Press Release

IACHR Takes Case Involving Argentina to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

April 24, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) in Case 12,906, José Delfín Acosta Martínez and Next of Kin, with regard to Argentina.

The case concerns the Argentine State’s international responsibility for the arrest and subsequent death of José Delfín Acosta on April 5, 1996. José Delfín Acosta was an Afro-descendant Uruguayan national. He was not arrested in the wake of a written mandate issued by a competent authority, but rather based on an alleged anonymous complaint and, according to the State’s own account, on “regulations concerning drunkenness.” The Inter-American Commission found that there were no objective reasons to justify the arrest, which happened after the authorities had checked that José Delfín Acosta was not carrying firearms and that “no restrictions had been imposed on his freedom.” The IACHR warned that rules that enable police to deprive a person of their liberty based on suspicions and on reasons concerning public order end up—unless they are accompanied by the safeguards required to ensure objectivity—being used arbitrarily, based on prejudice and stereotypes concerning certain groups who have historically suffered discrimination, including Afro-descendant persons. In this context, the Commission determined that this arrest was illegal, arbitrary and discriminatory.

The Commission further considered that, based on inter-American standards and on the fact that José Delfín Acosta died while he was in State custody, both his injuries and his death must be presumed to be the State’s responsibility. Definitive court clarification of what happened might have been a satisfactory explanation for a death that happened when the deceased was in State custody, but the Commission observed that criminal investigations failed to provide such clarification. The IACHR established that, even if José Delfín Acosta had been as intoxicated as the State said he was, State authorities failed to provide the immediate assistance he would have needed at the time of his arrest, and also that they failed to act to protect his physical integrity and his life despite their special responsibility to protect detainees.

The Commission further considered that proceedings and investigation focused on José Delfín Acosta’s alleged drunkenness and intoxication, not on establishing the legality of his arrest. The court authorities who handled the relevant appeals also failed to provide an effective response, since they persisted in the State’s failure to demand objective reasons for the exercise of the legal power to detain persons based on an alleged complaint, but rather validated the insufficient reasons cited by police officers as if they had been legitimate. Further, the Commission was given no information concerning specific proceedings that might have been implemented to investigate the degree of criminal and/or administrative responsibility of the police officers who opted to take him to the police station rather than to a medical facility if he really was as intoxicated as has been described.

The Commission concluded that the State of Argentina failed to provide the family of José Delfín Acosta Martínez with an adequate and effective remedy to obtain clarification about the legality of his arrest and the cause of his death, and that the State also failed to provide protection and to investigate the allegations made by his brother and by another witness, who denounced threats and intimidation. Consequently, the IACHR concluded that the State is liable to the family of José Delfín Acosta Martínez for violations of their rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that Argentina provide comprehensive reparations for the human rights violations held in that report, both moral and material. Such reparations should include financial compensation, along with satisfaction and restoration measures in favor of the family of José Delfín Acosta Martínez and should be agreed with them. The IACHR further recommended implementing any measures necessary to ensure comprehensive, diligent and timely criminal investigation and disciplinary proceedings concerning all responsibilities that may stem from the alleged rights violations identified by the IACHR, noting that such investigation should comply with the standards described in the Merits Report. Finally, the IACHR recommended that Argentina adopt any measures necessary to prevent events such as those involved in this case from happening again in the future, including the following: ensuring that legislation to regulate the right to detain and search persons in public spaces based on suspicions that they are committing a crime rests on objective reasons and includes, in all cases, demands for such reasons to be justified; training officers of the State active in security forces about the standards described in the Merits Report, concerning their obligations to protect the lives and the integrity of persons in their custody.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on April 18, 2019, in the understanding that the State of Argentina had failed to comply with the recommendations held in the Merits Report.

This case gives the Inter-American Court an opportunity to deepen jurisprudence concerning the requirements and conditions under which a person may be arrested by police officers when there is no court warrant or flagrancy. The Court may particularly address safeguards to ensure legality and non-arbitrariness in police arrest powers based on the “suspicion” criterion, with a view to identifying or searching the suspect. The case will further enable the development of inter-American jurisprudence concerning the rights of Afro-descendant persons. Specifically, the Court will be able to address deprivation of liberty based on racial profiling, and it will be able to strengthen jurisprudence concerning the substantial and legal safeguards that need to be ensured during arrests, as well as the State’s obligation to protect the physical integrity and the lives of persons in its custody.

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. 102/19