New Rules for the Rule of Law in Argentina

Catalina Casas / LAP_Wilson Center / Flickr

On September 11, the Inter-American Dialogue partnered with the global compliance firm, Exiger, and the Argentina Project at the Wilson Center to host an event called “New Rules for the Rule of Law in Argentina.” The event began with a speech by Mariano Borinsky, the chairman of Argentina’s Commission on the Reform of the Criminal Justice Code. During his remarks, he presented his proposed reforms for Argentina’s legal code, which has not been updated since the 19th century. The following discussion analyzed the proposed changes to Argentina’s legal code, and featured Daniel Alonso, managing director and general counsel at Exiger; Roberto De Michele, specialist on modernization of the state at the Inter-American Development Bank; and Claudia Martin, professor and co-director of the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University. The discussion was moderated by Michael Camilleri, the director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law Program at the Dialogue, and weighed the effects of the reforms alongside the difficulty of establishing rule of law in Argentina.

Borinsky stressed that the new code was a systematization and modernization of the legal code, brought about through a democratic process that considered the interest of Argentinian society through the use of web platforms. The event itself served as an opportunity to receive feedback on the code from both legal experts and the audience. Alonso lauded several of the reforms, including those pertaining to drug trafficking. He applauded the thoroughness and specificity of the reforms, which laid out strict punishments for drug dealers, especially those in positions of power, while moderately decriminalizing personal drug use. Alonso discussed how this differentiation is critical, as the state should not dedicate resources to jailing drug users but should allocate those resources to preventing violence perpetrated by narcotraffickers.

Additionally, Alonso supported the anti-corruption initiatives within the new code, one of which considers giving money to someone position of power—even when not specifically earmarked–a form of bribery. Another law would seize assets from white collar criminals as a form of punishment rather than increasing prison time as a form of deterrence and reparations. Roberto De Michele raised the question of how to measure the success and consistency of the proposed changes. He explained that measuring performance and conducting complex investigations into financial crimes is critical but also very costly. He cautioned that strict laws aren’t always superior, and that sometimes resources can be more efficiently allocated toward prevention. Borinsky was receptive to these suggestions and acknowledged the difficulty in predicting how the newly established norms will affect the population.

Claudia Martin criticized the new code for continuing to criminalize abortion. She noted that the reforms would allow for a good deal of judicial discretion in sentencing, which was unjust and could result in arbitrary punishment. The criminalization of abortion in Argentina, she continued, was particularly discriminatory against poor women, who could not afford to pay for safe illicit abortions, as wealthier women are. Borinsky defended his code by saying that even though his personal views were in line with hers, the Argentinian Congress, elected by the Argentinian people, would not support legalization, as evidenced in the recent Senate vote.

The event concluded with a question and answer session, which provided an opportunity for the audience to give feedback on the proposed changes to the legal code.