U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights Is Launched

On July 8, 2019, the U.S. State Department launched its Commission on Unalienable Rights.[1]

Secretary of State Pompeo’s Remarks

At the launch Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said “the Trump administration has embarked on a foreign policy that takes seriously the founders’ ideas of individual liberty and constitutional government. Those principles have long played a prominent role in our country’s foreign policy, and rightly so. But as that great admirer of the American experiment Alex de Tocqueville noted, democracies have a tendency to lose sight of the big picture in the hurly-burly of everyday affairs. Every once in a while, we need to step back and reflect seriously on where we are, where we’ve been, and whether we’re headed in the right direction, and that’s why I’m pleased to announce today the formation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights.”

The Commission will focus on “human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An American commitment to uphold human rights played a major role in transforming the moral landscape of the international relations after World War II, something all Americans can rightly be proud of. Under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights ended forever the notion that nations could abuse their citizens without attracting notice or repercussions.” (Emphasis added.)

“With the indispensable support of President Ronald Reagan, a human rights revolution toppled the totalitarian regimes of the former Soviet Union. Today the language of human rights has become the common vernacular for discussions of human freedom and dignity all around the world, and these are truly great achievements.”

“But we should never lose sight of the warnings of Vaclav Havel, a hero of the late-20th-century human rights movement, that words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil; ‘they can be rays of light in a realm of darkness … [but] they can also be lethal arrows.’ And as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has observed, the evils of any time and place will be justified in whatever is the dominant discourse of that time and of that place. We must, therefore, be vigilant that human rights discourse not be corrupted or hijacked or used for dubious or malignant purposes.”

“It’s a sad commentary on our times that more than 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, gross violations continue throughout the world, sometimes even in the name of human rights. International institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission. As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect. Nation-states and international institutions remain confused about their respective responsibilities concerning human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

 With that as background and with all of this in mind, the time is right for an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy.” (Emphasis added,)

The Secretary hopes that the Commission “will revisit the most basic of questions: What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored? How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn, but simply by virtue of our humanity belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights? (Emphasis added.)

To put it another way, “the commission’s charge is to point the way toward that more perfect fidelity to our nation’s founding principles. . . .” (Emphasis added.)

Secretary Pompeo’s Prior Wall Street Journal Article[2]

The day before the Department’s launching of the Commission. Secretary Pompeo published an article about the Commission in the Wall Street Journal, in which he made the following comments beyond what he said at the official launch.

“America’s Founders defined unalienable rights as including ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ They designed the Constitution to protect individual dignity and freedom. A moral foreign policy should be grounded in this conception of human rights.”

“Yet after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates turned their energy to new categories of rights. These rights often sound noble and just. But when politicians and bureaucrats create new rights, they blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments. Unalienable rights are by nature universal. Not everything good, or everything granted by a government, can be a universal right. Loose talk of ‘rights’ unmoors us from the principles of liberal democracy.” (Emphasis added.)

He hopes “that its work will generate a serious debate about human rights that extends across party lines and national borders.” It “will address basic questions: What are our fundamental freedoms? Why do we have them? Who or what grants these rights? How do we know if a claim of human rights is true? What happens when rights conflict? Should certain categories of rights be inextricably ‘linked’ to other rights?”

“The human-rights cause once united people from disparate nations and cultures in the effort to secure fundamental freedoms and fight evils like Nazism, communism and apartheid. We have lost that focus today. Rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.” (Emphasis added.)

Oppressive regimes like Iran and Cuba have taken advantage of this cacophonous call for ‘rights,’ even pretending to be avatars of freedom. No one believed the Soviet call for collective economic and civil rights was really about freedom. But after the Cold War ended, many human-rights advocates adopted the same approach, appealing to contrived rights for political advantage.” (Emphases added.)

“The commission’s work could also help reorient international institutions specifically tasked to protect human rights, like the United Nations, back to their original missions. Many have embraced and even accelerated the proliferation of rights claims—and all but abandoned serious efforts to protect fundamental freedoms.” (Emphasis added.)

Human-rights advocacy has lost its bearings and become more of an industry than a moral compass. And ‘rights talk’ has become a constant element of our domestic political discourse, without any serious effort to distinguish what rights mean and where they come from.” (Emphasis added.)

