In Dialogue with Argentina, Experts of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances Commend the Restoration of Identity of Victims of Dictatorship-Era Appropriation, Ask About Illegal Transfers of Detainees and Delays in Victim Search Procedures
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning concluded its consideration of the additional report of Argentina under article 29 (4) of the Convention on how it implements the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Committee Experts commended the State for restoring the identity of victims of dictatorship-era appropriations, and asked questions about illegal transfers of detainees and delays in search procedures for victims of enforced disappearance.
Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee welcomed that 132 people who had been appropriated during the military dictatorship had had their identity restored. What kind of compensation under Law 25914 had been granted to those born to women and girls detained for political reasons?
Ms. Villa Quintana further asked if the State party had adopted measures on the transfer on detainees who were yet to be convicted from one detention centre to another. Who were these people and what procedure was the State party following to inform relatives? What measures were taken to prevent illegal transfers?
Juan Pablo Alban Alencastro, Committee Rapporteur and Country Co-Rapporteur, noted that in certain jurisdictions, complainants of enforced disappearance reportedly had to wait 48 hours before the search process began. How could the Federal Government promote the immediate commencement of searches?
Gabriela Kletzel, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation said it was a jow to report that in December 2022, two new people appropriated during the dictatorship were provided with restitution. There were already 132 grandchildren who had recovered their identity through the work of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo.
The delegation said the transfer of detainees was an issue of concern for the State. A protocol on transfer of detainees regulated the ways in which the various areas of the federal penitential services needed to work when transferring a detainee from one institution to another. The protocol did not cover illegal transfers, but reduced the likelihood of illegal transfers, including through the authorisations required. There had been a fall in the number of unlawful transfers.
On delays in the start of search, the delegation said the new law would empower the federal authorities to initiate a search without going through the courts or the police referring a complaint to them. Ms. Kletzel added that there were concerns regarding delays in court procedures that could lead to biological impunity. Victims might die before they received justice unless processes were expedited. The State party would work to address this.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Kletzel said Argentina had devoted significant efforts to the domestic implementation and universal ratification of the Convention. It was proud of its policies on enforced disappearance, which had been developed in collaboration with victims and civil society. Argentina was aware that by sharing its experiences, it could help other countries to strengthen efforts to address enforced disappearance.
In his concluding remarks, Juan José Lopez Ortega, Committee Expert, said that the Committee and State party shared a common goal of ensuring the implementation of the Convention domestically and worldwide. The Committee would continue to work with the State party and members of civil society to combat enforced disappearance.
The delegation of Argentina was made up of representatives of the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation; Ministry of National Security; the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations Office and other international organisations in Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the additional information of Argentina at the end of its twenty-fourth session, which concludes on 31 March. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 March to review the additional information submitted by Germany under article 29 (4) of the Convention (CED/C/DEU/AI/1).
The Committee has before it the additional information submitted by Argentina under article 29 (4) of the Convention (CED/C/ARG/AI/1).
Presentation of the Report
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, said on December 10, 2019, a new national Government had taken office in Argentina with the firm commitment to improving institutional quality and guaranteeing the full implementation of human rights. The current President Alberto Fernández had said on his election that the defence of human rights was the "backbone" of the policies to be adopted in Argentina. March 24 was a national holiday, the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. This day commemorated the victims of the last civic-military dictatorship. Further, this year marked 40 years of uninterrupted democracy in Argentina. Since 2019, Argentina had resumed its tradition of long-standing collaboration with international and regional human rights protection instruments and bodies.
The Government had honoured human rights bodies by establishing strategic relationships with them. The tireless fight of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo organisation and family members of disappeared persons was a source of international pride. Argentina actively pushed for the adoption of the Convention in other States, and together with France was now leading the campaign for its universal ratification.
The Secretariat for Human Rights had prepared a new document with updated information on the implementation of the Convention. To draft the updated document, inputs from 24 areas of Government had been collected. On harmonization of legislation to give effect to the Convention, there had been a new initiative within the parliament seeking to grant the Convention constitutional hierarchy. The draft law was currently before the Senate. The Convention had been incorporated into relevant law in Argentina in 2010. It now needed to be applied by all provincial and federal authorities of the three branches of Government, with superior hierarchy to national laws.
