Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

Argentina is a federal, constitutional democracy with a
president elected through an electoral college for a single
6-year term, a bicameral legislature, and an independent
judiciary. Traditionally, the executive is the dominant
branch. Since the end of military rule in 1983, there have
been four national elections. In May 1989 the voters elected
Justicialist Party candidate Carlos Menem as the nation's
President. The inauguration of Menem on July 8, 1989, marked
the first constitutional turnover of the presidency from one
democratically elected president to another from an opposing
party since 1916. Candidates in the 1989 elections
represented the political spectrum from conservative to far
The President is the constitutional Commander-in-Chief, while
a civilian Defense Minister oversees the armed forces. The
federal police report to the Interior Minister; provincial
police are organized under provincial constitutions and report
to locally elected provincial governors.
Argentina, one of the wealthiest countries of South America,
has a mixed agricultural and industrial economy. Agricultural
exports, particularly grain, represent the major source of
foreign exchange earnings. Inflation was 1,344 percent in
1990. Argentina initiated token monthly payments on its
foreign commercial bank debt but still has significant arrears
on an external debt of more than $60 billion. Foreign
investment remained weak, and capital flight continued to be a
problem. The Government undertook to reduce the fiscal
deficit by cutting government expenditures, increasing the
collection of taxes, reducing the size of the public work
force, and privatizing several state-owned enterprises which
were generally unprofitable.
Argentines enjoy a wide range of constitutionally protected
freedoms and individual rights. Principal human rights
concerns during the year were incidents of torture and
unlawful killing by police. President Menem ' s 1990 pardon of
former junta members convicted of human rights violations and
1989 pardons of other military officers accused of human
rights violations, intimidation of judges and other officials
by rightwing and leftwing groups and police, and
discrimination against women rooted in traditional social
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no credible reports of politically motivated
killings carried out by government forces in 1990, but there
was widespread criticism of excessive use of force in dealing
with criminal suspects, which on occasion resulted in deaths.
Informed observers believe that police routinely shoot to kill
without cause. Such abuses are illegal, and the courts have
ordered the arrest and sentencing to prison of several police
officials for unjustifiable killings. For example, three
police officers were sentenced in May to prison terms of 5 to
12 years for the 1987 killing of three youths. Four police
officials were sentenced to 16 years in prison in September
for the 1988 murder of two youths in Rosario.
Politically motivated bombings continued on the reduced scale
noted in 1989. Most were small explosions late at night,
causing material damage but few injuries. A notable exception
was the serious injuring of three police officers in August
when a bomb exploded as they were attempting to disarm it in
front of a bank. Bomb targets during the year included
political, military, church, press, trade union, and judicial
officials, as well as a variety of political party offices,
banks, small businesses, and public buildings. The obscure
Che Guevara Brigade claimed responsibility for some of these
incidents, and an organization that claimed to represent
dissident military personnel took responsibility for others.
Five army noncommissioned officers were arrested in April and
charged with participating in a February bombing incident in
or near army installations in Cordoba. Following an
investigation by a federal judge, the case was dismissed, but
the military subsecfuently discharged the five individuals
involved. Human rights groups report that their reviews of
bombing incidents indicate that most, if not all, involve
personal or political motives often associated with internal
disputes within political parties or groups who are opposed to
economic reform measures.
      b. Disappearance
During 1990, there were reports that three persons disappeared
after having been detained for common criminal activities.
Human rights officials speculate that in all three cases the
detainees may have been killed, perhaps under torture, and
then "disappeared" to avoid judicial investigations. Judicial
proceedings continued in the complex, highly emotional efforts
to ascertain the whereabouts and identity of children of those
who disappeared during the period of military governments.
Legislation introduced by the executive in August provided
that those found guilty of depriving others illegally of their
liberty, or of causing others to disappear, would be subject
to a penalty of life in prison, which is the same penalty that
is provided for premeditated murder. This new clause in the
penal code was inserted to remove any possible legal flaw that
might prevent the prosecution of future disappearance cases.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits torture, and the criminal code
provides penalties for torture which are similiar to those for
homicide (8 to 25 years in prison). However, during 1990
there were several cases in which police officers were
suspended, charged, and sentenced to prison for torturing or
otherwise mistreating persons suspected of criminal
activities. Perhaps the most publicized case was that of
police subcommissioner Luis Patti, who was jailed for a brief
period in October on charges of torturing two detainess. He
and three other police officials under his command reportedly
used electric cattle prods, plastic bags, and clubs against
the prisoners to force a confession. Patti and the others
were released from detention by order of the investigating
judge, but the investigation continued at year's end.
