Inter-American Rights Watch

In a Historic Vote, Argentina Legalizes Abortion

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina In 2018, Amnesty International of Argentina (AIAR), Catholics for the Right to Decide (CDD), Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), and the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA) hosted a public hearing regarding reproductive rights laws in the country. This hearing, hosted alongside the IACHR, called upon the Argentine Congress to adopt a law legalizing abortion nationally.

Young pro-choice activists celebrating the passing of the abortion legalization bill. Photo Courtesy of BBC News.

At the time, under the Argentine criminal code, abortion was legal in some provinces and only in cases of rape or when the mother’s health was at risk. However, no national standard had been set to provide all women with safe access to voluntary abortions. The IACHR asserted the importance for Argentina to enact a nationwide standard that coincided with the country’s international human rights obligations.

In 2018, Congress attempted to pass a sweeping bill that would provide abortion access, although it ultimately failed when it reached the Senate. However, the prospect of a second attempt arose in 2019 when President Alberto Fernández was elected. A large part of his running platform was reproductive rights and abortion access, making the statement “I’m Catholic but I have to legislate for everyone” during his campaign. In December 2020, he delivered on his promise.

The Argentine Senate passed a bill legalizing voluntary abortion up to 14-weeks in a 38-29 vote. The same day, the CIDH – IACHR expressed approval for the Argentine Senate passing the Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care. It stated that the passing of the law marked a new set standard for inter-American human rights which it hoped would influence Argentina’s neighbors.

President Fernández asserted that providing free and legal abortions was a public health matter, highlighting how many women die from undergoing dangerous and illegal abortion procedures. Alongside this bill, the Senate also passed a piece of targeted legislation titled the “1,000-Day Plan,” which provides higher quality healthcare to pregnant women and women with young children.

Despite the new sweeping measure, anti-abortion activists have made it a point to challenge the legislation on all fronts. They have made sure doctors know they can deny a woman an abortion, they have called the laws unconstitutional, and they have filed lawsuits in at least 10 provinces.

Doctors in northern Argentina, mostly in the Jujuy province, consider themselves “conscientious objectors” and have asserted that they will not provide the services for women who ask. Only a few obstetricians and gynecologists in the province will offer the care, leaving many women in the same circumstances as before the bill was passed. The most rural provinces, where women are most likely to suffer from clandestine abortions, are those opposing the bill.

It is believed that at least one of the lawsuits will make it to Argentina’s Supreme Court. Though it is not clear as to what might happen once it arrives. However, pro-choice activists have been pushing for this legislation for years, even changing the perspectives of once anti-abortionists. Former president and current Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner originally opposed a similar bill during her tenure as president but has since changed her position thanks to her daughter’s activism. This change was considered a big win for the pro-choice movement, and activists are hoping to continue this charge.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Argentina abortion: Senate approves legalization in historic decision – 30 Dec. 2020

CELS – iachr hearing on abortion: legalization is a human rights imperative – 9 May, 2018

CIDH – IACHR – IACHR approval of Law on Access to Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy and Post-Abortion Care tweet thread – 30 Dec. 2020

The New York Times – Abortion Is Now Legal in Argentina, but Opponents Are Making It Hard to Get – 7 Mar. 2021

Dissenting Voices Shutdown in Nicaragua

By: Mark Burroughs

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – In October and December of 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the seizing and occupation of property belonging to various government oppositional organizations. The recent events stem from anti-social security reform protests that began in April 2018. After three months of protests, Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega, initiated “Operation for the Peace” also known as “Operation Clean Up” with the goal of stopping the protests.

One of the properties that belonged to Confidencial confiscated by the government, now a health facility. Photo Courtesy of the Havana Times.

In December, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) and the IACHR launched an investigation to examine the consequences of the crackdown. Since the 2018 protests, the government has arrested journalists, shutdown news organizations, and seized the assets of human rights organizations. 

The IACHR released the contents of the investigation earlier this year, and it details various incidents of human rights abuse by the Nicaraguan government. The report documents 328 deaths, approximately 100 people still incarcerated, 150 students expelled from university, and around 100,000 people that were forced to leave the country.

In 2020 Nicaragua’s National Assembly, which is mostly controlled by Ortega’s political party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front passed various laws intending to shut down dissenting speech. One of the bills passed is the Foreign Agents Regulation Law. The government claims it passed this bill to stop foreign influence in Nicaragua. One section of the law that Amnesty International highlights is article 14. This part of the bill prohibits Nicaraguans and foreign nationals from intervening in external and internal political issues. The bill also bans Nicaraguans from being a member of or financing any organization that is implanting political activities in Nicaragua.

The Ortega government also passed a bill called the “Special Cyber Crimes Law.” This law has been condemned by various human rights organizations, including the IACHR. This bill established a prison term of two to four years for people who “promote or distribute false or misleading information that causes alarm, terror, or unease in the public.” The government is responsible for determining the appropriate term. Sandinista politician, José Zepeda praises the bill saying, “it helps protect the integrity of the family.” Azucena Castillo, a politician from Nicaragua’s Liberal Constitutionalist Party, condemned the bill as an attack on free speech.

