The Situation of Human Rights of Women in Argentina

147th ordinary Period of Sessions of the IACHR. Photo by Eddie Arrossi (March 15, 2013).

Commissioners: Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, Rosa María Ortiz, Tracy Robinson

State: Argentina

As Argentina continues to build gender inclusive legal systems and to train power actors within the State, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asks: where are civil society actors and local level education? On March 15, 2013, the IACHR held a thematic hearing on the Situation of Human Rights of Women in Argentina. Government representatives, led by Anna Pastarino, requested the hearing and were the sole presenters on developments, asking for the exchange of best practices and requesting continued international cooperation to better implement women’s rights nationally. Argentina focused on the work that the Supreme Court and Office of Women have done to educate and train power actors such as judges, attorneys, and government officials.

First, representatives from Argentina highlighted the state’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará). The Office of Women has two goals. The first goal is to implement more nuanced gender training programs in state institutions so that they are better equipped to handle cases involving sexual exploitation, trafficking, and discrimination. The second goal is to reform the relationships within legal institutions with the purpose of implementing gender equality and providing increased access for women to high level legal positions as judges and attorneys. This is done mainly through mainstreaming gender in judicial statistics as well as developing quota systems for women in high level legal positions.

The state of Argentina as well as civil society organizations in Argentina have been parties to similar thematic hearings on human rights for women in the past. The 144th Period of Sessions on March 28, 2012 brought the Consejo de Organizaciones Aborígenes de Jujuy to the IACHR to discuss the theme of discrimination against indigenous women in the Americas. In 2006, Argentina was involved in two hearings on the situation of women deprived of liberty and the general situation of the rights of indigenous women in the Americas. Human rights for women, especially vulnerable populations such as indigenous women, continue to be a persistent problem within Argentina. During Friday’s hearing, the IACHR commended Argentina for its work with influential political and legal professionals, but again addressed the state’s need for gender sensitive local outreach, education, and law enforcement, especially serving indigent populations and indigenous peoples.

Argentina requested recommendations from the IACHR to facilitate its work in gender equality. In conjunction with the work of the Office of Women, Argentina offered to exchange best practices with other countries in the region including providing and accepting suggestions to better implement the rights of women.

Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz asked Argentina what role civil society organizations play in the process of training and educating legal actors. While she agrees with the state that top to bottom cooperation is helpful for addressing gendered legal issues, it only addresses part of the process. Commissioner Ortiz suggested Argentina use civil society actors as a valuable resource that is currently being under-utilized by the state. Commissioner Rose-Marie Belle Antoine joined the conversation by asking what mechanisms the state envisions for enhancing the administration and access to justice for vulnerable communities such as indigenous peoples. Legal aid mechanisms, local education for women to know their rights, and data collection on whether current mechanisms are efficient and effective are essential to the proper implementation of women’s rights, she said. Commissioner Rodrigo Escobar Gil questioned Argentina’s use of quota systems for judicial seats as a means for creating gender equality in legal professions and asked that Argentina provide other methods of including women in higher level professional positions. Commissioner Tracy Robinson also questioned how Argentina analyzes the effectiveness of existing training programs and how the state ensures accountability of those who have been trained.

Argentina responded to the Commissioners’ questions about lack of participation by civil society organizations and local education by stating that because men make up the majority of high level influential legal jobs in the country, the state needs to focus on top-down education, training and inclusion. The Commissioners and Argentina thanked each other for their time and looked forward to exchanging more information on how to progress with implementing programs aimed at furthering women’s rights within the region.

Haiti’s Vulnerable Children: After the Earthquake

By Evan Wilson

U.S. Army Soldiers distribute food in Haiti

In the days after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) issued warnings about the dangers that Haitian children would face as aid pours in and the nation tries to rebuild. Ironically, though much of that danger comes from the devastation caused by the earthquake, some of it comes as a by-product of the humanitarian efforts that seek to help those very children. With little governmental oversight and regulation before the earthquake, the destruction of nearly every government office in Port-au-Prince almost certainly means there will be even less protection for children, at least for the near future. Under the cover of the enormous amount of unregulated and unmonitored humanitarian work, child exploitation and trafficking may explode beyond what was already an endemic problem in Haiti. Perceiving this threat, officials in Haiti suspended all extra-national adoption activities, even those approved prior to the earthquake. [Read more…]

Juveniles Locked Up for Life for Non-Homicides: Cruel and Unusual or an Appropriate Punishment?

by Evan Wilson, January 27, 2010

The United States Supreme Court is set to decide two cases that could eliminate life without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicide offenses. On November 9, 2009, the Court heard arguments in two cases, Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida, in which petitioners challenged the constitutionality of life without parole for juveniles convicted of non-homicides as “cruel and unusual” under the Eighth Amendment. Chief Justice Roberts made significant efforts to garner support for his position that the punishment should be allowable, but that the juvenile’s age must be taken into account when imposing such a sentence. The outcome of both cases is uncertain, as the Court appears likely to be divided on the issue, according to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) blog.

On November 19, 2009, the Criminal Law Society and the Criminal Law Brief of the Washington College of Law held a panel with leaders and practitioners representing both sides of the debate. The panel was moderated by Professor Mary Fan and included, for the petitioners’ side, Jody Kent and Vincent Southerland, and for the respondents’ side, Scott Burns and Cully Stimson. Both sides had a chance to make their case before opening the floor to questions.

