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The Black List: Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras Top Human Rights Violators in the Americas

By: María Gabriela Díaz - Apr 24, 2014, 2:00 pm

Español The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) yesterday released its Annual Report 2013, and Cuba, Venezuela, and Honduras caught the attention of the international body given the severity of their transgressions.

In six chapters, the report gives a hemispheric overview of the human rights situation during 2013. That includes the work performed by the IACHR regarding thousands of cases when citizens from the region have denounced state abuses. The commission both monitors the state compliance with human rights and offers them specific recommendations.

“The Annual Report is not only a mechanism of accounting for what we do, it is a substantive report on the human rights situation in the Americas and an important way in which the Commission identifies and continues a conversation about best state practices and analyses regional challenges in the Americas,” asserted the IACHR Chair, Tracy Robinson, as she presented the report before members of the Organization of American States Permanent Council.

The way the IACHR determines whether or not a state’s human rights practices “merit special attention” is through four criteria: a serious breach of the core conditions and democratic institutions, the unlawful suspension of the total or partial free exercise of fundamental rights, massive and widespread violations of human rights, and the presence of obstacles that impede citizens from exercising and enjoying their rights.

These infringements include situations where the state doesn’t comply with its obligation to fight crime and impunity due to a lack of will, when it doesn’t take the necessary measures to make fundamental rights effective, when it doesn’t comply with the decisions of the Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Commission, or when it systematically violates human rights in the case of an internal armed conflict.

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Guantanamo Prison has been open since 2002. Source: Impactony.

There are other specific cases, however, that the report considers particularly critical, like the situation of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the constraints on freedom of expression led by Rafael Correa’s government in Ecuador, and the infringement of many Haitians’ right to nationality in the Dominican Republic.

The Black List

Cuba tops the IACHR black list as the most critical jurisdiction. Restrictions on freedom of movement, on political rights to association or freedom of expression, and the lack of elections and an independent judiciary have built a permanent and systematic state of constant violation of Cubans’ human rights. Far from changing, 2013 proved out to be the continuation of more than five decades of state repression, according to the report.

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A military agent kicks a protester in Honduras, 2011. Source: Centinela Económico.

Honduras seconds it. Rampant rates of crime, insecurity, and impunity, institutional weakness, the lack of an independent judicial branch, and discrimination of social groups are the most urgent matters the new government of Juan Orlando Hernández has to face. The IACHR points out that since the 2009 coup d’état there’s also some residual fragility in Honduras’s democratic institutions.

Last but not least, Venezuela‘s lack of independent judiciary, integrity of the criminal justice system, the constraints in freedom of expression, and the persecution of human rights defenders, IACHR contends, are the most concerning aspects that contribute to the country’s critical human rights condition. In 2013, the government led by Nicolás Maduro also decided to withdraw from the American Convention on Human Rights, limiting Venezuelans’ mechanisms to protect their human rights, and denounce any state violations.

Mariatrina Burgos, attorney and founder of Justice for Democracy, explained to the PanAm Post the limited impact this report will have on these states’ compliance on human rights.

“I think the remarks made by the IACHR are useless. I don’t think the situation will improve, particularly in Venezuela, a country where the government has decided to withdraw from the convention, and avoid the commission’s supervision in cases of human rights violations.”

Even though the creation of a human rights council in Venezuela — as part of the suggestions made by UNASUR during their mediation to solve the country’s crisis — could mean a positive step, Burgos believes it won’t work.

“Personally, I think this commission won’t do anything that Maduro is saying it will. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality; we can’t be optimistic regarding its results.”

Regarding the human rights situation in other countries such as Honduras, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador, the attorney believes that there are some things these governments can do.

“To strengthen compliance with international standards, and avoid human rights violations, I think the visits made by other governments and international agencies are very important. Also, citizens have to report and denounce every violation, resorting to international bodies, as well as social media,” Burgos notes.

However, the attorney emphasizes the limited capacity of these international organizations when it comes to dictatorial regimes.

“The task of this commission is only to look after the state compliance with international standards, but it’s only filled with good intentions. The countries that violate their populations’ human rights don’t do anything to correct their flaws, and improve their performance. On the contrary, they may continue to escalate the violence and repression.”

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.