Repression at the Congress: we call on the IACHR to protect the right to protest

Together with human rights defender organizations, we asked that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) take precautionary measures in favor of press workers, human rights defenders, and protesters. We expressed our deep concern about the recurrence of disproportionate security operations that result in people being detained and seriously injured.

During the second day of extraordinary sessions in Congress, the National Ministry of Security deployed a violent, excessive, and repressive security operation in the surrounding area. The afternoon and evening of February 1st ended with more than 100 people injured—some severely, including human rights lawyer Matías Aufieri, who was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet. About 30 journalists were among the injured.

Water cannons, batons, and police shields were used in the vicinity of the Congress building to disperse the demonstrators. Motorcycles were used for pursuit, even on sidewalks and in public squares. In addition to tear gas and irritants causing skin burns, rubber bullets were fired, often aimed at head height. As in similar operations in Chile, Peru, Colombia, and the province of Jujuy, the intent to target eyes serves to increase the harm caused by “less lethal” weapons, contrary to recommended guidelines for their use. In essence, the operation was designed to intimidate and disband the protest, not to clear the streets.

Since the presentation of the “Anti-Picketing Protocol” by Minister Patricia Bullrich on December 14th, the government has pushed forward a series of normative changes, massive police operations, economic demands, and public threats against organizations and individuals demonstrating in public spaces. These operations are carried out by federal forces within a district where they lack jurisdiction, like the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, which has its own authorities and local police. In other words, they operate outside the bounds of legality.

Deliberation and public demonstration, journalistic work, and the restraint of state violence are all necessary conditions for democratic social and political coexistence. Given the escalating state violence we have witnessed in recent days, we have filed a complaint with the IACHR, together with the Buenos Aires Press Union (SipreBa), the Association of Photojournalists of the Argentine Republic (Argra), and the Center of Professionals for Human Rights (Ceprodh). This complaint complements the information we have already submitted regarding the Ministry of Security’s protocol to limit protests. We also requested precautionary measures, as the debate and discussion around government-proposed legislation and demonstrations will continue. In this context, it is imperative to safeguard both those who protest and the various actors who play a fundamental role in the dissemination of information and are entitled to specific protection under international human rights law.