Thursday, January 3, 2013

Guatemala Rejects Inter-American Court Jurisdiction Over Pre-1987 Abuses

On Wednesday, the government of Guatemala announced that it would no longer recognize rulings made by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on cases of crimes against humanity and genocide that occurred before 1987. According to a statement released by the administration of President Otto Perez, the government is not obligated to comply with these rulings because of a March 9th, 1987 decree stating that the Court had no authority over human rights abuses prior to that date.

The government also said that it would no longer continue to pay compensation to victims of human rights abuses which occurred before 1987, as it had been doing until now in accordance with the Court’s rulings, according to El Periodico.

The announcement has generated controversy, not least because of the fact that Perez himself served as a military officer during some of the bloodiest years of the 1960-1966 Guatemalan Civil War. It also comes at a tense moment for human rights defenders.  The country is awaiting a definitive ruling by the Constitutional Court on whether ex-military dictator Efrain Rios Montt and others who committed abuses are protected by a 1986 amnesty law. Lower courts have ruled against the military officials, but they have managed to repeatedly appeal the case.

Prensa Libre reports that the announcement has been met with overwhelming criticism from human rights groups and the Catholic Church, who argue that it is both illegal and designed to foster impunity. According to Helen Mack, president of the Myrna Mack Foundation (one of the groups responsible for bringing high-profile cases against Guatemala to the Inter-American Court), "The government of Guatemala is obliged to abide by the judgments of the Court, and this cannot be legally or politically changed."

As the AP notes, the move may be an attempt by Perez to influence the Constitutional Court’s decision on amnesty. If the court rules in Rios Montt’s favor, it could set a harmful precedent in the region. While Rios Montt is not the only former Latin American ruler to be tried for crimes against humanity, his case has potential to be the first successful prosecution of genocide charges in the region.

News Briefs
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales has issued his first official response to allegations that high level officials knew of prosecutors’ attempts to extort US citizen Jacob Ostreicher, who is being held under house arrest on drug charges in Bolivia. Morales denied these accusations, saying that while his anti-corruption minister Nardi Suxo would be stepping down from office, she was not doing so as a result of being linked to the extortion plot.
  • On December 28th, President Obama signed into law a bill which requires the State Department to develop a strategy to “address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity” in the Western Hemisphere, AFP reports.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Americas Blog offers a sharp critique of the law, known as the  “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act of 2012,” and takes a look at some of its most vocal supporters in Washington.
  • Peru’s La Republica has a rundown of the top issues that President Ollanta Humala is likely to address in 2013, according to political analysts. These include resolving various mining conflicts in the country, reining in crime, drug trafficking and the issue of whether or not to pardon Fujimori. Because the former leader has requested a pardon on health grounds, the president has vowed to base the decision on his health only. According to Humala’s cabinet chief Juan Jimenez Mayor, the administration is waiting on the recommendation of an independent commission before making a decision.
  • Ecuador’s Congress has approved President Rafael Correa’s request to be granted a temporary leave from office in order to campaign ahead of the February 17th presidential elections. From January 15th to February 14th, Vice President Lenin Moreno will manage the position. The AP notes that polls put Correa some 50 points ahead of Guillermo Lasso, his strongest rival in the elections.
  • As peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas continue in Havana, Colombian Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo told El Tiempo that rural Colombians displaced by the rebels are for the first time beginning to return to their land, thanks to a land restitution program created by the 2011 victims’ law.  
  • According to President Juan Manuel Santos, in 2012 Colombia saw its lowest homicide rate in nearly three decades. In a speech yesterday, the president cited police statistics which put the country’s murder rate at 31 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Interestingly, this is still higher than the most recent homicide rate figures for Mexico (24 per 100,000 in 2011).
  • Guatemala also saw a drop in homicides in 2012, with 5,174 reported murders compared to 5,681 the year before. According to data compiled by Mike Allison over at Central American Politics, this is the lowest number of murders in the country since 2004.
  • Just the Facts takes a look at the violent land conflict in Curuguaty, Paraguay, which triggered the ouster of former President Fernando Lugo. The conflict remains unresolved, and while 11 campesinos and six police officers were killed in violent clashes, so far only the campesinos have been charged.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has written a strongly-worded letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron criticizing the UK’s "blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism" over the Falkland Islands. The letter, which was published in English as an ad in both the Guardian and Independent newspapers, calls on the British government to adhere to a 1965 United Nations resolution to "negotiate a solution" to the Falklands conflict. Unsurprisingly, Cameron has rejected Fernandez’s appeal, promising to “do everything to protect interests of islanders.”
  • The widow of leftist Chilean folk singer Victor Jara, who was killed in the aftermath of Pinochet’s 1973 military coup, may finally see justice after 40 years, El Nuevo Herald reports. Last week, a Chilean court ordered the arrest of seven former military officers in Santiago, and requested the of an eighth suspect who is currently living Florida. According to El Mostrador, at least four of the accused who are living in Chile are currently in police custody. It remains to be seen whether the US will consent to the extradition request.

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