Argentina: Double Victory in Buenos Aires

On August 30, 1996, the Statutory Convention of Buenos Aires unanimously approved a measure forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender, age, race, religion, political ideology or sexual orientation, making Buenos Aires the first Spanish-speaking city in Latin America to do so. Following on the heels of this historic decision on September 24th, the city's Statutory Convention passed a clause that repealed the infamous Police Edicts that have enabled police to arbitrarily detain young people, transvestites, gays, lesbians, and prostitutes among other, without any form of outside judicial review. While the police remain under federal control, any person arrested in the city will need to be presented before an as yet to be constituted city judicial review board.

Traditionally, the city of Buenos Aires has been governed indirectly by the president of Argentina, who appointed the city mayor, and governed through federal laws. This year, for the first time, Buenos Aires residents chose their own mayor and representatives in charge of drafting an Autonomous Statute for the city. The Statutory Convention has been working since July to develop this historic document and governance structure.

Gays por los Derechos Civiles (Gays for Civil Rights) submitted a proposal for an anti-discrimination clause including sexual orientation as a category. Representative Maria Jose Lubertino, a renowned feminist and a member of Union Civica Radical (UCR) party, who has been a staunch supporter of the effort to repeal the Edicts, became the project's primary legislative advocate. Representative Lubertino stressed the importance of repealing the Edicts in conjunction with the enactment of the anti-discrimination clause, explaining that the Edicts are "a vestige from the past, aimed at separating those considered different from mainstream society; to repeal them is a way of making non-discrimination real."

Using the police edicts, 400 people are arrested every day in Buenos Aires without having committed any crime, simply because the police deem them 'dangerous'. Individuals are held for an average of 12 hours at police stations, where most of them are blackmailed and verbally, emotionally, and even physically abused. In 1995 alone, 150,000 persons were held in this manner.

In this last year, several denouncements of police brutality have brought these human rights violations to the attention of the general public. Human rights organizations like Madres de Plaza de May, Linea Fundadora, and transvestite, gay and lesbian groups closely followed the events at the Stautory Convention. Police, backed by the country's president Carlos Menem, tried to exert pressure on political parties to maintain the Edicts, threatening that the city would fall into 'chaos'. President Menem has also threatened to call for a plebiscite but local activists are confident that city residents would overwhelmingly approve the Autonomous Statute. Senator Yamo has also proposed a bill that would revoke many of the items including the Autonomous Statute. This bill has yet to be discussed by the legislature.

Local activists have asked theat international activists join them in commending the Committee for adopting the anti-dicrimination clause and repealing the police edicts and encouraging them to appoint the necessary judges immediate and to stand firm in the face of any attempts to revoke the Autonomous Statute.

Letters of commendation can be sent via post or email to the following addresses:

Representative Maria Jose Lubertino
Union Civica Radical
A. Alsina 1786
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dr. Fernando de la Rua
Municipalidad de Buenos Aires
Avda. de Mayo 525
Buenos Aires, Argentina