Judicial investigations of possible torture by security forces
of survivors of the January 1989 terrorist attack against an
army installation continued in 1990, but human rights lawyers
were critical of the slow and secret nature of these
investigations. Various international human rights
organizations raised this issue with the Government on behalf
of local human rights groups and urged some form of U.N. or
other international involvement. The Government maintained
that the courts would have sole responsibility for this
Prisons are overcrowded, with poor medical facilities and a
reported inadequacy of food. In May, 33 prisoners died in a
fire in an overcrowded jail. Human rights organizations
condemned this tragedy as indicative of the extremely poor
prison conditions. The Interior Ministry's Director for Human
Rights initiated a series of prison visits to focus the
attention of prison officials on the need to keep human rights
concerns in the open, and to let prison guards know that
prisoners with complaints have access to the Interior
Ministry's Human Rights Office to voice their concerns.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Argentina has a well-developed penal code containing explicit
protections of individual rights and controls on police arrest
and investigatory powers. Arrests require probable cause or a
judicial order, and the law provides for a judicial
determination of the legality of detention. However, the
penal code, parts of which were under review by the
legislature during 1990, gives the courts authority to detain
persons without notice or charges for up to 8 days during an
investigation. Even in cases of minor offenses, holding
suspects wihout charges for several days is not uncommon.
Human rights officials oppose this power, noting that most
instances of torture or abuse of prisoners tend to occur
during this early period of detention. Involuntary exile is
not permitted or practiced.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Argentina's judicial system is widely recognized as fair and
independent, albeit slow and cumbersome. The Constitution and
penal code provide for trials before judges and appellate
review of all judicial rulings, including those of military
courts. Federal courts interpret constitutional protection
against "arbitrary" trial process to permit wide-ranging
review of criminal prosecutions. As in most civil law
countries, trial by jury does not normally exist; judges
render verdicts. The Administration sent draft legislation to
the legislature to change portions of the penal code to permit
broader use of oral arguments before a three-judge panel.
These changes, if accepted, are expected to speed the judicial
process and help alleviate crowding in the court schedules.
Human rights organizations support these changes.
The police have legal authority to adjudicate misdemeanors,
which are often settled by senior police officials. The legal
system provides public defenders, but in 1990 the caseload
exceeded their capacity. The right to bail is provided by law
and observed in practice.
The human rights community during 1990 continued to criticize
the Supreme Court's broad interpretation of the "Due Obedience
Law"; it had earlier criticized passage of the law itself. It
also continued to oppose President Menem 's 1989 pardon of
military officers charged with human rights violations, as
well as his December 1990 pardon of senior military officers
previously convicted and sentenced for such crimes. Court
proceedings against one military officer not covered by
President Menem 's pardons, the "Due Obedience Law" (which
relieved all but senior officers of culpability), or the
"Punto Final (Final Point) Law" (which ended new prosecutions
of military personnel in 1986) continued in a federal
appellate court.
On December 29, 1990, President Menem pardoned former military
junta members Jorge Videla, Eduardo Massera, Roberto Viola,
Orlando Ramon Agosti, Armando Lambruschini , and other military
and government officials convicted of human rights abuses
during the era of military rule. Former Montenero leader
Mario Firmenich was also pardoned. The decision was sharply
criticized by human rights groups. Menem defended the pardons
as a necessary step towards national reconciliation.
Judicial investigations into allegations of abuse of authority
or corruption are sometimes hindered by violence against
judges and other judicial authorities. There were several
instances in which judges and other governmental officials
were the victims of threats, bombings, shootings, and other
attempts at intimidation. In October a previously unknown
group calling itself the Interforces -Commando of Argentine
Police made a series of threats against one of the judges
involved in the Patti case (see Section I.e.). This group
also made phone threats against other judges, at least one
national deputy, and various journalists involved in this and
other investigations involving police use of torture. In a
separate incident in June, a judge assigned to investigate the
firing of shots at another federal judge's parked automobile
ordered the arrest of a police officer assigned to guard the
federal judge's home. The federal judge whose car was hit by
gunfire was one of those who had received threats against his
life for investigating police torture cases. A senior
Ministry of Interior official denied the existence of
"parapolice" groups, but admitted that some police officials
might be involved in instances of intimidation.
Draft legislation was introduced to provide for financial
indemnization of victims, or their families, of human rights
abuses by the military governments. Also, the Attorney
General ruled that victims of human rights violations may file
court claims against those officials who benefited from
presidential pardons. Human rights organizations expressed
concerns that these provisions may not be broad enough to
benefit most victims. The Supreme Court was enlarged from
five to nine members during the year. The Government argued
this was necessary to improve the Court's efficiency.
