Friday, July 27, 2012

Venezuela's Exit from Human Rights Court Earns Damning Response

 In light of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduros’ confirmation Thursday that Venezuela will begin the process of withdrawing from the Organization of Amercan States' (OAS) Inter-American Court of Human Rights, many observers condemned the decision  and said it represented a major detraction from Venezuela’s commitment to human rights. 

Venezuela’s disengagement "would be sending a deeply regrettable message about its commitment to human rights and democracy,” a US State Department spokeswoman said.

Spokesperson Robert Colville for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called the decision “devastating,” reports Mercopress.

But Venezuela’s pending withdrawal will not be so straightforward, analysts toldEl Nuevo Herald. “Chavez can’t just say, ‘Ok, I’m leaving the court now,’” former foreign minister Armando Duran told the newspaper. “Venezuela can stop sending its representatives to the court, but [the Court] will not leave Venezuela unless [Chavez] withdraws from the Organization of American States (OAS), or if Venezuela is expelled like Cuba.”

One question now is whether Venezuela could actually end up withdrawing from the OAS altogether. Foreign Minister Maduro said that Venezuela has no intention to do so, according to the AP.

The withdrawal from the Court will also accompany Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Court’s sister organization, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. President Hugo Chavez previously threatened to leave the human rights body in May, echoing many threats that he has made in the past, but it appears that this year the government has acted on them.

Venezuela Analysis provides a helpful overview of the history of Venezuela’s rocky relationship with the Costa Rica-based human rights tribunal. When announcing the official withdrawal, Chavez specifically cited the Court’s favorable ruling in the case of alleged terrorist Raul Diaz: the Court found that the government had violated Diaz’s human rights, a decision which the Venezuelan government said “sided with terrorism.”

But the Raul Diaz ruling is only one example in which the Court of Human Rights issued rulings which provoked strong criticism from the Chavez government. The Court also previously ruled that opposition candidate Leopoldo Lopez should be allowed to run for political office, overriding the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision that found him guilty of corruption charges.

Venezuela’s exit from the OAS court is another reminder that the Chavez government is well prepared to leave international organizations which it says overrides the country’s sovereignty. The country’s withdrawal from the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, first announced last January, also became effective this week.

News Briefs
  • The AP examines Colombia’s Legal Framework for Peace legislation, which outlines the terms for a possible peace negotiation, primarily benefitting guerrilla groups. The AP notes that the law has provoked a rare moment of agreement between former president Alvaro Uribe and Human Rights Watch (HRW) Americas’ director Jose Miguel Vivanco, who have both criticized the law for granting some degree of amnesty to guerrilla group members who turn themselves in. Supporters of the law argue that the promise of amnesty is the essential foundation for any eventual peace agreement, and emphasize that the Framework is only a set of general guidelines for a peace process which is nowhere close to starting. The law’s author, Congressman Ray Barreras, insists, “We are not giving the president a blank check, and certainly not to armed groups.” The AP reports that Colombia has studied El Salvador’s 1992 disarmament process as a model for the Framework for Peace. But while those negotiations saw guerrilla groups turn in their arms and integrate successfully into the mainstream politics, the pay-off was impunity for combatants on both sides, especially the security forces.
  • The New York Times reports from Venezuelan border state Apure, where guerrilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are believed to control much of the drug trade. The article argues that while the government claims it is doing everything it can to crack down on drug trafficking, the reality far outside of Caracas contradicts this. Apure is thought to host many of the hidden airfields where drug flights take off towards the Caribbean, then onwards to Central America. The FARC conduct patrols in the territory protecting the drug shipments and extort local ranchers and farmers with “alarming impunity,” the Times reports.With a slideshow.
  • The Human Rights’ Omsbudsman Office in El Salvador recorded nearly 8,500 of police abuse during the first five months of 2012, reports Univision. This is compared to the total of 30,240 reports of abuse for all of 2011, amounting to more than 80 complaints a day. One of the demands for a peace truce recently presented by El Salvador’s gangs reportedly includes withdrawing police from certain areas where the gangs are active, in order to limit police abuse, gang members say.
  • President Raul Castro said he was willing to hold talks with the US if it was “a conversation between equals,” the BBC reports, one of the most direct offers the Cuban president has made to mend relations with the US. The timing of Castro’s announcement was also noteworthy: his improvised remarks were recorded at a Revolution Day ceremony, a time that his brother Fidel usually used to announce major policy decisions.
  • Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said that the ongoing land conflict in Bajo Aguan should be treated as “a problem of national security,” adding that “armed groups” are involved in the dispute, reports EFE. “A farmworker should have no reason to walk around with an AK-47,” he said. While there have been reports of armed farmers in Bajo Aguan, some have said that they must carry weapons in order to defend themselves and the territory that they seized from big agribusiness. The Honduran government has previously tried to establish links between the Bajo Aguan conflict and “armed groups,” in what sometimes appears to be an attempt to detract from the protestors’ legitimacy.
  • The Economist argues that the main result of Brazil’s upcoming historic trial of ruling party members accused of corruption will be to “chip away at Brazil’s culture of impunity for the powerful.” The political fallout from the trial is unlikely to affect the reputation of President Dilma Rousseff, the magazine predicts.In Peru, President Ollanta Humala’s party has held on to the leadership post in Congress, after a vote Thursday, indication that despite widespread criticism against the president for his handling of social conflicts and the fight against the Shining Path, his party can still rely on an advantageous position in Congress.
  • President Hugo Chavez hosted what the AFP describes as his first formal campaign event in Caracas. Chavez has relegated campaign appearances to a small number of cities and states, due to his health, while the opposition has emphasized candidate Henrique Capriles’ ability to travel far and wide across the country.
  • “I am 132” protestors in Mexico City are hosting a 24-hour blockade outside of Mexico’s largest TV station, Televisa, in protest of the network’s apparent bias towards Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto during the presidential campaign.
  • The Economist reports on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ recent ruling that the Ecuadorean government failed to properly consult an indigenous community that would be affected by an energy project, which could provide a crucial precedent for similar legal cases across the region.
  • Reuters on the crime wave affecting Brazil’s biggest city, Sao Paulo, where homicides have increased 21 percent so far in 2012, compared to the same period last year.
  • A Barrio 18 leader in Guatemala confirmed to Plaza Publica that they sent a “representative” to El Salvador, in order to express interest in replicating El Salvador’s gang truce in Guatemala.
  • Argentina recognized the 60th anniversary of the death of Eva Peron Thursday, whose face is now printed on the 100-peso bill to mark the occasion.
  • The Guardian reports that Ecuador is trying to seek assurance that if WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faces legal proceedings in Sweden, he will not then be extradited to the US. Assange has found refuge in the Ecuadorean assembly in London for the past five weeks, and his legal case remains at an impasse.
  • The Mexican branch of British bank HSBC has been fined $27.5 million by Mexico’s banking security commission  for failing to properly regulate money laundering operations,Al Jazeera reports. HSBC will also likely face further fines as it comes to a settlement with US justice, where the bank has also been accused of failing to comply with banking regulations.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics notes that due to a software bug, the LIBRE party, associated with deposed president Manuel Zelaya, may not be able to formally register its official presidential candidate.