International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Constitution, however, states that the Federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith" and the Government provides it some privileges not available to other religions or denominations.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, discrimination, including anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, continued to occur. There are a number of governmental and nongovernmental efforts to reduce discrimination and promote interfaith understanding.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 1,068,302 square miles, and its population is approximately 37 million. The Government does not collect information on religious affiliation. The Roman Catholic Church claimed 25 million baptized members (approximately 70 percent of the population). Statistics provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 2001 to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief provided the following estimates, which do not necessarily imply active religious practice: Catholics, 88 percent of the population, Protestants, 7 percent, Muslims, 1.5 percent, Jews, 1 percent, and others, 2.5 percent; however, accurate estimates of religious affiliation are difficult to obtain. Available estimates often are based on outdated census data and questionable presumptions, including a presumption that persons of Middle Eastern origin are Muslim. Estimates of the number of Jews vary between 180,000 and 450,000. The Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association (AMIA) had not undertaken its planned demographic study of the Jewish community by the end of the period covered by this report.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Constitution grants all residents the right "to profess their faith freely," and states that foreigners enjoy all the civil rights of citizens, including the right "to exercise their faith freely."

However, the Constitution states that the federal Government "sustains the apostolic Roman Catholic faith," and the Government provides the Catholic Church with a variety of subsidies. The Secretariat of Worship in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, and Worship is responsible for conducting the Government's relations with the Catholic Church, non‑Catholic Christian churches, and other religious organizations in the country.

The Secretariat of Worship maintains a National Registry of approximately 2,800 religious organizations representing about 30 religious groups and denominations. Religious organizations that wish to obtain tax-exempt status must register with the Secretariat and report periodically to maintain their status. Possession of a place of worship, an organizational charter, and an ordained clergy are among the criteria the Secretariat considers in determining whether to grant or withdraw registration. Registration is not required for private religious services, such as those conducted in homes, but it is necessary for any public activities. Registered religious organizations may bring in foreign missionaries by applying to the Secretariat of Worship, which in turn notifies immigration authorities so that appropriate documents may be issued. There were no reports from any groups that their affiliated foreign missionaries were denied visas.

Public education is secular. However, students may request instruction in the faith of their choice, which can be conducted in school or at a religious institution. Many churches and synagogues operate private schools, including seminaries and universities.

In September 2003, the press reported that Army Chief Roberto Bendini, in a speech at the Army War College, referred to foreign threats to Patagonian and coastal resources, mentioning activities by certain NGOs and by "small Israeli groups" arriving under a veil of tourism. This raised the specter of the "Plan Andinia," an anti-Semitic myth popular in ultra-nationalist circles in southern South America in the 1970s, which alleged Israeli intentions to take over Patagonia using Israeli soldiers, who would come to the region disguised as tourists. General Bendini denied the substance of the press report and used the opportunity to condemn religious and political discrimination. The Ministry of Defense formed an in-house investigative commission, which quickly issued a report clearing General Bendini. However, human rights advocates questioned, to no effect, irregularities in the Commission's formation and investigation.

To address the perceived anti-Semitism associated with some Argentine military, the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation sponsored lectures at the National Military High School and at the Border Police College. The military has also made a point of sending representatives to Washington Holocaust Memorial activities.

The National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), an independent agency of the Government, is charged with promoting social and cultural pluralism and combating discriminatory attitudes (see Section III). INADI, which includes representatives from the major religious faiths on its board, investigates violations of a 1988 law that prohibits discrimination based on "race, religion, nationality, ideology, political opinion, sex, economic position, social class, or physical characteristics," and conducts educational programs. The agency investigates discrimination complaints, supports victims, and promotes proactive measures to prevent discrimination, which include developing a national plan to combat discrimination. In the past, INADI has suffered from lack of funding and institutional instability; however, its first budget was authorized early in 2004. INADI investigations include a number of incidents of religious discrimination.

On May 12, a federal judge denied legal status to the neo-Nazi New Triumph Party (PNT), arguing that the group's identification with the genocidal and anti-democratic Hitler regime was incompatible with the Constitution. INADI, the Ministry of Justice, and Patricia Bullrich's Union for All Party, as well as the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation and the Delegation of Israeli Argentine (i.e. Jewish-Argentine) Associations (DAIA), supported the prosecutor's arguments opposing PNT registry.

The Secretariat of Worship sought to promote religious harmony by sending official representatives to events such as religious freedom conferences, rabbinical ordinations, Rosh Hashana and Id Al Fitr celebrations, and religious activities held by Protestant and Orthodox churches.

In 2000 President De la Rua committed the Government to a Holocaust Education Project to be conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force (ITF). At a 2002 meeting of the ITF, Argentina became a full member. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, in conjunction with the Goethe Institute, the City of Buenos Aires, and specialized volunteers, made presentations at secondary schools to promote solidarity and civic courage as exemplified by Wallenberg. In April, the DAIA also concluded an agreement with the City of Buenos Aires under which the organization will provide five publications promoting cultural and religious pluralism for distribution this year to public schools in the city. Two publications have already been distributed.

Several Christian holy days are observed as national holidays: Good Friday, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas. The law also provides for 3 days of excused and paid leave for those observing the Jewish holy days of New Year, the Days of Atonement, and Passover, and also for those observing the Islamic holy days of the Muslim New Year.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, the Government provides the Catholic Church with some subsidies not available to other religious groups. These subsidies are administered by the Secretariat of Worship. They were estimated at roughly $4 million this year, and have been described as compensation for expropriation of properties which belonged to Catholic institutions in the colonial era.

