Argentina: The right to protest in danger

16.12.2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina - Redacción Mar del Plata

This post is also available in: Spanish

Argentina: The right to protest in danger

We publish a translation of the statement by the Centre for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina in the light of the violent repression against pensioners protesting against cuts to their pensions recently legislated for in Buenos Aires.

By CELS (Spanish initials for the Centre for Legal and Social Studies).

Intimidating and violent operatives. Arbitrary detentions. Imputation for a federal crime. Endorsement of police violence by political authorities. Lack of a specific regulatory framework to regulate the involvement of federal forces in protests. Intimidation by political authorities, violent actions by security forces and collusion by the judiciary are ways of limiting the right to protest.

On December 14, the National Executive responded to massive social discontent over the possible approval of a reform of the pension system, with an unprecedented deployment of federal security forces. Faced with the proliferation of protests, the government decided to besiege the city centre with security forces in order to place the participants in a vulnerable situation before the demonstration even began. It was a disproportionate and violent operation that sought to intimidate, repress and punish the exercising of the right to protest.

Despite the flood of images provided by the press and demonstrators showing the violence with which the security forces acted, the political authorities gave no explanations for any aspect of the operation: how it was organized, what the justification was for putting four federal forces on the streets and what their orders were. The way in which the police and other forces acted indicates that the operation was aimed at preventing demonstrators from reaching the barriers and suppressing them as an intimidating message. There is no other explanation for putting in place such an operation.

The use of force and so-called “non-lethal” weaponry is contrary to all protocols: there was indiscriminate use of rubber bullets fired and to the body, tear gas was used without any precautions, likewise with pepper spray that was used abusively. In addition, the security forces also sought to limit journalistic work with shots fired and blockades so that images of arrests and injuries would not be taken.

As a result of the operation, there are more than 40 people detained by the federal justice system. Most of them for the crime of “public intimidation”, with nothing justifying the use of this accusation or the use of federal jurisdiction. The images also show that many people were apprehended for no reason. In other words, as a result of the arbitrary use of force on the streets, large numbers of people were deprived of their liberty.

One day after the events and evidence of police abuse, the Ministry of Security did not make any statement on the violence deployed, nor did it report on whether it opened administrative investigations. Nor were there any messages from other members of the Executive Branch that questioned this type of state response to social protest.

Although yesterday’s operation (14/12/2017) is concerning due to the magnitude and high levels of violence, many of the practices seen there are recurrent. During 2017, numerous operations in the city of Buenos Aires have included:

  • Police hunts
  • Disproportionate, irregular and illegal use of force
  • Assaults on the press and those investigating police actions
  • Lack of information on the fate of detainees
  • Lack of subsequent information on the operation regarding orders, weapons used, forces involved, number of troops, detainees, wounded.

The judicial response to the repression of protests also shows irregularities: there is no judicial control of security operations, the arguments used by security forces to arrest are validated, and demonstrators and bystanders are charged with serious crimes, regardless of whether or not there is any evidence that they have been committed.

In addition to this scenario, there are permanent messages from national government that seek to delegitimize the protagonists of the protests.

This combination of political messages opposing the protest, violent police action and a criminal judicial response consolidate a context of state public intimidation aimed at demonstrators that seeks to discourage mobilisations.


The full text in Spanish can be seen here which includes an analysis of “Actions of the security forces in the city of Buenos Aires” and “Judicial Power: arbitrariness and lack of political control”.

Categories: Human Rights, Opinions, Politics, South America
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