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.
Ya ha hecho eco en distintas oportunidades el poder que tiene la sociedad civil en la transformación de las decisiones políticas. Indignados en Egipto, España, Estados Unidos y México han sido el ejemplo claro de ciudadanos inconformes que de manera masiva toman las calles y protestan por aquellas desventuras que sus gobiernos emprenden. El resultado a largo plazo de sus consignas puede ser objeto de discusión, pero es innegable reconocer que en una era donde los nuevos medios congregan inconformismos, las sociedades son cada vez menos pasivas. Lo que acaba de suceder en Colombia con el hundimiento de la reforma a la justicia, que no en vano fue tildada por varios sectores como un “esperpento jurídico”, es un reflejo de ello.
En una semana en la que se habló de referendos, asambleas constituyentes y hasta revocatoria del Congreso, el ente legislativo decidió hundir la reforma que pese a que en el papel pretendía hacer un cambio en el sistema judicial, en realidad era una contrarreforma política.
Periodistas, congresistas opositores (los del Polo Democrático en su conjunto), observadores ciudadanos, estudiantes, abogados, cibernautas, tuiteros, se unieron masivamente bajo la consigna “Justicia sí, reforma no”, reclamo que luego se materializó en las calles a través del entusiasta Comité Promotor del Referendo por el NO A LA REFORMA A LA JUSTICIA.
Entre jueves y viernes este Comité promovió plantones en varias ciudades del país (Bogotá, Medellín y Cali las más masivas) para recoger firmas que revocaran el acto legislativo. Aunque a la iniciativa le faltaba aún el control de constitucionalidad de la Corte, paralelamente el Congreso colombiano convocó sesiones extras en las que los parlamentarios no tuvieron otro camino que hacer lo que les demandó el pueblo: archivarla. 73 Senadores y 117 Representantes votaron por hundirla aún cuando solo una semana atrás en las conciliaciones aprobaban, lo que según ellos, el gobierno de Juan Manuel Santos les había pedido.
Once again, Canada may be on the verge of breaking new ground in a case involving the decriminalization of assisted suicide. Back in 2003 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 preventing an Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patient, Sue Rodriguez, from having recourse to assisted suicide. This time, a British Columbia (BC) court ruled that Gloria Taylor, an ALS patient who wants to choose her moment of death, had the right to decide when. However, the ruling does not change the law for all future patients—just for Mrs. Taylor.
According to the BC court ruling, the Canadian federal government has a year to change the existing law to allow assisted suicide. Or, the case can once again make it to the Supreme Court. The Canadian court system, similar to U.S. courts, has been known to provide rulings with far-reaching social, cultural and political ramifications. Access to a therapeutic abortion, gay marriage and decriminalization of marijuana for simple possession and medical use are examples of the judicial audacity of our Canadian courts in recent years.
Canada’s Supreme Court judges are chosen by the prime minister, then scrutinized—but not confirmed—by the legislature as in the U.S. Canadians have benefitted from enlightened judgments that make Canada a leader in advancing the rights of individuals and breaking new ground. The adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights in 1982 has only added to the Court’s scope and range in decision-making.
This case has already stirred the waters. Some experts like Margaret Somerville, director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, argue that the BC court ruling represents a slippery slope. It seems to place individual autonomy above all other values, says Somerville.
Others counter that legislation in the Netherlands, Belgium and in U.S. states such as Oregon, show that conditions must be met to avoid abuse and respect the rights of the disabled and therefore, allow assisted suicide. The case of Taylor is interesting because she is not in a terminal phase and does not want to die. She merely wants the right to choose and decriminalization would facilitate her wish.
Former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt will face a second genocide trial on the civil war-era Dos Erres massacre after Judge Carol Patricia Flores Blanco issued her ruling last week.
After a marathon hearing that lasted more than 10 hours, a packed court saw relatives of civil war victims as well as human rights activists celebrate the decision. Under international pressure to resolve excesses of the 36-year civil war, Guatemala will become the first country in Latin America to place a former president on trial for genocide.
In January, Judge Blanco ruled there was a case to answer for Ríos Montt for crimes against humanity and the genocide of Maya-Ixil during Guatemala’s civil war in the Nebaj region.
Challenges to the Ministerio Público prosecutors’ claims and evidence have thus far kept the trial from beginning; it was supposed to get underway in March.
El país jurídico y político se sacudió esta semana con el fallo del Consejo de Estado que dejó sin piso la elección de la primera mujer en ocupar el segundo cargo más importante del país: el de fiscal general de la Nación.
