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IV.5 Argentina in the Human
Rights Council

When the Human Rights Council was established in 2006, Argentina had already long embraced the promotion and protection of human rights as a State policy both internally and abroad. Its foreign policy on human rights adopted a principled position and its records in all international fora were strong, coherent and based on strengthening international standards and developing new ones.[1]

From the start, the South American country was committed to the creation of a strong UN human rights body, which could preserve all the valuable tools of the Commission—including, in particular, the system of special procedures—but at the same time improve the new body—for instance through the establishment of a non-selective and universal mechanism such as the UPR. The same position was sustained five years later when the Council was reviewed in 2011.[2]

Argentina has also supported the great majority of thematic resolutions relating to all human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Among these initiatives, it is important to highlight that since the creation of the Human Rights Council, Argentina has also supported the vast majority of existing country mandates as well as the establishment of new ones. It has supported almost all country resolutions and special sessions to deal with urgent situations regarding gross human rights violations in countries from different regions of the world.

During the Macri Administration, Argentina, together with other Latin American countries, took the lead in denouncing human rights violations in countries of its own region such as Nicaragua and Venezuela, and with the new Fernandez Administration that started in December 2019, although not as main sponsor, it has continued to support these initiatives.[3] This decision to lead country resolutions—albeit for a limited period of time—was a significant development. Until a few years ago, except for resolutions regarding Israeli human rights violations—promoted by the OIC—no country outside of the Western world had ever submitted a country resolution on its own region since the establishment of the Council, except if it was the concerned country itself and its allies which presented a resolution for technical cooperation or technical assistance.

Argentina has also closely cooperated with all the Council’s mechanisms, including in the UPR and with the special procedures of the Council. Many Special Procedures mandate-holders have visited the country and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has recognized the commitment and openness of the country in this regard.[4] The positive role of Argentina has also been recognized by a prestigious international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch.[5]

The Council was created to avoid politicization and selectiveness. As stated before, this has proven difficult because the Council is composed of States. However, this does not necessarily mean that its work is not valuable, not only in dealing with specific country situations, when it is possible, but also in developing international norms and standards. Indeed, as we already saw in detail in previous chapters, the Council has continued its essential work of elaborating international human rights law and standards and Argentina has made a significant contribution in this regard.

IV.5.1 Argentina’s contribution in the field of civil and political rights

The influence of Argentina’s past on its initiatives and its positions in the Council has been decisive in its contribution to the development of international human rights law and international human rights standards. Argentina has made a significant contribution as a single State for three main reasons.

First, because it was able to successfully deal with its past and to fight against impunity for gross human rights violations committed in the 1970s and 1980s. This should be the rule in countries that transition from conflicts, unrest or authoritarian regimes. Unfortunately, many countries, including those from the wealthy and developed North, have not been able to do so.

Secondly, because, after the momentum created with the return to democracy was severely affected by the amnesty laws and pardons, the country was creative in addressing claims through several innovative tools such as the truth commission, the truth trials, the reparation laws, the continuation of prosecution for those involved in the appropriation of children, the use of forensic genetics, and the creation of a DNA data bank and a commission to identify children whose identity was stolen.[6]

The approach to addressing a new phenomenon, enforced disappearances, was also innovative, in order to be able to address the needs of the victims and their families. For instance, the recognition of absence due to enforced disappearance to solve hereditary and other issues without declaring the death of the victims until their fate and whereabouts were determined. This was only possible because the human rights movement was not only composed of a relevant number of powerful and committed non-governmental organizations, but also of legal professionals of an exceptional level.

Thirdly, because even though the Malvinas War, a serious economic crisis, and the international pressure both from specific countries and international and regional human rights mechanisms played a role in the fall of the military regime, the solutions found during the democratic era were nation-based and not imposed by other Powers.

