Thursday, June 25, 2015

Santos rejects report on extrajudicial killings, but met with HRW (June 25, 2015)

The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal cover new angles on Human Rights Watch's report on the Colombian army's extrajudicial killings. (See yesterday's post.)

President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the report yesterday and said it smeared top army brass without evidence, reports the WSJ. That’s no way to be watching for the respect of human rights,” said Mr. Santos, who denied there were open investigations into high-ranking army officials. 

Santos met with HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco yesterday after his initial rejection of the report, according to Colombia Reports. Santos “proved to be very receptive and we had the opportunity to have a conversation I would say was very respectful and, moreover, focused on the evidence, the cases and the data were were able to inform him of,” Vivanco told press afterwards.

The LATimes piece makes reference to older reports on the "false positives" killings and emphasizes that the killings are linked to top army leadership and U.S. military funding. "This (HRW) report confirms what we all knew: that responsibility for the extrajudicial execution scandal in Colombia reaches top leadership," said Lisa Haugaard of the Washington-based Latin America Working Group think tank, who worked on the 2008 study that helped bring the false positives case to light.

The piece also mentions a study last year by the New York–based peace advocacy group Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR, which also linked false positive killings to specific Colombian army units and commanders who had received training at the U.S. Army’s Ft. Benning and other installations. 

The FOR and HRW studies are especially relevant because the U.S. government is using Colombian officers to train foreign militaries in Central America and the Middle East, explains John Lindsay-Poland, a former FOR official.

The WSJ piece notes that Colombia has been the recipient of nearly $10 billion in U.S. aid over the past 15 years. "We are reviewing the Human Rights Watch’s most recent report on Colombia now," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Julia Straker, speaking from Washington. The U.S. military’s annual foreign financing review "takes into consideration whether or not Colombia is investigating, prosecuting, and punishing persons responsible for gross violations of human rights," she added. 

International human rights advocates, including Vivanco, say it's important that any potential peace deal with the FARC should not include impunity for army officers convicted in false positives killings.

Transitional justice -- alternative penalties for war crimes -- is a major sticking point in the ongoing Havana peace talks with the FARC. Concessions made to rebel leaders will likely extend to army commanders, explains the Miami Herald.

In fact, Silla Vacía reports that this might be the goal of prosecutors who this week ordered four generals to testify regarding the case. Should they be implicated, they will be very interested in supporting transitional justice and the peace initiative in general. (See yesterday's post.)

The report is a reminder of the kinds of crimes that might go unpunished, says Vivanco.

News Briefs
  • More than 12,000 Haitians have voluntarily left the Dominican Republic, fearing violent mass deportations, reports the Washington Post. While Dominican authorities quoted in the piece say they have not yet expelled one person since a deadline registration for undocumented migrants expired last week, many Haitians are fleeing to the border.
  • Dominican Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz and Haitian-American author Edwidge Danicat spoke out in Miami against the Dominican government's policies to register hundreds of thousands of undocumented Haitian migrants and deport those who are determined to be illegal residents, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The DR's director of the National Council on HIV and AIDS announced that he will seek a change in the country's drug law so that users are considered patients and not criminals, reports 7 Días.
  • Fears about the potential negative impact of broad legalization of drugs are founded, but possibly exaggerated argues Folha de S.P in an editorial from this week. There is a growing understanding that the war on drugs is not working, and that new paradigms must be sought, argue the editors. They reference a recent study in The Lancet Psychiatry that shows marijuana legalization in U.S. states has not impacted rate of use among teens. The piece comes as the Supreme Court (STF) prepares to hear a challenge to the constitutionality of Article 28 of the Anti-Drug Law, which penalizes the possession of drugs self-use.
  • Three of the five chambers that make up Hondura's judicial branch have spoken out against mismanagement and abuses of power. Judges sent a letter to the president of the Supreme Court, Jorge Rivera Avilés, asking him to be vigilant regarding undue interference from the Judicial Council, reports Criterio.
  • New York Times op-ed today denounces the Honduras Supreme Court for an April decision permitting presidential re-election. The prohibition on reelection in the Honduras constitution was specifically made to be unchangeable by politicians, in an attempt to avoid dictatorships and endless "caudillo" regimes, argue Brian Sheppard and David Landau. The decision is particularly polemic in light of the rational for the 2009 coup which ousted President Mel Zelaya for attempting to revise the constitution and potentially presidential term limits. (See April 24th's briefs.) "While an independent and capable judiciary can be a great support to liberal democracy, courts without these characteristics may pose a serious threat, particularly in countries with fragile democracies and ineffective civil society groups, like Honduras," argue the authors. They say that the U.S. aid package for Central America is desperately needed, but that American authorities should carefully oversee how funds are spent in order to ensure they are not coopted by local politicians looking to further their power.
  • Protesters encamped outside of the Honduras presidential palace say they were attacked early Tuesday, resulting in one injury. Four young protesters are on a hunger strike to protest over a corruption scandal that involved the alleged embezzlement of as much as $120 million from the Central American country's Social Security Institute, reports the AP.
  • Venezuela freed two student activists arrested in relation to last year's violent anti-government protests. An estimated 75 activists who the opposition considers political prisoners remain in jail for their role in the protests, reports the AP.
  • Brazil's lower chamber of Congress passed a measure that would readjust pensions annually, a move that will likely raise expenditures in upcoming years and goes against President Dilma Rousseff's proposal to cut pension spending, reports Reuters. The measure will have to pass the Senate, but is a defeat for Rousseff who is struggling to implement austerity measures in order to avoid a credit rating downgrade.
  • And the Brazilian central bank raised its inflation prediction for this year and also cut its forecast for economic growth, reports the Wall Street Journal. The bank said gross domestic product would contract by 1.1 percent in 2015, (it had previously predicted a 0.5 percent decline) and raised its inflation forecast to 9 percent.
  • Brazil’s Grupo Andrade Gutierrez, the country’s second-largest construction firm in terms of revenues, said in a statement published Wednesday in the country’s major newspapers that the arrests of its executives were "illegal and unnecessary," reports the Wall Street Journal. Last week Brazilian police arrested the company's CEO, Otávio Azevedo, along with the CEO and other executives of Brazil’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht SA. as part of an ongoing investigation into corruption at state oil giant Petrobras.
  • Former dictator Manuel Noriega asked Panamanians for forgiveness regarding his years in power. He has been in prison for 26 years, and faces charges of human rights abuses committed during the six years he governed Panama, reports Reuters. Noriega's rule in Panama ended in 1989, following a U.S. invasion. He was later convicted on charges of drugs and racketeering in the U.S. where he served time until 2010, he was then extradited to France, on a separate money laundering sentence. He's been in Panamanian prison since 2011 for crimes committed during his rule.
  • The head of Argentina's army, Maj. Gen. Cesar Milani, long accused of human rights violations, submitted his resignation yesterday, reports the AP. The Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), which had heavily criticized Milani's appointment based on alleged human rights violations, welcomed the change.
  • Caribbean officials are concerned that rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba -- and the surge in tourism that has already headed towards the island -- will impact their tourism-dependent budgets. Tourism officials in the region are looking partner with the U.S. to help boost investment and travel across the Caribbean, reports the AP.
  • Academic partnerships are another new frontier that could open up as a result of the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic thaw, though the Miami Herald reports that both sides are wary. Florida International University is interested in opening a campus or two in Cuba, for example, but is concerned over issues of academic freedom. FIU president Mark Rosenberg said last week that democracy would have to be restored in Cuba first. In the meantime, the university is focusing on technical fields that are less likely to encounter politically charged issues such as freedom of speech.

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