Political observers and human rights leaders argued that this
change endangered the independence of the Court and of the
entire judicial system. They also opposed legislation
submitted to Congress that would alter the internal security
laws by permitting a military role in civil disturbances.
' f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
There is constitutional protection against unreasonable search
and seizure, and the State generally does not intrude
arbitrarily into the private lives of persons. However,
during 1990 there were credible reports of security agencies
tapping telephones of political personalities and human rights
organizations. Police forces conducted several massive
neighborhood sweeps in shantytowns surrounding major urban
areas, prompted by growing public concerns over personal and
property safety threatened by rising crime rates. The
overwhelming presence of heavily armed police units, some
supported by helicopters, who entered homes without specific
judicial orders and detained suspects without clear cause
(although most were released within hours) was cited by human
rights organizations as an abuse of authority.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Argentina enjoys an essentially free and vigorous press;
exceptions are loudly publicized and protested by the national
editors and publishers association, ADEPA. There continue to
be charges that the Government uses its large advertising
budget to influence or punish opposition publications.
Since the reestablishment of democracy in 1983, both the Menem
and Alfonsin administrations have taken positive steps to
promote the rights of citizens to be informed and to express
their ideas through the press. In addition, the current
Government privatized several television and radio stations.
The State continues to maintain its national radio and
television network as well as TELAM, the national news agency.
A vigorous national policy debate on press freedom was
engendered by a Senate-originated bill to change the penal
code to punish State employees who provide certain types of
information to the press. The media and ADEPA protested this
bill as a dangerous threat to press freedom because it would
limit journalists' sources of information. By year's end, the
bill had not cleared the Senate, President Menem expressed his
intention to veto any such legislation, and various members of
the lower house had announced their intention to oppose the
Academic freedom is -respected.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
All groups and political parties are free to organize and
assemble. The law requires political parties to support the
Constitution and a democratic, representative, republican, and
federal form of government in order to register for
elections. During the year, no party was denied
registration. All major political parties were able to hold
mass rallies without interference. The labor movement, human
rights organizations, ethnic communities, and other groups
held frequent demonstrations and rallies without incident.
      c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for the free exercise of religion.
Missionaries for any religion are permitted to enter Argentina
and proselytize, and the non-Catholic population is growing.
Argentina's Jewish community (at an estimated 300,000, the
largest in Latin America) practices its religion without
official interference or legal restriction. In August the
Senate approved a change in the penal code that would provide
for a prison sentence of 1 to 4 years for persons found guilty
of abuse of religious beliefs.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
International and internal travel as well as emigration are
basically unrestricted. During 1990 human rights organizatons
assisted in mounting a legal challenge to the use of
administrative denial of passports to those convicted of
crimes who have served their sentences. They charged that
this practice was a denial of the constitutional right to
leave and return to Argentina. Refugees are not forced to
return to countries from which they have fled.
Argentina, which has an estimated 1 million illegal residents,
temporarily suspended immigration processing for certain Asian
citizens in order to investigate charges that some of these
immigrants were fraudulently obtaining Argentine resident
status, in some cases for the purpose of future migration
(legal or illegal) to the United States or Canada,
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Since September 1983, Argentina has held four national
elections to choose federal, provincial, and local officials.
These elections were free, fair, and democratic, with
universal suffrage. The Justicialist Party (Peronist)
currently controls the executive and, in an alliance with
smaller parties, the legislative branches of government.
Political parties traversing a wide ideological spectrum are
represented in Congress as a result of the 1987 and 1989
elections. Additional parties hold office in individual
provinces. Argentina's opposition parties operate without
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government cooperates fully with international human
rights organizations, which enjoy unrestricted access in
Argentina. Domestic human rights organizations operate
openly, despite occasional and anonymous threats and
harassment, such as alleged tapping of telephones by state
security agencies.
The Government has facilitated efforts by domestic human
rights organizations to address international bodies in
opposition to the Government's policies of amnesty for
military officials, and has cooperated with the United Nations
Human Rights Commission's efforts to investigate cases
involving missing children from the 1976-83 period of military
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, religion,
language, and social status. However, Argentine women have to
contend with bias rooted in the sociocultural traditions of
the country. Women face de facto discrimination in certain
job areas. For example, during 1990 a national deputy took up
the case of three young women denied entry into the air force
flight training school. They were not allowed to take any of
the entry tests, and were reportedly told that women could not
apply despite that fact that there is no legal impediment to
such applications.