Announcement of Commission’s Chair

On July 8, the Secretary announced that the Chair of the Commission will be Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, an expert on human rights, comparative law and political theory and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, among many honors.

Professor Glendon acknowledged this appointment with the following remarks:

 

  • “Secretary, I am deeply grateful for the honor of chairing this new commission, and I wanted to thank you especially for giving a priority to human rights at this moment when basic human rights are being misunderstood by many, manipulated by many, and ignored by the world’s worst human rights violators. At the same time, I understand that the mission that you have set us is a challenging one. You’ve asked us to work at the level of principle, not policy, and you’ve asked us to take our bearings from the distinctive rights tradition of the United States of America, a tradition that is grounded in the institutions without which rights would not be possible: constitutional government and the rule of law. I want to assure you, Mr. Secretary, that we will do our very best to carry out your marching orders and to do so in a way that will assist you in your difficult task of transmuting principle into policy.”

Announcement of Nine Other Commission Members

The Secretary also announced the appointment of the following nine additional members of the Commission. (The Commission’s Charter calls for 15 members so there may be an additional five members to be named later.)[3]

Russell Berman. He is the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and co-chair of its Working Group on Islamism and the International Order. Recently he has written about the reemergence of anti-Semitism and China’s “programmatic efforts to suppress the ethnic identity of the Uighur people” of Islamic faith.

Peter Berkowitz.  He is the Ted and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of its Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group and a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. He “studies and writes about, among other things, constitutional government, conservatism and progressivism in the United States, liberal education, national security and law, and Middle East politics.”

Paolo Carozza. He is Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and Director of its Kellogg Institute for International Studies an interdisciplinary, university-wide body “focusing on the themes of democracy and human development.”  His expertise is in the areas of comparative constitutional law, human rights, law and development and international law. From 2006 through 2010 he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the principle international body for protecting human rights in the Western Hemisphere, and he also has served the Holy See in various capacities.

Hamza Yusuf Hanson. He is an American Islamic scholar, proponent of classical Islamic sciences and founder of Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts college in Berkeley, California. According to The New Yorker Magazine, he is  “perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world.” He was born in the U.S. as Mark Hanson and grew up a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian, but at age 19 he read the Qur-an and converted to Islam.

Jacqueline C.  Rivers. She is Lecturer on Sociology at Harvard University. She holds B.A. and Ph. D degrees with honors from Radcliffe College and Harvard and has served as Doctoral Fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy of the Harvard’s J. F. Kennedy School of Government and a Graduate Research Fellow of the National Science Foundation. Rivers, an African-American, also is the Executive Director of the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies, which seeks to create and promote a philosophical, political and theological framework for a pro-poor, pro-life, pro-family movement within the ecumenical Black Church both domestically and internationally.

Meir Soloveichik. He is an American Orthodox rabbi with a Ph.D. degree in religion from Princeton University. He has written extensively about Jewish thought and life, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the limits of interfaith dialogue. In 2012 he gave the opening invocation at the Republican National Convention.

Katrina Lantos Swett. She is the former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and now the President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights, which is named in honor of her father, a Holocaust survivor and former Democratic Congressman. She is married to Richard Swett, former Ambassador to Denmark and former Congressman, and she converted to his faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has been an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Christopher Tollefsen. He is the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Philosophy Professor with specialization in moral philosophy, natural law ethics, practical ethics and bioethics. He has written many articles for “Public Discourse,” the journal of the Witherspoon Institute, which seeks to promote public understanding of the moral foundations of free societies.  He also is a co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life and the editor of John Paul II’s Contribution to Catholic Bioethics.

David Tse-Chien Pan. He is Professor of German at University of California, Irvine. His research has focused on the problem of aesthetic experience as a mediator of human history in order to understand how history develops through a process of recollection and interpretation that depends on judgment and takes the reception of works of art as its model.

Reactions

Secretary Pompeo’s Wall Street Journal article for the first time really sets forth what has been speculated as the Commission’s true mission: redefinition and narrowing of international human rights.

