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.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay asked the Venezuelan government on Tuesday to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Venezuela’s pronouncement will challenge resolutions recently passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to improve dialogue and cooperation among regional human rights organizations.
Hugo Chavez announced Venezuela’s withdrawal from the IACHR this April after describing the commission as a mechanism of U.S. influence against his country. On August 1, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said that the country’s departure from the Commission will be in effect after one year's notice.
An autonomous branch of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR is the main observer and protector of human rights in the hemisphere. For IACHR Executive Secretary Santiago Canton, the body is “a crucial tool against injustice—exceeding the imagination of its founders and making it a force in the hemisphere and an example in the world.” However, the commission was criticized at the 42nd General Assembly of the OAS in Bolivia where the ALBA bloc—Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua—expressed their willingness to abandon the OAS and create their own regional system.
Pillay’s petition takes place less than a month before the elections in Venezuela, when over 18 million Venezuelans will decide between a fourth term for President Hugo Chávez—in power since 1999—and a new administration under opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski.
The United Nations has already met one of its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) ahead of the 2015 deadline: access to safe drinking water. This was one of the 21 sub-goals or “targets” folded into the eight larger goals: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality rates; improvement of maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and undertaking a global partnership for development. The MDGs were agreed upon in the Millennium Declaration circa September 2000.
The specific MDG target achieved is worded as follows in the Declaration, relative to the base year of 1990: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” According to a report from the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund, 89 percent of the world’s population had access to improved water sources at the conclusion of 2010, up from 76 percent in 1990—exceeding the goal of 88 percent. A BBC article also notes that although an estimated 800 million people worldwide still drink dirty and unsafe water, in the past 20 years two billion people have accessed improved drinking supplies—a feat that should be celebrated.
The drinking water access, however, has improved unevenly: of the 11 percent in the world’s population without access to safe drinking water, 40 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.
What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.
1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America.
Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”
2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.
3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”
Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.
In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”
The middle of September is always a tumultuous time of year in New York City, where traffic comes to a standstill as heads of state arrive to promote their views at the United Nations General Assembly. This year, long-term issues and complex debates such as those concerning Palestine and Israel dominated the media coverage, leaving the impression that speeches—not results—emanate from UN deliberations.
The UN has its detractors. This was most evident during the buildup to the war in Iraq last decade. For many, there has also been a credibility gap. Who can forget that Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya was actually elected to chair the UN Human Rights Council in 2003—and continued to hold a seat in the commission until quite recently? As a result, the UN is often portrayed as a forum for political posturing where national interests will always supersede the legitimate concerns of the wider international community.
In Canada, the view on the UN has also been complex. Canada was an original founder and has played an important role in numerous peacekeeping ventures. In 1957, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, a strong advocate of Canadian involvement in UN stabilization missions, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work on the Suez Canal Crisis.
As general debate of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) 66th Session got underway this week, the issue of UN structural reform was again brought into focus—with Brazil leading the charge. A thriving democracy and one of the largest emerging economies in the world, Brazil has powerful ammunition in making its demand—especially paired with the collective declining influence of deficit-ridden, developed nations.
The desired trophy for Brazil comes in the form of a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This elite organ has retained the same numerical composition—15 seats: 5 with permanent tenures (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and 10 with temporary, two-year terms—since its formation in 1946.
Critics of the status quo argue that this small size does not accurately reflect the global developments of the last 55 years. Brazil, as it vocally carries the banner of emerging nations that feel underrepresented in the UN, has chosen to act on reform. The most notable way of doing so has been through the Group of 4 (G4), an alliance formed in 2004 composed of Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. Each of the G4 nations mutually supports the other members’ bids.
The G4 seeks to expand the size of the UNSC by two-thirds, from 15 members to 25, through the addition of 6 permanent and 4 non-permanent seats. The permanent seats would be comprised of the G4 plus two nations from Africa. However, discord within the African Union has stifled compromise on this issue; Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are all vying for the two proposed seats and cannot arrive at an agreement.
