The history of Argentinian human rights is complex. The military dictatorship of Jorge Rafael Videla oversaw state-sponsored violence against citizens between 1976 and 1983, when CONADEP found 9,000 documented disappearances of ordinary citizens. The Argentine 601st Intelligence Battalion had already estimated in 1978 that 22,000 persons were missing, and the Montoneros, a left-wing Peronist guerrilla movement, lost 5,000 fighters alone. 458 assassinations have been attributed to the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance.
The violations committed under the dictatorship during La Guerra Sucia (Dirty War) have naturally affected Argentina in the present. In 1986, the military coerced the National Congress of Argentina to pass the Ley de Punto Final (the Full-Stop Law), which ended prosecutions against military personnel who had committed heinous acts of torture and homicide. This was only annulled as recently as 2005 by the Supreme Court of Argentina, and since that declaration of unconstitutionality, trials against perpetrators of crimes against humanity as part of the Videla military junta have occurred since. Numerous ex-military personnel are on the procedural schedule awaiting trial as of 2021, and thus we see the influence of the abominations occurring during the 1970s and 1980s on contemporary human rights law in Argentina.
Having set the context against the issue of past abuses, human rights infringements also occur frequently in Argentina in regard to freedom of expression, prison conditions, women’s rights, and indigenous rights. Amnesty International reports that Covid-19 has exacerbated the economic crisis, which in turn has caused an increase in gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, and excessive use of force by police. 41% of Argentina’s population live in poverty, and a study concluded that unpaid domestic care work, of which 75% is performed by women, would comprise 16% of Argentina’s GDP if it were paid.
On the other hand, the Congress of Argentina historically passed a law to legalise abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Mariela Beleski of Amnesty International Argentina hailed this as ‘a victory for the women’s movement in Argentina.’ The passage of this legislation is crucial to protection of the rights of those with reproductive capability in Argentina, particularly for the poor who have limited access to safe sexual health services. This is a substantial step towards the protection of human rights in Argentina and illustrates the nation’s capacity to continue this movement. Our society sends pro bono volunteers to Argentina with the aim of partaking in the human rights movement.
Cordoba, the second most populous city in Argentina, is one of the cities hosting trials against dictatorship criminals and is the designated international placement location for QMPBS’ pro bono volunteers in Argentina. Pro bono volunteers who opt for the Argentina placement complete a Human Rights internship with Projects Abroad UK, during which they conduct awareness campaigns, community human rights programmes, and attend court hearings, all in an effort to correct the transgressions of human rights law in Argentina in the aforementioned areas. In 2020, for example, volunteers held weekly sessions at correctional facilities for young girls with the view to empower and educate offenders about women’s rights and life beyond their detention and participated in marches relating to the subject matter. A recent review by a participant on the program stated that ‘the purpose was to improve the rights of vulnerable people in Cordoba through the law, but also through education and social means.’
Interns also have the opportunity to attend court in Cordoba and thereby learn about the Argentine legal system and how it addresses human rights abuses. In particular, volunteers will learn about the abuses committed during the military dictatorship and the effect of this on the lives of Argentinians today. I encourage members of QMPBS to volunteer in this project and advance human rights in Argentina.
Andres Diaz is an Assistant Manager for the Pro Bono Society’s International Placements Department