Argentina: UN report slams punishment for abortion

Protesters ask for the freedom of Belén, condemned to eight years of prison after a miscarriage.

July 16, 2016

Human Rights Committee also voices concern about media concentration in Argentina The United Nations Human Rights Committee has released a report slamming the state of abortion rights in Argentina and criticizing President Mauricio Macri’s decision to strike down key articles of the Broadcast Media Law and its subsequent effects on freedom of expression yesterday.

The UN body, which is comprised of a collective of human rights experts from UN member states, published its findings on Argentina and voiced “serious concerns” over the possibility of a “concentration” of power following the abolition of the Broadcast Media Law and existing repressive abortion law in the country.

The report said that restrictions placed on reproductive rights in Argentina undermined human rights and strongly recommended that the de-facto criminalization of abortion in Argentina be reversed.

“The state must revise existing legislation on abortion, including criminal legislation, in particular by introducing additional exceptions to the prohibition of abortion, including when the pregnancy is the result of rape, regardless of the intellectual ability or psychology of the women,” the report said.

The committee expressed concern about the “reduction of staff and institutional changes in areas destined for human rights protection, in particular with respect to the institutions working on the process memory, truth and justice.”

President Mauricio Macri, like his predecessor former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, won the presidency on a “pro-life” ticket that guaranteed to preserve existing laws surrounding abortion in Argentina, which is only permitted in limited circumstances and with a court order. Court-approved abortions have also proven hard to come by.

The report said the state’s failure to provide abortion throughout the country threatened human rights of Argentines and called on Macri’s administration to make sure that everyone in need had access to reproductive health services.

“The state must ensure that all women and girls can access reproductive health services in all regions of the country and that the legal barriers and the lack of medical protocols do not force women to resort to clandestine abortions that put their health and lives at risk.”

There are an estimated 500,000 abortions carried out per year in Argentina, the vast majority of which are clandestine.

The report also referenced the ongoing “Belén case” surrounding the incarceration of a 27-year-old Tucumán resident who suffered a miscarriage in March 2014, was arrested and convicted of murder earlier this year.

Belén was in custody for the two years previous to her conviction. Human rights group Amnesty International has launched a worldwide campaign for her release, and the Committee’s report reiterated the organization’s demands calling for her release from jail.

“The state must revise the ‘Belén case’ in light of international standards in the field, with a view to her immediate release, and in light of the case, consider the decriminalization of abortion,” the report said.

The Committee’s highlighting of existing abortion laws in Argentina undermining human rights followed a statement by Macri last month where he doubled down on campaign rhetoric surrounding the issue, saying that he “defends life from the moment of conception until death.”

A cross-party group of national lawmakers recently submitted a bill calling for the legalization of abortion in Argentina, a move lawmakers in favour of reform have attempted repeatedly, though without the necessary support it is unlikely to make it past the congressional committee stage.

Media law reforms may violate ICCPR

While abortion rights in Argentina have long been a concern for human rights groups and agencies including the committee, the report also highlighted more recent developments and cited concerns over Macri’s use of a presidential decree to undo key elements of the 2009 Broadcast Media Law.

The law was introduced under Macri’s predecessor Fernández de Kirchner and won international praise, including from the UN, for its attempts to prevent monopoly ownership of media in Argentina by capping the number of media outlets private companies could own and limiting to 33-percent each the market share that private companies, NGOs and state agencies had across national media.

Under a subtitle “freedom of expression”, the report recommended Macri’s government to “reconsider” the effective abolition of the Broadcast Media Law via presidential decree, which Macri implemented with majority congressional approval in April.

“The Committee notes with concern the recent reforms in audiovisual services which may have the effect of concentrating the ownership of media communication and negatively affect freedom of expression,” the report said.

It added that Argentina may be in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an international agreement on the preservation of human rights entered into by most UN member states and the basis of the Committee’s review. Article 19 concerns freedom of expression. The Committee was reviewing the implementation of the ICCPR.

“The state must adopt all necessary measures to ensure that its legislation is entirely compatible with Article 19 of the Covenant, with a view to guaranteeing the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the report added.

International agreements and laws have a higher rank over domestic laws according to Argentina’s constitution.

Bad news, good news

The Committee, which welcomed an Argentine official delegation and non-governmental organizations for comment on the compliance with the ICCPR in June, also called for the appointment of an Ombudsperson as soon as possible. The last Ombudsman, Eduardo Mondino, resigned in 2009 and the position has not been filled. Instead the Ombudsperson’s office has been held on an interim basis.

Investigations into the “economic complicity” of numerous corporations and businessmen in the crimes of the last military dictatorship have failed to materialize, according to the report, which slammed the “obstacles in the progress of the investigations of these crimes ... including offences committed by businesses and businessmen involved in human rights abuses.”

Meanwhile, numerous ongoing human rights issues were also highlighted by the report, including a call for the government to “intensify all efforts in the demarcation and legal recognition of lands over which indigenous communities have rights.”

Macri promised to incorporate indigenous concerns into his agenda and welcomed influential Qom leader Felix Díaz to the Pink House for talks in the hope of resolving land disputes in Formosa province.

However, Díaz joined other indigenous leaders in voicing disdain for the lack of progress on indigenous rights issues since Macri’s inauguration. “They think of us as disposable materials. To use us and then throw us out after elections,” he told C5N news channel on Thursday. As the Herald reported last month, a recent UN report on xenophobia in Argentina also slammed the “horrible” living conditions many indigenous communities currently experience in the country.

The Committee report also examined the ongoing presence of what it labelled as “institutional violence” within Argentina’s law enforcement and prison services and said that Article Seven of the Covenant, which concerns freedom from torture and other inhumane treatment, must be adhered to, highlighting “recurrent cases” of law enforcement failing to do so “in Buenos Aires province in particular.”

The report did praise a number of legislative measures taken by the Argentine state in recent years aimed at solidifying human rights in Argentina.

It praised the Fernández de Kirchner government’s introduction of the National Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Gender Violence Against Women, which was introduced in 2014 and won widespread backing in Congress following the rise of the #NiUnaMenos social movement against gender violence last year. It also considered the adoption of the Justicia 2020 programme a positive development.

Source: Buenos Aires Herald