Monday, July 11, 2016

HRW report on extrajudicial executions in Rio (July 11, 2016)

Human Rights Watch report released last week found that Rio de Janeiro hasn't done enough to address extrajudicial executions by police. 

The 109-page report, "‘Good Cops Are Afraid’: The Toll of Unchecked Police Violence in Rio de Janeiro," documents how unlawful police killings have contributed to the unraveling of the state’s ambitious efforts to improve public security, according to HRW.

Rio police have killed more than 8,000 people in the past decade, including at least 645 in 2015. Though many were likely the result of the legitimate use of force, many others were extrajudicial executions, Human Rights Watch found. "Police shoot at unarmed people. They shoot people in the back as they are fleeing. They execute people who have been detained with a bullet to the head."

And police officers routinely attempt to cover up this criminal behavior: "They threaten witnesses. They plant guns on their victims. They remove corpses from crime scenes and deliver them to hospitals, claiming they were trying to 'rescue' them."

The report builds on information from interviews with 30 police officers, many who serve in Rio de Janeiro's favelas.

"Unlawful killings by police take a heavy toll—not only on the victims and their families—but also on the police force itself. The killings fuel cycles of violence that endanger the lives of all officers serving in high-crime areas, poison their relationships with local communities, and contribute to high levels of psychological stress that undermine their ability to do their jobs well."

