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Urgent Interventions

Argentina: excessive use of police force against numerous natives of the Toba Nam Qom Community

Case ARG 290802
Excessive use of force by the police

The International Secretariat requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Argentina:

Brief description of the situation:

The International Secretariat of the OMCT has been informed of the excessive use of police force against numerous natives of the Toba Nam Qom Community, in the province of Formosa.

According to information from reliable sources, on Friday 16 of August 2002, more than 100 agents of the provincial police (la mayoria de civil) broke into homes in the native Indian community of Toba Nam Qom in Formosa, better known as “Lote 68”, using fire arms and without providing any legal warrant. Inhabitants were beaten and subjected to ill-treatment of an unusually violent nature. According to the accusations, it was a large-scale attack in which children, women, youths and men were removed from their homes or picked up in the street and taken handcuffed to the local police station where they were questioned and their details were taken down. During the arrests, many basic human rights were violated, for example a young father was brutally removed from his house leaving his crying 2-year-old son alone inside. The information states that the police officers claimed to be searching a group of indigenous persons (“indígenas”) accused of taking part in a shooting that took place in a certain field about 20 kilometres from the city of Formosa, in which a police officer had died and another had been wounded.

The report adds that the police repeatedly shot their weapons over a long period of time, creating terror among the population. The families of the individuals specifically searched along with other individuals seen by the police as suspicious were taken to the quarters of the UEAR (Unidad Especial de Asuntos Rurales – Special Unit for Rural Affairs) in the Eva Peron neighbourhood, where they were beaten and kicked. No discrimination was made between adults and children. The report gives details of a woman from the Toba community who was held at gunpoint in a dark room in the police station and threatened with death in order to make her talk. In another case, a youth was held by his belt and had his hair cut off with a knife. Other people were reportedly forced to sign statements under this kind of physical and mental pressure.

According to the information, 8 detainees are presently imprisoned, accused of homicide and resisting arrest, and have reportedly been kept in incommunicado detention and brutally beaten and tortured. Certain individuals were hooded during interrogations, using thick plastic sheeting covering their whole face and head, producing severe breathing difficulties. Simultaneously, they were threatened and pressured into making declarations and into giving information. One detainee has reportedly suffered serious damage to his eardrum due to the beatings, whilst another now suffers from haematomas in is eyes and cheeks and also could only walk with difficulty in Court during the hearing of his case, which took place in the afternoon of Thursday August 23rd, 2002.

The reports add that the native Indians only made statements under the threat of pain and allege that during the questioning they were shouted at and insulted using xenophobic and threatening language. In addition, a scientist in forensic medicine only intervened after the investigation. The case took place in the Instruction court No.4 of the First Judicial District of Formosa (Juzgado de Instrucción No.4 de la Primera Circunscripción de la Ciudad de Formosa) under Doctor Héctor Ricardo Suhr.

The reports affirm that in the press and the media, the affair was only reported in terms of the death and wounding of the police officers, with no mention of the arrests. The official information on the incident deliberately insinuates that the indigenous persons are animal poachers and killers and in general are criminals; all reports are based upon the discriminatory idea that simply being indigenous is a motive for being mistrusted. The death of the police officer has been used to feed public scorn for indigenous communities, not only in the case of the Toba but also the Wichí and Pilagá, and to encourage racial segregation. No information is given on previous police action against the communities.

Certain government operators and representatives are also condemned for going into the Nam Qom community in order to pressure the inhabitants into not speaking about the large-scale police attack, and threatening to remove the programme “jefas y jefes de hogar” (Home Chiefs plan), seemingly in order to divide the community by trying to manipulate the community elders and leaders. Also condemned by the reports are the attempts to persuade the detainees to change their chosen legal representatives (Dr. Roxana Silva, Dr. Luis Ernesto Montenegro and the well-known defender of the poor, Dr. Claudia Carabajal) for government-appointed lawyers.

The International Secretariat of OMCT is seriously concerned by these events, in particular for the racial segregation and hatred, and for the violation of human rights of the native Indian population. In addition, OMCT points out that torture is a crime liable to penal sanction under Argentinean law.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Argentina urging them to:
i. Take immediate action to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the native Indians detained in the incidents mentioned above, including the guarantee of their right to adequate medical attention;
ii. order the immediate release of the detained persons in the absence of valid legal charges, or if such charges exist, bring them before an impartial tribunal and guarantee their procedural rights at all times;
iii. order a thorough and impartial investigation into the circumstances of these events and guarantee that those responsible are brought to trial and that the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions are applied as provided by law;
i. guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country, in accordance with national laws and international human rights standards, particularly the International Pact for Economic, Social and Cultural rights, ratified by Argentina.

· Dr. Eduardo Duhalde, Presidente de la República de Argentina, e-mail:
· Sr. Jorge Rubén Matzkin, Ministro del Interior, Balcarce 24 (1064) CAP. FED.
Teléfonos: (+ 54 11) 43 31 45 71 / 6756 / 9951 - (+ 54 11) 43 42 60 81 / (+ 54 11) 43 43 08 80. E-mail:
· Dr. Jorge Reinaldo Vanossi, Ministro de Justicia y Derechos Humanos ; Sarmiento 329 (1041) 5° piso - Cdad. Autónoma de Buenos Aires Teléfonos: Conmutador : (+ 54 11) 4328-3015/9. Fax : (+ 54 11) 4328 53 95
· Dr. Julio S. Nazareno, Presidente de la Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación, Argentina Fax: (54 11) 4374 39 51; E-mail:
· Dr. Eduardo Mondito, Defensor del Pueblo de la Nacion, Argentina, Fax. (+54 11) 48 19 15 81. E-mail:

Please also write to the diplomatic representative of Argentina in your country.
Geneva, 29 August 2002
Kindly inform the OMCT of any action you have undertaken indicating the appeal code in your response.
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