Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Evidence links former Colombian military head to extrajudicial killings - HRW (Dec. 21, 2016)

New evidence strongly suggests the former head of Colombia's military knew about hundreds illegal killings carried out under his watch, and failed to take steps to stop them and punish perpetrators, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

HRW called on Colombia's attorney general to move forward with a stalled prosecution against General Mario Montoya Uribe, regarding the "false positives" extrajudicial executions, in which troops killed civilians and passed them off as guerrilla combatant casualties. 

The scandal broke in 2008 when it was revealed that thousands of civilians were killed between 2002 and 2008 to inflate body counts on which bonuses and vacations were based, reports the Associated Press.

In October HRW reviewed hundreds of pages of transcribed testimony which "strongly suggests that General Montoya failed to take steps to prevent the false positive killings."

"It's time for the prosecutor to use this important evidence it has on hand to advance in the case," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch.

HRW is further concerned that the cases will eventually fall under the jurisdiction of special tribunals set up under the new peace accord with the FARC to try crimes committed in the context of the conflict.

"The justice portion of the peace deal dictates that the Special Jurisdiction will rely upon a narrow definition of command responsibility – the rule that establishes when superior officers can be held responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates – that does not conform with international law. The definition could require authorities to prove commanders actually knew about and had control over the actions of their subordinates at the time they committed the crimes.

"Such a narrow definition of command responsibility would mean that commanders who were not present at a crime scene to exercise control over their troops’ actions at the time, but had effective control over the troops implicated in abuses and should have known about their actions, could escape accountability, although they bear criminal responsibility for their troops under international humanitarian law.

A recent Financial Times op-ed by HRW's Daniel Wilkinson denounces the last minute change to the accord that exempts the armed forces from command responsibility. (See Dec. 15's briefs.)

News Briefs
  • At least 31 people were killed in a series of explosions at a fireworks market outside of Mexico City yesterday, reports Reuters. The destruction was kicked off by six separate blasts. Seventy-two people were reported injured and 53 still missing as of today.  It's the third such explosion at the popular market place in the past decade. But nobody was injured in the previous blasts in 2005 and 2006, reports the New York Times. Just last week the head of the state’s pyrotechnical association was quoted saying that the San Pablito market was the safest in Latin America, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Venezuela reopened its border with Colombia abruptly, after a decision last week that it would be closed through Jan. 2, reports the Miami Herald. President Nicolás Maduro and his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, also agreed to have discussions over the "currency mafias" allegedly attacking Venezuela's bolivar.
  • The chaos spurred by the Venezuelan government's decision to suddenly withdraw nearly 80 percent of its currency has been clear. What has been harder to understand is the rationale behind the move which has, predictably, led to rioting, looting and general unrest. In Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights David Smilde analyzes some of the possible motivations, including a genuine belief that currency was being hoarded, but also improving the government balance sheet ahead of emitting higher currency notes. The Maduro administration likely overestimated its administrative capacity, he writes. They "likely thought that they could pull this off without too much of a problem, and that those hurt would be big operators with truckloads of cash. But of course, the people who are most affected are the poor who work in the informal economy, and those in rural areas of the interior. It should be no surprise that the most significant protests have happened in far-flung places in Apure, Trujillo and Bolívar. More affluent sectors operate mainly through electronic transactions and have been less affected, hence the relative calm in Caracas." At the same time, the move has kept the opposition off-balance, forcing it to discuss this instead of central dialogue points. (See Monday's post.) Last week the Wall Street Journal noted that the move affected Colombian border currency traders who got stuck with piles of cash from people buying supplies. (See last Friday's post.)
  • Venezuela is already paying the price of a sovereign debt default -- such as lack of access to international credit -- though it is religiously paying debt on time, at catastrophic cost to its population, argues Joe Kogan in a New York Times op-ed. The government should immediately default and use the freed up funds to alleviate shortages at home and enact economic reforms, he writes.
  • Environmentalists are denouncing Brazilian government initiatives that would roll back environmental and indigenous territory protections, reports the Guardian. They include a bill that critics say would dismantle environmental licensing laws and a draft government decree campaigners say threatens existing and future indigenous territories. Approval would make it impossible for the country to meet its significant Paris Climate Change Agreement commitments, according to experts. The government wants to improve licensing procedures in order to be more competitive for businesses looking to set up shop. But activists say a streamlined process could increase the odds of environmental disasters like the Samarco tailings dam burst last year. 
  • Brazil's congress passed a bill that would provide debt relief for federal government loans to states, but removed some of the austerity measures the federal government wanted to demand as a counter-weight, reports the Wall Street Journal. The result has been criticized by some economists who say sustainable economic growth cannot be achieved without more orderly public finances.
  • Uber has grown significantly in Brazil -- since launching two years ago, the country has become the ride-sharing app's third largest market in the world. But local governments are angling to regulate the industry, and taxi unions aim to outlaw it entirely, reports the Associated Press.
  • Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who opposed the systemic torture of political prisoners by Brazil's military dictatorship died last week. He helped develop “Brasil: Nunca Mais,” or “Brazil: Never More,” a voluminous investigative document that chronicled the military government’s torture of political opponents, reports the New York Times.
  • Trump's presidency is unlikely to be a high point for international human rights, but it will have the positive effect of countering arguments that human rights groups promote Washington interests, argue James Ron and David Crow in Open Democracy. Nonetheless, their research has found that while governments around the world have used this thesis to slam rights groups, people on the ground are less likely to subscribe to the belief. "Our data show that people believe either that human rights groups are geopolitically neutral from the United States or that they tilt against Washington. We found no evidence that many people suspect rights groups of serving as secular missionaries for a Western point of view that paves the way for US political hegemony."
  • Bolivia's government is blaming the crash of a charter flight to Colombia that killed 71 people on the company that owned the aircraft and the pilot, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A new Creole-language, Sesame Street inspired television program for kids in Haiti aims to provide children with an educational program they can relate to, reports the Miami Herald.
  • In the holiday spirit: the Guardian profiles a group of Veracruz women who give food and water to migrants riding La Bestia freight train north. They stand by the side of the tracks and hold out offerings to migrants who grab the needed nourishment.

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