The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) stated they were “deeply concerned” by Argentina’s security forces’ handling of the street protests that took place during the omnibus session last week.
“The IACHR reiterates that protest and peaceful demonstrations are key elements of democratic societies,” reads the statement released on Thursday. “The state must protect, respect, facilitate, and guarantee the right to freedom of expression and peaceful gatherings.”
The IACHR’s report lists the incidents that took place between January 31 and February 2 outside Congress while President Javier Milei’s omnibus bill was being discussed inside. According to the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture, at least 285 people were injured due to police repression against protesters. It also states that among the wounded were 35 journalists, whom the police hurt with rubber bullets and chemical agents.
“The actions of security forces intended to maintain security and public order should be done with the utmost respect for human rights,” the reports stated, adding that authorities should not act indiscriminately when faced with scenarios that turn violent. The document said that they should instead identify those who are acting violently and separate them from those who are exercising their “legitimate right to peaceful protest.”
Regarding the press, the IACHR called the work of journalists and communicators a “key element” in helping to maintain the freedoms that sustain the democratic system. They argued that by keeping the public informed, media workers can help prevent violence from happening, either by the authorities or other parties.
“The state must guarantee they are able to carry out their job, as well as investigate any type of violence they suffer at the hands of security forces or citizens.”
The IACHR and the SRFOE ended the report by calling on the Argentine state to guarantee the safety of all people, particularly protestors and media workers, and requesting it investigate complaints regarding excessive use of force by security forces and discipline officers found responsible if merited.
The statement came in response to a complaint two human rights organizations and two press unions filed last week before the IACHR requesting protection for the media workers and lawyers who were working during the protests, either reporting the incidents or trying to defend demonstrators.
The request was filed by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the Center of Professionals for Human Rights (CeProDH), the Buenos Aires’ Press Union (SiPreBA), and Argentina’s Photojournalist Association (Argra).
The text accused Federal Police officers of using an “illegal and abusive less lethal” weapon, referencing agents who sprayed chemical hand-held irritants on journalists and demonstrators while also beating them with batons. The document cites health professionals stating that the chemicals generated a bigger health impact than the typically used ones, including chemical burns with acute pain.