A senior State Department official, in a report by CBS News, made the same point, perhaps more diplomatically, when he said the Commission will act like a “study group, examining the concept of universal human rights, where those rights come from and the difference between inherent rights and those prescribed by governments. . . . Unalienable rights are granted to everyone, everywhere, at all times. It doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay, or a man or a woman, or black, white, brown or purple.’”

However, this official said, topics like abortion and gay marriage will not be part of the panel’s agenda. ‘Women’s rights or gay rights or healthcare rights, those are domestic issues.’ At some point gay marriage might be considered one of those, but this is an issue that’s being worked out on a nation-state level.’”

The importance of this Commission from the Trump Administration’s standpoint is underscored by the impressive resumes of its Chairperson and its initial other members. Therefore, advocates for the existing body of international human rights law need to prepare to combat this onslaught.

Amnesty International USA immediately said there was no reason for such a review given the decades-old protections in place and that the use of the word “unalienable” might be a code word to narrow human rights to the Founders’ notions of the late 18th century. Similar thoughts were expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union: “taxpayer resources would be better spent assessing the administration’s failure to meet basic human rights obligations, rather than redefining those rights.”

=======================================

[1] State Dep’t, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press (July 8, 2019); Sullivan & Wong, State Department Creates Advisory Panel on Human Rights, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2019); Reuters, Pompeo Launches Panel to Review Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2019)(notes Trump Administration’s U.N. actions against sexual and reproductive health measures); Assoc. Press, Trump Administration Reviews Human Rights’ Role in US Policy, N.Y. Times (July 8, 2019). Previous posts to this blog have discussed this Commission: Is Trump Administration Attempting To Redefine International Human Rights? (June 15, 2019); Other Reactions to State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 17, 2019); More Thoughts on Commission on Unalienable Rights (June 18, 2019); U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights: Developments (July 4, 2019).

[2] Pompeo, Unalienable Human Rights and U.S. foreign Policy, W.S.J. (July 7, 2019).

[3] Another source listed two possible additional members of the Commission: Kiron Skinner and F. Cartwright Weiland. Skinner is the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and a former Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Weiland is a current or former chief speechwriter for Senator John Cornyn and Republican Whip (Rep., TX) and/or Policy Analyst at Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. (Ruffini, Mike Pompeo unveils new “Unalienable Rights” commission amid concerns over progressive rollbacks, CBS News (July 8, 2019).)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Status of Cuban Migrants in Central America Still Unresolved  

Previous posts have discussed the plight of Cuban migrants in Central America on their way for entry to the U.S. under its current “dry feet” policy. Nicaragua refused to admit such migrants from Costa Rica, and a regional meeting of foreign ministers failed to resolve the problem.[1] That is still the case.[2]

Other Countries‘ Refusal To Help

On December 8, the President of Costa Rica announced that his country had failed to find other countries in the region that are willing to take any of the approximately 5,000 Cuban migrants in Costa Rica so that they may continue their journey north to the U.S.

Belize has rejected Costa Rica’s request to allow the Cubans to transit through that country while Guatemala has requested a Mexican pledge to allow the migrants to go through that country to the U.S. before Guatemala will let the Cubans enter their country.

Nevertheless, Costa Rica has stated that it would not deport any of the Cubans to their home country against their will.

In the meantime Costa Rica has asked Ecuador, Colombia and Panama to limit the transit of any more Cubans. Panama now has approximately 1,000 Cuban migrants.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Concern

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed its concern about the plight of the Cuban migrants in Costa Rica. The Commission, however, welcomed the decision of the Costa Rican government to grant transit visas to Cubans and to seek cooperation of other states in the region to facilitate the safe, orderly and documented transit of the migrants to the U.S. The Commission also has taken note of the November 30 U.S.-Cuba meeting about various migration issues.

The Commission reiterated that States have an obligation to respect and ensure the human rights of all migrants who are under their jurisdiction. Those rights are derived from the principle of human dignity

More specifically the Commission has urged the Nicaraguan government to investigate its alleged ill-treatment of the migrants. And to implement training programs on guidelines for use of force and the principle of non-discrimination. The Commission also has stressed the principle of non-refoulement, which necessarily implies that people are not rejected at border or expelled without an adequate and individualized analysis of their situations; the absolute prohibition of collective expulsions; and the obligation to take special measures for the different treatment of vulnerable groups within migrants.

