Argentina: Right-Wing Demonstrators Physically Attack Campaigner For Women's Rights; Police Fail To Intervene

On June 22, 2000, the city legislature of Buenos Aires, Argentina, passed a "Reproductive Health and Responsible Procreation Act." The measure allows the distribution of contraceptive devices and the provision of "family planning information" in public hospitals in the city. During a demonstration outside the legislature, Ana Di Toro, a member of the Commission for the Right to Abortion, a non-governmental organization, was physically as well as verbally attacked by Catholic groups. Police officers on duty observed the assault but did nothing to protect her. The incident is part of a growing series of violent threats and attacks against women's sexuality and reproductive freedom by conservative groups in the country.

IGLHRC strongly condemns such assaults on women's sexual rights, which have become a prominent tool and tactic of right-wing movements worldwide--as documented in IGLHRC's recent report, "Written Out: How Sexuality is Used to Attack Women's Organizing" (see http://www.iglhrc.org/publications/books/WrittenOut/index.html). Write to the Argentinean authorities demanding a full investigation and protection of the rights to expression and assembly.

SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

Minister of Interior
Mr. Federico Storani
Balcarce 50, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Fx (54 11) 43 31 45 71 ext. 1577
Police Chief
Mr. Ruben Santos
Departamento Central de Policia
Moreno 1550, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Fx (54 11) 43 71 40 59
cc. Ombudsman office - Buenos Aires city
Human Rights Dept.
Ms. Diana Maffia
Belgrano 1876 10mo A, Buenos Aires, Argentina
dmaffia@buenosaires.gov.ar

Please send copies of your letters to:

Ana Ortiz anette@arnet.com.ar
Monica Tarducci
tarducci@interserver.com.ar

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir:

I am/We are deeply concerned by the incidents that occurred in front of the Buenos Aires Legislature on the day the "Reproductive Health and Responsible Procreation Act" was passed. Ana di Toro, a member of the Commission for the Right to Abortion, was physically and verbally attacked by young Catholic activists. Police officers on duty were present and watched the events, but none intervened.

The Argentine government has a duty to protect all persons' rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and of peaceful assembly and association, affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19 and 20); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19 and Article 21) and the Interamerican Convention on Human Rights (Articles 13 and 15), all of which were incorporated to the Argentinean Constitution (Article 75) in 1994. The behavior of police officers during the attack against Ana di Toro and the failure to investigate this incident place the Argentinean government in contravention of its international commitments.

We urge you to review this situation, to launch an immediate and thorough investigation of the incidents--which were documented by the media--and to exert every effort to identify the attackers and allow the due process of the law to follow its course. We also urge you to publicize these steps, in order to send a clear message that such intolerant and violent behaviors are not condoned by the Argentinean government.

Yours sincerely,

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The Reproductive Health and Responsible Procreation Act, passed by the Buenos Aires Legislature on June 22, 2000, mandates public hospitals throughout the city to "provide male and female patients with all needed information, services and methods for the responsible exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights." Hospitals are mandated to give information and advice about a range of contraception methods other than abortion, and to provide them free of charge to patients who cannot afford them. The Act stipulates that underage persons will not require their parents consent to be given information and/or contraceptive devices; special efforts should be made to reach adolescents in and outside schools with information on sexual and reproductive rights. Hospitals are also required to inform patients that condoms are the "only contraceptive method that also prevents infection by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases" and to recommend their use together with other contraceptive methods. A similar proposal is under review in the national Parliament and may become a Federal law in the near future.

Abortion is prohibited by federal law in Argentina. Statistics compiled by women's NGOs reveal that about 1300 women resort to abortion every day in the country; for those who can afford the expensive under-the-table fees (about USD $1000), the practice is safe; for those who cannot, it may lead to severe infections causing sterility, to other ailments, or even to death (illegal abortion is the second-highest cause of mortality for women in the country and the first cause of hospitalization in maternity wards). According to the Ministry of Health, 16% of women giving birth each year are 10-19 years old, and the World Bank has found that 40% of sexually active female adolescents do not employ contraceptive methods at all.

The Act was strongly resisted by groups affiliated with the Catholic Church (Liga de Madres de Familia, Movimiento Pro Vida, etc.). The day the Act was to be discussed, those groups gathered in front of the Legislature, as did feminist and anarchist groups supporting the proposal. The description that follows rests mainly on the testimony of Ana Ortiz and Monica Tarducci--two feminist activists present in the scene; the incidents were also recorded by TV cameras and shown on the evening news programs of the four TV stations operating in Buenos Aires, on June 22.

The police installed fences to separate the two groups of demonstrators. Nonetheless, Catholic activists repeatedly approached the space assigned to their opponents, calling them "murderers" and trying to snatch their signs. At one point, a group of high school students and the Catholic activist started to sign the national anthem in (according to witnesses) "enraged tones." Feminists and anarchists sat on the street silently in response. One of the students jumped over the fence and took away the sign that Ana di Toro was carrying; it read "Keep your rosaries out of our ovaries". Ana tried to recover her sign, but other students had also jumped over the fence; she was circled, kicked in the stomach and punched on the head. Her attackers shouted "murderer" and "whore" while beating her. Police officers idly watched the scene; none intervened. Finally, some male anarchists helped Ana to break free from her attackers.

The incident is part of a growing trend of militant conservatism in Argentina. Catholic activists recently disrupted another session of the city legislature, threatening some legislators in the process. The intervention came during a debate over a bill (ultimately passed) to allow women to be sterilized in public hospitals, without any requirement other than the woman's decision and the approval of one doctor. (Married women had previously needed spousal consent, and all women's decisions had been subject to the whim of an extensive hierarchy of hospital authorities, and one of whom could deny the procedure at will.)

In a separate incident a week later, dozens of anonymous posters exhorting onlookers to "Kill a Fag Today" were plastered around downtown Buenos Aires. A powerful conglomerate of written media ("La Primera") and radio ("Radio 10") has recently called for the expulsion or elimination of immigrants, feminists and sexual nonconformists. Ms. Alicia Oliveira, the city Ombudsman, is convinced that such calls are linked to a series of violent attacks perpetrated against Bolivian immigrants in the nearby cities of Encarnacion de la Cruz and Zarate; immigrants--and their children--have been seriously beaten, tortured with electricity, told to leave the country and robbed of their property by heavily armed men. Police investigations have been cursory or nonexistent.

The Act passed by the Buenos Aires legislature represents a step by local authorities toward fulfilling the mandate of the Beijing Platform for Action, that the human rights of women must "include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence." The attack on Ana di Tora recapitulates and encapsulates--in individual, local, and brutal form--the attacks which right-wing governments and movements have mounted against the Platform since it was agreed upon in 1995. The Argentine government has the responsibility, as a participant in the Beijing process, to repudiate such repressive ideologies. Its responsibilities to civil and political liberties are no less clear. The Argentinean government has a duty to protect all persons' rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to peaceful assembly and association; it has a duty to protect all persons against violence. It can only do so by ensuring a full and fair investigation of this crime, and of all crimes of violence directed at persons because of their opinion or belief, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, or other status.