Thursday, January 14, 2021

Human Rights Watch annual report (Jan. 14, 2021)

Outgoing President Donald Trump undermined global support for human rights well before last week's riot in Washington shred the United States' claim to exceptionalism. But the vacuum also galvanized other countries and regional coalitions around the world united to defend rights in recent years, notes Kenneth Roth in new Human Rights Watch annual report. He cites the example of the Lima Group in Latin America that has pushed for democratization in Venezuela: "Maduro is still continuing his repressive rule, but he is far more isolated than he would have been had the US government continued its traditional, largely unilateral leadership on human rights in Venezuela."

Roth's essay focuses on the opportunity for the incoming U.S. Biden administration to strengthen commitment to human rights, and to do so in a way that makes it difficult for the next government to reverse course: through framing and legislation that heighten respect for rights.

The HRW annual report has country-specific entries on national human rights contexts. Below very brief excerpts from a selection of Latin American countries. The full report delves into specific issues in each country.

  • Argentina -- Longstanding human rights problems in Argentina include police abuse, poor prison conditions, and endemic violence against women.
  • Bolivia -- The Morales administration had created a hostile environment for human rights defenders and promoted changes to the judiciary that posed a serious threat to the rule of law. Instead of breaking with the past, interim President Áñez adopted measures that undermined fundamental human rights standards. 
  • Brazil -- President Jair Bolsonaro has tried to sabotage efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 in Brazil and pursued other policies that undermine human rights. (Brazil-specific report) The Bolsonaro administration has promoted anti-rights policies on women’s rights and disability rights, has lashed out at reporters and civil society groups, and has weakened environmental law enforcement, effectively giving a green light to criminal networks that engage in illegal deforestation in the Amazon and threaten and attack forest defenders. In 2019, Brazilian police killed 6,357 people, one of the highest rates of police killings in the world. Almost 80 percent of victims were Black. Police killings rose 6 percent in the first half of 2020.
  • Chile -- Chile’s national police—the Carabineros—used excessive force in responding to massive demonstrations, some of them violent, in 2019. ... While initial steps have been taken to reform the police, structural changes to prevent police misconduct and strengthen oversight and accountability are still pending.
  • Colombia -- In 2020, civilians in various parts of the country suffered serious abuses at the hands of National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, FARC dissidents, and paramilitary successor groups. Human rights defenders, journalists, indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders, and other community activists face pervasive death threats and violence. The government has taken insufficient steps to protect them. (More on this below.)
  • Cuba -- The Cuban government represses and punishes dissent and public criticism. Tactics against critics include beatings, public shaming, travel restrictions, short term detention, fines, online harassment, surveillance, and termination of employment.
  • Ecuador -- Ecuador continues to face significant human rights challenges, including with respect to judicial independence, excessive use of force by security forces, and protections for the right to privacy and the rights of indigenous people; women and children; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; and refugees.
  • El Salvador -- Since taking office, President Nayib Bukele has undermined basic democratic checks and balances. In February 2020, he entered the Legislative Assembly with armed soldiers in an apparent effort to intimidate legislators into approving a loan for security forces. He has publicly defied three rulings by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court prohibiting arrests for violations of a Covid19-related lockdown Bukele had decreed. 
  • Guatemala -- There are significant delays in the appointment of judges and high court justices. The congressional appointment process has been marred by allegations of corruption. Congress has flouted Constitutional Court rulings to ensure suitable candidates are appointed, instead ordering prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against Constitutional Court magistrates for ruling on the matter.
  • Haiti -- Protracted political instability and gang violence in 2020—often with state ties— contributed to the Haitian government’s inability to meet the basic needs of its people, resolve long-standing human rights problems, and address humanitarian crises. 
  • Honduras -- Violent organized crime continues to disrupt Honduran society and push many people to leave the country. Journalists, environmental activists, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and people with disabilities are among the groups targeted for violence. The government relies heavily on the military for public security.
  • Mexico -- Human rights violations—including torture, enforced disappearances, abuses against migrants, extrajudicial killings, and attacks on independent journalists and human rights defenders—have continued under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December 2018. Impunity remains the norm. Reforms enacted in 2017 and 2018 have been slow and until now ineffective in addressing torture and impunity.
  • Nicaragua -- Since taking office in 2007, the government of President Daniel Ortega has dismantled nearly all institutional checks on presidential power. The Electoral Council, stacked with his supporters, has barred opposition political parties and removed opposition lawmakers. The Supreme Court of Justice has upheld Electoral Council decisions undermining political rights and allowing Ortega to circumvent a constitutional prohibition on re-election and run for a second term. 
  • Peru -- Violence against women, abuses by security forces, and threats to freedom of expression are major concerns.
  • Venezuela -- Venezuela is facing a severe humanitarian emergency, with millions unable to access basic healthcare and adequate nutrition. Limited access to safe water in homes and healthcare centers has contributed to the spread of Covid-19. The exodus of Venezuelans fleeing repression and shortages of food, medicine, and medical supplies represents the largest migration crisis in recent Latin American history. Persistent concerns include brutal policing practices, poor prison conditions, impunity for human rights violations, lack of judicial independence, and harassment of human rights defenders and independent media.
News Briefs