Dos días después de conocerse la decisión, la propia Viviane Morales anunció su renuncia irrevocable rechazando así de tajo la posibilidad de ser ternada para un segundo periodo. Como su elección en suma se cayó por vicios de forma, era posible que volviera a ser incluida por el presidente Juan Manuel Santos, en el listado de candidatos a sucederla. Aunque jurídicamente algunos consideraban inviable su reelección, lo cierto es que Morales, después del que calificó como el más “año más duro,” de su vida, no va más en el ente acusador.
Por lo menos eso se desprende de su discurso de despedida en el que salieron varias cosas a flote como una defensa férrea a su marido, Carlos Alonso Lucio, un personaje con un prontuario importante (ex guerrillero del m19, mediador de procesos de paz y supuesto colaborador de paramilitares), que se convirtió en el talón de aquiles de su gestión. Un sector de la sociedad incluyendo connotadas columnistas, sugirieron que Lucio estaba influyendo en sus decisiones y por eso a ellos les dedicó unas palabras. Dijo que afrontó una "escalada de ataques perversos inhumanos de algunos periodistas y algunos medios de comunicación en el intento desesperado por provocar mi renuncia. Ni Colombia creyó en sus mentiras ni yo cedí a sus presiones."
Ecuador’s Corte Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has delivered numerous controversial verdicts in the past six months with regard to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But in a strange twist of events, on Monday President Rafael Correa pardoned the convicted defendants of two cases in which he was the plaintiff. It is a welcome change, but it is one nonetheless that is too little, too late. In fact, it presents a danger that the pressure from the international human rights community will lessen in Ecuador at this very crucial moment in which the proposed Ley de Comunicación (Communication Law) is being debated.
In late 2011, Ecuador's highest court ruled on three landmark cases with regard to freedom of expression. First, the court found the opinion editor and two directors the El Universo newspaper guilty of libel, sentencing them to three years in jail and $40 million in damages. The court also found the authors of the book El Gran Hermano, which was critical of Correa, guilty of libel and ordered each to pay a $1 million fine. Finally, Indigenous activist Monica Chuji was found guilty of spreading libel about Minister Vinicio Alvarado in an interview published in the newspaper El Comercio; Chuji was sentenced to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine; Chuji’s appeal is still being considered.
After much international pressure from human rights organizations, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), President Correa pardoned the convicted defendants in the El Universo and El Gran Hermano cases, effectively archiving the cases and dismissing the penalties. However, because the court already delivered their rulings for these aforementioned two cases, those decisions stand as precedent within the judicial system. Similarly, in his pardon Correa declared that if anyone was to publish similarly libelous material, he would not hesitate to bring suit again.
The strategic timing of these pardons reveals Correa’s true intent. First, the pardon aims to get the international spotlight off the Ecuadorian media and the debate surrounding the proposed Ley de Comunicación. A special commission of legislators presented the newly drafted communication law earlier this month; while it contains some important changes from the draft previously presented by President Correa in July 2009, it still remains ambiguous in key areas—leaving space for abuse by the executive and judicial branches.
The Guatemalan legal system has made significant improvements recently but is facing major obstacles in its attempts to bring criminals—past and present—to justice.
Impunity is an everyday event in Guatemala. From the most minor traffic offense being ignored or the less than 3 percent of murders that are investigated. However, with the trial and conviction of four former Special Forces soldiers for their roles in the Dos Erres massacre in 1982 and a steady flow of arrests of narcotraffickers wanted in the United States and corrupt police officers, things appear to be changing.
In November, the Federation of Forensic Anthropologists (FAFG) successfully identified two of the estimated 40,000-45,000 people that were forcibly disappeared during the country’s 36-year internal conflict. The use of DNA evidence is still in its infancy, although the success of FAFG is a boost to the fledgling Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses (National Institute of Forensic Sciences, or INACIF).
“We have had more arrests in the last three months than the previous three decades,” said Fredy Pecerrelli, executive director of FAFG at a press conference to announce the identifications of Amancio Samuel Villatoro and Sergio Linares. “I think what feels most incredible is that it’s only the beginning.”
This cause for optimism was tempered by last week’s announcement of a denuncia against over 50 alleged terrorists by the Movimiento por la Dignificación de Militares y Especialistas del Ejército de Guatemala. A representative of the group, Theodore Michael Plocharski Rehbach, called on the Ministerio Público to investigate the deaths of a number of his “friends and acquaintances.”
