Thursday, October 17, 2019

Costa Rica competes with Venezuela for Human Rights Council (Oct. 17, 2019)

Elections for the United Nations Human Rights Council are today, there are two slots open on the 47-member council for Latin America. Brazil, Venezuela and Costa Rica are competing for them. Venezuela had a virtually guaranteed win until Costa Rica suddenly announced its candidacy earlier this month.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada cited serious human rights violations including in a recent High Commissioner for Human Rights report as evidence against Venezuela's suitability for the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the justification for Costa Rica's bid for the seat. Costa Rica’s challenge was praised by human rights advocacy groups, including Human Rights Watch. 

As an established democracy with a strong human rights record, Costa Rica is a far more suitable candidate than Venezuela, but it faces an uphill battle. Venezuela has a huge head start rounding up votes, and the world’s repressive governments are all too willing to have one of their own blocking global efforts to enforce human rights," wrote Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth in Foreign Policy this week.

Though many members and candidates for the council -- including Brazil, see briefs below -- have problematic rights records, Venezuela's candidacy is particularly egregious, said Human Rights Watch this week. Fifty-four international and Venezuelan organizations, including Human Rights Watch, declared Venezuela unfit for council membership earlier this month.

Costa Rica's eleventh hour candidacy marked a significant departure from a Latin American diplomatic tradition of regional solidarity despite ideological differences, part of a broader schism the Venezuela crisis is creating within Latin American countries' foreign relations. argues Christopher Sabattini in Foreign Policy.

Costa Rica's attempt to deny Venezuela a seat at the Human Rights Council also points to broader problems with the top U.N. human rights body. Members are often voted on "closed slates" and regimes with spotty human rights records (to put it lightly) have been reelected numerous times -- including Saudia Arabia, China and Cuba. In today's election, the Africa group has also put up a “clean slate” – four candidates for four vacant seats – so Libya, Mauritania and Sudan are virtually guaranteed success, reports CNS. The issue strengthens the hand of critics of the council, including the U.S. which withdrew from it last year citing the presence of abusive regimes.

All regions should ensure that they offer competitive slates, enabling UN members to deny seats to the most abusive governments, said Human Rights watch this week.

Nonetheless, criticism from the council is an effective tool against countries that violate human rights -- indeed, that is one reason "highly abusive governments" clamor to join U.N. human rights bodies, explains Roth in his Foreign Policy piece.

The UN Human Rights Council created this month a group of experts to investigate atrocities committed in Venezuela since 2014. The South American government has called the initiative “hostile.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Costa Rica's foreign ministry said its campaign has drawn attention to “the merits and reputation of the country as a nation respectful of human rights and that, without a doubt, has exalted the prestige and name of Costa Rica.” (Tico Times)

U.S. to restore Northern Triangle aid

U.S. President Donald Trump will release $143 million in aid for Central American countries that he suspended earlier this year. In a series of Tweets yesterday, Trump praised migration agreements signed by El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala with the U.S. and said the U.S. will soon approve "targeted assistance in the areas of law enforcement & security." According to the Washington Post, the funding includes money for counternarcotics operations, military aid, assistance with the resettlement of deportees and programs to prevent young people from joining gangs.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that “targeted aid” would resume yesterday as a result of “great progress” regarding migration trends from Central America: "Earlier this year the U.S. temporarily suspended aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, & Honduras until they took sufficient action to reduce the number of migrants coming to our border."

None of the deals, which would allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers to Northern Triangle countries they crossed en route to the U.S., has been implemented as of yet. But a separate U.S. policy requires asylum seekers to first seek haven in a third country they pass through on the way to the U.S. -- though it has been challenged in U.S. courts, the Supreme Court allowed it to remain in effect in the meantime, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

  • Bolivia's economic model is a central factor ahead of presidential elections this Sunday. While Venezuela is the regional example of why socialism doesn't work, many are pointing to Bolivia's success at improving the lives of the country's poorest. (Washington Post)
  • Investment in infrastructure -- transportation, sewage, education -- is visible across the country. But the economic success story is tempered by ambivalence about the democratic implications of a fourth term for President Evo Morales, who is seeking reelection despite a promise to leave at the end of his third mandate as stipulated in the Bolivian constitution, reports the Guardian.
  • Clandestine recordings of five high-level Pemex executives explain in great detail a network of corruption in Mexico's state-run oil company -- from the millions in bribes to how money was laundered through front companies owned by executives' offspring. The revelations pose a significant challenge for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, but also depends on Pemex for economic growth, writes Carlos Loret de Mola A. in Post Opinión. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Fifteen people were killed in a Guerrero state shootout between security forces and armed civilians on Tuesday, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's post.)
  • United Nations data points to an uptick in the number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who report experiencing discrimination in South America, where the majority have settled. Peru appears to be a particular hotspot, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro unveiled a plan to create six funds backed by the national crypto-currency, the petro, in order to stimulate economic development. (Decrypt)
  • Cuba's government is seeking U.S. dollars in the midst of a financial crisis, and is offering citizens discounts in exchange for payment in currency obtained by remittances from abroad, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro seeks to undercut rights in his country, but has been checked, so far, by Congress and the courts in a “still vigorous democracy,” said Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth yesterday. The board of the nonprofit group is meeting in Brazil for the first time in its 41-year history due to its concerns about the South American country’s far-right administration, reports the Associated Press.
  • Footage of a Sao Paulo resident who repelled would-be robbers with his own handgun will likely strengthen Bolsonaro's argument in favor of loosening gun ownership regulations so that citizens can defend themselves against crime, reports the Washington Post.
  • Ahead of Argentina's upcoming general elections, farmers worry that a likely Peronist comeback will mean higher taxes on the agricultural sector as they seek to rebound from the effects of a drought. (Associated Press)
  • Argentines head to the poll in just over two weeks -- but polls are conspicuously absent from national headlines, after their spectacular failure to predict the results of August's primary round of voting, reports Bloomberg.
  • Argentine human rights organization CELS released its annual report -- for the first time written in ungendered language.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  


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