BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has asked the government of Argentine President Mauricio Macri to “immediately” release Milagro Sala, a social activist and an MP in the Parlasur, following her “arbitrary and baseless” arrest in January of this year.
In January, Sala, an indigenous social leader in the northwestern Province of Jujuy, was detained on charges that her backers (which include various human rights groups) say are baseless and were trumped up to extinguish her political influence.
Sala, who is closely aligned with former center-left leader and Macri’s predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), heads the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association, a public housing construction and maintenance organization that wields a significant amount of power in Jujuy.
The organization, which started in the midst of the 2001 economic meltdown as support group for unemployed workers, eventually operated with a high budget as they have built thousands of homes (and several factories, schools and hospitals) for the needy in the impoverished region heavily populated by indigenous groups.
Seeing the success in Jujuy, the association spread to several other cities and regions in Argentina.
The expansion of the association earned Sala enemies on the other side of the political aisle and she repeatedly clashed with Gerardo Morales, a Senator for Jujuy on behalf of the centrist Radical Civic Union (UCR) that aligned itself with Macri and his conservative Republican Proposal (PRO) before last year’s November election.
Morales then became Governor of Jujuy on the same day that Macri assumed the presidency, December 10 of 2015, and shortly thereafter accused Sala of fraud and illicit enrichment without any proof.
Morales forced the breakup of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association and in response, Sala held a public protest in the Plaza Belgrano, the main square of provincial capital San Salvador de Jujuy, for a month until Morales ordered her arrested for “public disorder.”
Since early January, Sala has remained imprisoned and many across Argentina, the region and the world have decried her detention and have said that she is simply a political prisoner.
Pope Francis, known for his social justice background in Argentina and his staunch support for those who work in that field today, sent Sala a personalized rosary and his best wishes.
Now, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has joined the call for Sala’s “immediate” liberation that resulted from an “arbitrary” decision to have her detained.
Heeding the repeated calls of Argentine human rights group Center of Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the global Amnesty International (AI), the UN group determined that there existed a noticeable “pattern of consecutive accusations” and “a violation of judicial independence” that ensured Sala would be imprisoned and remain imprisoned.
“The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention understands that the detention of Milagro Sala came about as a result of Sala exercising her right to demonstrate, which is simply an exercise of human rights,” the UN body wrote in its statement.
A joint statement by CELS and AI concluded: “The group asks for the immediate liberation of Milagro Sala and that the violation of her human rights are fully investigated by the government so that a similar act is not repeated. The Argentine State has the responsibility now to comply with the measures outlined by the Working Group.”
Despite the statement’s urge for action in the final sentence, Argentina does not have to technically comply with the working group’s demands because, as is the case with most UN declarations, the statement is not legally binding.
Indeed, the Argentine Foreign Ministry said that they received the statement from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and have forwarded it to the judicial authorities in Jujuy but with the added message that the statement should be treated as a non-binding opinion with no legal standing.
The case is just another instance of Macri and his dubious record on human rights, along with the notion that his administration has been increasingly criminalizing social protest in a nation that sees that action as an inalienable right.
Fernández de Kirchner and her predecessor (and spouse), the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), both carried the banner of uncovering the truth and achieving long-awaited justice for the victims of Argentina’s bloody right-wing military dictatorship (1976-1983).
Kirchner, who passed away in 2010, was instrumental in tearing down the Final Stop Law, which granted amnesty to all but 9 of the top junta members who were charged with crimes against humanity, in 2005. Kirchner’s hard work allowed for the prosecution of Dirty War criminals, which continues today and has produced convictions of nearly 700 criminals (while 526 cases remain open) as of March 1, according to the office of the Argentine Attorney General of Crimes Against Humanity.
Kirchner also established today’s museum form of ESMA, a Navy Mechanical School-turned clandestine detention center-turned human rights museum. Well over 5,000 people passed through ESMA’s doors during the dictatorship and less than 250 survived. Since Kirchner’s action to turn the building into a space for memory, some 70 of these types of memorial centers have been established throughout Argentina with more to be converted in the future.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the coup, Kirchner began the tradition in 2006 of marking every March 24th as the “Día de la Memoria por la Verdad y la Justicia,” or “Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice.” The remembrance is for the victims while the truth and justice are for the continued search of missing persons and the prosecution of those deemed to have committed heinous acts of human rights abuse.
Macri, whose Mussolini-supporter father’s businesses benefited from lucrative deals made with the junta during the dictatorship, has firmly placed those human rights issues on the backburner.
In fact, Macri, whose PRO Party voted against investigating the murky economic transactions that took place during the dictatorship, has even closed certain human rights organizations’ offices and de-funded several others during his time as Buenos Aires mayor (and now President of the Republic), along with having cracked down on the limits of public demonstrations.