Another bill that the IACHR has condemned is the “Act to Defend the Rights of People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination.” The IACHR has specifically condemned article 1 of this bill. This bill will ban Nicaraguans from running for elected office if they have “promoted terrorist acts, incited foreign interference in internal affairs, organized and implemented acts of terrorism and destabilization with financing from foreign powers, or welcomed and applauded sanctions against the State of Nicaragua and its citizens.” 

One consequence of the various bills passed is the seizing of properties owned by Confidencial, a news organization in Nicaragua. The government began confiscating property owned by Confidencial and other news and political organizations in December 2018. Since that time, the police have occupied the buildings. Other organizations targeted by the government were the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Institute for Democracy and Development. This year, the government transferred ownership of the properties seized to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, also known as MINSA, without officially giving notice to Confidencial. On February 23, 2021, the government transferred the last of the buildings they occupied to MINSA.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Silence at any Cost: State Tactics to deepen Repression in Nicaragua – 22 Mar. 2021

Havana Times – Nicaragua: A Monument to Crimes against Press Freedom – 26 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Ortega’s Final Act of Confiscation against Confidencial – 23 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – IDB & World Bank Silent on Nicaragua Confiscations – 15 Feb. 2021

Havana Times – Amnesty International: “Ortega Wants to Suffocate Dissent” – 17 Feb. 2021

IACHR – IACHR Condemns Destruction of Civilian Organizations’ Property in Nicaragua – 8 Feb. 2021


IACHR Condemns Argentina for Investigation of the 1994 Terrorist Attack

By: Lauren Della Stua 

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C – Nearly 27 years after the terrorist attack at the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) places responsibility on Argentina.

Rescue workers search the rubble of the 1994 Bombing. Photo Courtesy of CNN News.

On July 18, 1994, Iranian backed Hezballah terrorists bombed the AMIA, killing 85 people and injuring over 300 people. The attack was followed by numerous warnings, as well as the 1992 suicide bombers attack on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina.  Despite the attack taking place in Argentina, the bombing has been associated with accusations of Argentinian cover-ups. In 2004, suspects of the cover-up were found not guilty.  Shortly after the federal judge overseeing the case, Juan Jose Galeano was removed from his position for his grave mishandling of the case.

In 2006, a new prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was appointed to investigate the bombing and accused members of the Iranian Government and Hezbollah. Nisman also formally accused Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, former President of Argentina, of covering up Iran’s involvement in the attack. In 2015, hours before Nisman was going to testify against the President, he was murdered. Despite the lead prosecutor’s untimely murder, Kirchner is facing trial for treason based on her involvement in the cover-up.

In February 2019, the federal judge, Galeano, 2 prosecutors, a police commissioner, and several intelligence agency members were found guilty of covering up evidence and paying off witnesses in order to delay the case.

IACHR decided to investigate the alleged cover-up and divided its investigation into three parts: (1) Argentina’s investigation under the Federal Criminal and Correctional Court No. 9 from 1994-2005, (2) AMIA Attack Investigation Prosecution Unit (UFI AMIA) from 2005 to present, and (3) judicial cover-ups.

On March 25, 2021, following their investigation, the IACHR issued a Report on the Merits discussing Argentina’s responsibility and possible reparations. As to responsibility, IACHR noted that Argentina had a responsibility to adopt safety measures after they had knowledge of such a real threat. Furthermore, Argentina, although not necessarily willfully, declined to take protective measures of the Jewish community, and therefore violated of the right to equality and non-discrimination.

As to the Federal Criminal Court, IACHR concluded that the mishandling of evidence, forced hypothesis, and irregularities culminated to a cover-up. The second investigation, led by Nisman, uncovered more flaws of the Federal Criminal Court. For example, undue delays, improper handling of evidence, lack of expert testimony, and uncorroborated evidence. Furthermore, the State violated the right of the families to access information pertinent to the case by claiming it is classified. Lastly, the IACHR also found the State violated the right to psychological and moral integrity of the victims’ families by delaying and covering up the investigation.

The Merit Report gave 6 recommendations for the State. The recommendations included completing the investigation and punishing those responsible, paying reparations to the victim’s and their families, creating policies to manage the budget of the intelligence agencies, creating educational programs related to fighting terrorism, granting access to all information related to the case and investigation, and creating measures to prevent future attacks based on discrimination. 

To this day, the terrorist attacks have not been fully investigated nor have the accused all been brought to justice. However, the Merit Report will hopefully shed light on the corruption and prevent future attacks on the minority communities.

For further information, please see:

ABC News – 8 found guilty in cover-up of deadly 1994 bombing of Jewish center in Argentina – 28 Feb. 2019

AJC Global Voice – 25 Years since the AMIA Bombing: Hezbollah and Antisemitism – 17 July 2019

BBC News – Argentina prosecutor Alberto Nisman was killed, judge rules – 27 Dec. 2017

BBC News – Argentina Marks 1994 Bomb Attack – 18 July 2006

CNN News – Prosecutor in 1994 Buenos Aires Bombing Found Dead – 27 Dec. 2017

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – IACHR refers case on Argentina to the Inter-American Court – 26 Mar. 2021

Former President of Peru on Trial for Forced Sterilization Program in the 1990s

By: Shane Kelly

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

LIMA, Peru – Earlier this month, hearings resumed against former president Alberto Fujimori for the hundreds of thousands of women forcibly sterilized under his tenure in the 1990s.

