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.
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.
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.
The number of reported cases of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by Mexican security forces has skyrocketed by 600 percent in the last decade, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Thursday. Last year alone, Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission—CNDH) received nearly 4,000 complaints regarding human rights violations by federal institutions. Of these, 1,505 specifically reported instances of torture. However, the problem extends far beyond the country’s federal forces. “Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment plays a central role in policing and public security operations by military and police forces across Mexico,” the report states.
Ordinary Mexicans seem to have taken note of the reported increase in state violence. Amnesty International’s Americas Director, Erika Guevara Rosas, notes that, according to a recent survey carried out by the organization, “64 percent of Mexicans report being fearful of being tortured in the event of being detained.” In the report’s view, however, the Mexican government seems far less alarmed. In a challenge to earlier statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government regarding his administration’s efforts on this issue, the report cites, “a lack of clear political leadership and real political will by successive governments” as a key factor in the increase in abuses.
The report is the latest in a string of critical assessments of Mexico’s human rights situation. In another report published earlier this year, Human Rights Watch found evidence of “widespread killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” And after visiting the country in April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, declared, “there is an epidemic of torture that needs to be corrected.”
This week’s likely top stories: Argentine negotiates with holdout creditors; Russia’s Vladimir Putin will visit Cuba, Argentina and Brazil; Italy investigates dictatorship-era murders; an earthquake hits Mexico and Guatemala; and Honduran authorities search for eight missing miners.
Argentina begins debt negotiations: Argentina will begin negotiating a settlement today with its holdout creditors, who are owed some $1.5 billion, according to a U.S. federal court decision that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. Argentine Minister of the Economy Axel Kicillof leads an Argentine delegation to New York today, and will meet with Daniel A. Pollack, a mediator designated by U.S. judge Thomas Griesa to help reach an agreement. Argentina has until the end of July to make its first interest payment, or else face default for the second time in 13 years.
Putin tours Latin America: Russian President Vladimir Putin will begin a six-day tour of Latin America on July 11 with a visit to Cuba to meet with Fidel and Raúl Castro, followed by stops in Argentina to meet with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Brazil to meet with Dilma Rousseff. On Friday, Russia’s parliament voted to write off 90 percent of Cuba’s $35 million debt, and instead aim to use the money for investment projects in Cuba. Putin, along with heads of state from India, China, South Africa and Brazil, will then meet for a summit of the BRICS countries starting on July 13, just after the final match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. The same day, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to pass responsibilities for the World Cup to Putin in an official handover ceremony, since Russia will be hosting the international tournament in 2018.
Italy investigates Plan Cóndor murders and disappearances: Italian judge Alessandro Arturi began the first stage of an investigation into the murder and disappearance of 23 Italian citizens during “Plan Cóndor,” an operation carried out by South American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s to repress and murder political opponents to the regimes. On Monday, Arturi accepted a list of the accused, which includes 33 former members of the military and security forces in Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Italian prosecutor Giancarlo Capaldo is reportedly conducting a similar investigation of the military governments of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The preliminary hearings are expected to take place this fall, and Arturi will decide on October 6 if the evidence presented by human rights groups and families of the disappeared will allow the case to progress to a criminal trial in 2015.
Earthquake hits Mexico and Guatemala: At least 2 people in Guatemala have died in a 6.9-magnitude earthquake that struck southern Mexico and Guatemala on Monday morning. The quake set off landslides and caused widespread damage to homes and power lines. The quake’s epicenter was Puerto Madero, a Mexican city near the Guatemala border, but the two deaths were reported in San Marcos, Guatemala, where at least two residents were killed when the walls of their homes collapsed.
Search for trapped miners continues in Honduras: Eight miners remain trapped in an informal gold mine near El Corpus, a small town in the southern department of Cholutecas in Honduras. The mine is in an area where landslides and earthquakes are common, and El Corpus mayor Luis Andres Rueda said there were more than 50 informal mines in the area. The mine collapsed last Wednesday, and the authorities saved three miners two days after the collapse when the miners yelled for help. If the remaining miners are not found near the site where the other three miners were rescued, the search may be called off.
Guatemala’s Comisión de Postulación, a national selection committee, announced the six nominees for country’s next attorney general last week, with the name of current attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz conspicuously absent from the list. Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina will make his choice after interviewing the remaining candidates, and must announce a new attorney general by May 17.
Paz y Paz’s exclusion has generated outrage in Guatemala and abroad from human rights groups who say the snub was politically motivated. “We knew that the prosecutor [Paz y Paz] had many enemies, but we hoped the Commission would be independent,” said Helen Myrna Mack, of the Myrna Mack Foundation. “I think everybody was surprised and disappointed. It shows the system lacks credibility, it means that there’s no autonomy.”
Diego Álvarez, the spokesman for the Comisión Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (Commission against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) said, “We are surprised that Paz y Paz is not on the list of six candidates, despite her excellent performance during her term, along with her classification in the process.”
After an intensive interview before the Comisión de Postulación, Paz y Paz’s score (69 out of 100, later amended to 73) placed her first among the 26 competing candidates. The Commission reviewed each candidate’s work experience and credentials and asked the candidates generic questions, followed by a round of more personal, specific questioning. The candidates also completed a written law exam.
However, Paz y Paz’s true test was whether the 14 members of the Comisión de Postulación would cast their vote for her. Milton Argueta, the dean of the faculty of law at Universidad Francisco Marroquin, reported that he had received death threats prior to making his vote, and two text messages to his cell phone suggested that his wife would be murdered if he remained on the Commission, but he remained.
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.
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.
“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.
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."
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.