The revised Civil and Commercial Code decreed that a statute of limitations could not be applied to civil actions regarding crimes against humanity. In 2020, Congress adopted a law establishing that a statute of limitations could also not be applied for actions conducted prior to the entry into force of the new code.
In 2021, a new Protocol on the Transfer of Persons Deprived of Liberty was adopted, ending the Penitentiary Federal Service. The National Congress was studying a draft comprehensive law on institutional violence, includes enforced disappearance. The Human Rights Secretariat and the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture were also promoting the implementation of local prevention mechanisms in provinces that did not yet have them. Currently, 18 jurisdictions had their own local mechanisms created by law.
Promotion of memory, truth and justice regarding crimes against humanity perpetrated by the dictatorship had once again become a State policy in Argentina. As of December 5, 2022, a total of 643 cases had been opened, in which 3,640 people had been investigated since 2006. Of the total number of people investigated for these crimes, 1,117 would have been convicted of crimes against humanity, in processes that complied with all criminal guarantees. In addition to convicted persons, 168 people had also been absolved.
In December 2020, the Secretariat of Human Rights launched the strategic plan to promote trials of crimes against humanity, which established actions aimed at speeding up trials, strengthening investigations and providing support to victims. The Secretariat was also an institutional plaintiff in 270 criminal cases across the country. In December 2019, the Secretariat of Human Rights had reinstated the Special Investigation Unit into Crimes against Humanity Committed on Economic Grounds.
In 2022, the Truth Trial for the Napalpí Massacre took place. The ruling, issued in 2022, recognised the crimes committed and ordered reparation measures, and called on the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to continue searches and exhumations of mass graves.
One of the greatest difficulties in guaranteeing the right to truth and mourning of family members derived from the clandestine practice of repression and hiding of bodies carried out by the de facto Government. Since the restoration of democracy, numerous efforts had been made to find remains and identify missing persons. The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team had managed to identify disappeared persons by genetic and anthropological means. Most of the identifications occurred after the creation of the Latin American Initiative to Identify the Disappeared.
It was a joy to report that, in December 2022, two new people appropriated during the dictatorship were provided with restitution. There were already 132 grandchildren who have recovered their identity through the work of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. The National Directorate of Policies to Combat Institutional Violence had been strengthened. It provided legal advice and psychosocial assistance to victims of institutional violence.
An important challenge facing the country was the search for disappeared persons during the democratic era. The State continued to develop a comprehensive public policy in this area. The Secretariat of Human Rights had begun working with the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to assess the status of the identification system for deceased persons without known identity and its interaction with search procedures of the disappeared. The State also continued to carry out its tasks under the Federal System for the Search of Disappeared and Missing Persons. The System had developed specific guidelines for sensitive problems; in 2022, the action Guide for the search for missing women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in the context of gender-based violence was adopted. The Secretariat of Human Rights had prepared a report on Iván Eladio Torres Millacura following his disappearance.
As of December 2019, thousands of procedures that had been paralysed during the previous administration were resumed. The State was considering regularising payment of compensation and pensions enshrined in the reparatory laws. The task to preserve memory and historical truth was carried out by the National Archive of Memory, which had various funds and collections. Following many years of struggle by human rights organisations, four new memorial spaces would be opened and managed by the Secretariat of Human Rights. The Argentine Government had formally nominated the Museum and Site of Memory ESMA to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage list. The Secretariat had promoted a plan to raise awareness and prevent the repetition of these practices.
Questions by Committee Experts
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that, according to the updated information sent by the State, in the constitutional reform of 1994, 11 international treaties were given supra-legal status and constitutional hierarchy, among which the Convention was not included, despite the draft law presented for that purpose. What were the obstacles preventing the adoption of the draft? How was the Convention applied today? Was it applicable throughout the territory of Argentina without limitation or exception?