In addition, the Commission urged the Cuba not to put obstacles to people wishing to leave the country.

Upcoming Costa Rica-Cuba Bilateral Meetings

On December 13-15, Costa Rica will hold apparently prearranged bilateral meetings in Havana because the published agenda does not include any mention of the migrant crisis. Instead that agenda includes the following:

  1. Create a strategic alliance to link ecosystems biotechnology research
  2. Strengthen ties of cooperation among public universities that have institutes of biotechnology.
  3. Create links between software industries.
  4. Promote training processes in high performance sport developing anti-doping testing.
  5. Increase tourism connectivity by adding Costa Rica to flights that Cuba receives from China, Russia and Turkey,
  6. Exchange experiences and knowledge in health case, especially primary care, cancer treatments and vaccines.
  7. See investment opportunities in Cuba for Costa Rican businesses.

Let us hope that perhaps behind the scenes the presidents of the two countries will discuss and find ways to reduce or solve the crisis.

=================================================

[1] Cubans in Central America Provide Cuba with an Opportunity To Reiterates Its Objections to U.S. Immigration Policies (Nov. 20, 2015); Update on Cuban Migrants in Central America (Nov. 27, 2015); U.S. and Cuba Fail To Resolve Complaints About U.S. Immigration Policies (Dec. 1, 2015); President Obama Should Exercise His Legal Authority To End U.S. Admission of Cubans with “Dry Feet” (Dec. 4, 2015).

 

[2] Reuters, Belize Rejects Plan to Allow Cuban Migrants to Pass Through Its Territory, N.Y. Times (Dec. 8, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Belize says Cuban migration must be resolved as a regional issue and for now not serve this population (Dec. 8, 2015); OAS, IACHR Expresses Great Concern Regarding Situation of Cuban Migrants on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua Border (Dec. 8, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Commission expresses deep concern over situation of Cuban migrants at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Dec. 8, 2015); Assoc. Press, Costa Rica Will Not Send Cuban Migrants Home, N.Y. Times (Dec. 9, 2015);Costa Rica President Sends Message to Cuban migrants to failure of negotiations with countries in the region, Granma (Dec. 9, 2015); Guatemala demands Mexico pledge over blocked Cuban migrants, Tico Times (Dec. 9, 2015); Costa Rica Foreign Min., Bilateral ministerial meetings agenda official visit to Cuba (Dec. 10, 2015).

 

 

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Criticizes Cuban Human Rights

IACHROn May 7th the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued its 2014 annual report containing “accessible, comprehensive, and relevant information concerning the Commission’s work and resources” in order “to promote compliance with the Commission’s decisions, ensure accessibility to victims, give an accounting of the petition and case system, and report on the human rights situation in the region.”[1]

Chapter IV.B of the report has special reports the Commission considers necessary regarding the human rights situation in those Member States with the most troubling human rights records, i.e., the so called “black list” of the Commission. There are only two countries on that list for 2014: Cuba and Venezuela.

The report’s 45 pages about Cuba (Report at 388-431) was summarized as follows in the Commission’s press release about the report:

  • “[R]estrictions on political rights, freedom of association, freedom of expression and dissemination of ideas, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of movement over decades have come to shape a permanent and systematic situation of violation of the human rights of the inhabitants of Cuba. Over the course of 2014, the information available suggests that the general human rights situation has not changed. The above-mentioned human rights situations persist, along with severe repression and restrictions on human rights defenders. The [Commission] also received information concerning discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons and persons with disabilities in Cuba.”

The Press Release also noted that the Commission welcomed “the restoration of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, while reiterating its concern about the negative impact that the economic and trade embargo imposed by the [U.S.] on Cuba has on the human rights of the Cuban population” and noting “that the embargo does not release [Cuba] of its international obligations established in the American Declaration [of the Rights and Duties of Man].”

Other parts of the report set forth a general overview of the Commission’s activities during the year (Ch. I); an accounting of how cases, petitions, and precautionary measures have been handled, (Ch. II); the activities of the seven Rapporteurships (Ch. III);[2] an overview of the human rights situation in the hemisphere with emphasis on citizen insecurity, discrimination on the basis of nationality, discrimination on the basis of ethnic and racial origin, and the situation of migrants (Ch. IVA); the status of recommendations issued by the Commission on Jamaica and Colombia (Ch. V); and the challenges the Commission faces in terms of human and financial resources (Ch. VI).

