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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

Meeting with Vice President Biden Triggers Alleged Retaliation from Venezuelan Government

February 13, 2015

by AQ Online

At approximately 4 a.m. this morning, several armed, masked men reportedly broke into Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López’ jail cell, destroying his belongings. López was then forcibly moved to a small isolation cell without access to running water or a toilet.

According to human rights activist Lilian Tintori, López’ wife—who reported the events on Twitter—the move is retaliatory in response to her February 12 meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the White House. During the meeting, which also included the family members of pro-government and anti-government protestors killed during last year’s demonstrations, Vice President Biden affirmed his support for human rights in Venezuela and advocated an end to impunity. He also called for the release of political prisoners in the country.

Earlier this week, Tintori met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, as well as Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

Various world leaders and NGOs have called for the release of Leopoldo López—who is accused of attempting to destabilize the government of President Nicolás Maduro—and other Venezuelan political prisoners without success. In October 2014, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein advocated for Lopez’ release. The Venezuelan government rejected al-Hussein’s statement, claiming his assertions were “meddlesome, false and unfounded.”

Listen to AQ’s interview with Lilian Tintori, on her fight for human rights in Venezuela.

Tags: Lilian Tintori, Leopoldo Lopez, Human Rights

A Small Step Towards Justice in Guatemala

January 23, 2015

by Nic Wirtz

Former Guatemalan police chief Pedro García Arredondo was found guilty on Monday of murder, crimes against humanity, and attempted murder—and sentenced to 90 years in prison for his involvement in the 1980 Spanish Embassy fire in Guatemala City.

On January 31, 1980, 37 people lost their lives during the fire, set by Guatemalan police after Indigenous campesinos took refuge in the embassy after traveling to Guatemala City to protest against state repression in Quiché during the country’s civil war.  Arredondo was head of Commando VI, the now defunct Special Investigations Unit (Sección de Investigaciones Especiales) of the national police.  After security forces cut power and communication to the embassy, they stormed the residence, ignoring pleas from the Spanish government, ambassador and protesters.  Soon after, a fire started in the ambassador’s office.  Red Cross nurse Odette de Arzú heard on the police radio, “Get them out by any means!”  Other witnesses testified to hearing, “Let there be no one left alive!”

In the aftermath of the massacre, one of the two known survivors of the fire, Gregorio Yuja Xuna, was kidnapped from a private hospital room.  He was tortured and killed; his body was dumped outside of the rectory at Universidad de San Carlos (University of San Carlos—USAC).  A note was found in one of his pockets saying, “Executed for treason. The Spanish ambassador will face the same fate.” Then, on February 2, during preparations for the mass funeral of the fire’s victims, two students were killed in a shootout at USAC’s auditorium with police.

On Monday, Arredondo was convicted of crimes for his involvement in all three incidents. In her summary, Judge Sara Yoc said, “The defendant executed orders from superiors—the order to kill everyone in the embassy.  He was responsible ordering the burning of the embassy.”

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Tags: Guatemala, Human Rights, Pedro García Arredondo

ACLU and HRW Call for Special Prosecutor to Investigate CIA

December 23, 2014

by AQ Online

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday asked the U.S. Justice Department to designate a special prosecutor to examine the CIA’s use of torture as well as other illegal measures when questioning terrorism suspects.

Just two weeks ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report about the use of torture by the CIA when interrogating criminal suspects in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In light of these new findings, the ACLU and HRW wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting further investigation and denouncing the “vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

However, officials reported that the U.S. Justice Department does not intend to reopen investigations into CIA interrogators, as investigations have already been carried out and the Justice Department did not find sufficient evidence for prosecutions.

Various human rights workers and politicians have called for further examination of officials that were involved in the CIA’s interrogations. On Sunday, a The New York Times called for an investigation of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, former CIA Director George Tenet, CIA employee Jose Rodriguez Jr., and a number of other Bush administration employees.

Tags: CIA torture, Human Rights, September 11

Brazilian Truth Commission Publishes Damning Report

December 11, 2014

by AQ Online

After more than two years of research, Brazil’s Comissão Nacional de Verdade (National Truth Comission—CNV) delivered its official report yesterday on human rights violations committed in Brazil between 1946 and 1988—with a focus on the country’s 1964 to 1985 military dictatorship.