A bill was reportedly being drafted to create a federal agency for the search of missing persons. Was the State party was open to consultations with stakeholders on the draft? The State party had provided information on the procedures established in the law implementing sentences of depravation of liberty. Had there been other measures adopted on the transfer on detainees who were yet to be convicted from one detention centre to another? Who were these people and what procedure was the State party following to inform relatives? What measures were taken to prevent illegal transfers? What were the sanctions applicable to such practices? What was the status of a bill to increase the number of federal judiciaries? What impact could its eventual adoption have on dealing with cases of enforced disappearances?
JUAN PABLO ALBAN ALENCASTRO, Committee Rapporteur and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked what policies had been designed and implemented after December 2013, when the Committee sent its observations on contemporary forms of enforced disappearance, for the purpose of investigating and punishing recent disappearances and searching for disappeared persons? What were the material, financial and human resources allocated to fulfil that task? What institutional reforms had been carried out in the police forces and what policies had been designed and implemented since December 2013 with the aim of eradicating possible acts of institutional violence? What were the outcomes to date of the activity carried out by the Attorney General, particularly regarding enforced disappearance? What policies had been designed and implemented since December 2013 to ensure that investigations into cases of enforced disappearance met basic standards of due diligence?
What policies had been designed and implemented since December 2013 to ensure that the bodies involved in the investigation of cases of enforced disappearance and in the search for disappeared persons coordinated among themselves at the provincial and federal levels? What training and resources had been provided for them to carry out their work? What concrete measures had been taken since December 2013 to ensure that persons suspected of having committed or participated in an enforced disappearance, and if applicable, the State entities to which they belonged, had no influence on the investigation and search processes? What was the status of the investigation and search processes in cases of recent disappearances?
Could the State party report on the impact of the policies it had been designing and implementing since 2013 to reduce the number of cases of enforced disappearance? What actions had been taken since December 2013 to remove legal and material barriers in the fight against impunity for past crimes? What measures had been implemented to guarantee an appropriate pace for judicial processes regarding the possible biological impunity of the perpetrators?
Was the institutional structure created to address past crimes, particularly enforced disappearances, also used or could be used to deal with recent enforced disappearances occurring under the democratic regime? Were there statistics on bodies recovered, identified and returned to families? What scientific measures had been taken to facilitate the search for and recovery and identification of remains? Was there a centralised register of enforced disappearances occurring before and during the democratic era? If so, what information was included in the register and who could access it? What was the procedure followed the Federal System of Search for Disappeared and Missing Persons in searches for persons who were reported missing?
Responses by the Delegation
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, said various legislative initiatives had taken place to ensure that the Convention had constitutional hierarchy. There was a discussion on a draft bill to address the challenges of enforced disappearance during the democratic era and consultations with stakeholders were ongoing.
The delegation said the transfer of detainees was an issue of concern for the State. The protocol on transfer of detainees had been approved. It regulated the ways in which the various areas of the federal penitential services needed to work when transferring a detainee from one institution to another. A protocol had established specific mechanisms regarding transfers of family members of detainees, regardless of their status as convicted or otherwise. The protocol did not cover illegal transfers, but reduced the likelihood of illegal transfers, including through the authorisations required. There had been a fall in the number of unlawful transfers.
Argentina had created a national registry of minor missing persons in 2005. In 2011, the State set up a strategic policy on the search for people who had gone missing in the democratic era. In 2014, a search unit for missing persons had been created, alongside a federal system to communicate the total number of complaints from different provinces linked to enforced disappearances and to refer those complaints to the federal level. The Federal Police Communications System was the first search unit that had started to work with the forensic team used by the Government. In the national department of human rights, a work plan seeking to identify persons who were detained or disappeared during the authoritarian period, whose bodies might have been buried without identification. Argentina had set up a working methodology and a DNA database, and worked with scientific experts. This working methodology was applied in a symbolic case of enforced disappearance, leading to the location of remains. This working experience allowed the Ministry of Security to refine efforts in terms of search and identification.