The discussion in Chapter IVA (pp. 366-72) regarding racial discrimination commented on the U.S. problems of police brutality with alleged racial bias, especially the notorious case of the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. Although the U.S. was seeking solutions to this problem, “there is still much to do” and the state and others in the region need “to continue and extend the studies and the police measures to eliminate racial profiling. ” Moreover, the report notes that the Commission has begun a Report on Criminal Justice and Race in the U.S. to analyze recent cases of alleged police racially motivated abuses and ways to prevent a situation that the Commission considers “very worrying.”

OASThe Commission is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. It is composed of seven independent members who serve in a personal capacity. Created by the OAS in 1959, the Commission has its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

======================================================

[1] This post is based upon the following: Ayuso, Venezuela and Cuba remain on black list of human rights, El Pais, (May 7, 2015); IACHR, Press Release: IACHR Presents Its Annual Report (May 7, 2015); IACHR, IACHR Annual Report, 2014 (May 7, 2015). This blog contains many posts about various cases decided by the Commission.

[2] The Commission has appointed its seven members as Rapporteurs to focus on the following human rights in the hemisphere: indigenous peoples; women; migrants; the child; human rights defenders; persons deprived of their liberty; persons of African descent and against racial discrimination.

Other Legal Proceedings Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests of El Salvador and Their Housekeeper and Her Daughter

As we have seen in a recent post, the Spanish criminal investigation and prosecution of former Salvadoran military officers and soldiers for the murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter are still pending and hopefully the case will go to trial in 2015 against at least one of the 19 Salvadoran military officers and soldiers charged with the crime.

There, however, have been other legal proceedings regarding this horrible crime. Here is a summary of these proceedings.

 Other Proceedings

 Salvadoran Investigations. Immediately after the murders, the Salvadoran military took steps to destroy evidence and to cover up their involvement in the crime while supposedly conducting an independent investigation of the crime. With widespread international outrage at the crime, the Minister of Defense was forced to establish a Special Honor Commission, consisting of five officers and two civilians to do a more thorough investigation. It concluded that nine people were responsible for the murders: four lower-ranking officers and five soldiers. International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Military’s Attempted Cover-Up of Its Committing the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 7, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/07/international-criminal-justice-salvadoran-militarys-attempted-cover-up-of-its-committing-the-murders-of-the-jesuit-priests/.

Salvadoran Criminal Charges. The murders of the Jesuit priests caused such a huge international uproar that El Salvador had to do something to make it appear as if it were pursuing justice in the case. As a result, in January 1990 the Salvadoran government commenced a criminal prosecution of five Salvadoran military officers and five soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion. The highest-ranking officer was Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, the Director of the Military College, who was accused of having given the order to murder the priests. (International Criminal Justice: Salvadoran Criminal Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuit Priests (June 8, 2011).)

Salvadoran Criminal Trial. After lengthy pre-trial proceedings, this criminal trial finally took place in September 1991. Benevides was convicted of all eight counts of murder and instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. One of the Lieutenants was convicted of one count of murder (the 16-year-old girl), instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and being an accessory. Benevides and this Lieutenant were sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. The other two Lieutenants were convicted of instigation and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism; they were sentenced to three years imprisonment, but released on bail and continued to serve in the military. A Lieutenant Colonel was convicted of being an accessory and sentenced to three years imprisonment, but he too was released on bail and continued to serve in the military. The five soldiers were acquitted of all charges. (Id.)