News Briefs
  • A pre-Olympic sweep aimed at preventing child-prostitution rescued eight people who were being forced to work in a sex-trafficking ring at the beaches near the main Olympic hub, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil has missed the opportunity to present itself favorably in the upcoming Olympics, says Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes. But he rejects international portrayals of the city as a Zika-infested, shooting free-for-all, reports the Guardian. In an interview he defended investment in infrastructure for the city's poorest.
  • Rape is a widespread, but underreported, phenomenon in Brazil. A new government study estimates that there are 527,000 cases of rape every year, but only 10 percent are denounced to authorities. About 70 percent occur within the household, reports El País.
  • The U.N., the E.U. and other international organizations condemned the killing of another environmental activist in Honduras, reports the BBC. (See Friday's post.) Lesbia Yaneth Urquía was killed last week, one of a hundred people who have died opposing dams in Honduras over the past five years, according to human rights groups. The European Union said urgent steps needed to be taken to fight impunity and protect human rights activists. In the U.S. the House of Representatives is analyzing the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act, which would suspend US security assistance until human rights violations by security forces ended. In a Guardian op-ed a group of U.S. lawmakers called to stop U.S. funding of Honduran police and military until the government defends human rights and holds security forces responsible for their crimes. "As long as the United States funds Honduran security forces without demanding justice for those threatened, tortured and killed, we have blood on our hands. It’s time to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras." The piece notes serious human rights violations and criticizes President Juan Orlando Hernández's response policy of militarizing policing. The AFL-CIO announced it's support of the bill. "The United States has politically and financially supported years of failed programs to reform the national security institutions of Honduras. U.S. support should no longer go toward institutions that have long acted with impunity and exhibited an entrenched culture of corruption and violence. These security forces have been implicated in persistent violation of human rights against a broad range of Hondurans, including rural workers, journalists, LGBT activists, trade unionists, indigenous communities and those of African descent defending land rights."
  • Colombian military troops and FARC guerrillas clashed this weekend, with some injuries. In a statement, the FARC said the clash occurred because the military patrol broke protocols established in the ceasefire agreement, but did not elaborate on what those protocols were, reports Reuters. The skirmish comes just weeks before a bilateral cease-fire could be approved by both sides.
  • FARC leadership envisions a post-peace deal life as a political party, but guerrilla fighters worry that laying down weapons will make them vulnerable, reports the Guardian.
  • A coca crop-substitution plan that started this weekend in Briceño will test the ability of FARC forces to convince coca-cultivators to stop growing and the government's willingness to enforce the Havana agreements, according to Silla Vacía. The 8,000 person municipality where the pilot project is starting has been a FARC stronghold for years and has also been the site of joint demining efforts between the guerrilla force and the government. Challenges for local producers include nill infrastructure to get out a harvest other than coca, an entire township dependent on coca-income and the proximate presence of armed criminal gangs. The project is intended to be from the bottom up -- communities put together the plan.
  • The former head of Colombia's police force, Oscar Naranjo, will be in Florida next week to drum up support for an eventual peace deal, reports the Miami Herald. He's part of the government's negotiating team in Havana, and will seek to convince Colombian exiles, many of whom are skeptical of a deal that will permit top FARC commanders to avoid prison sentences and become political players.
  • Drug money coursing through Central America -- and laundered through illegal cattle ranching operations -- are a key factor in devastating deforestation in Guatemala's Maya tropical rainforest, reports Foreign Policy.
  • An article in Foreign Policy calls on U.S.officials to pursue justice in the case of Cuban exile and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles, one of the masterminds of the 1976 bombing of a Cubana DC-8 aircraft which killed 73 people. "With the renewal of diplomatic relations, U.S. officials are demanding that Cuba extradite long-wanted fugitives who found safe haven under Fidel Castro’s regime ... America, however, must dismantle its own double standard—starting with Posada," writes James Bamford. "... Thousands of families across the country ... have been placed in immigrant family detention centers that mental health experts warn impose anxiety and further trauma on an already vulnerable population of asylum-seekers," reports PRI. The piece goes into depth over the difficult conditions faced by families trying to raise children in detention. A recent court ruling found the children must be released, but not their parents.
  • Uruguayan rules that restrict cigarette company branding and mandate health warnings occupying 80 percent of the box are permitted, according a new ruling by the World Bank's ICSID. Philip Morris brought a case against the country's policies, aimed at limiting tobacco consumption, but lost and will have to pay $7 million in costs and lawyers fees, reports El Observador. The tobacco company said the law violated a bilateral treaty and also hurt its intellectual property rights and sales. President Tabaré Vazquez called it a victory for efforts to protect public health and his country's national sovereignty, reports the Associated Press. Uruguay banned smoking in public places in 2006, raised taxes on tobacco products and required large warnings and graphic images on cigarette packages, according to Reuters. The David and Goliath victory could embolden other small countries seeking to deter tobacco use, argues the Christian Science Monitor. The case was risky for a small country like Uruguay, and some suggested the tobacco giant could bankrupt the country. Uruguay was promised support for court fees by Bloomberg Philanthropies, an example of how international philanthropies are supporting smaller countries' struggles to fight tobacco use.
  • In a Guardian op-ed, Democracy Center researchers Leny Olivera Rojas and Aldo Orellana Lopez argue that the phrase "economic development" has negative connotations in Latin America, where it is often associated with "poverty, the exploitation of natural resources, environmental disasters, social discrimination, economic dependence and the criminalization of protest." They present a Bolivian alternative concept, "Vivir Bien," which is rootedin the perspectives and practices of indigenous peoples. "The concept of “living well” is not synonymous with the models of economic growth and consumerism that economic development brings about; it is becoming ever clearer that these are not true indicators of wellbeing. Economic development has not only brought more negative consequences than benefits to Latin America, it has also put the planet at risk – with the impacts of accelerating climate change particularly evident in the region, especially in Bolivia," they write.
  • New York Times editorial lauds some country's efforts to suspend Venezuela from the Mercosur trading bloc, albeit temporarily. "It’s uncertain that strong and sustained international pressure on Mr. Maduro will make him more responsible and conciliatory. But it could galvanize Venezuelans who are struggling to attain peaceful change. The leaders of Mercosur and allied governments can call on Mr. Maduro to take basic steps to avoid further international scorn," according to the NYT editorial board. 
  • More than 35,000 Venezuelans flocked across the border with Colombia to buy basic goods that are scarce and unaffordable in their country, reports El País. The border has been closed since last year, but last week a group of 500 people (mostly women) succeeded in pressuring border guards to let them past. 
  • Miami Herald piece writes about "garage sale fever" in Venezuela, as families sell their possessions in order to pay for food or to save money to leave.
  • Peruvian president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski announced that he would appoint Fernando Zavala, a business executive and former finance minister, as his prime minister. The move would be widely expected and could help Kuczynski to move legislation through an opposition-dominated congress, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Guatemalan police arrested the head of one of the country's biggest hotel chains on suspicion of tax fraud, part of a broader push against corruption in the country, reports Reuters.
  • A military parade celebrating Argentina's bicentenial polemically included a lieutenant colonel who led two armed insurrections against a democratic government in the 1987 and 1988, reports El País. Aldo Rico marched with a group of former Malvinas combatants. Military protagonism in a patriotic celebration has been unheard of in recent years in Argentina, notes a separate piece in El País. The Kirchner administrations that governed for the past 12 years eschewed their participation in rejection of the military dictatorships that mar the country's history.
  • Two strong earthquakes hit Ecuador, aftershocks of the quakes that killed hundreds of people in the country's Pacific coast in April, reports the Associated Press
  • Lawyers for Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán say he is being routinely sleep deprived in the maximum security prison he's held in, reports the Washington Post

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