Jamaica: Defending Human Rights in a Country with One of the World’s Highest Homicide Rates

December 17, 2008

by Danielle Renwick

Jamaica reported 1,500 homicides last year. In such environments of high insecurity, citizens’ rights often take a back seat to in the demand for government action and security. Carolyn Gomes, the executive director and co-founder of Jamaicans for Justice, has emerged as an outspoken leader for defendant’s rights, dedicating specific attention to exposing and lowering the incidence of extrajudicial killings, which JFJ estimates to number around 1,250 between 2000 and 2007.

Last week, Dr. Gomes and six other activists were awarded the UN Human Rights Prize for demonstrating firm commitment to the advancement of human rights worldwide.

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Tags: Human Rights, Jamaica, United Nations

United Nations Criticizes U.S. on Human Rights

March 28, 2014

by AQ Online

A UN report that was released on Thursday criticizes the United States for a poor performance on 25 human rights issues, ranging from torture and National Security Agency spying, to life sentences for juvenile offenders and the death penalty.

The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was critical of the U.S. policy both at home and abroad. The report cited the use of torture by the U.S. armed forces and other government agents and called on the U.S. to “take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians” in drone strikes. It also said that the U.S. must close its detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has made it a goal to shut down the detention facility by the end of his term, but 154 detainees remain imprisoned there.

At home, the report argued that the U.S. must reduce racial disparities in the prison system and end racial profiling, solitary confinement and the death penalty.  It also expresses concerns about the deportation of undocumented immigrants “without regard to…the seriousness of crimes and misdemeanors committed, the length of lawful stay in the U.S., health status, family ties…or the humanitarian situation in the country of destination.”

However, the report also praised the U.S. in some areas, such as executive orders to ensure “lawful interrogations,” review detention policy options, and eventually close Guantánamo Bay, as well as support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

José Luis Díaz, the Amnesty International representative at the UN, said that the U.S. must implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee “without delay.” The country has one year to provide information on how it is implementing several key recommendations, and until 2019 to provide specific information on all the recommendations made in the report. The last such report was published in 2006.

Tags: United Nations, Human Rights, Crime, justice, Torture

Human Rights Group Gives Grim View of the Americas

January 21, 2014

by AQ Online

The New York City-based rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its annual World Report, presenting a dismal outlook on human rights in the Americas. This year’s report focused specifically on some of the most troubled countries in the region, including Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela, as well as regional economic powerhouses Brazil and Mexico.

HRW released the report in São Paulo, highlighting various abuses across the hemisphere including NSA surveillance, police brutality, political violence, and new laws curtailing freedom of expression. HRW criticized media laws that have effectively silenced journalists in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela, as well as the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance scandal that was made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last May.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, stated that the reforms announced by President Obama last Friday did not go far enough. "In none of this has there been a recognition that non-Americans outside the United States have a right to the privacy of their communications, that everybody has a right to the privacy of their metadata and that everybody has a right not to have their electronic communications scooped up into a government computer," Roth told Reuters in Berlin.

Tags: Human Rights, HRW, NSA

El balance político de la reforma al sistema de derechos humanos de la OEA

April 1, 2013

by Nelson Camilo Sanchez

“Pese a casi dos años de reflexión y discusión, los países de la región llegaron sin un acuerdo a la Asamblea General de la OEA convocada para definir el futuro de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH)”. Así encabezaron distintos medios de comunicación su cubrimiento de la maratónica reunión de cancilleres realizada el 22 de marzo en Washington DC.  

Esta presentación, sin embargo, no captura del todo su compleja realidad. En primer lugar, si bien es cierto que no existía acuerdo total en todos los países, es innegable que existía una inmensa mayoría que consideraba que la CIDH había respondido satisfactoriamente sus dudas y que, por tanto, querían dar por terminado este largo proceso.

Por el contrario, en una posición aislada y minoritaria, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua y Venezuela (los llamados bloque Alba), pese a que sus propuestas habían sido derrotadas, insistían en mantener abierto un debate sobre las funciones y límites del órgano de derechos humanos. No existía entonces un riesgo de división hemisférica. Se trataba de un grupo radical y minoritario frente a un amplio consenso regional.