Those killed included John Gordon Mein, the US ambassador to Guatemala in 1968, Colonels John D. Webber and Ernest Munro, murdered in the same year. As well as Count Karl Von Spreti the German ambassador to Guatemala and Edmundo Meneses Cantarero, the Nicaraguan ambassador to Guatemala. Mein was the first American ambassador to be assassinated while in office. He was forced from his car, kidnapped and shot by members of the Fuerzas Armadas Rebeldes (Rebel Armed Forces, or FAR). The same group was responsible for the deaths of Webber and Munro in a drive-by shooting.
A denuncia, which is required by law to open an investigation, named high-profile Guatemalans and foreigners, many with ties to the media and human rights organizations. They included Sandra Torres: former wife of outgoing President Alvaro Colom, who is accused of being a guerilla collaborator. Two respected journalists, Marielos Monzón and Iduvina Hernández—and in Hernández' case, a human rights activist—were also named.
Joining them on the list is Jean-Marie Simon, an American lawyer and teacher who documented many of the State’s abuses during the 1980s in her work for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. She is joined by Jennifer K. Harbury, also a lawyer and human rights activist whose husband Efraín Bámaca Velásquez was killed extrajudicially in 1993.
“I am not a criminal, I have nothing to hide and I think our duty is to strengthen the justice system,” Hernández told reporters. "We must not accept or tolerate this wave of political persecution aimed by the real criminals responsible for genocide, forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and exile."
Reaction to the denuncia has seen many on the list point out they were not alive or were in school at the time of the killings. In addition, six people named in the denuncia are believed to have died.
The work of Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has been lauded in many quarters in addition to concern that she would not be able to see out her four-year term as public prosectuor. President-elect Otto Pérez Molina has confirmed that her position is not in danger despite the electoral shift from the Center-Left to the Right.
However, also named in the denuncia are Juan José Hurtado Paz y Paz and Laura Hurtado Paz y Paz, both cousins of Claudia. Enrique Paz y Paz, Claudia’s father, was the leader of FAR, leading some onlookers to believe the denuncia is an attack on his daughter’s credibility.
This denuncia is mirrored by a similar one in November by Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, whose father was minister of the interior under former President Efrain Rios Montt (1982-1983). “Yes it is a political issue. It is against the Attorney General, for the love of God, I'm aiming for her,” Méndez Ruiz admitted to El Periodico, a national newspaper.
Both of the denuncias could be seen as an attempt to help investigations into the deaths or as stalling tactics to ensure less time is spent on investigating former soldiers. Independent reports on the Civil War suggested that the State was responsible for between 92 and 93 percent of the over 200,000 deaths.
Lawyers for ex-General Héctor Mario López Fuentes and former President Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores (1983-1986) have employed similar stalling tactics. Leaks allowed Mejía Victores to avoid capture in October when police simultaneously entered four addresses registered to him. He eventually gave himself up, was admitted to Guatemala City’s Military Hospital, and is currently seeking house arrest.
INACIF, like many governmental institutions, is hampered by a lack of funds. With Pérez Molina’s claims that his presidency will see the State spending “55-60 percent of its time on improving security,” this could change—with more emphasis and money placed in the laboratory’s work. That would certainly help but the biggest problem INACIF faces is its small profile in the criminal system. The use of DNA, ballistics and other forensic science techniques is still relatively rare in trials. Prosecutors and the police need to learn how to use the information, maintain crime scenes, and ultimately trust an institute that has only been in existence since July 2007.
At the end of 2011, the Guatemalan judicial system finds itself at a crossroads. However, it is backed by a tenacious Attorney General and with public opinion on its side that is sick of the daily violence—highlighted by the murder rate that remains constant at around 25 per day.
With a new president being inaugurated next month and an organized crime firmly entrenched and in control of a large percentage of the country and efforts to discredit its investigations, justice in Guatemala may not be blind but remains blinkered.
Nic Wirtz is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. A freelance journalist who has lived in Guatemala for the last six years, his work has been featured on the Christian Science Monitor and GlobalPost and he edits the website Vozz.
Bolivia’s national congress today passed legislation that officially codifies the application of “original” or “communal” justice in indigenous communities. The measure was approved in an early morning session of the Cámara de Diputados with strong support from President Morales’s Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party. According to some reports, however, the law was approved with little debate and in the absence of legislators from Bolivia’s opposition parties.
Passage of the law comes only two weeks after four police officers were attacked by individuals claiming to uphold the principles of “indigenous justice.” Critics of the law, including Elizabeth Reyes of the Unidad Nacional party, argue that similar attacks are likely to occur in the future because the law does not sufficiently address when and where the application of “indigenous justice” would be permissible. Supporters contend the bill includes adequate provisions outlining when community justice could be applied.
The law will now move to the Senate for approval where it is expected to pass and MAS officials have stated their belief that the measure will be approved by President Morales by the end of this week.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.