As a consequence, the country had a high level of expertise and experience to “export” to the world. The way Argentina addressed its gross human rights violations has been carefully followed by scholars and the international community, and it has influenced other countries in the region and even other parts of the world.[7] It is not surprising that Argentina had the legitimacy to promote international norms and standards on the right to the truth, justice and the fight against impunity for gross human rights violations.

In the Council, Argentina firmly contributed to the adoption of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances in 2006. The country was strongly committed to the negotiations of this international instrument from the beginning. Indeed, it made a significant number of contributions during discussions, not only submitting text proposals, but also describing at length its national experience as a tool to ensure the adoption of a text with firm, clear and useful provisions aimed at preventing the perpetration of this crime and investigating and prosecuting those responsible.

The Argentine delegation was not alone in its efforts during the negotiations of this convention. Argentine civil society—including some of the first NGOs of the national human rights movement developed in the 1970s such as the APDH—also participated actively in this process. Thanks to their tireless work and efforts, the Argentine case was known forty years ago. It is worth recalling that the role of Argentine NGOs—and later of the State—were key to the development of the terms “enforced disappearances” and “detainees-disappeared”, which did not exist until then in the UN vocabulary and became known worldwide and, unfortunately, used in many other cases all around the world.[8] The International Convention against Enforced Disappearances also explicitly recognized the right to the truth in its preamble and in Article 24, and Argentina firmly supported and actively promoted these inclusions.

It could be affirmed that Argentina has exported its own sad experience into international human rights law through the International Convention against Disappearances. Although it is probably one of its main contributions, it has not been the only one. By way of example, long before the creation of the Council, upon the request of its vibrant human rights movement, notably the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Argentina managed to promote the recognition in international human rights law of the right of children to preserve their identity without unlawful interference of the State. When a child is deprived of his or her identity, the State has the duty to protect him or her with the aim of re-establishing it (Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).[9]

Argentina has also significantly contributed to the development of international human rights standards related to the fight against impunity in the Council. The nature, content, scope, and implementation of the right to the truth has been developed until now in the Council through OHCHR reports and the work of special procedures, such as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.[10] Argentina also worked towards the elaboration of standards in the use of forensic genetics and national data banks in cases of gross human rights violations through a series of resolutions and reports of OHCHR.

Moreover, Argentina, together with Switzerland, led the process that ended up with the establishment of a new rapporteur on the right to the truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. The importance of a rights-based approach—rights to the truth, justice and reparations—was key in the Argentine experience to be able to guarantee all rights to the victims, their families and even to society.

IV.5.2 Contribution in the field of economic, social and cultural rights

Since the return to democracy, Argentina has been a close supporter of those States which led initiatives to develop international norms and standards on economic, social and cultural rights.[11] The Cold War had a profound impact on the legal development of civil and political rights, on one side, and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. This difference was reduced in the 1990s with several instruments and conferences, which reaffirmed the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.[12] Nonetheless, the differences between the two categories of human rights have persisted to some extent until the present.

The level of protection assigned to the 1966 covenants has been quite different: the obligation of States regarding the satisfaction of economic, social and cultural rights extends to the maximum of available resources. However, the differences in terms of implementation of human rights fail to explain why the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights did not create a treaty body to supervise the obligations in its text of 1966, albeit with a different scope. A committee was only established almost 20 years later by ECOSOC Resolution 1985/17 and it was mandated to analyze reports. In other words, it was not created by an instrument of a binding nature, and it did not include the second and relevant traditional function of any treaty body: to deal with communications, which allow individuals to make a claim at the international level.

On the contrary, the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights included a treaty body, the Human Rights Committee, which has competence to assess reports from State Parties. It was also complemented by its first optional protocol on individual and inter-state communications adopted the same year as the main instrument and in force since 1976. It is clear that lesser political importance was given to the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights for a long time.