En segundo lugar, la entrada no da cuenta de que a esta posición se llegó tras un gran esfuerzo. No hay que olvidar que en la Asamblea General de Cochabamba las tímidas voces de defensa de la CIDH de Estados Unidos, Canadá y Costa Rica fueron literalmente acalladas por la euforia colectiva de un grupo de países que pedía a gritos una reforma. Fue gracias a que la prensa independiente y la sociedad civil de las Américas, que se dieron a la tarea de defender al sistema de protección del juego político de conveniencia de los gobiernos, que se llegó a esta posición mayoritaria del viernes. Los progresistas y protagónicos discursos de los cancilleres en la Asamblea General guardan muy poca relación con los ataques de hace no muchos meses.

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Tags: ALBA, IACHR, Human Rights

Ríos Montt Trial Tests Guatemala’s Justice System

March 22, 2013

by Nic Wirtz

After fourteen months of legal wrangling, the genocide trial of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt began this week with oral presentations in court.

The trial will make history, as Guatemala becomes the first country in Latin America to try a former leader for genocide—a move that has divided the legal community.  

Some classify the actions of soldiers under Ríos Montt’s command as crimes against humanity but not genocide,  while others consider them genocide and still others maintain Ríos Montt’s innocence.  The court’s interpretation of Ríos Montt’s orders to his soldiers during his command to consider all residents of certain areas, "guerilla sympathizers and therefore the enemy," will likely inform the trial’s outcome.

Peru tried and sentenced Alberto Fujimori to 25 years in prison for corruption and crimes against humanity during his presidency, a charge Ríos Montt and former Chief of Army Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez also face.

The eventual verdict will hinge on whether various incidents, including massacres in the Ixil triangle region, constituted genocide against the Maya Ixil.

President Otto Pérez Molina has maintained in public declarations that genocide never happened in Guatemala.  Given that Pérez Molina was stationed as a regional commander in Ixil during Ríos Montt’s presidency, the trial could bring unwelcome attention to his wartime activities—something foreign media focused on during his election campaign.

"We respect the independence of powers, so in that sense we will respect what the judiciary is doing and all the processes that are taking place," Pérez Molina said of the trial.

In the courtroom, Ríos Montt surprised observers by sacking his defense team— his fourth change of counsel since January 2012.  When offered the chance to speak on the first day, Montt maintained his right to silence but stated that he would speak on record at a later date.

"There is no document or testimony can prove that my client was involved in the events that the Ministerio Publico (MP) accuses him of,” said defense lawyer Francisco Palomo.  "What we ask for is a fair trial, away from pressures, and for it not to become a political lynching."

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Tags: Efraín Ríos Montt, Indigenous Rights in Guatemala, Human Rights

La reforma de la CIDH en tiempos de funerales

March 11, 2013

by Nelson Camilo Sanchez

A pocos días del 22 de marzo, fecha en que se realizará la Asamblea General de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) en donde se definirá el futuro de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), las apuestas están más altas que nunca.  Los países de la Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA), encabezados por Ecuador y Venezuela, están en una campaña de último minuto que les garantice el apoyo político para inutilizar el único órgano de la OEA con alguna relevancia para la protección del estado de derecho en las Américas.

Hoy 11 de marzo se realiza una inédita reunión en Guayaquil, a la que asistirán los estados parte de la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos y será presidida directamente por el Presidente Rafael Correa. Esta reunión ha sido ideada por Ecuador con el único fin de reunir a los países y llegar a acuerdos globales más rápidos, sin la intervención de Estados Unidos y Canadá; y en la comodidad de una privacidad que no ha logrado alcanzar en la OEA. Todo esto ocurre dentro de un ambiente político enrarecido por el fallecimiento del mandatario venezolano Hugo Chávez y las obvias interrogantes que deja su partida, tanto sobre el futuro de Venezuela, como sobre la continuidad de sus alianzas regionales.