According to the report, “Under the military dictatorship, repression and the elimination of political opposition became the policy of the state, conceived and implemented based on decisions by the president of the republic and military ministers.” The report increased to 434 the proven number of the dead or disappeared during the period of military rule, and calls for a revision of the country’s controversial 1979 amnesty law, which shields those accused of dictatorship-era human rights abuses from prosecution.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff—who was herself a victim of torture—broke into tears while delivering a statement on the report. “We who believe in the truth, hope that this report helps make it so the ghosts of a sad and painful past can no longer find shelter in the shadows of silence and omission,” she said.

In addition to documenting cases of human rights violations, the report names 377 perpetrators responsible for deaths and disappearances during the country’s dictatorship. According to the Spanish daily El País, 191 of these alleged perpetrators are still alive.

The CNV has no prosecutorial power, but the report’s non-binding recommendations posit that the amnesty law does not apply in cases of crimes against humanity. Despite President Rousseff’s pledge to “consider the commission’s recommendations” and take all necessary actions based on the proposals, it is not yet clear whether she will push for any change in the amnesty law.

Tags: Truth Commission, Human Rights, Brazilian dictatorship

U.S. Senate Sanctions Venezuela on Human Rights

December 10, 2014

by AQ Online

The U.S. Senate approved a bill on Monday that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found responsible for violating demonstrators’ rights during anti-government protests that left more than 40 dead and 800 injured since February. The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act authorizes sanctions that would freeze assets and ban visas of individuals that authorized, directed or otherwise assisted the government in infringing on “the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly” of protesters.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bill, which was passed by a voice vote. “For too long, Venezuelans have faced state-sponsored violence at the hands of government security forces and watched their country’s judiciary become a tool of political repression,” said Menendez. The House passed a similar bill in May with a broader number of targets, but the Obama administration insisted sanctions would interfere with negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Earlier this month, White House officials signaled they would be willing to move forward with additional sanctions.   

On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro blasted the “insolent imperialist sanctions” and accused the U.S. of meddling in his country’s affairs. The Maduro government has already faced international criticism for its heavy-handed response to the mostly peaceful demonstrations. In May, the United Nations condemned the violence and called for the government to adhere to its human rights obligations.

The new U.S. Senate bill comes as Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez continues to be held in prison, while Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado was recently accused of plotting to overthrow the Maduro administration. The Senate’s version of the bill must now be passed in the House, and signed by President Obama for it to become law.

Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Human Rights

UN Human Rights Experts Call for Review of Police Procedures

December 5, 2014

by AQ Online

Human rights experts from the United Nations on Friday called for a review of U.S. laws permitting police to use lethal force, in light of the failure of grand juries to indict two police officers for killing unarmed black citizens in separate cases.

The failure of a grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, stirred mass protests on November 24. Just days later, on December 3, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer that put Eric Garner, another unarmed black man, in a fatal chokehold in July 2014.

This second case set off another wave of protests across the country, with thousands of angry citizens demanding an end to impunity. On Thursday in New York City, the Holland Tunnel, Manhattan Bridge and the Westside Highway were temporarily closed, and police reported arresting over 200 protesters during a second night of demonstrations.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has begun a civil rights investigation into the Michael Brown case, but human rights experts are still concerned over the decisions not to bring the officers to trial. UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsak said on Friday, "the decisions [of the grand juries] leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities." UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions Christof Heyns criticized the  lenient state laws governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement in the United States.

Experts not only urged a complete review of police procedures, but also demanded an end to racial profiling by U.S. police. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pressed the U.S. to do “anything possible to respond to demands of greater accountability.”

