Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Inter-American Commission Questions U.S. Spying, Gitmo and Immigration Policy

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held hearings yesterday on human rights practices in the United States, but the U.S. government deflected questions by claiming it lacked sufficient time to prepare due to the recent shutdown.

The independent human rights monitoring body of the Organization of American States (OAS) is holding its 149th session in Washington, DC from October 28 to November 1. The session kicked off yesterday morning with hearings in which U.S. representatives were called upon to explain the conditions of detainees at the Guantanamo prison, the treatment of undocumented migrants and the digital surveillance of foreign countries.

Yesterday’s hearing on NSA surveillance programs marked the first time that U.S. diplomats were asked to explain the practice to the international community at large. But as Foreign Policy reports, the commission received little in the way of explanation. Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS Lawrence Gumbiner said he could not provide a response, because of the October 1-16 federal government shutdown. “With the government closed and most of its employees furloughed, we lost the time essential for us to engage our inter-agency colleagues and prepare for this hearing,” Gumbiner told the IACHR.

According to the AFP and EFE, Gumbiner gave the same answer in the hearings on Guantanamo Bay prison conditions and immigration, invoking OAS member states’ right to respond to the commission’s concerns in writing within 30 days.

This response was criticized by some human rights advocates, who pointed out the hearings had been scheduled months in advance, and that the controversies at stake had been occurring for several years. UN Special Rapporteur against Torture Juan Mendez was especially critical of the U.S. response, telling reporters that the shutdown was no excuse because “[t]his case is a decade old.” Similarly, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) -- a member of the coalition which backed the IACHR petition regarding immigration rights -- notes that the IACHR issued a number of recommendations on immigration detention and due process in 2010, which the U.S. has yet to implement.

While little progress was made in these hearings, it is significant that the IACHR began the latest session with an emphasis on the United States. The commission came under fire this year from left-wing governments of the ALBA bloc, who accused it of serving as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. These countries proposed a number of reforms, including moving the IACHR from its current office in Washington DC to a country which, unlike the United States, has ratified the American Convention.  Although these proposals were defeated, left-wing governments in the region continue to call for changes to the IACHR. At a meeting in Cochabamba last month, for instance, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales agreed to give the IACHR until June 2014 to alter its performance, when both governments would “assess what alternatives to take.”


News Briefs
  • Protests rocked São Paulo late last night after the weekend shooting of teenager Douglas Rodrigues, who was killed by an officer responding to reports of disturbance of the peace. Some 90 people were arrested following riots in the north of the city last night. No further details about the teen’s death have been given by police, though authorities say the shooting was accidental. O Globo reports that the boy’s father says he will file charges, as a witness -- Rodrigues’ brother -- claims the victim was shot with no warning by the officer.
  • According to the Associated Press, the weekend attacks on power plants in Mexico’s Michoacan state by presumed criminal networks were followed by armed clashes between local community self-defense groups and the Knights Templar cartel in the drug gangs’ home turf, the city of Apatzingan. Animal Politico reports that authorities say they have secured the city after the clashes, and arrested three individuals who may be linked to the attacks. While this incident has once again fueled speculation about a rising “narco-insurgency” in the country, InSight Crime’s Marguerite Cawley argues that this is inaccurate, as drug gangs “fail to meet the most basic criteria of an insurgency -- wanting to overthrow the state.”
  • There has been a great deal of reporting in the English language press recently on proposed tax reforms in Mexico, which President Enrique Peña Nieto has said will bring in badly-needed resources to help fund government programs. By comparison, however, Oscar Arredondo Pico of transparency advocacy group Fundar writes in an op-ed for CNN Mexico that the government has failed to provide detailed information on its current spending. Meanwhile, El Universal reports that the Mexican Senate has approved new series of  which oblige state and local entities to comply with federal transparency laws, which proponents claim will cause state governments to be more accountable.
  • While Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s creation of the “Vice-Ministry for the Supreme Social Happiness of the Venezuelan People” was met by criticism from some, Daniel Pardo of BBC Mundo in Caracas reports that some in the country have leapt to the defense of the position, arguing that happiness is something more governments should take seriously.
  • The Cuban government has released new statistics on foreign travel, which suggest that Cubans are taking advantage of loosened travel restrictions for overseas visits in record numbers. According to Colonel Lamberto Fraga Hernandez, the deputy director of immigration on the island, 226,877 Cubans had traveled abroad since reforms went into effect on January 14, a 35 percent increase compared to 167,684 during the same period in 2012. Fraga was careful to add that close to two-thirds -- 58 percent -- had already returned. “Cubans are not fleeing, they are traveling normally,” he told reporters.
  • A team of United Nations investigators visited Havana last week to question Cuban authorities about North Korea-bound arms shipment intercepted in Panama earlier this year. The Miami Herald claims that the visit “clearly signaled that the Cuban government has been cooperating with the U.N. inquiry.”
  • The Guardian reports that a team of researchers in Peru have, for the first time, mapped the extent of the Peruvian Amazon that has been lost to gold mining in the past 12 years. According to their observations, the area affected by illegal gold mines in Peru's south-eastern Madre de Dios region increased by 400 percent from 1999 to 2012.
  • The newly-created party of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has officially nominated a candidate ahead of presidential elections in May 2014. Former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga took 56 percent of the votes at the the Uribe Centro Democratico convention in Bogota, beating former Vice President Francisco Santos for the nomination, Semana reports. This is good news for President Juan Manuel Santos, as a recent poll showed Francisco (his cousin) was more popular than him by two points.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro has published an investigation documenting the Armed Forces’ continuing celebration of deceased war criminal Domingo Monterrosa, who commanded the unit behind the El Mozote massacre in December 1981. This continues despite a decree by President Mauricio Funes last year, which ordered the military to cease this practice.
  • Although Argentine President Cristina Fernandez’s ruling party, the Front for Victory (FPV), has retained majorities in both houses of Congress after legislative elections on Sunday, the fact that it has rejuvenated the opposition has, for the AP anyway, made her a “lame-duck leader.”  The Economist has an in-depth profile of opposition leader Sergio Massa, who is seen as the big winner in Sunday’s vote. However, 2015 presidential elections are a long way off and, as the magazine points out, it remains to be seen if Massa can hold onto popularity and effectively marshal his diverse coalition into a coherent bloc.
  • On Monday the two historically dominant parties in Uruguay, the National and Colorado parties, announced they would create a new alliance to sponsor a joint candidate in the race for Montevideo intendant in May 2015. The position has been held by the ruling Frente Amplio coalition since former President Tabare Vazquez won the local election in 1990, and polls show that the “blancos” and “colorados,” as they are known, have no chance of beating the FA in the capital city unless they unite under the banner of the new “Concertacion Party.” El Pais notes that the alliance is a major historic development, as the National and Colorado parties have been bitter rivals since the 1830s, with the 19th century marked by repeated violent clashes between the two.