Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Uruguay Senate Votes to Revoke Amnesty for Dictatorship-Era Crimes

By a narrow 16-15 margin, the Uruguayan Senate yesterday voted to overturn a 1986 amnesty law which shelters a number of state officials from prosecution for human rights crimes committed during the country’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship. As Uruguay’s El Pais reports, the move was backed by the governing Broad Front coalition, and is scheduled to be voted on by the Chamber of Deputies today.

Lawmakers from the two other large parties in the country (the Blancos and Colorados) railed against the measure, citing the fact that voters in the country have twice affirmed their preference to keep the impunity law on the books through referendums.  The Supreme Court has also ruled in favor of the amnesty law, saying that the crimes of the dictatorship are common crimes, not crimes against humanity, and therefore the amnesty is not contrary of Uruguay’s commitments under international law.

This is the third time that the amnesty law has come so close to being annulled, after two previous attempts narrowly failed. The lower house previously voted in favor of annulment in October, but the bill failed to pass in the Senate. The reverse problem occurred in May, after the Senate approved the measure but it was struck down in a tie vote in the Chamber of Deputies.

If approved, the annulment would meet the terms of a March 2010 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found the amnesty law to be inapplicable in the case of the 1976 abduction and disappearance of Maria Claudia GarcĂ­a Iruretagoyena de Gelman, daughter of Argentine poet Juan Gelman.  

The amnesty law would not only affect state officials accused of human rights abuses, however. As retired Col. Guillermo Cedres pointed out to the AP, it would also pave the way for the prosecution of former Tupamaro guerrillas. "Once this process of eliminating the law is over and we have seen the consequences, we will present accusations to the justice system against those responsible for assassinations who were never tried,” Cedres said.

News Briefs

·         InSight Crime has published special report on the influence of armed groups and drug trafficking organizations on Colombia’s upcoming October 30th local elections.  The three-part report focuses on changes in neo-paramilitary groups’ electoral strategies, the patterns of violence against candidates, and the government's response.

·         Meanwhile, Colombian President Santos issued some surprising criticism of prohibitionist drug policies, at least as they apply to less harmful drugs such as marijuana. In an exclusive interview with Metro International, Santos called on the world to “discuss new approaches,” adding that the global war on drugs is being fought “within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years.” The president then stated that legalizing softer drugs could be a way forward, "provided everyone does it at the same time."

·         El Universo, the opposition newspaper which Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa controversially sued for $30 million on libel charges, reported earlier this week that journalist Wilson Cabrera has been prevented by immigration officials from traveling to the U.S. in order to attend the 143rd Assembly of the Inter American Court of Human Rights. Although officials claim Cabrera is wanted for legal charges and is thus barred from leaving the country, the paper found no evidence of a pending case against him. More on the incident from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

·         Despite the occurrence of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s first major corruption scandal since his inauguration, little damage has been done to his political alliances. As El Comercio reports, Alejandro Toledo of the Peru Posible (PP) party reiterated his support for Humala, and said that the PP would continue to stand with the ruling Gana Peru party. As mentioned in Friday’s brief, one of Humala’s vice-presidents, Congressman Omar Chehade, is accused of using his position to favor a private firm.

·         Bolivian President Evo Morales has reached an agreement with the indigenous protestors against the proposed highway through the TIPNIS region. According to the AFP, although Morales had canceled the plan on Friday, the protestors presented a list of 15 other demands that they wanted addressed. These demands were reportedly negotiated for hours before an agreement was reached early Monday.

·         However, it seems that not everyone is happy with Morales’ decision to cancel the TIPNIS project. As Bolivia’s La Razon reports, local coca-growing unions and separate indigenous groups which make up Morales’ base in the area are now mobilizing in support of the highway, which they say would make it easier to transport agricultural goods out of the region.

·         The New York Times highlights the difficulties that Haiti faces as it moves forward with plans to develop a professional military. The paper profiles the Organization of Demobilized Soldiers for the Reconstruction of Haiti, a rag-tag group of former soldiers who meet weekly to receive informal military training.

·         Amnesty International released a report yesterday detailing human rights abuses committed by the police in the Dominican Republic. The report, entitled “Shut up if you don’t want to be killed’: Human Rights violations by the police in the Dominican Republic,” alleges that the killing and torture of suspects at the hands of police officials is widespread, despite official claims that such incidents represent the actions of a few bad apples.

·         The L.A. Times published an editorial on Monday condemning the U.S. government’s attempts to undermine the Cuban government via Radio and TV Marti, which the periodical refers to as “a reminder of America's failed policy toward Cuba”

·         The AP reports that former President Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, who stands accused of committing crimes against humanity for his role in the country's 1960-1996 civil war, has been taken to a military hospital on Tuesday in order to determine if he is healthy enough to face charges.  Although public prosecutors have been working hard in recent months to prosecute the intellectual authors of war crimes, it seems that time is not on their side. As Mike Allison at Central American Politics notes, “time appears to be running out on them as these two generals are in their eighties and another one might be preparing to move in to the presidential palace in a few months.”

·         Brazil’s Supreme Court Court ruled yesterday in favor of the right of two women to be married, representing a major step forward for gay rights in the country. As the AP notes, the court had previously stopped short of upholding gay marriages in May after it issued ruling which affirmed the legal status of same-sex civil unions.

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