Argentina: Police Crack Down Targets Lesbians, Gay Men and Transvestites; Campaign to Abolish Police Edicts Picks Up Steam

An urgent campaign has been launched to try and abolish Police Edicts in Argentina. These Edicts are used to harass lesbians, gay men, transvestites and sex workers, harassment that has become especially harsh this summer.

Although homosexual acts are not criminalized under Argentinean law, the police are able to harass lesbians, gay men, and transvestites through the use of the Edictos Policiales (Police Edicts) and the Law of Investigation of Antecedents. Police Edicts are enforced with the force of law though they do not appear in the Penal Code. Their scope is quite large and their targets arbitrary. The Law of Investigation of Antecedents allows police to arrest anyone and take her or him to police headquarters in order to check the personÕs police record.

Some of examples of Police Edicts include Edicto de Esc‡ndalo, Article 2, Paragraph B which punishes "those who disturb with flirtatious remarks", while paragraph F, prohibits "public exhibition of persons wearing or disguised with clothes of the opposite gender." The Edicto Bailes Publicos, Article 3, paragraph A, punishes any proprietor that "permits men dancing together."

If the police determine someone is guilty of contravening the regulations they can arrest and hold that person for 30 days. Since the Edictos are police regulations and not laws their application is left completely to the discretion of the police themselves. The judicial authorities are not involved unless the arrested person initiates a legal compliant.

Between September 1992 and September 1994, the Buenos Aires based Gays por los Derechos Civiles (GDC) registered 342 complaints resulting from enforcement of the Police Edicts. The same group has recently noticed a sharp increase in enforcement of the edicts. Between January and May of 1995 alone, GDC confirmed 91 cases of arbitrary detentions of transvestites, the vast majority charged with Edicto de Escandalo, Article 2, Paragraph F. Reports indicate that persons detained can be held for as long as 72 hours and are sometimes subject to extortion, threats and beatings. IGLHRC is also concerned that transvestite activists who have denounced the police on television have been singled out for harassment and arrest.

The summer of 1995 has seen raids on every well known public gathering spot for gays and lesbians. On 15 April 1995, the police raided Boicot, a lesbian bar in Buenos Aires, and arrested 10 women. The women were held for several hours and subjected to verbal abuse by police officers. Witnesses present in the bar at the time of the arrests report that the police singled out younger women who seemed less likely to know their rights.

On Friday, 11 August, the police struck again by raiding Gas Oil, a gay bar located in the center of Buenos Aires. Reliable reports indicate that about 30 policemen arrived at 3 AM, and demanded to see everyone's identification. 130 gay men and travestites were jailed, most of whom were soon released. However, 67 persons were held for up to 10 hours. The police had alerted media outlets to the raid, and faces of some of those arrested were broadcast on television, forcibly outing them and subjecting them to further harassment from civilian entities.

On Saturday, 12 August another gay bar named Petroleo, located in Mar de Plata, was raided following the same pattern. This time strip searches were conducted.

Attempts to lodge complaints with the responsible police departments have been met with the curt indication that the police "intend to clean up Santa Fe and the bars". In response, a wide coalition of civil groups have launched a campaign to force the Argentinean government to abolish the Police Edicts once and for all. Some of these groups include, Frente de Lesbianas, GDC, FUBA (Students Federation from Buenos Aires University), and AMAR (Association of Prostitutes).

Politely worded letters are needed demanding the following:

  1. Abolishment of the Police Edicts, especially those used against transvestites, gay men, and lesbians, in particular the Edict against Public Scandal as well as the Legal Decree No. 333-58 which grants police the power to detain persons while they check for prior convictions and arrests.
  2. A complete investigation into reports that Police Edicts are used to target lesbians, gay men, travestites, and sex workers for special 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 transgender people to live without fear of persecution.

Write to:

Sr. Carlos Corach, Ministro del Interior
25 de Mayo 101
Buenos Aires
fax: +54-1-331 14 85.
Sr. Presidente de la Comision de Derechos Humanos
Camara de Diputados
Congreso de la Nacion
Riobamba 25/41
Buenos Aires
fax: +54-1-372 57 27