Sunday 20 June 2010

Ecuador: Truth Commission Report Out

Ecuador was my first taste of South America and has a special place in my heart, but it features rarely on this blog. That is generally a good thing; it's basically because Ecuador has been spared the devastating internal conflicts and massive human rights that have afflicted some its neighours. But Ecuadorians have suffered their share of abuses, and President Correa set up a truth commission in 2007 to investigate some of them. Now the final report has been published.

There were just 4 commissioners, led by nun and human rights activist Else Monge Yoder, and supported by a variety of other specialists and interested parties. They have a very good website (in Spanish), where you can also download the entire final report.

Key findings:
  • Between 1984 and 2008 there were 456 confirmed victims of human rights violations in Ecuador (clearly, there will have been more, but a TC always has budget and time limitations and is also only mandated to investigate particular crimes - in this case essentially murder, disappearance, and torture).
  • Over half of these took place during the Presidency of León Febres Cordero in 1984-88.
  • The Commission identified 32 instances of extrajudicial execution, 12 attempted homicides, 9 cases of forced disappearance, 214 illegal deprivations of liberty and 275 victims of torture.
  • The report blamed police for 50 percent of human rights abuses, the military 28 percent, government officials 10 percent, court officials 6 percent and foreign agents 6 percent.
  • The Commission found that the government consistently overstated threats from rebel groups and that the abuses were not isolated occurrences but part of a consistent counterinsurgency strategy.
The International Center for Transitional Justice has praised the publication of the report but called on the Ecuadorian government to implement the Commission's recommendations and to move forward with taking concrete steps for justice.

Ecuador: Use Truth Commission Report for Practical Action (ICTJ)
Ecuador: Informe de la Comision de la Verdad identifica a 456 victimas (CNDDHH)

I didn't find much about this in the English-language media, just this rather curious report from the Associated Press. What really struck me was the way it used the phrase "so-called truth commission". I'm baffled. Considering it's now over 25 years since the Argentine CONADEP commission, and that since then, over 20 such commissions have conducted investigations (depending on how you define the commissions, etc), is there really still doubt over the term?! Also, take the first sentence:
A commission named by Ecuador's left-leaning government to investigate human rights violations in the previous quarter century on Monday blamed late right-wing President Leon Febres Cordero for two-thirds of such cases.
This sentence may be purporting to merely fill in the political leanings of Ecuadorian regimes for the benefit of international readers who probably know little about the country, but it seems to me to contain a thinly-veiled suggestion that the report's findings are politically motivated. Anyway, here it is:

Ecuador panel blames 2/3 of abuses on '80s leader (AP)

Peru Round-up (II): Impunity and Intolerance

Accusations have been flying between government ministers and human rights activists over the past week.

Gloria Cano of APRODEH has claimed that the state is trying to create a 'favourable climate' for the release of the members of the paramilitary Grupo Colina.

And in general, groups such as the CNDDHH are denouncing a culture of impunity in the judicial system:
Since early 2009, the Sala Penal Nacional, the highest-level court dealing with the human rights cases against armed forces and police personnel, has acquitted 65 members of the security forces and convicted only 15, according to human rights organisations that defend victims of the 1980-2000 civil war. (IPS)
In the face of this, Defense Minister Rafael Rey has said that human rights defenders are "intolerant" and persecuting the armed forces.

In response, Cano has published a truly blistering speech which deserves to be read in full, but here is the opening:

The Peruvian Minister of Defense, Rafael Rey, has accused the defenders of human rights of being intolerant. And I respond, Mr. Minister, that you are correct: we are intolerant.

And we won’t stop being intolerant in the face of the crimes committed against our people, nor in the face of governmental abuse of or apathy before the outcry of hundreds of Peruvians—of women, children and families that, thirty years after the start of the internal armed conflict, continue to search for the bodies of their children, husbands, brothers and fathers that have disappeared. They continue hoping to uncover the truth and achieve justice.

We are intolerant when the state—whose role is to protect the life and integrity of its citizens—tortures, rapes, and kills in the supposed “defense” of democracy.

Read the whole thing here.

Severe Setbacks for Justice in Cases Involving Military (IPS)
"Buscan excarcelacion del grupo Colina" (La Republica, via APRODEH)
En defensa a militares, ministro Rey desafia a IDL y a CNDDHH (La Republica)

Saturday 19 June 2010

Peru Round-up (I): Shining Path at San Marcos

The University of San Marcos was the scene of a pro-Shining Path demonstration on Monday with some students demanding the release of Abimael Guzman. Apparently it was pretty small, but clearly, such an occurrence would trigger a lot of uncomfortable memories.
“The scenes that were recorded Monday night in [San Marcos] university seem to come from the dark history lived by the university when, at the end of the 1980’s, the terrorists walked by as if it were their home and welcomed new students,” the article said.

