Argentina: Harassment of Transvestites Escalates

The campaign to abolish the Police Edicts in Argentina has gained new urgency in the face of increased harassment of transvestites and transsexuals. Although homosexual acts are not criminalized under Argenitinian law, the police are able to harass sexual minorities through the use of the Edictos Policiales (Police Edicts) and the Law of Investigation of Antecedents. The Law of Investigation of Antecedents allows police to detain individuals for up to 10 hours in order to check their criminal records. It is often used to round up sex workers and patrons of gay and lesbian bars, and the ten hour limit on detention is frequently not respected. The Edict against Public Scandal punishes those "who disturb with flirtatious remarks," and prohibits "public exhibition of persons wearing or disguised with clothes of the opposite gender." The Edict against Public Dancing punishes any proprietor who "permits men dancing together." Those arrested under these edicts can be held for up to 21 days and fined. Since they are police regulations and not laws their application is left completely to the discretion of the police.

The summer of 1995 saw police raids on every well known public gathering spot for gays, lesbians, and transvestites and police harassment has increased steadily since that time. Between 1 January and 30 November 1995, the Buenos Aires group Gays por los Derechos Civiles registered 331 complaints of arrest under the Edicts, a sharp increase over the 342 complaints recorded between September 1992 and September 1994. These figures are believed to grossly underrepresent the actual number of people arrested. A lawyer representing the Asociación de Travestis Argentinas (ATA) estimates that over 50 transvestites and transsexuals are arrested every night in Buenos Aires, and has reported that 160 people were arrested under charges of cross-dressing and prostitution in a single sweep on 16 February 1996.

A broad coalition of groups, including Frente de Lesbianas, Gays por los Derechos Civiles, FUBA (Students Federation of Buenos Aires University) and Asociacion de Meretrices de Argentina (AMAR), have joined together in a call for the complete abolition of the Police Edicts. On February 8, 1996, ATA brought a formal complaint against the police, charging that the use of the Police Edicts against transvestites is discriminatory. Several activists involved with ATA and Travestis Unidas have received threats from police regarding their involvement in the campaign against the Edicts, and at least two activists have been arrested following their participation in demonstrations denouncing the police.

Respectfully worded letters are needed demanding the following:

  1. Abolition of the Police Edicts, in particular the Edict Against Public Scandal.
  2. A prompt and comprehensive investigation into reports that the Police Edicts are used to target lesbians, gay men, transvestites and sex workers for harassment.
  3. As a country that is in the process of renewing its commitment to democracy, Argentina must reaffirm its commitment to human rights, a commitment that must by definition include the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people to live without fear of persecution.

Write to:

Sr. Presidente de la Comision
de Derechos Humanos
Camara de Diputados
Congreso de la Nacion
Riobamba 25/41
Buenos Aires
Fax: +54-1-372 5727
Sra. Alicia Pierini
Subsecretaria de Derechos Humanos
del Ministerio del Interior
Moreno 711, 2do. Piso
CP 1091
Buenos Aires
Sr. Carlos Corach
Ministro del Interior
25 de Mayo 101
Buenos Aires
Fax: +54-1-331-1485