Other religious groups have made allegations of religious discrimination in the military and in certain federal ministries. Several non-Catholic churches have reported lengthy and costly bureaucratic obstacles in obtaining permission for religious activities. However, they were unsure whether this was discriminatory, or simply bureaucratic sluggishness.

Representatives of the Jewish community have claimed in the past that few, if any, Jewish citizens chose to seek employment with the military or selected ministries due to a fear of future discrimination in obtaining higher rank and appointments. Despite such assertions, current and past administrations have included government ministers and other senior officials of the Jewish faith.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

The trial of 15 Buenos Aires provincial police and 5 civilians charged as local accessories in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, in which 85 people were killed, is expected to end in August or September. In December 2003, the three-judge panel presiding over the trial recused the investigating judge over concerns he could no longer be impartial, when it was discovered that suspect Carlos Telledin received an unrecorded government payment at about the same time that he provided testimony incriminating provincial police. Two of the four prosecutors were recused in April based on similar concerns.

In August 2003, the investigating judge issued indictments against 8 additional Iranian officials in connection with the AMIA terrorist attack. As a consequence, the former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina, Hadi Soleimanpour, was detained shortly thereafter in Great Britain. Another Iranian diplomat was detained in Belgium but was quickly released when he invoked his diplomatic status. In October 2003, the British released Soleimanpour on the grounds that the evidence presented against him was insufficient to justify his extradition. Upon Soleimanpour's detention, the Iranian government sent legal teams to Argentina and Great Britain to seek information on the evidence against him. Discussion of the case, via third party mediators, was proposed; however, diplomatic efforts to negotiate an approach to the issue ended after Soleimanpour's release.

The AMIA investigation continues under instruction of Federal Judge Rodolfo Cannicoba Corral. The Government has authorized access by plaintiffs to archives of intelligence and security agencies involved in the investigation. Nonetheless, there have been few notable advances during the period covered by this report.

There has been no known progress in the stalled investigation into the 1992 terrorist attack against the Embassy of Israel which resulted in 29 deaths, despite the opening of the investigation's security force archives.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, religious discrimination, especially anti-Semitism, remains a problem. NGOs actively promote interfaith understanding. Ecumenical attendance is common at important religious events, such as the Jewish community's annual Holocaust commemoration.

NGOs promoting religious fraternity include the Argentine Jewish-Christian Brotherhood, an affiliate of the International Council of Christians and Jews, the Argentine Council for Religious Freedom (CALIR), the Foundation for Education for Peace (FEDEPAZ), and the Federation of Arab Entities (Latin America), known as FEARAB. Cooperation has been particularly notable between FEARAB (Latin America), representing Muslims and Christians of Arab origin, and DAIA, the political representation of Argentine Jewry, to prevent religious tensions stemming from political conflicts in the Middle East.

Most published reports of antireligious acts involved anti-Semitic activity, although there were also reports of isolated anti‑Muslim and anti-Christian acts. INADI worked to combat religious discrimination and other forms of intolerance (see Section II).

A number of reports of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents appeared during the period covered by this report. The DAIA Center for Social Studies publishes an annual study on Anti-Semitism in Argentina. The Center found a total of 177 anti-Semitic incidents in 2003, a figure which is similar to previous years. The report also highlights discrimination against other groups, including members of the Islamic, Rom, Bolivian, Korean, and indigenous communities, disabled persons, and those of a minority sexual orientation. The DAIA report notes that anti-Semitic incidents made up only 7 percent of the complaints received by INADI in 2003, with discrimination against ethnic or migrant groups accounting for 30 percent and against the disabled for 16 percent. Among the anti-Semitic incidents noted were vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Santa Fe (September 2003) and Posadas, in Misiones Province (November 2003), numerous anti-Semitic remarks, email threats to Jewish institutions, sales of Nazi memorabilia, and graffiti and display of Nazi symbols. The report includes incidents of discrimination against the Muslim and Arab communities in which they were associated with terrorism or violence because of their ethnic or religious background. The DAIA report also highlighted a number of positive events and actions. These included the President's attendance at the 2003 commemoration of the AMIA attack, the review of Government archives related to Nazi immigration, media coverage of Holocaust-related issues, and ecumenical attendance at Jewish holiday or other commemorations.

The Government made no known progress in the investigation of the January 2002 desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the Buenos Aires suburb of Berazategui, the April 2001 letter bomb received by Alberto Merenson, or in other open cases mentioned in prior reports.

The Court has still not scheduled a trial for the third suspect in the 1995 assault by three Buenos Aires youths of a man they believed to be Jewish.

The Government has reported no further progress in the investigation of the 1992 terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy. The investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA cultural center continues and has resulted in the issuance of international arrest warrants for twelve Iranian officials and one Lebanese national associated with Hezbollah (see Section II).

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. Embassy officers meet periodically with various religious leaders and attend events organized by faith-based organizations and NGOs that address questions of religious freedom.

The Embassy continued to provide support for the investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing. For example, the legal attach´┐Ż continues to respond to investigative leads in the AMIA case from the federal court charged with the terrorism inquiry.

On an ongoing basis the U.S. Embassy assists the Government's implementation of a Holocaust Education Project, conducted under the auspices of the International Holocaust Education Task Force. For example, in June the Embassy funded air transportation for two teacher trainees to attend Holocaust Education courses in the United States.