Tags: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, United Nations, police impunity, Human Rights

The Solitude of the Dominican Republic

November 14, 2014

by Daniel Cerqueira

In his Nobel Prize speech in December 1982, Gabriel García Márquez described the heterodox habits of colonial conquerors, generals and dictators as the roots of “the solitude of Latin America.” During the laureate ceremony at the Swedish Academy, he made no mention of the Dominican Republic. He also refrained from pointing out examples of judges’ heterodox conduct, probably because he was a writer, not a lawyer. But if García Márquez were alive in November 2014, he might consider TC-0256-14, the recent ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal, to be a perfect example of “the solitude of Latin America” in the mindset of judicial officials in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Adopted on November 4, TC-0256-14 concluded that the Dominican Republic’s acceptance of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (IACt-HR) jurisdiction in March 1999 by then-President Leonel Fernández marked a breach of Article 37, numeral 14 of the Constitution, which states that the National Congress is empowered to “approve or disapprove the treaties and international conventions signed by the Executive Branch.”

It is worth mentioning that although the Dominican Congress ratified the American Convention on Human Rights on January 21, 1978, the country did not formally accept the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction until February 19, 1999. Over the past 15 years, the IACt-HR issued four judgments on the merits of cases and granted three provisional measures in the Dominican Republic, whose government had never challenged the jurisdiction of the Court on the grounds of the alleged supremacy of its national constitutional provisions. Indeed, the current Dominican Constitution was enacted in July 2002, three years after the acceptance of the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction—raising serious questions about whether national norms that regulate the ratification of international treaties can be applied retroactively.    

Up until now, the only other country to attempt to withdraw the instrument of acceptance of the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction was Peru in July 1999. Can the Dominican justices who handed down the recent ruling be proud of sharing the same sense of commitment to human rights as Alberto Fujimori? They should at least be credited with authoring the Western Hemisphere’s first-ever judicial attempt to reject the IACt-HR’s jurisdiction.

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Tags: Dominican Republic, Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat

October 17, 2014

by AQ Online

Venezuela Wins UN Security Council Seat

Venezuela secured a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in the first round of voting yesterday, earning 181 votes in support of its candidacy—52 over the 129 vote threshold it needed to clinch the seat. The win was trumpeted by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a sign that the broader international community holds the country—which is caught in dire economic straits and has been roundly criticized for its record on human rights—in high esteem.  “We are a country beloved and admired by the whole world,” Maduro is reported to have said upon receiving news of the ballot results.

Venezuela’s last bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, in 2006, was strongly opposed by the U.S. and ultimately foundered. This year the country ran unopposed to fill the one available seat on the council from Latin America, and received unanimous support from a caucus of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations. Significantly, the Obama administration did not mount a diplomatic campaign against the country’s bid, despite calls by U.S. lawmakers for such an effort.

However, Venezuela’s win has provoked some criticism. After the vote, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, said in a statement that “Venezuela’s conduct at the UN has run counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter.” According to the UN Director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, “The security council’s new membership could prove more problematic on human rights issues, with several generally rights-friendly countries leaving and others coming on board with poor voting records.” Venezuela’s election to the Security Council comes just weeks after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions called on the country to release opposition political leader, Leopoldo López.

Tags: Venezuela, UN Security Council, Human Rights

Rape Another Threat on Migrant Women's Journey North

September 16, 2014

by Erin Siegal McIntyre

For the majority of Central American women and girls crossing Mexico en route to the U.S., rape is another step along the path to the American dream.

Exact statistics don't exist. Previously, nonprofits including Amnesty International estimated that, in 2010, roughly 60 percent of migrant women and girls were sexually assaulted in Mexico, based on interviews with migrant shelter directors and other experts.

Yet in late August, as I reported on migration along the western Mexico-Guatemala border, various sources said the number is likely higher—closer to 80 percent.

Central American women migrants share their stories in the video below.


“I think almost all of the women are abused on the way north,” lawyer Elvira Gordillo said. Gordillo works in private practice, and specializes in helping trafficked migrant women leave prostitution. “[These migrants] know the price to pay for getting to the United States. The price is being sexually violated.”

Sex crime statistics are nearly impossible to obtain due to various impediments in crime reporting. Most migrant women and girls don’t have permission to be in Mexico, meaning that reporting rape or assault to Mexican authorities carries a real risk of apprehension and deportation to their countries of origin.

Worse, authorities themselves can sometimes be the perpetrators.

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Tags: Mexico, Central American migrants, Human Rights

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