Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over Police Actions in Protests and Attacks on Journalists in Argentina

December 21, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression express concern over the inappropriate and indiscriminate use of force by federal security agents in Argentina, which led to scores of injuries and arrests and left dozens of journalists injured, during protests against a pension law that was under debate in that country’s Congress.

According to information received by the IACHR, on December 14 the Police and the Gendarmerie violently broke up demonstrations headed toward the National Congress in Buenos Aires to express opposition to a law reforming the pension and retirement system. Several persons were reported injured by rubber bullets, and two legislators denounced attacks by security forces, all of which implies a disproportionate use of force. People were also reportedly affected by the indiscriminate use of tear gas and pepper spray.

On December 18, new protests culminated in violent disturbances and left more than 183 people injured, including at least 88 police and 95 citizens. According to the information available, 70 individuals were arrested and complained that they had been victims of verbal harassment, insults, and threats during the arrests. In addition, purported groups of protesters used violence during the demonstrations, throwing rocks and blunt objects at the police.

During the protests, at least 26 journalists and media workers were reportedly attacked by police forces while they were covering the demonstrations on both days. Of this group, 18 journalists reported being hit multiple times by rubber bullets. Several journalists were also reported to have suffered the effects of the tear gas launched by the police. In addition, a group of demonstrators allegedly attacked another 15 journalists and damaged the mobile equipment of five TV stations. The police reportedly arrested six individuals who worked for a media outlet, who were later released.

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterate that in democracies, States should act based on the legality of protests or public demonstrations and under the assumption that they do not constitute a threat to public order. In order to help ensure that such events do not happen again, the IACHR rejects any form of violence and encourages the search for solutions with absolute adherence to human rights. On many occasions, the IACHR has stated that the criminalization of social mobilization and protest, whether through direct repression of demonstrators or through their arbitrary arrest and criminal prosecution, is incompatible with a democratic society where people have the right to peacefully express their opinion.

In this regard, security operations should be carefully planned, under clear protocols for action that guarantee the adequate, progressive, and proportionate use of less-lethal weapons and that encourage dialogue. The action of the police in these situations should aim to facilitate the exercise of the rights to free expression and assembly, as well as protect the life and integrity of demonstrators and others who are present, and not to contain or confront the demonstrators. The fact that some groups or individuals employ violence in a demonstration does not, in itself, make the entire protest violent, nor does it authorize the security forces to break up the protest through the use of force or to make mass arrests.

Moreover, the State has the duty to ensure that journalists and media workers reporting on public demonstrations are not arrested, threatened, assaulted, or limited in any manner in their rights as a result of practicing their profession. Attacks on journalists and the destruction or seizure of equipment belonging to those covering these situations violate freedom of expression, in both the individual and collective sense.

The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur call on the authorities to promptly and thoroughly investigate the conduct of the police during these demonstrations and establish the appropriate penalties. They also urge the State to ensure strict adherence to the general principles of legality, exceptionality, proportionality, and absolute necessity in the use of force in contexts of social protest.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the respect for and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 214/17