Buenos Aires Police Torture Cases Indicate Institutional Problem

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Argentina’s Buenos Aires province registered over 1,000 complaints of torture perpetrated by security forces in 2014, suggesting that abuses are a widespread problem in this part of the country, which are fueled in part by impunity.

Between March and December 2014, the Public Defender’s Office in Buenos Aires province registered 1,000 reports of torture carried out by police and federal penitentiary employees, the equivalent of one every eight hours, reported La Nacion.

According to a report issued by the Public Defender’s Office, the complaints ranged from beatings with blunt objects to knife attacks, theft of belongings, sexual abuse, and torture with electric prods. One victim mentioned in the report was allegedly subject to police torture on three separate occasions, suffering beatings and threats and having salt poured into his wounds.

Due to fear of reprisal, close to half of the alleged victims only reported the torture to their defense attorney; just 287 alleged victims ever came before a judge, reported La Nacion. The auditor for Internal Affairs at Buenos Aires province’s Ministry of Security told La Nacion that in 2014, the entity initiated 239 administrative investigations, fired 15 individuals, and suspended 77. 

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The sheer amount of reported torture — coupled with past allegations against Buenos Aires provincial police — suggests that these incidents are reflective of a larger institutional problem.

A journalistic investigation conducted in 2014 found that security forces in Buenos Aires province had killed at least 107 people in 2012, and that other types of excessive force, including torture, were common. Investigators concluded that the police force had “practically turned into a mafia,” even facilitating robberies in some cases. These findings are supported by the fact that the provincial police force has been subject to the purge of thousands of corrupt officers in recent years.

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The figures reported by Buenos Aires province’s Ministry of Security suggest that these abuses have been facilitated, in part, by a culture of impunity for security forces. The number of security personnel dismissed, suspended, or investigated in 2014 pales in comparison to the number of alleged torture cases. Additionally, according to the Public Defender’s Office, almost half of the alleged victims were afraid to report the abuses, suggesting that the perception of police impunity is also widespread.

The torture allegations also raise the specter of the abuses suffered during the country’s military dictatorship, which could be contributing to the fear of reporting the crime. Between 1976 and 1983, thousands of suspected dissidents were kidnapped, tortured, and killed by security forces in Argentina.  

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