It was only during the Human Rights Council—forty years after the adoption the covenants—that there was a decision to move forward and recognize in international human rights law the possibility of having a communications procedure in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Argentina supported the efforts to negotiate and adopt such a protocol in a specific working group of the Council which was created to this effect. The protocol was adopted by the Council and later by the GA in 2008. The South American country ratified the instrument in 2011.[13]

The decision to adopt this instrument, which entered into force in 2013, was a relevant one because it helped to underline the equal importance of all human rights. Argentina also provided political support for many resolutions in the Human Rights Council related to economic, social and cultural rights, namely: the right to health, the right to adequate housing, the right to education, and cultural rights, among many others.

This decision to promote norms and standards does not dismiss the efforts that the country has to make to guarantee these rights at the internal level. Like any other developing country, Argentina has faced challenges when it comes to effectively protecting economic, social and cultural rights. Indeed, during its 200 years of existence, the country has suffered several economic crises including the profound 2001 crisis, which ended in a historic default.

In this context, as we already saw in the previous chapter, Argentina decided in 2014 to submit an initiative on the effects of foreign debt, in particular vulture funds, on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The resolution was the only initiative on the issue presented by Argentina in the Council to date and was adopted by vote. Some developed countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, voted against, arguing that it was not the right forum to discuss the issue. It is worth mentioning that the EU did not vote as a bloc and some European countries, including France, abstained.

The main contribution of the resolution was a key report of the Advisory Committee that describes the effects of the activities of vulture funds on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights taking concrete examples of specific countries. The Advisory Committee thus supported the position of the Independent Expert on foreign debt, who had previously referred to the impact of foreign debt and the adjustment programs of international financial institutions and their effect on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. This position has also been sustained by scholars.[14]

In this context, it is worth mentioning that, since 2016, Argentina has joined the cross-regional initiative on corruption and human rights. This initiative, which was already described in the previous chapter, is also relevant in relation to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. In this case, all resolutions led by Morocco have been adopted by consensus. It is hard to understand why in this case the Council is the right forum for some Western States, while in the previous case—on foreign debt and human rights—it is not. Both cases have an indirect—although very clear—impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to health, education and food.

  1. See, for instance, Statement of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jorge Taiana, to the 7th session of the Human Rights Council, 2008, available at: https://bit.ly/2Un5tUo.
  2. In this regard, see Chapter III.4 (“Argentina in the institution building process of the Council in 2006 and in its review in 2011”) of the present work.
  3. In this regard see Chapter III.5.9 (“Other initiatives led or sponsored by Argentina in the Human Rights Council in the last few years”) of the present work.
  4. Human Rights Council, “Opening statement and global update of human rights concerns by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at 38th session of the Human Rights Council”, 18 June 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/3niCZr5.
  5. Human Rights Watch, Keeping the momentum. One year in the Human Rights Council, 2011, page 33, available at: https://bit.ly/2K2xvT8.
  6. See Sikkink, K. “From Pariah State to Global Protagonist: Argentina and the Struggle for International Human Rights”. Latin American Politics and SocietyVol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 2008), pp. 3-16.
  7. See Sikkink, K. “From Pariah State to Global Protagonist…”. Ibid, page 2.
  8. In a similar sense, see Sikkink, K. “From Pariah State to Global Protagonist…”. Ibid, page  5.
  9. See Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Convención sobre los derechos del niño, 2 September 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3fOjJS3. See also, Sikkink, K. From Pariah State to Global Protagonist…”.  Ibid, page 14. 
  10. United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, “General Comment on the Right to the Truth in Relation to Enforced Disappearances”, available at: https://bit.ly/3pod1UX.
  11. Argentina, for instance, ratified the Covenant on economic, social and cultural rights on 8 August 1986. See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Ratification status for Argentina”, available at: https://bit.ly/38BXXgx.
  12. See for instance, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993, 25 June 1993, paragraph 5.
  13. United Nations Treaty Collection, “Depositary”, status of the Optional protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as at 30 January 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/36qM36u.
  14. Donnelly, Jack, International human rights…, Ibid, pages 160-161.

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