressed after the “state of security emergency” in 2013 — and that there haven’t been any major changes since then.

“The (María Eugenia) Vidal administration hasn’t been giving us updated reports of how many prisoners are being held in police stations ... nor have concrete measures been made to modify the situation,” the CELS coordinator added.

Now, the hope is that the IAHCR’s new request will put pressure on the provincial courts, administration and legislature, to sign an agreement with human rights organizations and defence attorneys over a series of open negotiations they’ve been holding to try to resolve the issue.

Herald staff

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