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Institutional violence is considered to be human rights violations initiated or endorsed by the government. Institutional violence ranges from excessive use of force against the public to abuse of power such as torture, forced disappearances or extrajudicial executions. It is a persistent and widespread problem across Latin America; recent examples from the last few weeks include military police invasions of private homes in the favelas of Brazil, the mistreatment of indigenous communities in Mexico and the political protests in Venezuela.
Although the right to protest in Argentina is legally guaranteed, recent months have shown that government-sponsored violence during protests has increased. Since 2016, the current administration has been threatening to implement an anti-protest protocol, which led WITNESS to partner with “Cine en Movimiento” to conduct our first Documenting Protests training, an in-depth workshop on the use of video in demonstrations and protests. Now, more than a year later, more cases of institutional violence show that the trend shows no signs of slowing down.
The escalation of state violence against citizen-led struggles in Argentina now includes the targeting of a well-known community kitchen, feminist activists who mobilized in the country’s first general strike, and violent evictions of worker-run factories, among others.
Activists and organizations have responded in various ways, including using video to document and collect evidence of this violence by government forces. For example, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) used video to challenge the government’s recounting of events which took place on March 17 of this year when a policeman killed a woman in La Boca (Buenos Aires) while pursuing two alleged criminals who had stolen a car. The activist group “Antena Negra” held a live broadcast of the arbitrary detention of women during International Women’s Day protests on March 8, and “Emergentes” documented the aggressions that occurred during a convening of women activists in November 2016.
Argentina has especially emblematic cases where video played a crucial role in the search for justice, such as the eviction of Sala Alberdi in 2013, police repression on December 19-20 in 2001, and the murder of Mariano Ferreyra in 2010 .
In response to this growing threat and in an effort to continue supporting activists, WITNESS once again held a Documenting Protests training in Argentina on May 22-25. Some practices we shared the second time around include:
- Analyze the risks and establish security measures such as organizing filming groups, establishing communication and coordination procedures, and determining exit routes.
- Know your rights: in Argentina, you have the right to observe and document activity of police and public officials from a reasonable distance.
- Organize your equipment and prepare a detailed list of shots: take into account which shots can best serve as evidence.
- Preserve your metadata
- During instances of arrests or police abuse: record the entire incident without stopping, film details like police badge numbers, names of the individuals that were arrested, and the place and time of the incident.
- Reassess the risks to determine if or how you’ll share the footage- one option is to obscure the identity of the persons appearing in the footage and/or the person recording.
- If you decide to share the video, add context to the footage.
Thanks to the brave work of the many activist groups and human rights defenders in Argentina. Video and images will continue to be imperative in showing violations of human rights such as institutional violence. WITNESS will continue to monitor activity and support those on the ground when possible.