January 23, 2018

UN calls on government to take ‘effective measures’

Friday, May 19, 2017

‘Torture a systemic problem in local jails’

The United Nation’s Committee against Torture (CAT) declared this week that torture remains a systemic problem in Argentina’s penitentiary system and called on the government to take more steps to effectively tackle abuses.

At an event in Geneva, the UN body released its final observations on the country’s human rights situation this week in which it recommended President Mauricio Macri’s administration take effective measures in preventing police abuse, torture and discrimination. The committee also highlighted how Argentina has yet to create a national registry that gathers torture and abuse cases from the national courts.

UN experts recommended that the state implement new polices in order to improve the terrible conditions prisoners face on a daily basis. One of the policies recommended is to stop holding prisoners in police stations temporarily as a way to resolve overcrowding in the country’s prison system. Although the UN recognised that new penitentiary centres had been built, it said it was worried by the sustained increase in the numbers of prisoners since 2009, which has led to overcrowding in many provinces and a state of emergency being declared in the penitentiary system of Buenos Aires province. In some cases, overcrowding has led to fatal incidents. Last March, for example, seven prisoners died in a fire in a police station in the town of Pergamino in Buenos Aires province.

The UN also urged the state to prevent the “institutional violence” carried out by penitentiary service employees, citing horrific examples. “These acts of institutional violence include ... the practice of suffocating with bags, torturing ears, ankles and feet, as well as extremely serious collective punishments,” stated the report.

The UN committee insisted that the state take urgent measures to re-evaluate the torture and mistreatment that occurs in detention centres at a federal and provincial level, with the aim of developing the necessary prevention policies and external and internal controls.

A few of the recommendations it provided was for the government to publicly reaffirm its absolute condemnation of torture, to remind those responsible or complicit that they will be held personally responsible and to investigate the cases impartially.

It also requested stricter supervision of penitentiary service procedures and guarantee that prisoners are provided the adequate space needed. Each prisoner is allotted an average of 2 x 3.4 square metres of prison space in some prisons — lower than the international regulated standards.

Police Abuse

Addressing police abuse, the committee expressed worries over repeated complaints about police officials arresting and detaining civilians without a warrant, especially youths and minors from lower-income backgrounds. It also stressed that police discriminate against members of the trans-LGTB community, immigrants and African descendents.

One of the cases cited was that of Ezequiel Villanueva and Iván Navarro, two youths who were tortured by Coast Guard agents in Villa 21 shantytown in Buenos Aires City.

“The state must guarantee that the judicial process investigating the torture of Ezequiel Villanueva and Iván Navarro is effective and impartial,” states the report.

The UN urged the state to investigate not only the police officers accused of the crimes but also their superiors who were aware of and allowed the incidents to happen — and to penalise them for their crimes.

— Herald staff

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