The purpose of the Federal System of Search for Disappeared and Missing Persons was to coordinate cooperation in terms of search and identification of individuals. This meant generating coordinating mechanisms across institutions that facilitated the exchange of information and training. A resolution provided guidelines to the police on searches and interactions with relatives. There were protocols on how to return boys, girls and adolescents found alive; how citizens should file a complaint; and fingerprinting. The State had been creating specific teams for search with the police and other State bodies. Provincial systems had been created, and these would be consolidated in the draft bill. Coordinating the search federally meant acting internationally, working with Interpol and the searches of other countries. Argentina contributed to the creation of a specific task force on the search and identification of people in the Southern Common Market in 2022. Argentina worked with international civil society and the Argentinian team of forensic anthropology, sharing experiences in search and identification regarding cases occurring during the terrorist regime and was ready to work on contemporary cases.
The Federal System of Search included two components working together: search and identification. It included teams with different specialties. A register team received complaints, and there was also a legal team, an investigative team, a cabinet for guidance and liaison with relatives, and a general directorate for the identification of people with unknown identity. When these teams received complaints, the Federal System of Search started operating, coordinating the response with the provinces. The System had developed resource and strategies to act. It had created a unit working on forensic identification of cases of State terrorism and current disappearances, linking the search and the identification of people in that process. In parallel, work had been done in training. A symposium had been held on local links in search process, and a practical exercise had been conducted to examine how available resources worked together. The draft bill had been designed to consolidate the federal system to produce a national register, among other goals.
A compliant centre had been created to respond properly to complaints about institutional violence by public officials. Staff in the centre were trained to avoid double victimisation. Cases were classified, inserted in a register and assigned to an investigative agent. A relative of the person involved in the alleged enforced disappearance was kept informed of proceedings. This centre was administrative in nature, but referred cases to the judiciary. In the case of institutional violence by the police, people were encouraged to take complaints directly to the office of the public prosecutor instead of the police station to ensure follow-up. Several procedures ensured that the accused were not the investigators. The Secretariat worked to ensure that this did not happen, and worked to prevent impunity and repetition of abuses. The centre also provided psycho-social support to victims.
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, said Argentina had experience in the memory and justice process for crimes against humanity. An institutional plan launched in 2020 established actions to accelerate proceedings and investigations, and provide support to victims. Several actors were consulted. Guidelines had been developed regarding the identification of evidence of crimes against humanity, the strengthening of support to victims and witnesses, and the promotion of coordination with investigation teams working with the executive and the prosecution service. A specific area of the prosecutor’s office dealt with the abduction of children during the dictatorship. This plan had been designed to avoid duplication of evidence and coordinate actions among competent authorities to determine the whereabouts of victims and accelerate extradition processes. The Secretariat of Human Rights had been involved in 117 cases nationwide. Biological impunity happened when there were delays and people could not appeal, which is why the Cassation Court and the Supreme Court were involved. The Secretariat had intervened many times to accelerate proceedings but problems were still ongoing.
A systematic abduction of children occurred during the dictatorship, for which there had been convictions. Doctors who had commissioned the abductions and intermediaries had been prosecuted. There were 132 cases in which children had been returned to their families.
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for clarifying that the protocol on transfers applied not only to convicted persons but to any person deprived of their liberty. The protocol implemented legal measures to punish people who had carried out unlawful transfers and had set forth several barriers to prevent unlawful transfers. If an unlawful transfer happened, how did the authorities react? Were the 1,617 cases the State party deemed to be successful before the courts for crimes against humanity? If so, that would be a significant achievement. Out of those, how many involved enforced disappearances? How did the Centre for Attention to Victims of Human Rights Violations provide support to victims in all provinces?
The Committee welcomed updated information provided by the State party regarding cases of enforced disappearances in the context of State terrorism, for which 6,062 “reparatory benefits” had been granted and 662 had been processed. What were these “reparatory benefits”?
What kind of compensation under Law 25914 had been granted to those born during the deprivation of liberty of the mother or minors detained for political reasons? The State party had mentioned that 132 people had had their identity restored, something the Committed welcomed. Law 26913 referred to the granting of pensions. What kind of pensions did it refer to?
According to the information received by the Committee, economic compensation was being delayed. What steps had been taken to expedite administrative cases and reparation measures granted to victims of enforced disappearance to date?
