25 Years of ADC
By Hernán Gullco (*)
As president of the Association for Civil Rights (ADC), I am extremely proud to have the chance to write these lines on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary since the founding of our organization.
The creation of ADC was the initiative of a prominent jurist –and friend of mine– Alejandro Carrió, current vice-president of the institution. It was he who had the idea of establishing an organization in Argentina which, inspired in the renowned American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) but adapted to our domestic background, would dedicate to the defense of civil rights.
The aim of ADC was, according to its inspirer and those of us who escorted him in its beginnings, to use public interest litigation as a tool for the defense of the rights recognized in our National Constitution. Times seemed to be ripe, as it was in 1995, a year after the Constitutional Reform which had considerably extended the number of rights to be protected by courts by incorporating most Human Rights Treaties signed by our country into the text of the Constitution. Thus, the idea was to use the judicial system as a means of broadening the scope of rights, by resorting to constitutional arguments that were not customary in the legal activity of the time.
Among the people who backed this idea were Martin Böhmer, Roberto de Michele, Carlos Rosenkrantz, Monica Roman, Marcela Rodriguez, Roberto Saba, Gabriel Bouzat, Christian Courtis, and Martin Abregú. In my particular case, Alejandro offered me the position of Director of Public Interest Litigation for ADC. I found the idea so thrilling that I did not hesitate for a moment to resign from my office as Legal Secretary of the National Supreme Court in order to join the new association. This role now is being –and has been for many years– successfully performed by Alejandro Segarra.
Among the many times that, from its outset, ADC has taken to litigate, we can mention, for example, those related to the protection of the rights of people with disabilities. One of such cases, extremely significant from a legal and humane point of view, was that of Adriana Labatón, an attorney who, quadriplegic by birth, carried out her professional activity on a daily basis with great tenacity, attending the courts of the capital City. However, in order to access the premises, she had to be moved on a stretcher by her assistants to climb up the stairs at the court buildings. The reason was that the National Judiciary had failed to comply with its obligation, under national law, to ensure accessibility of public buildings to persons with disabilities. For this reason, ADC filed an action for protection against the National Supreme Court (in its duty as manager of the court buildings in the capital). The federal judge of the first instance before whom this action was brought, Dr. Martín Silva Garretón, allowed for the petition and ordered the erection of wheelchair ramps and elevators in court buildings so that people with disabilities who attended them could do so without enduring the enormous inconvenience of overcoming the architectural obstacles that existed up to that point. The first instance ruling was later upheld by the National Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court consequently ordered the installation of the requested facilities.
Another of the earliest lawsuits in which ADC took part was that of Ms. Elvira Bella, in a blatant case of gender discrimination. Ms. Bella had won a Mauser rifle shooting contest organized by the Federación Argentina de Tiro (Argentinian Shooting Federation). The FAT, however, only granted her a “Best Ranked Lady” award, being herself, the only woman participating in the tournament while the rest were men. The argument given to deny her the first-place prize was that, since the category in which she had competed was “Senior” (from its meaning in English, “people over a certain age”), only señores, gentlemen in Spanish, could be conferred the honor. The flagrant bias behind such a response led to a protective action (“Amparo”), which was settled favorably by the Buenos Aires judicial courts, resulting in Ms. Bella receiving her medal as the tournament winner, in an emotional ceremony.
ADC has also been active in the field of freedom of expression since its birth. We can mention, among others, the “Patitó” case, where we presented a brief as amicus curiae (friends of the Court) before the National Supreme Court. This was a lawsuit filed by physicians from the Medical Forensic Corps of the National Judicial Branch against a journalist from La Nación newspaper, due to an article he published which was critical of their action in the outstanding murder case of María Soledad Morales, in the province of Catamarca. By recognizing the right of journalism to criticize – with similar arguments made by ADC in its presentation – the Supreme Court set a far-reaching precedent in the defense of the right to free speech.
Similarly, ADC has consistently contended for the right of access to public information. In the 2012 leading case “Asociación por los Derechos Civiles v/ EN PAMI”, the Argentinian Supreme Court established the parameters and scope of this right, which is central to its existence. In addition, we can acknowledge the “Savoia case”, also resolved by the Supreme Court, in 2019, where the right of the country’s citizens to obtain publicly relevant information from state institutions was ratified.
We should also emphasize the “Castillo case”, concluded in 2017, where the Court ratified the non-denominational character of the Argentinian State. On that occasion, the highest court ruled in favor of a group of parents, sponsored by ADC, against the province of Salta, where compulsory religious education had been introduced in public state schools, in violation of the right to religious freedom and non-discrimination.
However, it is not only in the field of public interest litigation that ADC has been engaged. We have also promoted and collaborated in numerous legislative proposals and reforms of state activity in general. Among these many contributions, we can mention those drafted on the nominal vote in the National Congress, the Legal Interruption of Pregnancy, and the Responsibility of Internet Intermediaries, in addition to those submitted in view of the Law of Access to Public Information and the Law of Equal Marriage.
ADC’s institutional decisions are made by their Executive Board, which today – in addition to its president and vice-president – is composed of Alejandro Segarra, Ana María Mustapic, Catalina Smulovitz, and Aldo Isuani. In its action, the Board is supported by the valuable contributions of the Academic Council, whose current members are María de los Ángeles Baliero de Burundarena, Ricardo Gil Lavedra, Eduardo Rivera López and Fernando Basch. I would also like to acknowledge and express my gratitude to previous members, either of the Board or of the Council, for their valuable input over the years. It is worth mentioning the intellectual stature and republican commitment of María Eugenia Urquijo, María Isabel Azaretto, Alberto Garay, Beatriz Kohen, Guillermo Moncayo, José Miguel Onaindia, Mario Rejtman Farah, Victoria Barreda, Gustavo Bossert, Jorge Bacqué, Enrique Paixao, Eduardo Oteiza, and Julio Rivera Jr., among others.
I especially highlight the work carried out by Roberto Saba, Álvaro Herrero and Torcuato Sozio, former executive directors of ADC, who worked hard to strengthen the organization, and for the large number of people who have been part of it over the years.
Finally, I must mention the very valuable contribution made by Valeria Milanes, our current executive director, who, together with a large multidisciplinary team, carries out intense and rewarding actions, which are vital for the existence of our institution.
I fervently hope that twenty-five years from now, whoever is in charge of the Presidency of ADC will be able to give a similar account, in which they can refer with similar praise to our organization, which I consider – weighing up our successes and failures – to have made a substantial contribution to Argentinian society.
(*) President of ADC