Commissioners: Francisco Eguiguren, Esmeralda A. de Trotiño, Paulo Vannuchi, Edison Lanza, Paulo Abrao

Petitioners: Unions and Human Rights, Workers’ Rights, and Civil Society Organizations from Jujuy Province, Argentina; Amnesty International

State: Argentina

Since his narrow election in November 2015, conservative Argentinian President Mauricio Macri’s economic policies have sparked widespread protests. The governor in Jujuy Province, Argentina supports Macri’s policies, and there have been clashes between protesters and police that led to arrests and injuries in participants.

Jujuy Province has been a source of protests before Macri’s election, especially in response to actions taken by the Ledesma group, which owns the country’s largest sugar mill plant. In 2011, Jujuy police officers, rumored to be working with Ledesma’s private police force, enforced a court order to evict 500 impoverished families who had been squatting on Ledesma’s land. Violence erupted, leaving three civilians and one police officer dead. Sixty people were treated for various wounds and several were hospitalized. Following the election, the January 2016 arrest of Milagro Sala, a prominent indigenous and anti-poverty activist in Jujuy Province, for leading a sit-in demonstration, incited further protests and demonstrations calling for her release. In July 2016, Ledesma group workers voted to strike in protest of the company’s refusal to “raise their salaries by 43 percent to counter the depreciation due to inflation.” In response, over 200 police and Border Guard officers descended on the striking workers and solidarity organizations, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. At least 80 people were injured.

Following these protests, unions and civil society organizations requested Monday’s hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Present at the hearings were representatives from Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados del Azúcar del Ingenio La Esperanza de San Pedro (La Esperanza), Sindicato de Obreros y Empleados del Azúcar del Ingenio Ledesma de Jujuy (SOEAIL), Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Centro de Profesionales por los derechos humanos (CEPRODH), Amnesty International, Abogados y Abogadas en Derechos Humanos, and Estudios Sociales del Noroeste Argentino.

The petitioners began by discussing the July 2016 protest for higher wages at the Ledesma plant and the 80 injured protesters. They condemned the escalating and violent police response to all Jujuy protests, and noted that the police action effectively criminalized social action activities. Further, they noted that conditions in the plant harmed the environment and the health of its workers, and explained that those factors added to the workers’ desire to strike and protest.

Other union representatives and workers’ rights organizations shared that workers were disciplined by the plant’s overseers for participating in union activities. They also accused the local government of using blacklists to criminalize protesters or striking workers. They concluded that the government only tends to intervene on behalf of the police or businesses. The petitioners asked that the Argentinian government adhere to the standards for freedom of expression set forth by Inter-American Commission Human Rights.

The representatives attending on behalf of the Argentinian government expressed support for limiting police violence at protests and strikes and encouraged further public social engagement. They noted that only nine issues regarding violence or unrest at protests have come before the courts. The representatives finished by calling for compromise between the protesters and the local government, urging unions to refrain from violence and respect both public and private property.

The commissioners thanked Argentina for affirming its support for public protest and encouraged the cultivation of a climate in which these issues can be solved. They urged further dialogue, and specifically noted the need for change in procedure regarding response to the occupation of public spaces for protests or strikes.

Author’s Analysis:

By permitting local governments and police forces to blacklist union members and violently disrupt protests, Argentina is violating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to which it is bound. Article 20 of the Declaration states that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association,” and Article 23 states that “everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” To abide with its obligations under international law, the government must cease its blacklisting of union members and must forbid local authorities from using violence and arrests to disrupt peaceful protests and strikes.