In a damning report on the human rights situation in Argentina last year, the US State Department has highlighted "numerous reports of government corruption" and criticised the country’s "ineffective and politicised judicial system."
The US government document goes on to criticise President Alberto Fernández's government for only taking "limited steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption."
It also accused them of not respecting “judicial independence and impartiality.”
Cristina and corruption
In the section titled ‘Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government,’ the US report highlighted ongoing judicial procedures against Vice President Cristina Kirchner.
"The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. Weak institutions and an often ineffective and politicised judicial system undermined systematic attempts to curb corruption," they said.
"Several corruption-related investigations against sitting and former high-ranking political figures, including Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, were underway as of September," it explained.
"Fernández de Kirchner and nine primary defendants (45 defendants in total) were accused of receiving kickbacks, paying kickbacks, or both, on public works contracts between 2008 and 2015 when Fernández de Kirchner was president. Prosecutors estimated the total value of the bribery scheme at US$160 million.
“On August 22, federal prosecutors summarised the public works corruption case and requested that the trial court convict Fernández de Kirchner and sentence her to 12 years in prison and impose a lifetime ban on serving in public office. Fernández de Kirchner and her children faced four other financial corruption cases,” it details.
In another section, the US State Department highlights "reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses" of human rights.
"Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by federal and provincial officials; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; and serious government corruption,” it reads.
The report also criticised the Fernández administration for not doing more to tackle abuses. "The government took limited steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or engaged in corruption," it concluded.
"Impunity remained a significant problem in security forces at all levels. Corruption and a slow, politicised judicial system impeded efforts to investigate abuses. The government generally denounced reported abuses and took efforts to train military and police forces at all levels on human rights, including through online training during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the official document reads.
The next section details the poor conditions in Argentina’s jails, describing them as “life-threatening. It reads: "They were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, poor medical care and unhygienic conditions. There were allegations of repeated and arbitrary transfers, transfers to distant locations and the recurrent use of solitary confinement as a method of punishment, particularly in the Province of Buenos Aires.”
Highlighting prison overcrowding, it states that “as of September, there were an estimated 11,400 prisoners in space designed for 10,936 persons,” according to the Federal Penitentiary Service.
"Overcrowding in juvenile facilities often resulted in juveniles being held in police station facilities, although some NGOs and the national penitentiary ombudsman pointed out that the law prohibits doing so,” it concludes.
Courts and freedom
Moving on to the chance of a fair trial in Argentina, the US State Departments states that while the law “provides for an independent judiciary … government officials at all levels did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality.”
Nevertheless, “the law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right.”
It adds: “According to domestic NGOs, judges in some federal criminal and provincial courts were subject to political manipulation at times.”
The US government document adds "there were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees” last year.
Addressing civil liberties, the State Department said that “an independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.”
However, it did cite a warning from the FOPEA press freedom watchdog that attacks from politicians against journalists were undermining freedom of expression.
“FOPEA cited three cases of judicial harassment of journalists, including lawsuits against Irene Benito (La Gaceta), Daniel Santoro (Clarín), and Daniel Enz (Revista Analisis),” it highlights.
The report also declared that “projects carried out by the agricultural and extractive industries displaced indigenous individuals, limited their access to traditional means of livelihood, reduced the area of lands on which Indigenous individuals depended, and caused pollution that in some cases endangered their health and welfare.”