The G4 is also facing competition from a larger but less influential faction of UN members: Uniting for Consensus (UfC). Members of the UfC, some 40 in number, also favor expanding the UNSC to 25 seats—but by adding 10 temporary seats and keeping the same 5 permanent, veto-carrying members. This makes sense, considering that many of the UfC’s core members are regional rivals of the G4—including Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, Turkey, Italy, and South Korea—who have a vested interest in thwarting any sort of growing regional influence among the individual G4 members.
The sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate began this morning in New York. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon opened the debate session followed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 66th UNGA and Qatar’s permanent representative to the UN.
This year, the first head of state to speak was Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, followed by U.S. President Barack Obama. President Rousseff’s prominent speaking slot at the UNGA is not only significant for Brazil, but also for women: Rousseff was the first female president in the UN’s 66-year history to open the General Assembly—a fact she highlighted at the opening of her remarks.
Rouseff began her visit to New York at a special meeting on Monday regarding non-communicable diseases, which was chaired by the former president of Chile—and current executive director of UN Women—Michelle Bachelet. Rousseff also co-chaired a meeting yesterday with Obama on open government partnership.
Additional Latin American heads of state that will deliver their opening speeches today to the morning session of the UNGA include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. In today’s afternoon session, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, and Bolivian President Evo Morales will deliver their remarks.
On Tuesday United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang supported the creation of a truth panel to investigate the human rights abuses of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haiti’s president from 1971 to 1986. Speaking at a press conference in Haiti, Kang said the initiative would facilitate reconciliation among Haitian victims of the dictatorship, and that it would proceed alongside current efforts to prosecute Duvalier in local courts. The former despot has been accused of torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions.
During a four-day trip to Haiti, Kang met with government officials, including President Michel Martelly and the president of the lower chamber in Congress, as well as human rights groups and civil society organizations. She reminded them of the importance of human rights in the context of development and insisted on the importance of a truth commission. “I hope it will thoroughly examine this period of Haitian history as well as others, promote memory and reconciliation, and raise awareness of the need to protect and promote human rights, particularly among young persons,” she said.
After being overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986, Duvalier fled to France, where he spent the last 25 years in exile. He returned to Haiti in January of this year, after which several criminal charges were brought against him. More than 20 lawsuits have been filed in local courts for crimes including murder, torture and embezzlement. Bobby Duval, a former soccer celebrity who favors the creation of a truth commission, is among the plaintiffs; he has spoken several times about the tortures he suffered during 17 months of imprisonment without charge.
Duvalier’s lawyer, Reynold Georges, opposes the creation of a truth commission, arguing, “We have our own legal system, and we're going to stick to it. ... Love Duvalier or leave the country.” Additionally, in April, President Martelly told a Montreal newspaper that he would be willing to consider amnesty for Duvalier on the basis of national reconciliation. He has already reached out to Duvalier allies; Daniel Supplice, minister of social affairs under Duvalier, was the head of Martelly’s transition team and is among the candidates to become Martelly’s Prime Minister.
As part of a four-country, seven-day official visit through South America, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made his first stop in Colombia over the weekend. He joined Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to visit sites in the north of the country, near the Caribbean Sea, that have been subject to floods and mudslides. Altogether these natural disasters have killed 469 people since last year.
Ban ended his visit yesterday in the town of Soacha by visiting populations displaced by ongoing internal violence. He praised Colombia’s recently-ratified Victims’ Law, which awards territory and compensation to over four million internally-displaced Colombians. The secretary-general visited a school in the large settlement for uprooted civilians of Altos de la Florida, which was constructed with UN funds. Ban, the former South Korean foreign minister, recalled his own personal childhood—having been displaced as a result of the Korean War that bifurcated the Korean Peninsula.
Ban’s tour comes one week after he announced his intention to seek a second term as secretary-general. Colombia occupies one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, and Ban received Santos’ endorsement over the weekend.
The secretary-general continues to Argentina today, where he will be received by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He will also travel to Uruguay and Brazil, wrapping up his Latin American tour on Friday, June 17.