Former President Alberto Fujimori at his hearing. Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press.

The judicial process began last Monday against Alberto Fujimori, the former president of Peru. The trial focused on his participation in the Peruvian government’s role in the sterilization of over 270,000 indigenous women without consent in the 1990s. Those women brought this case against Fujimori, not only for the blatant offenses against female autonomy but also for the long-lasting effects from infections.

The prosecutor in the case brings charges specifically on behalf of the families of five dead women, and 1,301 others who allege being sterilized against their will. Currently, the 82-year-old Fujimori is serving a 25-year prison sentence for various murder charges of his own citizens by his military.

Peruvian women—victimized by Fujimori with his sterilization policies in the 1990s—are now demanding justice. They allege these sterilizations were part of Fujimori’s “family planning” policy—a euphemism for what he considered a solution to overpopulation he referred to as the “Indian problem.”

In one particular situation, Mrs. Magna Morales was denied the right to sue the government because of her agreement to the procedure, having been incentivized with gifts of food and clothing. In this instance, Mrs. Morales died of complications from the surgery.

Fujimori’s defense is that, because when he was extradited from Chile in 2007 sterilization charges were not included, he should not be judged on those crimes now. He later boasted his program as reducing the birth rate of Peru in comparison to China’s one-child policy.

The case was reopened in 2011 when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights pressured Peru to investigate. In 2014, more than 2,000 cases were closed for insufficient evidence. The indigenous women persisted, pushing for the current trial and maintaining an online database called “Quipu” to track those subjected to this forced sterilization policy.

Hearings resumed this month, giving hope to thousands of women that they will receive some semblance of justice.

For further information, please see:

ABCNews – In Peru, Sterilization Case Against Fujimori Goes to Court – 1 Mar. 2021

New York Times – Using Gifts as Bait, Peru Sterilizes Poor Women – 15 Feb. 1998

Yahoo! – Forcibly Sterilized During Fujimori Dictatorship, Thousands of Peruvian Women Demand Justice – 3 Mar. 2021


U.S. Sanctions on ICC Officials on Hold

By: Andreas Munguia

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

NEW YORK, United States – On November 4, 2021, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York granted a preliminary injunction blocking an executive order issued by the Trump Administration in June of last year, which threatened to impose sanctions on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) officials and “any foreign person” assisting ongoing investigations by the court into suspected human rights abuses and other crimes by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014. The ICC, which holds jurisdiction over investigations and prosecutions of individuals accused of war crimes, called the Trump Administration’s move an attack on international criminal justice and referred to it as an attempt to interfere with the court’s independence and its responsibility to investigate suspected war crimes. The European Union had also expressed its opposition to the move.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about a Trump administration executive order on the International Criminal Court as Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper listens during a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S. on June 11, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Yuri Gripas and Reuters.

Four dual-national U.S. international law professors and the Open Society Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in New York, challenged the executive order on the ground that it was a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. The plaintiffs – both of whom often interact with the ICC and the Office of the Prosecutor through, for example, trainings, advice, or amicus briefs – were concerned that their interactions with the court would potentially be considered “prohibited transactions” with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, a senior member of the prosecutor’s office. If these interactions were in fact considered “prohibited transactions” with Bensouda and Mochochoko, both of whom faced sanctions under the executive order, the plaintiffs would be subject to prosecution. In addition, because the executive order allows for sanctions to be imposed on “entities that have materially assisted designated persons,” the plaintiffs were also concerned that they would face sanctions themselves.   

The district court granted the preliminary injunction on the ground that there was a high likelihood that the plaintiffs would succeed on their First Amendment claim. According to the court, the regulations under the executive order are “content-based restrictions on free speech,” because speech in support of Bensouda or Mochochoko is prohibited while speech against them is not. Therefore, such regulations are subject to strict scrutiny under which the government must show that the regulations are narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest.   

While the court did not question the government’s stated interest in “protecting the personnel of the United States and its allies from investigation, arrest, detention, and prosecution by the ICC without the consent of the United States or its allies,” the court found that the restrictions were not narrowly tailored toward such stated interest due to the fact they also prohibited speech that was not relevant to that interest. For example, the regulations also prohibited speech pertaining to ICC investigations that did not involve the U.S. and its allies.

The litigation is ongoing, and the government must respond to the plaintiff’s complaint by January 19, 2021. However, there is a chance that President Biden may rescind former President Trump’s executive order, and thus eliminate the need for further litigation.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – US Sanctions on the International Criminal Court – 14 Dec. 2020

Just Security – ICC Associates Win Temporary Reprieve from Draconian US Sanctions – 05 Jan. 2021

Law360 Legal News – Trump’s Move to Sanction ICC Officials On Hold, For Now – 04 Jan.  2021

Reuters – U.S. judge blocks Trump’s sanctions targeting human rights lawyers, war crimes tribunal – 04 Jan. 2021