Violence against women is not approved by society or the
Government, but such abuse, including domestic violence such
as wife beating, exists. According to various groups
representing women, there is an increase in the number of
cases being brought to their attention and before the courts.
They credit this to greater public awareness of this problem,
and to the increased socioeconomic problems affecting many
Argentine families. Sexual harassment is also being given
greater attention, and informed observers state that more
women are coming forward to denounce various types of
aggression encountered at home and on the job.
There were occasional incidents of anti-Semitism in
Argentina. President Menem maintains a close relationship
with leaders of the local Jewish community, and attended a
Jewish religious ceremony in May to show solidarity with the
Jewish community after incidents in Europe in which Jewish
cemeteries were desecrated. A federal judge who submitted his
resignation before impeachment proceedings could be concluded
against him admitted in the press that he was anti-Semitic and
blamed the Jewish community for his legal problems.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The labor movement, which represents about one-third of the
national work force, is a major independent economic and
political force. Trade unions are independent of the
Government. Although the vast majority of union leaders are
allied to the ruling Justicialist Party and are active in the
Peronist movement, they retain their freedom of decisionmaking
outside of party control.
The right of association was enhanced by laws passed in 1987
and 1988 which restored some laws and rights suspended by
previous military governments, but segments of these laws are
criticised as restricting the ability of rival union
organizations to organize and bargain collectively. Trade
unions are free to associate with international organizations,
and many Argentine unions are affiliated with, and active in,
international trade union groups.
The Government actively cooperated with the International
Labor Organization (ILO) in investigating complaints by
Argentine and international trade union groups concerning
possible violations of worker rights in collective bargaining,
job security, freedom of association, conciliation, and the
right to strike. In late 1989 the Government rec[uested the
ILO to send a mission to investigate some of these
complaints. The mission visited Argentina in March, and the
Government assisted in attempting to resolve issues raised in
the findings.
Unions have the right to strike, subject to compulsory
conciliation and arbitration by the Labor Ministry. Workers
have the right to receive their salaries while on strike until
the Labor Ministry orders compulsory conciliation. Strikes by
teachers, state-owned enterprise employees, and civil servants
dominated the strike scene in 1990, prompting the Menem
administration to issue a decree in mid-October which
regulates the right to strike in essential services.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
By law, labor and management have a binding collective
bargaining process which sets wage levels on an industrywide
basis. The State's involvement in this process is limited to
ratifying the agreements, which provides them with legal
status. The Government directly sets wages in state-owned
enterprises and for civil servants, generally following
consultations with the unions. Antiunion discrimination is
prohibited by law, and we 11 -developed mechanisms are in place
and functioning to resolve complaints. Some provinces provide
rights and obligations additional to those in federal
There is no officially designated export processing zone in
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is illegal in Argentina and is not
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The law prohibits the employment of children under 14 years of
age, except in the family. Minors of ages 14 and 15 may work
in restricted types of employment, but not more than 6 hours a
day or 35 hours a week. The same law applies to minors 16 to
18 years of age, although competent authority may allow
exceptions. Violations are tried before the appropriate
courts. Enforcement of child labor laws has declined as the
severe economic crisis has led many families to have as many
members employed as possible.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Argentina offers comprehensive protection of workers' rights.
The maximum workday is 8 hours; the workweek is 48 hours.
Premiums must be paid for work beyond these limits. Rules
governing vacations, minimum wages, and occupational health
and safety are comparable to those in Western industrial
nations, and are enforced by the Government and labor unions
in the formal economy. Argentina has a large underground or
informal economy which employs an undetermined number of
people, including children. This sector is difficult to
police, and employers often deny basic rights and benefits to
employees because the employees fear losing their jobs if they
report labor code violations to the authorities. The
Administration in 1990 introduced legislation to regulate
employment in the informal economy as part of an overall
package of reforms in the employment system.
The official minimum wage in Argentina for much of 1990
remained the same as "that set in June 1989, and, due to
extreme inflation, amounted to the equivalent of $3.45 a month
by late September. Government employers and trade union
officials agreed this was not sufficient to provide a decent
standard of living, and they met in late September to change
the monthly minimum wage to approximately $124. Wage levels
in general suffered from the effects of inflation in 1990, and
real wages in many sectors reportedly fell during the year as
the economic recession worsened. Job security became the
major goal of most unions after the official unemployment
survey conducted in May indicated that unemployment and
underemployment reached historic levels.