Indigenous protesters camp out in a rocky landscape in Jujuy, northern Argentina.

Argentina: Violent repression and criminalization in response to protests in Jujuy

The Jujuy provincial police committed arbitrary detentions, illegal use of force and other practices to repress protests over the constitutional reforms in the province, said Amnesty International today after concluding a research mission in the area.

“After approving a new Constitution without consulting the population and without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples, we have found that the Jujuy provincial police responded with indiscriminate use of force against those protesting for their rights,” said Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International. “Our investigation indicates that the provincial authorities have created a hostile environment that inhibits the people of Jujuy from exercising their right to peaceful protest.”

An Amnesty International delegation visited the city of San Salvador de Jujuy and the departments of Tumbaya, Cochinoca, Humahuaca and Susques in Jujuy province from 25 to 29 September. The organization interviewed at least 107 victims and witnesses, including members of more than 15 Indigenous communities, lawyers, human rights organisations, the Attorney General of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Sergio Lello Sánchez, and representatives from the provincial Ministry of Security. Meetings have also been requested with the Human Rights Secretariat and the Secretariat for Indigenous Peoples in Jujuy, but these have not yet been arranged.

Amnesty International is sharing its preliminary findings ahead of a report that will be prepared and presented to the authorities, communities and the general public.

Physical injuries and difficulty in obtaining medical care

Amnesty International noted the unnecessary and excessive use of force, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, during the protests, which resulted in multiple cases of injuries to those participating in the protests.

Both the testimonies shared with the delegation and video recordings analyzed by Amnesty International’s digital verification team show that police fired rubber bullets directly at demonstrators’ heads.

Our investigation indicates that the provincial authorities have created a hostile environment that inhibits the people of Jujuy from exercising their right to peaceful protest.

Ana Piquer, Americas director at Amnesty International

Among the testimonies received by Amnesty International of people injured by such bullets, two suffered permanent eye injuries, including a young boy who was shot in the face and chest with rubber bullets. International human rights law prohibits the use of rubber bullets aimed at the head or upper body. Moreover, such bullets must only be used to target a specific individual involved in acts of violence and only when other less extreme measures are insufficient.

Many of the testimonies that Amnesty International gathered report the presence of police officers who intervened in the control of the protests in unmarked private vehicles, or who refused to identify themselves when challenged by the demonstrators. Many accounts also point to the presence of non-uniformed state officials who allegedly assaulted demonstrators with stones and beatings.

Many of the victims interviewed by Amnesty International who had suffered physical injuries reported facing resistance and even denial of medical care at more than one public hospital in the province. As stated in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, the authorities have an obligation to provide medical assistance and services to the injured as soon as possible.

Arbitrary detentions, criminal and contraventional persecution

Amnesty International has also heard multiple accounts of arrests of individuals for simply participating in the demonstrations, which constitutes an arbitrary measure of deprivation of liberty.

For example, during the protests in San Salvador de Jujuy on 20 June, more than 70 people were deprived of their liberty. However, according to information from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, only “two or three” of them are being investigated for alleged acts of violence committed during the demonstrations, while the rest were released without charge.

Similarly, during the mass protests in the town of Purmamarca on 17 June, many people were detained by the police without any justification, including a 17-year-old boy who was taken to a detention centre despite having made it clear to the authorities that he was a minor. A woman who was also arbitrarily detained in Purmamarca reported that she was forced to strip naked in front of a group of male police officers.

Furthermore, the widespread use of the provincial Contravention Code to intimidate and unfairly punish protesters was observed. The use of this instrument, which regulates minor offences and is applied by the provincial Ministry of Security, has served as another form of criminalization of protest in Jujuy. Several people interviewed reported that they had received notices of alleged violations in their homes or in the streets, simply for peacefully participating in a demonstration or for providing food or drink to the demonstrators. These cases of contravention are initiated and prosecuted by officials from the Ministry of Security, often in the absence of the accused, although they can lead to substantial fines or even imprisonment. In many cases, it has been documented that the same person is also being criminally prosecuted for the same events, undermining the guarantee of the prohibition of double jeopardy.

The people of Jujuy have the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, as well as the right to be informed of and participate in measures affecting their rights.

Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina

At the same time, according to information provided by the Ministry of Security, 180 police officers were reportedly injured during the protests in Jujuy, and these cases are currently being investigated by the authorities. However, there has been a lack of proactivity on the part of the authorities in investigating possible abuses committed by the security forces during the demonstrations. In this sense, the testimonies highlighted here indicate that victims are afraid to file complaints, for fear of being prosecuted for their participation in the protests.

“It’s unacceptable that, by exercising their legitimate right to challenge the authorities on the lack of prior consultation on such a fundamental instrument as the provincial constitution, Indigenous communities have become victims of violence, abuse and arbitrary detention. In their testimonies, Indigenous youth, women and leaders spoke of the importance of natural resources management in their cosmovision and their means of subsistence, and how their exclusion from the right to participate in the reforms imposed on them led them to take to the streets in protest to make their voices heard. These people are fighting for their lives in a context of absolute exclusion, and the authorities must respect their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” said Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina.

“The people of Jujuy have the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, as well as the right to be informed of and participate in measures affecting their rights. The provincial authorities must guarantee these rights and promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigate any human rights violations committed in the context of the protests.”

Additional information: The context of the protests in Jujuy

On 16 June 2023, the Constituent Convention of Jujuy approved a partial reform of the provincial Constitution with no social participation and without the prior, free and informed consent of the Indigenous population.

Following the reform, protests broke out throughout the province of Jujuy, with police repression in different parts of the province leading to numerous human rights violations.

Some of the issues causing concern amongst the population are:

  • Restrictions on forms of public demonstration
  • Environmental issues, including water regulations and environmental exploration or exploitation
  • Indigenous Peoples’ exercise of consultation, participation and territorial ownership.