The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the country’s ongoing economic crisis. Measures to curb the spread of the virus saw an increase in gender-based violence. Indigenous Peoples were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Enforced disappearances and excessive use of force by the police were reported. Abortion was decriminalized and legalized within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Argentina continued to experience a profound economic and social crisis. According to official figures, by June, 40.9% of the population was living in poverty and the unemployment rate was 13.1%. Concerns remained over debt repayments and the obligation of states to protect economic and social rights during the pandemic and the recovery period.
In March, Decree 297/20 imposed a nationwide lockdown and restricted freedom of movement to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Strict controls on movement between provinces left hundreds of people stranded across borders, without access to adequate health care, hygiene and, in some cases, family reunification. In November, the National Supreme Court ordered the province of Formosa to allow 8,300 people return to their homes after eight months of the restrictive measures. Full implementation of the ruling was pending.
The Ministry of Security approved a new police protocol that provides for the use of open-source intelligence during the health emergency, raising concerns about potential online mass surveillance.
Health and essential workers were central to the COVID-19 response. By 18 December, 64,958 health workers had been infected with the virus.
The pandemic exacerbated and underscored existing gender inequalities. Data showed that unpaid domestic and care work would represent 16% of GDP if it were paid. Women performed over 75% of domestic and care work in the country.
Violence against women and girls
During the pandemic there was a rise in violence against women; by November, emergency calls to helplines had increased by an average of more than 18% compared to 2019.
According to civil society monitoring groups, there were at least 298 femicides in 2020.
As lockdown measures led to a greater engagement online, women experienced violence and abuse on social media, especially when seeking to defend women’s human rights.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In December, the Congress took a historic step by decriminalizing and legalizing abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortions are permitted where the pregnancy poses a risk to the life or health of the pregnant person or is the result of rape. The Thousand Days Programme – to strengthen comprehensive care for women and children in the first years of life – was unanimously approved by the Senate in December.
According to official data, every four hours a girl aged under 15 gives birth in Argentina. Most are forced to carry to term pregnancies that are the result of sexual violence.
During the pandemic, there were increased barriers to accessing legal abortion. In addition, women and adolescents had their contraceptive treatment interrupted for fear of COVID-19 at health facilities.
Indigenous Peoples’ rights
Indigenous communities still lacked legal recognition of their land rights, even though the Constitution recognizes their right to ancestral territories.
Encroachment on the ancestral territories of Indigenous Peoples by private individuals or state forces continued. Communities were subjected to violence, restrictions on their movement and food supplies, inadequate access to clean water and a lack of hygienic and sanitary conditions.
Concerns were raised over the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples, who continued to experience obstacles to accessing social benefits.
The federal government declared mining an essential sector during the pandemic. Concerns remained over projects for possible lithium extraction on Indigenous Peoples’ lands without an exhaustive study of the possible impact on natural resources and without ensuring the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous communities affected. In the Salinas Grandes Salt flat, Indigenous communities continued to demand information about the potential impacts of mining on their water sources.
Trials before ordinary civilian courts continued for crimes against humanity committed under the 1976-1983 military regime. Between 2006 and December 2020, 250 rulings were handed down, bringing the total number of convictions to 1,013 and acquittals to 164.
In September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights found the state responsible for violating the rights to life and physical integrity of the victims, as well as for cover-up operations that resulted in impunity, in relation to the bombing of the Jewish mutual society AMIA in Buenos Aires in July 1994.
At the end of the year, the investigation into the disappearance and death of Santiago Maldonado continued. His body had been found in 2017 in a river on Mapuche territory in Chubut province, 78 days after the security forces had closed off the area.
Excessive use of force and enforced disappearances
There were numerous incidents of excessive use of force in the context of the enforcement of COVID-19 lockdowns. Police officers killed Luis Espinoza in Tucumán province in May; his body was not discovered until a week after his death.
In May, security forces violently entered the homes of members of the Qom Indigenous People in Fontana, Chaco province, and took three men and a 16-year-old girl into custody. Those held reported that they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated, including the sexual abuse of the girl.
The body of Facundo Astudillo Castro was found 107 days after he was reported missing in late April. He was last seen at a police checkpoint in Buenos Aires province. The autopsy found he died of asphyxiation. Contradictory police accounts and other evidence suggested that the Buenos Aires police could be responsible for his disappearance and death.
Concerns remained over the lack of institutional public policies on effective searches for missing persons and investigations of enforced disappearances.
Rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers
Executive Order 70/2017, which modified the Migration Act and introduced serious regressive measures regarding migrants’ rights, remained in force even though several human rights mechanisms had deemed it unconstitutional.
Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers experienced obstacles to completing regularization proceedings and accessing social assistance programmes. With limited access to the formal labour market and adequate housing, these groups were among the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The closure of borders affected the resettlement of refugees through Argentina’s community sponsorship-based Syria Programme. Nine Syrian refugee families who had been approved to travel to Argentina had their resettlement stalled and new community sponsorship applications were suspended.
Failure to prevent climate change
Argentina ratified the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (the Escazú Agreement).
More than 120,000 hectares in 11 provinces were affected by forest fires, many of them linked to deforestation.