Macri: 12 months onFriday, December 9, 2016
Concerns and questions: the record on human rights
Twelve months after Macri’s inauguration, activists are worried over the govt’s approach to human rights and get ready to take their anger onto the streets
When Mauricio Macri was elected just over a year ago, human rights organisations said they would wait and see, willing to give the incoming president’s administration a chance to form its human rights policies. But on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration — which happens to fall on the National Day of Human Rights — the organisations’ patience is starting to wear out. They say they are ready to to mobilise in protest against the government’s policies.
While the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) government has continued many of the human rights policies put into effect by previous administrations, tensions have grown as the year has advanced. Many of the most recently proposed policies or legislation have led to criticism from activists.
The dismantling of key areas inside ministries that were set up to investigate and assist crimes against humanity trials, tougher anti-protest measures and “tough-on-crime” policies — such as the support for more stricter custody laws and plans to make it easier to deport immigrants that break the law — have sparked protests from human rights activists at every turn.
The boiling-point finally arrived last Saturday, when President Mauricio Macri once again ignored calls from the United Nations (UN), the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IAHCR) and Amnesty International asking the government to take action facilitating the immediate release of jailed Túpac Amaru leader Milagro Sala. Human rights groups unanimously decided that they had finally had enough and called for a “march of resistance,” set to take place tomorrow, in protest against what the groups call “setbacks” in human rights that have occurred this year.
“The administration’s record in its first year in power is terrible,” said Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo President Estela Barnes De Carlotto at a press conference last week.
The leading human rights figure was critical of how a recent judicial ruling had permitted repressors convicted of crimes against humanity to be transferred to Campo de Mayo penitentiary unit 34, despite the site having previously being closed because it was considered “insecure.”
Regarding trials probing crimes against humanity, which investigate abuses committed under the last military dictatorship (1976-1983), 13 cases have continued under the Macri administration and more are expected to begin next year.
Both Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj and Justice Minister German Garavano have promised to continue with the investigations, repeatedly stating that they are a “state policy.”
The trials have not ceased. But many avenues of investigation have closed off and there are cases that are continuing to drag on at a snail’s pace. As the Herald reported last April, investigative teams in different ministries, set up by the previous administration to help probe into archives and leads from crimes against humanity units, began to be dismantled at the beginning of the year. In addition, a bicameral Commission to investigate possible economic complicity by firms under the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) — which aimed to advance investigations probing major companies such as Ford, Techint, or Ledesma and their alleged ties to the last military dictatorship — hasn’t even started evaluating any cases.
Another policy issue that set off alarm-bells for human rights activists was the government’s new set of guidelines for police when removing roadblocks. Last February, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich provided a new set of procedures giving officers more power to remove protesters from the streets. The Security Ministry said that protesters would now be given “five minutes” to clear the streets, and if they refuse to step aside, charges could be filed against them, which could lead to a two-year prison sentence. CELS (the Centre for Legal and Social Studies) at the time noted that the protocol didn’t explicitly prevent officers from using firearms either. It also set limits for reporters and journalists, stating that they would be limited to certain areas at the discretion of the police handling the situation.
The terrible conditions many prisoners are subjected to inside the country’s jails is also worsening, though the problem predates the Macri administration. Human rights violations occurring in the prison system are a systemic problem that goes back decades. In Buenos Aires province, for example, the prison system is horrifically overcrowded with over 10,000 prisoners being held, the majority under pre-trial detention.
“There isn’t natural light, (or) space many times — it is basically a dungeon,” IAHCR head James Cavallaro had told the Herald in an interview last month.
Let’s Change’s (Cambiemos) justice minister in Buenos Aires province, Gustavo Ferrari, says the government intends to change the situation, announcing the provincial government plans to build new jails and renovate existing ones, as well as open up previous detention centres used by the Army, and nation railway system, many which are inadequate as penitentiary centres.
The IACHR called to attention that Mendoza province, led by Radical Governor Alfredo Cornejo, has seen one of the highest increases in prisoners, spiking by 53 percent in just five years, with an estimated 50 percent of prisoners remanded in custody.
It doesn’t help the government that there’s a high-profile case drawing attention to this issue, either. In Jujuy province, Túpac Amaru leader Milagro Sala is being remanded in custody. She has been in custody since January 16, initially charged with “sedition” charges for leading a sit-in protest in the San Salvador capital of Jujuy. The claims levelled against her have now changed.
Sala is not the only woman in a northern province that’s planted human rights firmly on the national agenda.
Despite a law mandating that the state must provide pregnant women with access to reproductive health services and assist them to abort a foetus in certain specific cases, many provincial governments have refused to put it into effect. And many women are still being punished for carrying out abortions. An estimated 500,000 abortions are carried out in the country per year, the vast majority being clandestine.
The most widely known case related to women’s reproductive rights is that of Belén, a woman who was accused of carrying out an illegal abortion and was remanded in custody for over two years in Tucumán province. After months of lobbying by human rights organizations,and after the UN Special rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez brought the case to national Congress demanding that the Argentine state intervene, the Tucumán’s provincial Supreme Court ordered the release of Belén.
While in Buenos Aires province Governor María Eugenia Vidal had initially moved toward adhering to protocols that prevent the criminalization of certain abortions — such as in the case of sexual abuse or risk to health.
“No women is happy when undergoing an abortion. It’s traumatic but they shouldn’t be punished,” Vidal said last May when discussing abortion policy. However, she was forced to take a step back after heavy political pressure from Catholic organisations.
At the beginning of the year, when the Let’s Change administration announced a high-profile plan to combat drug-trafficking, a major part of it was tougher border controls which looked set to impact upon immigration levels. According to statistics submitted by a collective of 11 immigration-related organisations, the number of alleged illegal immigrations seized on the border has increased by 42 percent in comparison to 2015. In that year, 1,908 people were deported from the country — the figure has increased 3,258 in just the first nine months of 2016.
In August, the same time that the national government expanded its Special Humanitarian Visa programme for those affected by the conflict in Syria, President Macri announced that a new detention centre for immigrants that violate the law would be created. The centre is based in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Pompeya. The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), however, has voiced concern over the legality of the site and asked for more information.
The Let’s Change administration’s immigration policy is in sharp contrast to the previous Victory Front (FpV) administration that enacted the “Patria Grande” programme which facilitated the immigration process for foreigners, allowing over 800,000 foreigners to apply for residency.
It’s due to these disputes that have grown over the past year why 14 of the country’s main human rights group decided to organize the “continuing resistance” march that will take place tomorrow at 6pm in the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires City and several other provinces throughout the country. A protest that will be led by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), HIJOS, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Founders Line), SERPAJ, and various other NGOs.
“This is a unique year, although we can say that this doesn’t change our history, because we never abandon our symbols, we have never kept quiet and we have always resisted,” said Mother of the Plaza de Mayo (Founders line) member Vera Jarach.
—Herald staff with DyN