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October 17, 2017
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UN visit: Argentine justice system is discriminatory

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention experts Elina Steinerte and Sétondji Roland Adjovi give a press conference yesterday in Buenos Aires City.

Experts gives press conference presenting their preliminary observations on arbitrary detention — but skirt the issue of Milagro Sala

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (GTDA in its Spanish acronym) called on the Mauricio Macri administration yesterday to improve the deplorable conditions in the country’s penitentiary system, criticising how prisoners are disproportionately represented by members of the indigenous, marginal and LGBTI communities.

These and other preliminary observations about increasing police discretion in arresting people, and repressing protesters, were highlighted in a press conference given in Recoleta by UN working group member Sètondji Roland Adjovi and Vice-President Elina Steinerte at the end of their 10-day visit yesterday.

One subject that they were asked repeatedly about was the detention of Túpac Amaru leader Milagro Sala — but the officials were keen to skirt around the issue as much as possible. Although the UN officials had visited Sala in the Alto Comedero prison where she has been held for nearly a year and half, they didn’t give any specific details and stressed that they stood by the same opinion they had given last October. At that time, the UN Working Group had said there was a web of consecutive accusations and lawsuits mounted with the intention of depriving the social activist of her liberty. The UN experts stood by this opinion when asked about the Túpac Amaru leader’s situation.

“We request that the government implement the totality of the opinions that the GTDA adopted in Argentina,” the preliminary report stated.

The UN human rights experts said they had visited over 20 penitentiary centres and talked to over 200 people in the provinces of Chubut, Jujuy and Buenos Aires province. The UN human rights experts criticised how many officials they talked to would excuse the terrible prison conditions as being a problem of federalism, which they claimed made the legal system very complex and a provincial problem. “The federal government needs to make sure that they comply, from top to bottom ... it’s the responsibility of the federal government to guarantee that the international judicial system at all levels can function,” said Steinerte.

Another focus was the repression of protesters. The UN officials expressed their alarm over the increasing number of arrests being carried out against protestors.

“The police have broad powers to arrest based on suspicion or to check identification,” said Adjovi. He said that children living in low-income neighbourhoods, disabled people and indigenous groups were being disproportionately affected. An estimated 60 percent of prisoners are held in pre-trial detention.

The preliminary report underlined how international human rights accords signed by the Argentine government guarantee the right to peaceful protest and that the government should abstain from hindering or punishing protesters. It said that classifying roadblocks, disobedience or resisting authorities as violations creates a certain ambiguity and gives security forces a high amount of discretion to arbitrarily detain protesters — without sufficient safeguards provided.

“We appeal to the Argentine authorities that they abstain from using disproportionate force and renew a process of dialogue with indigenous communities,” said Adjovi.

Use of police stations as prison

The UN experts were critical of the widespread use of police stations to remand prisoners in custody before a conviction. They said that many prisoners were held for days or even months.

“The police stations aren’t equipped for this end and police employees aren’t trained for this type of function,” said Adjovi.

The Working Group members also discussed how they had received many testimonies about 16-year-old minors who are being deprived of their liberty and abused in prison by security forces.

“We ask the authorities to provide alternative measures in all possible cases, especially, in those instances of people sent to detention centres that are inadequate or in very poor condition — which is another form of punishment,” they said.

The indiscriminate use of solitary confinement was also brought to attention, with Adjovi stating how many times prisoners were penalised without following the proper procedures.

Immigration

In terms of the controversial 70/2017 executive decree to reform immigration regulations, making it easier to arrest immigrants and deport them, the UN working group said it should have been subjected to an open debate.

These important changes to the arrest of immigrants should have been subject to an open and transparent debate with an ample range of experts, and passed in Congress,” the UN officials said. The Working Group members said that the arrest of immigrants should be the exception and not the norm, and only should be justified with a legitimate end which is proportional and necessary, with the appropriate judicial controls.

The preliminary observations will be included in a final report to be presented before the Council of Human Rights when it holds its next session in September, 2018.

—Herald staff

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