Fontevecchia: Argentina does not acknowledge its obligations at the Inter-American Court

At a hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the Fontevecchia case, the Argentine state used the argument of separation of powers to try to justify not complying with its international obligations.

On August 21, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a public hearing on compliance with its judgment in the case of “Fontevecchia and D’Amico v. Argentina,” in which it determined that the Argentine state had violated two journalists’ right to freedom of expression.

The case began when ex-President Carlos Menem denounced the journalists, Jorge Fontevecchia and Héctor D’Amico, for having published information about his son in 1995. A civil court convicted them and, after the Argentine Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 2001, they sought redress through the inter-American system. In November 2011, the Inter-American Court ruled that the Argentine state had violated the American Convention on Human Rights and ordered that it revoke the conviction, among other reparation measures. This year the Argentine Supreme Court determined that it cannot revoke a prior decision of its own and issued a ruling that does not recognize the powers and faculties of the Inter-American Court.

The hearing was requested by CELS, which represents the victims, because this Supreme Court ruling endangers the efficacy of the inter-American system for the effective protection and reparation of victims of human rights violations.

At the hearing, the Argentine state’s representatives said that it will not comply with revoking the journalists’ conviction because of the Supreme Court ruling and in the context of the separation of powers. From CELS’ perspective, this argument referring to domestic law cannot be used to flout the state’s international obligations.

The president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its rapporteur for Argentina, Francisco Eguiguren, expressed “profound concern” over the Supreme Court ruling, which he said “constitutes an obstacle for complying with the Inter-American Court’s judgment and violates multiple principles of international law.”

Edison Lanza, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, stressed that “the Supreme Court’s decision in the Fontevecchia case marks a step backward in Argentina’s renowned trajectory in the development and incorporation of the inter-American judicial framework regarding freedom of expression.”

Questioning the argument that the separation of powers can justify noncompliance with an Inter-American Court judgment, Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi said that for international purposes “there is just one state, regardless of its internal organization.” When Vio Grossi asked if the executive branch would do anything else to achieve compliance of the judgment in this case, the state responded: “It’s not an issue of being willing or not … it’s not possible for us to do anything more.”

CELS, at the end of its presentation, asked that in its next resolution the Inter-American Court declare the Supreme Court ruling incompatible with inter-American standards, reiterate the state’s duty to comply with the 2011 judgment and emphatically call on the state to reconsider its position.