Argentina: IACHR hears complaints of police brutality against Qom community

Photo: Patricia Leiva (OAS)

The government of the Argentinean province of Formosa committed before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) to search on a solution to the demands of Nam Qom indigenous community, that accuses the provincial police force of brutality. The community is represented by represented by Centre for Legal and Social Studies (Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, CELS), national focal point of Social Watch.

After exhausting judicial remedies in the Argentinean judicial system, members of the Nam Qom Community in the Formosa province appealed to the IACHR seeking reparations for attacks committed by police forces in August 2002.

The IACHR hearing was presided over by Commissioners Jose De Jesus Orozco Henriquez, Maria Silvia Gullen, and Luz Patricial Mejia. The petitioners were represented by Ms. Loudres Bascary, from the CELS, and Israel Alegre, the representative from the Nam Qom community.  The state was represented by the Argentine delegation to the IACHR and the Minister for Formosa.

The petition alleges that on August 16, 2002, approximately one hundred members of the police force entered into the community under the pretense of an investigation, and they harassed, mistreated, tortured and illegally detained approximately eighty people.

After the attack, those taken to the hospital were reportedly denied treatment because they were “Indian.” The petitioners argue that the petition is admissible because they have exhausted all national avenues of justice but were denied the right to appeal the decision of the investigation court to open police files.

The petitioners had a video with witness testimony from the events in August 2002, but due to technical issues were unable to show all of it. However, the IACHR stated that it would take the video into account and review its contents.

The government of Formosa responded by citing the various improvements that have been made throughout the past decade and asserted that the state is open to approaching this petition through a friendly settlement. The Minister also stressed improved training being provided to police forces, which was designed to increase human rights awareness throughout the entire police force.

Commissioner Mejia applauded the states willingness to enter into friendly settlement and asked if petitioners would be willing to enter into preliminary negotiations regarding a possible friendly settlement. The commissioners then asked the state about the investigations that were conducted when the complaint was originally filed in Formosa investigation courts and inquired about the state’s position on the 2002 events alleged in the petition.

The petitioners stated that while they were open to friendly negotiations, the state’s proposal had to be discussed with other members of the community. Furthermore, the key issue is whether the state is willing to recognize responsibility; this issue will be a key component of a friendly settlement from the petitioners’ position. However, the state addressed the petitioner’s concerns regarding a willingness to discuss the alleged events in a different forum and assured the commission that they intended to act in good faith.

Finding that both sides were amenable to friendly settlement, provided the Nom Qom community agreed, the Commission requested that the petitioner return to Formosa to discuss a friendly settlement with the rest of the community and report back in thirty days in order to start the process leading up to a friendly settlement.  

The Commission will suspend investigations regarding the admissibility of the petition while the two sides negotiate a friendly settlement.  However, if the two sides cannot reach an agreement, the Commission will reinstate admissibility proceedings.

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