Amid Social Protests in Argentina, the IACHR and Its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Highlight Inter-American Standards Concerning Respect for Human Rights, Especially the Right to Peaceful Protest and the Right to Freedom of the Press

February 8, 2024

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are deeply concerned after receiving several complaints from civil society organizations about the disproportionate use of public force against demonstrators and journalists in Argentina. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship call on the State to respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and to freedom of the press. The Commission and its Special Rapporteurship ask the State to ensure that demonstrations are safe for everyone involved.

Over the period January 31–February 2, amid social protests against the "Omnibus Bill" near the Congress building, the authorities reported at least 31 arrests. The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture and several civil society organizations said that approximately 285 individuals had been injured as a result of the actions of law enforcement agencies and their clashes with demonstrators. Further, according to trade unions representing media workers, some 35 reporters and other communications specialists were wounded, included some who were hit by rubber bullets and some who were burned by tear gas.

According to official reports, at least seven law enforcement officers were also injured in the clashes.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of stigmatizing comments made by high authorities with a view to discrediting and belittling the work done by women journalists and also to confronting with demonstrators, legislators, and opposition leaders.

The IACHR stresses that protests and peaceful demonstrations are essential for democratic societies and that the State must respect, protect, facilitate, and ensure the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In protest contexts, the use of force must be an exceptional mechanism of last resort and must be restricted to circumstances that comply with the legality, absolute necessity, and proportionality principles. The actions of the police and other law enforcement agencies to preserve safety and public order must focus on strictly respecting human rights and the applicable inter-American standards, based on the protocols in force to that end.

In more complex scenarios involving violence, the authorities must not take indiscriminate action, but rather identify anyone who engages in violence and differentiate them from all individuals who exercise their legitimate right to demonstrate peacefully.

The work of the media is essential to protect the liberties that underly democratic systems. In the context of demonstrations and social conflict, the work done by journalists and other communications specialists makes it possible to keep citizens well informed about matters that are of interest to them and about the role played by law enforcement agencies. These reporting duties help to prevent the disproportionate use of force and the abuse of power, along with other forms of violence.

When journalists who cover protests suffer physical injuries, this entails a violation of individual freedom of expression (because journalists are deprived of their right to seek and disseminate information and they are deliberately scared) and of collective freedom of expression (because society is deprived of the right to access the information that is obtained by journalists). The State therefore has a duty to ensure the best possible safeguards for journalists to be able to fulfil their role, as well as to investigate all acts of violence affecting journalists' personal integrity, whether perpetrated by officers of the State or by private citizens. Further, all protocols concerning law enforcement action must include instructions for law enforcement officers concerning respect for the media.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression stress that, as guarantors of citizens' fundamental rights, public authorities in all States must refrain from making stigmatizing comments that expose journalists and other media workers to a heightened risk of violence or otherwise worsen hostility or intolerance against them.

The Inter-American Commission and its Special Rapporteurship therefore call on the State of Argentina to protect the safety of all people, particularly demonstrators, journalists, and other media workers, ensuring that anyone who wishes to protest peacefully may do so and that journalists may do their work without fear of retaliation or violence at the hands of the authorities or private citizens. The Inter-American Commission and its Special Rapporteurship also call on the State to investigate allegations of a disproportionate use of public force and to punish all officers who engaged in such a disproportionate use of force where appropriate, as well as to investigate all violence that may have been perpetrated by private citizens.

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the IACHR to promote the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, considering the fundamental role that right plays in the consolidation and development of all democratic systems.

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 respect for and to defend 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. 030/24

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