Salvadoran Truth Commission Investigation and Report. The Peace Accords of January 1992 that ended the Salvadoran Civil War established the Truth Commission for El Salvador to investigate the most serious crimes that had occurred during the war, including the murders of the Jesuits. Its March 1993 final report found the following facts regarding the murders:

  • On the night of 15 November 1989, then Colonel René Emilio Ponce, in the presence of ad in collusion with General Juan Rafael Bustillo, then Colonel Juan Orlando Zepeda, Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano and Colonel Francisco Elena Fuentes, gave Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides the order to kill Father Ignacio Ellacuría and to leave no witnesses. For that purpose, Colonel Benavides was given the use of a unit from the Atlacatl Battalion, which had been sent to search the priests’ residence two days previously.
  • That same night, Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides informed the officers at the Military College of the order for the murder. When he asked whether anyone had any objection, they all remained silent.
  • The operation was organized by then Major Carlos Camilo Hernández Barahona and carried out by a group of soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion under the command of Lieutenant José Ricardo Espinoza Guerra and Second Lieutenant Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, accompanied by Lieutenant Yusshy René Mendoza Vallecillos.
  • Subsequently, all these officers and others, including General Gilberto Rubio Rubio, knowing what had happened, took steps to conceal the truth, including destruction of evidence.

(International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in The Truth Commission for El Salvador (June 9, 2011).)

Adoption of Salvadoran Amnesty Law. Five days after the delivery of the Truth Commission Report in March 1993, El Salvador’s National Assembly adopted the General Amnesty Law for the Consolidation of the Peace (Decree 486). Its provisions included “a full, absolute and unconditional amnesty to all those who participated in any way in the commission, prior to January 1, 1992 [the end of the civil war], of political crimes or common crimes linked to political crimes or common crimes in which the number of persons involved is no less than twenty.” (International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011).)

Implementation of Amnesty Law. Immediately after the adoption of the Amnesty Law and pursuant to this Law, Colonel Benavides and the Lieutenant who had been convicted and imprisoned in the Jesuits case were released from prison. (Id.)

Instigation of Case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Meanwhile, on the same day the Jesuit priests were murdered (November 16, 1989), Americas Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization, filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that the Salvadoran government had violated the American Convention [Treaty] on Human Rights with respect to the murder of the Jesuits and their cook and her daughter.  (International Criminal Justice: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Case Regarding the Jesuit Priests (June 13, 2011).)

Investigation and Report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Ten years later (December 22, 1999), the Inter-American Commission issued its report. Relying heavily on the findings of the Truth Commission, the report made detailed findings about the murder and subsequent events and concluded that the state had violated the American Convention. As a result, the Commission recommended that the government conduct an expeditious, effective investigation and prosecute and punish those who were involved “without reference to the amnesty,” to make reparations and to render the General Amnesty Law null and void. (The Commission did not, and does not, have the power to order any of the states to do anything. (Id.)[1]

Conclusion

 Now twenty-five years after the crimes and 15 years after the Inter-American Commission’s report, no one has been convicted of the crime and imprisoned other than the two officers who were convicted by a Salvadoran court and who briefly were in prison before being released under the Amnesty Law.

Moreover, the government of El Salvador has not fully complied with the Commission’s recommendations.

In November 2009, however, El Salvador presented the nation’s highest award (National Order of Jose Matias Delgado) to the Jesuit priests’ relatives as an act of atonement and formally advised the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that the Salvadoran state accepted the binding nature of their past decisions involving the country and the state’s responsibility to implement their recommendations in those cases.

In addition, in January 2010, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes admitted that during the civil war state security forces “committed serious human rights violations and abuses of power,” including “massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary deprivation of freedom” and other acts of repression. Funes then made a formal apology to all of the victims of these crimes and asked for their forgiveness and created a commission to offer redress to the victims. (Id.)

========================================================

[1] There has been much debate in El Salvador about whether or not the Amnesty Law is valid and/or should be abolished. The country’s Supreme Court is expected in the next several months to decide whether the Law is constitutional.   Meanwhile, U.S. courts have determined that the Salvadoran Amnesty Law is not applicable to litigation in U.S. courts.

Update on Spain’s Case Regarding the Murders of the Jesuits of El Salvador

Spain’s National Court (Audicencia Nacional) since November 2008 has been conducting a criminal case regarding the murders of six Jesuits priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador on November 16, 1989. This lead in January 2009 to the Spanish equivalent of indictments of 14 former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers for murder, crimes against humanity and state terrorism. In May 2011 the court added six indictees and issued 20 international arrest warrants. Thereafter in November 2011 Spain issued requests for extradition of these men to Spain to face the charges. [1]

However, in August 2011 El Salvador’s Supreme Court refused to enforce the Interpol arrest warrants for 13 of the indictees who were living in that country and in May 2012 denied the requests for their extradition on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens. Another indictee, Inocente Orlando Montano, had been living in the U.S. and now is in U.S. prison after pleading guilty to lying multiple times to U.S. immigration officials. (One indictee, former Colonel René Emilio Ponce, died during the prior proceedings.)