  • Immigration will be among critical issues requiring rapid action by U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, who last week said he would introduce an immigration bill “immediately” upon taking office. Even if comprehensive reform has little chance of passing Congress, the incoming president should still send a proposal within his first months in office, as a matter of principal, argues León Krauze in the Washington Post. But he can also rapidly undo the Trump administration's more draconian policies: "Biden could halt deportations and establish priorities solely on public safety considerations, freeze the construction of the border wall and reduce incarceration of immigrants with an emphasis on reuniting hundreds of children who have been separated from their parents." He could also end the controversial "Migrant Protection Protocols" that force asylum seekers to wait for resolution in dangerous conditions in Mexico.
  • Eleven years after Haiti's crushing 7.0 earthquake in 2010, thousands of Haitians who fled the country remain in precarious conditions across the region, with many stuck at the Mexico-U.S. border, reports the Miami Herald.
Regional Relations
  • Disappointing results from a Brazilian clinical trial on the Chinese produced Sinovac coronavirus vaccine could undermine a tool that is crucial to China’s global health diplomacy, reports the New York Times. At least 10 countries have ordered more than 380 million doses of CoronaVac and could question their commitment in light of the efficacy rate of just over 50 percent.
  • The incoming U.S. Biden administration has no plan to reverse harsh sanctions against Venezuela's Maduro government, but it is expected to dial back the Trump administration's almost-daily vitriol aimed at Maduro and threats of a “military option," reports the Associated Press. And Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, could be uniquely poised to open room for diplomacy with Venezuela's legitimacy-challenged leader. He met Nicolás Maduro 20 years ago in the U.S. and is open to involving Maduro stalwarts Cuba and Russia in any negotiations that emerge.
  • Cuba's government strenuously rejected the U.S. designation of the country as a "state sponsor of terrorism." But beyond the indignation, Cuba has high hopes for a shift in U.S. policy under Biden, reports the New York Times. In addition to campaign promises to restore the normalization process between the U.S. and Cuba, Biden's senior foreign policy transition team were involved in Cuba negotiations in the Obama administration and are well positioned to roll back harsh Trump administration measures that have deepened Cuba's economic crisis.
  • Cuba started using nationally developed nasal drops -- Nasalferón -- to block replication of SARS-CoV-2 in patients. They are currently being administered to Cubans returning from abroad and their cohabitants, but the government plans to ramp up use for Havana's population. (Página 12)
  • There have been sixteen femicides in the first two weeks of 2021 in Colombia -- a trend of gender violence that authorities view with alarm, reports El Espectador.
  • Colombia is one of the most dangerous places in the world for community leaders, and the government has largely failed to stem deathly violence against social activists, reports the Associated Press. Activists are often targeted for denouncing or being seen to interfere with drug trafficking or illegal logging or mining, or for trying to protect communities confronting armed gangs.
  • Mexico’s health ministry published rules to regulate the use of medicinal cannabis this week, a major step in a broader reform to create the world’s largest legal cannabis market, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Banning a populist leader from holding political office is an approach that has been known to backfire in Latin America, reports the Washington Post, citing Juan Perón and Alberto Fujimori as key examples.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  Latin America Daily Briefing

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