In addition, we reasoned that the "leading cases" we address must reflect the principal human rights problems and priorities in our society. In other words, if our ultimate goal is to simultaneously critique and strengthen the judiciary through litigation, there must be an explicit political agenda behind the cases we take to court.
In this sense, CELS is focusing on several issues that impact many Argentine citizens but which have traditionally been left out of human rights organizations' agendas. Among the most important are failures by government agencies to assure access to fundamental economic and social rights like education and healthcare.
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Discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or disability is also a major problem. Misconduct by security forces is also a serious issue, including police killings, abuse of authority and rampant corruption. CELS has handled a series of leading cases dealing with police corruption and misconduct.
After reporting these abuses, he was harassed by the Federal Police, brought in on arbitrary charges, and even experienced an attempt on his life. Though the charges against Ojeda have been dropped, the case has not been fully resolved. But the publicity surrounding this case sensitized public opinion to the long-standing problem of police abuse of authority, and became a key element in defeating a bill presented by the Executive that would have extended the period an individual may be held by police before being arraigned from 24 hours to seven days.
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Follini, wearing a T-shirt suggesting that President Menem was corrupt, was detained as he tried to enter a public event where Menem was scheduled to speak. Citing their right to detain people while "checking their identity"—an emergency measure that has become overused by police to harass citizens—police officers brought Follini to the police station. After determining that Follini had no police record, he was let go.
When he returned to the event, he was detained again by the same police, again citing their right to check his "identity. Other cases have been aimed to secure the right of citizens to obtain information on government activities. One such case involved a CELS researcher, whose request for information from the Federal Police regarding the number of people arrested during a one-year period was never answered. CELS presented a writ of relief, which was accepted by a lower court, but the state appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.
The latter finally validated the lower court's decision that the police must provide the information. This case was particularly important: It was the first time the courts established jurisdiction over a question about the right to information—a key issue in Argentina, where government secrecy is the order of the day.
This case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that such issues should not be tried in criminal courts. This gave renewed impetus to the provincial court cases, which continued their investigations despite the Supreme Court ruling. The suit was accepted by a federal court, which ordered the government to manufacture the vaccine within a year. For example, we have taken the case of the bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association AMIA before the IACHR, alleging that the Argentine state failed to exercise due diligence in investigating the incident and that the security forces cooperated with the perpetrators of this terrorist attack.
Another case we brought before the Inter-American Commission deals with the environmental contamination of the ancestral lands of an indigenous community in northwestern Argentina caused by a provincial government construction project.
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The effort to promote and protect human rights via a strategy of legal activism has contributed to a broadening of the concept of "human rights. Now, economic and social rights are also on the table. Older demands for political democracy have also been reinterpreted as legal demands for human rights. Just as the trial of the former junta members was a way of bringing the struggle against military coups and the systematic repression of Argentine citizens during the dictatorship into the domain of the courts, other rights-related issues are now being fought for on a legal terrain.
Soldiers trained for combat discern enemies in every expression of dissent. Perhaps that seems exaggerated. Some will recall that president Obama also tapped a man associated with the defence sector as secretary of Homeland Security. But Johnson is a lawyer, not a military man.
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The US did this in Latin America throughout the s and s ; yet in the US, such activities are assigned to the police, not the defence sector. If only for that reason, Latin Americans and Caribbeans should be worried. Nor does he seem inclined to. James G. The divisive struggle in the s over the US Army School of the Americas is an example of how difficult it can be to reach common ground, as well as how counterproductive an adversarial relationship between the US military and the human rights community can be.
In Latin America we have learned from experience to be genuinely concerned when our armies begin to take on domestic security functions.
Numerous human rights violations occur as a consequence of efforts to combat crime, including police brutality, restrictive laws that curtail civil liberties, and the militarization of the public order. Because the police in Latin America suffer from lack of training, scarce resources, and, in some instances, complicity with criminals, they frequently abuse and sometimes kill suspects.
They almost always enjoy impunity from these acts because many segments of the public welcome such behavior as a means of promoting a safer environment. Where the police have been outnumbered by criminals and street thugs, people have organized to take the law directly into their own hands. While sometimes highly effective in stopping criminals, their methods almost always contravene basic principles of human rights; with no due process in fact, no process at all , torture and killing often result.
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This pathology of fear, where almost everyone feels that he or she could be the next victim, allows the government and the competing political parties to easily manipulate the issue of crime and restrict rights. Many authorities in the region argue that basic rights, such as the presumption of innocence, protection against torture, and the right to be judged before civilian courts, actually benefit criminals and allow them to avoid punishment.
Some countries, such as Peru, have already enacted such measures. Another common mechanism to fight crime in Latin America is to command the army to intervene.
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Historically, the armed forces, and the doctrines of national security they put into practice, were responsible for fighting crime and terrorist acts. During the s the armed forces throughout the region made a partial retreat from their role of civic policeman. However, today many of the same democratic governments that sent the armed forces back to their barracks are asking them to return to lead the fight against the growing wave of criminality.