Tras casi dos años de deliberaciones, los acuerdos en el Consejo Permanente de la OEA siguen siendo lentos y esquivos. La meta es que antes del 22 de marzo los embajadores acuerden un proyecto de resolución que permita a sus cancilleres adoptar una decisión sobre el futuro de la CIDH.  El impulso y apoyo que hace unos meses tenía el ALBA se ha visto reducido, gracias a que países importantes en la región han tomado un rol más protagónico en la discusión. En México, Colombia, Brasil y otros países, la presión pública ha llevado a que los gobiernos opinen públicamente y no sigan acompañando con un negligente silencio la agenda del ALBA.

Ante una mayor discusión de las reformas, la aprobación de un borrador de propuesta se ha vuelto una tarea interminable. El Consejo Permanente debe darle una recomendación a la Asamblea respecto de cada una de las 53 recomendaciones propuestas hacia finales del año 2011. Escribir un texto a 34 manos—el número de países de la OEA—es una cuestión compleja. A menos de dos semanas de la fecha final, se ha concertado menos del 10 porciento del proyecto de resolución.

Esto preocupa a Ecuador. Por un lado, nada de lo aprobado hasta ahora tiene el alcance inicialmente planteado por el ALBA—limitar abiertamente la capacidad de la CIDH para hacer su trabajo. Por el otro, el agotamiento ya es notorio en la OEA. La mayoría de Estados espera terminar el tema de fortalecimiento del sistema de derechos humanos con la Asamblea General del 22 de marzo. A esta posición se sumó recientemente el Secretario General de la OEA, José Miguel Insulza. Algo que también debe preocupar a Ecuador, pues Insulza ha sido hasta ahora uno de sus aliados más instrumentales en este proceso.

La reacción de la diplomacia ecuatoriana no se ha hecho esperar. El canciller Ricardo Patiño tiene como prioridad número uno la reforma a la CIDH y para asegurar apoyos se lanzó a una gira regional para convencer uno por uno a los gobiernos latinoamericanos. La puntada final de la campaña es una propuesta presentada a última hora por Nicaragua: proponerle a la Asamblea General que, como no hubo acuerdo hasta ahora, abra el camino para una reforma a la Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos que pueda ser discutida de aquí al segundo semestre de 2014.

No se trata de medidas desesperadas, sino de propuestas coordinadas. De hecho la discusión ha llegado tan lejos gracias a esta estrategia que combina propuestas extremas con persuasión directa. La propuesta inicial se rechaza, pero en la negociación se va ganando poco a poco. Y estos avances los pretende capitalizar el Presidente Correa en la Asamblea General del 22 de marzo a la cual ya confirmó su asistencia.  

Habiendo llegado tan lejos, Correa no quiere que se le queme el pan en la puerta del horno. Sabe que Venezuela, su aliado más poderoso, tendrá que invertir ahora tiempo y capital político para garantizar estabilidad interna, descuidando su liderazgo regional. Algo a lo que otros países y tendencias—como la de la izquierda brasilera—esperan sacarle provecho. Después de haber invertido tanto, e incluso de haberlo convertido en un empeño personal, el Presidente Correa no pretende levantarse de la mesa con las manos vacías. Dirá él que se lo debe a sí mismo y a su fallecido amigo, Hugo Chávez.


Tags: IACHR, Human Rights, IACHR Reform

Censorship in Mexico: The Case of Ruy Salgado

October 29, 2012

by Arjan Shahani

Most people outside of Mexico may have never heard of Ruy Salgado. But during the most recent electoral contest here, that name not only became known throughout Internet circles in Mexico, but was arguably one of the most influential voices of opposition in the country.

Ruy Salgado, a pseudonym, has an online alias known as el 5anto. Salgado is a nonprofit video blogger whose notoriety increased during these past elections for his very critical view of both the transparency of the process and the role of the mainstream media in “manipulating the truth.” He was also one of the most vocal in denouncing what he referred to as institutionalized fraud in the results that will bring the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) back to power on December 1.

El 5anto’s modus operandi was to webcast himself live, wearing a blue luchador mask, providing news and opinion rarely present in mainstream media. This approach was part commercial flair, part self-protection. During the time his project was online, he attracted a growing audience whose members may not have all supported his beliefs, but who did attest to the professional way in which they are always presented: stating sources, structuring analyses and providing informed and argumentative opinion.