These shots by Jaime Razuri and Vera Lentz are part of the archive of Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

University Administration Says Pro-Shining Path Demonstration Organized by Outsiders (Peruvian Times)

Saturday 12 June 2010

Argentina: DNA testing begins for Noble kids

So, I've been following the case of the adopted children of Ernestina Herrere de Noble for some time now, but it has been dragging on for much longer than that. Finally this week the lawyers belonging to the Clarin group head* suffered a major loss; DNA testing began on personal material seized from Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera. Results are expected in around a month. There's no doubt in my mind that Marcela and Felipe are indeed the children of disappeared people, but indisputible evidence of this is, of course, essential. How many more twists and turns will there be in this long process? Anybody's guess.

Rights conflict in Argentine court battle over DNA
Argentina media heirs submit to 'Dirty War' DNA tests (BBC)
Argentine media heirs forced to undergo DNA testing to see if they were abducted as babies (Journalism in the Americas)
Argentine media heirs face 'adoption' DNA tests (The Independent)
DNA testing pits media family against Argentina government (LA Times blog)

*Marcela and Felipe make use of their adopted mother's lawyers, which the Abuelas human rights group argue is not right, since there is a conflict of interest between the two (ie, what is best for the children is not necessarily best for the parent).

Argentina: Paula Luttringer

For the second time, I'm pointed to a stunning Latin American photographer by a non-LatAm focused blog, Prison Photography. This time it's Paula Luttringer, a former disappeared person, and her images "El lamento de los muros". See more at the blog post mentioned.

Bolivia: Military Agrees Archive Access

This story is from a couple of weeks ago now, but I haven't seen much about it so I thought it was worth mentioning. Apparently the Bolivian military has declared that it is ready to comply with an order to open its dictatorship-era files - let's hope they see it through.

Bolivian military agrees to open dictatorship-era files (Journalism in the Americas)

This Week in Latin America

Chile's ambassador in Argentina said that the Pinochet dictatorship was really quite pleasant for most Chileans, and then resigned. Such remarks crop up now and again, but at least now they are met with such disapproval that the official in question could not continue in his post. Contrast that with the situation in Colombia:

A Colombian ex-army officer was jailed for 11 cases of torture and forced disappearance. Uribe commented that the sentence was a shame and the multiple murderer had been merely "trying to do his duty". Incredible.

Meanwhile, Brazil's military amnesty law is facing question at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights - see also this article from Latin America News Dispatch.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Peru: Condemnation of Memorial Destruction

UPDATE 20/06/2010: Apparently the incident will be investigated and the memorial hopefully rebuilt, see here.

The National Coordinator of Human Rights (CNDDHH) has condemned the 'vandalism' of a memorial in Lima - on the orders of the local mayor.

The memorial in question was designed by Jaime Miranda for the Comité Cívico Para Que No Se Repita de Lima Sur (Civil Comittee 'So that it does not happen again' of Lima South) and was privately financed. It consisted of a dead eucalyptus tree suspended inbetween three columns representing the three districts of Villa María del Triunfo, San Juan de Miraflores and Villa El Salvador, all of which suffered greatly during the civil conflict, and the sculpture was located at the intersection of the three. It might sound odd from this bald description, but I just saw photos of the site for the first time, here, and I think it looks really impressive.

Anyway, sadly photographs are all that is left of the sculpture as it is supposed to be, because last week the mayor of Villa María del Triunfo, Juan José Castillo, ordered its removal - see image. The CNDDHH commented:
Destruir una obra de arte es ya un comportamiento bárbaro; destruir además un memorial que busca contribuir a la reconciliación y al recuerdo público de lo sufrido por los peruanos en el terrible periodo de violencia política, sólo puede ser considerado como una renovada forma de violencia.
Destroying a work of art is already a barbarous action; destroying a memorial which is supposed to contribute to reconciliation and public memory of what was suffered by Peruvians in the terrible period of political violence may only be considered a renewed form of that violence. (trans mine)
I had not heard of the memorial before today, but I do find its destruction pretty shocking and would be interested to hear the justification for it. Without a very good reason (and plans for relocation?) it seems like an act of vandalism against memory.

CNDDHH condena atentado vandálico contra la cultura y la memoria cometido por Alcalde de Villa María del Triunfo (CNDDHH)