After three postponements in the last 12 months alone, the government has finally presented before the national Congress a bill that would overhaul Argentina's Criminal Code.
The new proposal sent to the Senate for debate would establish tougher penalties for corruption convictions, reiterate the illegality of abortion in Argentina and criminalise street blockades, among other changes.
The draft legislation's arrival was delayed by three times over the past year, primarily due to Congress' debate last year on the potential decriminalisation of abortion. A bill to that effect passed the Chamber of Deputies, yet it was voted down by the Senate. The government hopes its entry now, with a lower profile, may help its passage through both chambers.
The text of the new Criminal Code was produced by a commission, which worked for more than 500 days taking in more than 100 meetings involving experts across the country, the government said. It also took into account recommendations from similar working groups that studied the subject.
Announcing the move, Justice and Human Rights Minister Germán Garavano said: "After almost 100 years and 17 previous commissions, this is the first comprehensive reform project of the Penal Code that an Executive Power has sent to Congress since 1921."
He added that the existing code has been "adapted to commitments assumed at the international level, in particular regarding the validity of the protection of human rights and the pursuit of terrorism, the financing of terrorism, drug-trafficking and corruption."
In a subsequent message on Twitter, Garavano declared: "We Argentines deserve a modern code that responds to complex criminality and the demands of society.
Here are 10 key takeaways from the draft legislation:
- Corruption: The new Code would stiffen penalties for drug-trafficking, corruption, terrorism and the financing of such acts. In the case of corruption offences, the government intends to increase the penalties for cases of bribery, transnational bribes or illicit enrichment from between 1 and 6 years to 4 to 12 years. A crime of "corruption between individuals" would also be added, and companies would also be penalised for certain crimes.
- Abortion: The government has opted to go too deep into the debate and decided not to remove or modify existing sentencing guidelines for women who carry out abortions illegally. Currently, punishments include terms of between one and three years in jail, but under the new code, judges would be able to waive penalties or hand down suspended sentences that "take into account the reasons that prompted the woman to commit the act."
- Judicial discretion: The government intends to reduce the discretion available to judges by setting clearer criteria and penalties, especially in cases of violence against women and people in "vulnerable situations."
- Street cuts/blockades: Social organisations have criticised the proposed new Criminal Code, saying it helps to criminalise protest action. Street blockades and criminal behaviour at demonstrations will face harder penalties, with the cutting of traffic routes qualified as a crime known as "obstruction of the public transport". In addition, there will be prison sentences of up to two years handed down to those found guilty of throwing objects that could cause injury or death, such as stones, which rises to three years when carried out against members of the security forces.
- Motocycle thieves: The new code proposes separating crimes committed by so-called ''motochorros' into a new offence.
- Drug possession: This would include the decriminalisation and possession of drugs for personal use. It recognises the jurisprudence of the courts to apply the so-called 'Arriola' ruling, which found that the possession of narcotics for personal use, in the private sphere, was not punishable by law.
- Possession of weapons: The illegal use of civilian weapons without authorisation will face a penalty of three years and six months in prison
- Illegal immigrants: The reform would increase penalties for immigrants who use false documentation or re-enter the country, despite having been previously banned.
- New crimes: A host of new offences – including crimes against the environment, at football matches (mostly related to hooliganism) and online grooming – were also incorporated after extensive study. Penalties for hit-and-run road traffic accidents would also be raised.
- Juvenile Criminal Regime: However, despite much public trailing of the change, the government has decided not to include a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility, seeking to avoid obstacles to the reform's passage in an electoral year.