For his views and his attempts to “provide information”—always his prime objective—el 5anto became a target of multiple death threats. At one point he even fled the country and started streaming from an undisclosed location for fear of becoming yet another communicator permanently silenced by those who have made journalism an extremely dangerous profession in Mexico.

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Tags: Censorship, Human Rights, Mexico

Chávez Consolidates Power, Violates Rights

July 18, 2012

by AQ Online

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ government has intimidated, censored and prosecuted critics and opposition leaders, according to a Human Rights Watch report released yesterday. The 133-page report, titled "Tightening the Grip: Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chávez's Venezuela," documents how the socialist leader has eroded human rights and consolidated control over the Venezuelan media, the courts—including the Supreme Court—and civil society.

“For years, President Chávez and his followers have been building a system in which the government has free rein to threaten and punish Venezuelans who interfere with their political agenda,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Citing a number of cases, the report accuses the Chávez’ administration of limiting the public’s access to government information, attacking and intimidating local rights defenders, and censoring major media outlets like Globovisión and RCTV.

The Human Rights Watch report was published three months before the October 7 presidential election that will pit Chávez against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski. A June survey by Venezuelan pollster Datanalisis released on Monday shows that Chávez leads his challenger by 15.3 percentage points, down from 15.9 points in May. Still, Caprilles continues to hold rallies across the country, including one held in Caracas on Sunday to highlight the high levels of crime and insecurity that have plagued the capital during Chávez' 13-year presidency.

Tags: Human Rights, Venezuela, Globovision, President Hugo Chávez, Human Rights Abuse

Genocide in Guatemala, Thirty Years Later

July 6, 2012

by Kate Newman

On June 20th, Guatemala asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to declare itself incompetent in ruling on a series of massacres against Mayan villagers in Río Negro between 1980 and 1982. More significantly, the State publicly rejected the notion that these were acts of genocide, and Secretary of Peace Antonio Arenales Forno went on to say, not for the first time, that genocide had never occurred in Guatemala.

Current President Otto Pérez Molina, in contrast to his predecessor Álvaro Colom, has too asserted that genocide did not take place in Guatemala. Pérez Molina notes that most members of the military were of indigenous blood—his personal estimates range from 70-90 percent. In a July 2011 interview with journal Plaza Pública, he commented, “How can it possibly be called genocide when ixiles were fighting ixiles?” He further stated that no population was targeted on the grounds of ethnicity or religion: “It wasn’t as though we said, ‘All of the kakchiqueles or the kichés or the ixiles will be exterminated.’” Rather, Pérez Molina claims those affected were people involved in the actions of war and its battlefield, many of whom happened to be indigenous Mayans.

The massacres that occurred in towns like Río Negro and Dos Erres tell a different story. In 1982, the Guatemalan military arrived in Dos Erres with an order to "vaccinate" the community. Nearly all members of the town were brutally murdered: babies were thrown into a well, children’s heads smashed against walls, and unborn fetuses cut from mothers’ wombs. This case and others point to a clear targeting of non-combatants. Only two young boys were spared at Dos Erres, both with fair skin and green eyes. They were taken from the town and raised by members of the military.

Pérez Molina’s claims are inconsistent not only with past events but with the very definition of genocide. The definition established at the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by Guatemala, nowhere mentions whether the perpetrators of violence may share ethnic origins with their victims. It qualifies genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: Killing members of the group…Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”  The Guatemalan government has previously acknowledged that these acts occurred at Dos Erres and in other locations throughout the country. 

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Tags: Human Rights, Guatemala, genocide

Weekly Roundup from Across the Americas

May 30, 2012

by AS-COA Online

Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests

The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.

Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams

On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes. 

Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code

On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.

Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.

Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy

Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.

Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight

The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.” 

Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez

A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.

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Tags: Human Rights, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, energy, Organization of American States, Venezuela, Environment, Hugo Chavez, José Mujica, Dilma Rousseff, Quebec



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