By Federico Villegas Beltran
In 2013, Argentina will be celebrating 30 years since democracy was restored. The country is at present strengthening different aspects of human rights in a way that is being followed and observed with attention by the international community.
Social inclusion policies centered on the respect of social and economic rights; the integration of migrants into national development through a human rights perspective (regardless of their migration status); newly groundbreaking laws (approved with wide support in the Parliament) such as those on gender identity, decent death, equal marriage and mental health; and transcendental policies for cultural change like the National Plan Against Discrimination (with more than 200 concrete steps to eradicate all types of discrimination). These advances are concrete contributions to international human rights law in a world that is still debating many of these issues without yet reaching a consensus.
The foundation pillar for the construction of such a progressive agenda for the future of human rights in Argentina is the eradication of impunity in relation to the crimes against humanity perpetrated during state terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s. This process started recently through an internationally unprecedented step, acclaimed by the world community and the human rights movement. More than two decades after the recovery of democracy, trials were re-opened all over the country in 2005.
At present there are 1,013 prosecutions, 378 persons have been convicted for crimes and crimes against humanity in different levels of participation. Over the course of 2012, 24 trials were concluded after 111 people were prosecuted, of whom 17 were acquitted and 134 found guilty. At present, 13 trials are at the oral stage of proceedings and it is estimated that over the course of 2013, four further cases will be submitted for oral proceedings. Many witnesses around the world gave their testimony before the courts through video conferences held at Argentine consulates.
This dramatic change in Argentina—after long years of tolerating impunity—was due to the maturity reached by its people and its institutions, the tireless work carried out by the national human rights movement in their legitimate search for justice, and the political determination of late President Nestor Kirchner since 2003, continued by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. This process has resulted in the fact that, for the first time ever since recovering democracy, the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, in response to a new social contract, have removed all legal obstacles in order to identify and punish those responsible for massive and systematic violations of human rights. And these steps are being taken through ordinary criminal proceedings and with due process.
Other milestones in human rights that show the strengthening of our democracy include the new law on audiovisual media services, the enactment by Congress of the repeal of criminal libel and slander, the sharpness of the reduction of poverty and indigence, the recovery of labor rights and encourage collective bargaining, the extension of pensions and retirement-mobility, children as full subjects by law, the increase of education funding and prohibition of child labor and the Act on Integral Protection Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women
At the global level, this new stage in fighting impunity gave the country a renewed international legitimacy and leadership, being at the core of important initiatives, on topics such as the prevention of genocide, the teaching and remembrance of the Holocaust as a means for the prevention of mass atrocities, legal developments on forced disappearance of persons, the right to the truth or the use of forensic genetics in the field of human rights.
At the regional level, Argentina strongly supports the Inter-American System of Human Rights, which was incorporated in our national Constitution in 1994, a key institution for the victims and their families during state terrorism and a partner in developing human rights institutions since restoring democracy. In 2011, a new Institute for the Development of Public Policies on Human Rights in Mercosur started its work in Argentina, setting an institutional framework for exchanging best practices on the field at a sub-regional level (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) for the first time.
And more recently, in March 2012 with the presence of African observers, the Latin American Network for Genocide Prevention was launched in Buenos Aires, in association with the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, one of the most prestigious institutions for genocide prevention training.
This network, the first of its type in the world, includes the participation of representatives of almost every Latin American country through the development of a common curricula and training workshops on genocide prevention for public officials (defense, armed forces, security forces, foreign services). And in February, Argentina, Switzerland, Tanzania and Cambodia organized the first Regional Forum on Genocide Prevention in Asia, following successful experiences in Latin America, Europe and Africa.
Federico Villegas Beltran is the general director of human rights at Argentina’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.