JUAN PABLO ALBAN ALENCASTRO, Committee Rapporteur and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked what reparatory policies the State had designed and implemented in relation to cases of forced disappearance occurring in democratic times. What was the scope of the reparatory measures? What kind of support did victims receive from the State to effectively access the processes of investigation, search and forensic identification? Had the State adopted or considered adopting a comprehensive policy of prevention regarding enforced disappearance?
In certain jurisdictions, complainants reportedly had to wait 48 hours before the search process began. How could the Federal Government promote the immediate commencement of searches? What content was covered in the training days carried out at the national level? Mr. Alban Alencastro said it was very positive that the Federal System of Search for Disappeared and Missing Persons was activated through a police communication system rather than through judicial orders. When a member of the police was flagged as a potential perpetrator of enforced disappearance, what safeguards were applied to ensure that the System could be effectively implemented without a judge?
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that since 2009, there had been no appointment of the Ombudsman. When did the State party hope this process could be undertaken?
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Vice-Chair, on the concept of memorisation, asked if Argentina had documentary material the Committee could provide to other State parties.
Responses by the Delegation
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, said work collecting disaggregated data on crimes against humanity had started, and work was ongoing to establish a register of convictions for each of the different crimes and a register of each of the victims these crimes were committed against.
The budget allocated for benefits had been increased and the criteria for recognition of benefits had been revised. Law 25914 specifically addressed boys or girls who had been detained with their parents or whose parents had been persecuted for political reasons, or children who had been born in captivity. Figures available related to cases of individuals who had disappeared and whose identity had been restored, but the real number covered by this law was much higher. Remedy proceedings could be started either domestically or from abroad. The national benefit fund had been set up in 2013. Recognised victims could apply for this monthly benefit regardless of their personal income.
The Ulloa Center for Attention to Victims of Human Rights Violations had delegates on the ground in various provinces, and where it did not have staff, provided support through video or phone calls.
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, added that when victims needed in-persons treatment, the Center would coordinate with locals to develop relationships to provide adequate support.
The Secretariat for human rights had a policy highlighting emblematic cases of violence and humanising the events, including using photographs of victims. Related public events contributed to reparation. Remembrance of victims supported by the State helped to prevent such events from happening again. When there was an issue of institutional violence, citizens could film it and take to a complaint centre. All citizens had a right to record acts of violence. Also on prevention, the State party was working in the implementation of two emblematic cases to prevent the police from being able to detain people arbitrarily.
On delays in the start of searches, the new law would empower the federal authorities to initiate a search without going through the courts or the police referring a complaint to them.
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, said the Secretariat for Human Rights was very much interested in technology, which was useful for finding evidence. Many relatives of disappeared persons during the military dictatorship did not know yet what had happened.
Audio-visual resources were available to be shared based on the recommendation of the Committee. A bicameral commission of the Congress was working on the appointment of a new Ombudsperson, but an agreement had not been reached yet.
GABRIELA KLETZEL, National Director of International Legal Affairs in the field of Human Rights under the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation and head of the delegation, said Argentina had devoted significant efforts to the domestic implementation and universal ratification of the Convention. It was proud of its policies on enforced disappearance, which had been developed in collaboration with victims and civil society. The proposals of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo organisation had led to the development of these new State policies. The State party had also developed proposals for the use of new technology in investigations. The delegation agreed with the Committee on many of the issues that had been raised. There were concerns regarding delays in court procedures that could lead to biological impunity. Victims might die before they received justice unless processes were expedited. Argentina was aware that by sharing its experiences, it could help other countries to strengthen efforts to address enforced disappearance. The State party was working with relatives of victims of enforced disappearance to support them and ensure that enforced disappearance was never repeated.
JUAN JOSÉ LOPEZ ORTEGA, Committee Expert, thanked the delegation for participating in the fruitful dialogue. He said that the Committee and State party shared a common goal of ensuring the implementation of the Convention domestically and worldwide. The Committee would continue to work with the State party and members of civil society to combat enforced disappearance.
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