For the petitioners, Kent and Sutherland pointed to juveniles’ accepted legal status as a basis for a separate set of punishments for adults and juveniles. They argued that different treatment is justified because of developmental differences between adults and juveniles. Each cited studies suggesting that the human brain is not completely developed until well into the twenties, meaning that behavior and self-control can change significantly from the late teens to adulthood. They both criticized the ineffectiveness of the retributive justice system in the U.S., citing depressing prison statistics that are the American reality: 2.5 million Americans are in prison; the U.S. is essentially alone in allowing the practice of life without parole for non-homicide juvenile offenders; and there are 109 such offenders serving life sentences in the U.S. In short, the petitioners’ arguments criticize the U.S. failure to adhere to standards of juvenile sentencing set by the global community, citing scientific evidence and international legal customs in support of their position.

For the respondents, Burns and Stimson both questioned the accuracy of the petitioners’ statistics and stressed the vile nature of the crimes committed by the majority of juveniles sentenced to life without parole. Stimson argued that there must be some response to the “terrible juvenile crime problem” in the U.S. and that the imposition of harsh sentences “sounds like good law.” Stimson went on to explain that some people “cannot be rehabilitated,” citing what Stimson considered the skewed characterization by groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of cases like that of Ashley Jones. Burns asserted that victims not perpetrators need protecting, and that the people of each state should be able to decide what kinds of penalties criminals should pay for their crimes. These arguments are classic victims’ rights arguments with a strong demand for retributive punishment as a deterrent to crime.

Both sides of this panel had compelling, but largely incommensurate arguments. One side advocated persuasively for the rights of juvenile felons and the other for the rights of victims, but both appear to have missed mentioning the actual differences between a life sentence with or without the opportunity of parole. The only certain difference between the two punishments is the eventual review of the sentence by a parole board. For a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide crime, the possibility of parole does not necessarily mean that he or she will be paroled. The parole board will have the final word, meaning that serving either life without parole or life with the possibility of parole could be the exact same sentence with only one difference — the opportunity for review.

Review is arguably one of the processes that makes a justice system equitable. Review is certainly one of the most important parts of the U.S. criminal justice system. Without review, a bad jury conviction cannot be overturned and an unfair judge can have the last word. Even in the best system of jurisprudence, such outcomes cannot be avoided. With the opportunity for review, injustice can potentially be remedied. Review should be a more significant part of future discussions on juvenile sentencing and should not be drowned out by the valid yet fairly predictable arguments from both sides of this debate.

Situation of Children in Juvenile Detention Centers in Jamaica

On May 22, 2009, five teenage girls burned to death in a fire at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Center in St. Ann, Jamaica. Several people were hospitalized, and two more girls died from injuries suffered from the fire. The incident was described by the petitioner, Susan Goffe from Jamaicans for Justice, who is bringing a case against Jamaica calling for the government’s immediate action to improve the conditions of juvenile detention centers that currently result in gross violations of the rights of children in custody of the state. Jamaicans for Justice, a non-profit organization in Jamaica, has been working for the protection of the rights of children in the care of the state since 1999.

When the petitioner started to describe the fire incident at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Center, the respondent interrupted and objected to discussing the incident, since the facts are still in dispute and the petitioner’s allegations have not yet been proven. The Commissioners allowed the petitioner to continue, because she was reporting on the general situation of custody of children in Jamaica and so the Commission’s recommendations would not be based on that incident alone.

The petitioner described the facilities at the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Center as indicative of the inhumane living conditions of juvenile prisons in Jamaica. The petitioner argued that there were ongoing gross violations of human rights with respect to the children in state custody. One such problem is that overcrowding at the Juvenile Correctional Center has forced some girls had to live in “bathroom dorms,” bathrooms in which bunk beds had been placed. The petitioner also cited insufficient education and medical care at the facility. For example, authorities at the Center ignored a doctor’s recommendation to relocate two HIV-positive girls for treatment and for the protection of the other girls. According to the petitioner, only one teacher is assigned to 61 girls at the Center to teach three subjects, and only one psychologist is employed to serve the entire Department of Corrections.

In response, Jamaica argued that general measures are taken to comply with appropriate international standards. The respondent emphasized that the government is continually undertaking initiatives to improve the situation and that proactive attitudes towards bettering the conditions in juvenile centers are emerging in Jamaica.

After the hearing, Goffe said she was satisfied with the hearing, because it was a great opportunity to emphasize the current condition of juvenile centers to the government. She was pleased that the Jamaican government sent representatives to respond to the petition, but felt that the overall government response to the problems at juvenile centers was insufficient. There have been plans and proposals for many years, but the lack of enforcement caused Goffe to call for further responsibility and accountability.

Commissioner Roberts called the Armadale tragedy a wake-up call for Jamaican society and its government to take action. He stated that the government’s positive attitude and intention to adopt measures are a step in the right direction, but that more practical measures such as hiring more teachers and doctors are needed. The Commissioner also mentioned that the government’s response to complaints is important and speculated that Armadale fire might have been avoided if the Jamaican government seriously considered the recommendations from NGOs in advance.

Jamaicans for Justice will hold a press conference when they go back to Jamaica to raise their concerns with regards to the conditions at juvenile detention centers in Jamaica and the Armadale incident.

Reshaping the Dialogue: Adoption and the Rights of the Child

Separation from the parent is identified by UNICEF as the primary danger faced by children without caregivers. A 2004 report set the global number of children without a guardian at 143 million, with 13 million bereft of all family and the majority facing institutionalization. In 1993, the Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption sought to address what was recognized as a growing global issue; yet recent international trends have limited or prohibited international adoption. A heated and often emotionally charged global debate regarding how best to address the needs of orphans, especially when confronting international, interracial adoption, poses a current challenge to former adoption models. The debate centers on the removal of children from their birth countries and cultures to place them with families in which they may not be able to form healthy concepts of racial identity and culture. The other side of the debate presents the adverse effects on children raised in institutions as a reason to prioritize placing a child with a family, regardless of nationality and ethnicity.

[Read more…]