Friday, April 16, 2010

Report: Human rights lacking in five S. American countries

Report: Human rights lacking in five S. American countries

Five Latin American countries did not offer adequate human rights last
year, an Organization of American States commission said in an annual

Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras and Venezuela were listed in the 2009
report released Thursday by the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights. All but Honduras also had been listed in the 2008 report.
Honduras was added this year because of a military-led coup in June that
toppled a democratically elected president.

"The situation in each of those countries does justify a hemispheric
investigation," said Robert Pastor, a Latin America national security
adviser for President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

Cuba and Venezuela are often criticized by rights organizations,
including Amnesty International and Human Rights Rights Watch.

In Cuba, the commission said, the government keeps citizens from "the
full enjoyment of human rights, especially political rights, guarantees
of due process and independence of the judiciary, deprivation of liberty
of political dissidents, restrictions on the right to freedom of
movement and residence, restrictions on freedom of expression, the
situation of human rights defenders, and the freedom to associate in
labor unions."

Cuba was led by Communist dictator Fidel Castro from 1959 until 2008,
when illness forced him to permanently relinquish power to his brother
Raul Castro.

Venezuela also comes in for pointed criticism, with the report saying
that leftist President Hugo Chavez is using government institutions to
squelch political opposition.

"In Venezuela," the commission said, "the full exercise of their rights
has not been guaranteed to all people without regard to their stance
towards government policies, and that the punitive power of the state is
being used to intimidate or punish persons on the basis of their
political opinions."

Human rights defenders and journalists cannot freely perform their
occupations because of "numerous violent acts of intimidation carried
out by private groups ... together with the discrediting statements made
by high-level officials against the media and journalists on account of
their editorial stance," the report concluded.

The Chavez government also is engaged in "systematic opening of
administrative proceedings based on legal provisions that allow a high
level of discretion in their application and enable drastic sanctions to
be imposed."

These problems are compounded, the commission said, by "a pattern of
impunity ... regarding cases of violence, which particularly affects
journalists, human rights defenders, union members, persons
participating in public demonstrations, persons in prison, peasants
[campesinos], indigenous peoples and women."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a 319-page report
in February that said Venezuela routinely violates human rights, often
intimidating or punishing citizens based on their political beliefs. The
report said a lack of independence by Venezuela's judiciary and
legislature in their dealings with Chavez often leads to the abuses.

Venezuela and Cuba are the worst offenders, Pastor said.

"Venezuela has moved decidedly backward by the decisions of Chavez and,
in many ways, is the most-serious case in the Americas," Pastor said.

"Cuba has pretty much stayed the same, which is bad," he said.

Colombia is included again in the 2009 report because of continuing
abuses connected with the a 45-year-old war between the government and
Marxist rebels, particularly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"These include the participation of the paramilitary leaders ... a
persistent pattern of violation of the rights to life and to humane
treatment, the situation of ethnic groups and intelligence activities
against human rights defenders, community leaders, justice operators and
the IACHR itself," the commission said.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere, "suffers from grave
situations of violence that prevent the proper application of the rule
of law," the commission said.

In addition, the commission said, Haiti lacks the necessary institutions
to guarantee human rights.

The newcomer to this year's report was Honduras, where a coup ousted
President Jose Manuel Zelaya on June 28. An interim government ruled the
nation until January, when a president chosen in November elections took

"Human rights violations are a direct consequence of the breakdown of
constitutional order," the commission said.

The OAS panel visited Honduras from August 17-21, nearly two months
after the coup.

"The commission confirmed during its visit to Honduras that ... there
have been grave human rights violations, including deaths, arbitrary
declaration of a state of siege, repression of public demonstrations
using disproportionate force, criminalization of social protest,
arbitrary arrests of thousands of people, cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment and poor conditions of detention, militarization of the
territory, an increase in instances of racial discrimination, violations
of the rights of women, serious and arbitrary restrictions on the right
to freedom of expression and grave violations of political rights," the
commission said. "The IACHR also confirmed the ineffectiveness of
judicial remedies to protect human rights."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous panel
created by the OAS. The commission consists of seven independent members
who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular
country. They are elected by the OAS General Assembly. - CNN's Arthur
Brice contributed to this report.

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