Requests to lower the age of accountability in Argentina seem to disregard international obligations

Available in Spanish/Disponible en Español

In recent weeks, Argentina´s Justice Minister, Germán Garavano, appeared in the media making reference to apparent government proposals  to promote a bill aiming to lower the age of criminal responsibility. It´s funny such statements came out just as calls of a similar nature have cropped up after the murder of a 14-year-old boy at the hands of a 15-year-old -boy during a hold-up.

Similar calls to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility  were made in Brazil in 2015. Since August that year, a draft bill is still under parliamentary discussion, but has failed to reach consensus. The proposal was highly criticised by both local and international organisations.

In Uruguay, during the last presidential elections of 2014, voters were requested to answer a plebiscite at the same time, to express whether they agreed to reform the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The “No” won.

Another matter that must be highlighted is that Argentina´s Justice Minister during his appearances in the press made no allusions to figures in order to show the impact of youth crime. Nevertheless, several specialists, as well as human rights organizations, signalled that youth crime represents only “5 % of all serious crimes” committed in the country. Such commentators also pointed out that the government proposals were the result of “punitive in a year where legislative elections are to be held. The opposition party,   called for special sessions (sesiones extraordinarias) in the National Congress to discuss the issue.

The matter has been under discussion for a long time. Specialists and not mere commentators have been asking for a renovation of the system and the creation of special juvenile courts for years. This is due to the fact that the current legislation dates back to the last dictatorship in the country. Created by the military, law 22.278 is actually a law-decree. This norm does not reflect in a any way whatsoever the Convention on the Rights of the Child, created in 1989 and incorporated into the national legislation in 1990, the Convention has constitutional hierarchy. Also, it must be highlighted that Argentina was condemned by the Inter American Court of Human Rights in the Mendoza Case, for  disrespecting international standards of human rights and due process when dealing with youth in conflict with criminal law

The Argentine government has promised to have a draft bill prepared after the legislative elections of this year, to be held on 27 October. This means, it expects to fix in 9 months a discussion that has been going on for years and that resurfaces every election year.

Picture: ©Jesica Sotelo

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