Latin America: groups mark Human Rights Day

On Dec. 10 human rights organizations in Latin America celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by holding ceremonies, staging protests and issuing reports on the situation in their countries.

The Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights (PROVEA) released its 20th Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela on Dec. 9. The report, which covers the period from October 2007 to September 2008, notes positive developments, including advances in education and in the right to nutrition; an increase in consumption by the poorest sectors; the creation of an office for the human rights of seniors; a decline in the repression of demonstrations; and a stronger commitment by the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) to fight impunity for police agents. However, PROVEA reported that the number of people killed by security agencies or the armed forces had risen to 274, largely through executions. It also criticized the government of President Hugo Chávez for failing to slow the country’s overall homicide rate, which PROVEA says rose 10.86% over the year before, to more than 10,000. It noted the high number of murders of campesinos and union members, which made Venezuela one of the most dangerous countries for unionists. (Adital, Dec. 10; El Universal, Caracas, Dec. 11)

Since Colombian president Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002, more than 14,000 people have died or disappeared for social or political reasons, not counting deaths in combat, according to statistics released by human rights organizations in Geneva on Dec. 9. The groups attributed 75% of the killings to the government. Unionists and human rights activists have had especially high murder rates, with 40 unionists murdered in the first eight months of 2008. Of the 2,700 unionists killed in the last 20 years, 480 died in 2002-2007 period. The groups said 75 human rights activists have been killed or disappeared under Uribe’s government, and that 932 people were tortured during the period, including 731 that died. The government released a report on Dec. 10 that gave a more positive view of the statistics, noting that while 99 unionists were killed in 2002, the number had fallen to eight in 2007. (Adital, Dec. 10)

Brazilian human rights organizations were planning to mark the Human Rights Declaration anniversary by holding their 11th National Human Rights Conference, from Dec. 15 to Dec. 18. The theme will be “Democracy, Development and Human Rights: Overcoming Inequalities.” The conferences, which include government and nongovernmental organizations, started in 1996 and were held annually until 2004; since then, they have taken place every two years. The conference organizers held state and district conferences up to Sept. 15 to build for the national
meeting. (Adital, Dec. 10)

In Guatemala, the organizations in the Convergence for Human Rights organized a caravan that visited different sites in the capital to promote human rights demands. At the US embassy, Aura Elena Farfán, from the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, delivered a communique to Ambassador Stephen Macfarland calling for the right to migrate, the right to development and the right to self-determination of peoples. The caravan also planned to visit the Defense Ministry to demand that the military comply with President Alvaro Colom’s order to turn over military archives. At the Chambers of Business and Industry, the protesters were planning to demand respect for labor rights, the payment of minimum wage and benefits, and the right to social security. Other activities that day included a Human Rights Festival in the Plaza Central organized by the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH). (Adital, Dec. 10 from Cerigua)

In Mexico the “All Rights for All” National Network of Civil Human Rights Organizations called on the federal, state and local governments to work with human rights groups and to end what the group called a policy of criminalization of social protest. It rejected efforts to reinstate the death penalty. Members of the organization Children for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence (HIJOS Mexico) demonstrated at the government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) offices to demand the release of political prisoners and the return of disappeared persons. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 11)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 14

See our last post on Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala and Mexico.