Just this October the Spanish court’s Criminal Chamber, en banc, decided that the court did have jurisdiction over all of the charges: murder, crimes against humanity and state terrorism.

Almudena Bernabeu
Almudena Bernabeu

Last week Almudena Bernabeu, CJA’s International Attorney and Transitional Justice Program Director and the lead private attorney for the prosecution in this case, was in El Salvador to discuss the case in connection with the twenty-fifth anniversary of these horrible crimes. [2]

First, she reported that the case is now at a standstill because none of the suspects is physically present in Spain.

Inocente Orlando Montano
Inocente Orlando Montano

Next year, however, she hopes this will change. In April of 2015, Senor Montano will complete his incarceration in the U.S. [3] By then the U.S. must decide whether it will honor Spain’s request to extradite Montano to Spain.

Although the U.S. is not legally required to consult with El Salvador on this issue, as a matter of inter-state courtesy the U.S. probably would do so, she said. Therefore, Bernabeu has conferred with officials of the Salvadoran government, who have confirmed that there is absolute willingness to collaborate with the Spanish process for the extradition of Mr. Montano from the U.S.  Thus, it is important to know that when the U.S. faces the decision whether to extradite Montano, the government of El Salvador has decided not to interfere.

Second, upon such an extradition and Montano’s arrival in Spain, the Spanish case would be re-activated to prepare the case for trial, presumably within 30 days.

Third, if, however, the U.S. deported Montano to El Salvador, the Salvadoran courts probably would refuse to extradite him in light of their prior refusal to extradite to Spain other indictees in the case who are Salvadoran citizens. In that event, the case in Spain could not proceed further.

Fourth, Bernabeu said she unsuccessfully has tried three times to have former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani added as a defendant and indictee because she believes the evidence shows he ultimately was responsible for the crime committed by the military’s High Command and was an accessory to the killing. Indeed, she said that the testimony of two former Salvadoran military officials and documents, including declassified U.S. documents from the CIA, FBI and Department of Defense, show that Cristiani knew of the plan to kill the Jesuits before the murders happened. Whatever the reasons, the Spanish court has been reluctant to join a former foreign president as a defendant. [4]

Fifth, she said El Salvador’s General Amnesty Act of 1993 was a major problem for this case and others like it. This was so even though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 1999 decided in the Jesuits case that the Amnesty Law violated the American Convention on Human Rights and ordered El Salvador to declare it null and void and even though the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in December 2012 in another case (the El Mozote Massacre) ordered El Salvador to repeal the Amnesty Act. [5] That has not yet happened, but the Constitutional Chamber of El Salvador’s Supreme Court sometime soon is expected to rule on the constitutionality of that Act.

====================================================

[1] The Spanish court has jurisdiction over the case under Spain’s statute for universal jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of international concern. This statute is an implementation of the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction whereby a state has universal jurisdiction over certain crimes of international concern regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the victim or perpetrator.  A detailed summary of the Jesuits case along with some of the court documents and other materials is available on the website of the non-profit Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) based in San Francisco, California. CJA, the sponsor of the case in Spain. It is an international human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. It uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

[2] This account of Bernabeu’s comments is based upon Castillo, 25 Yrs After El Salvador Priest Killings, Groups Press for Justice, NBC News (Nov. 13, 2014); Labrador & Fatima, The government of El Salvador has decided not to hinder Montano’s extradition to Spain, El Faro (Nov. 14, 2014); Jaminez, Await Extradition of Montano, DiarioCoLatino (Nov. 15, 2014); Dalton, Cristiani knew at time of slaughter of Jesuits in El Salvador,” El Pais (Nov. 17, 2014). El Faro also recently published (a) a collection of articles from other Salvadoran newspapers evidencing the right’s hatred of the Jesuits before their murders; (b) biographies of the murdered priests, their housekeeper and her daughter and the six Salvadoran military personnel who were prosecuted for the crime in El Salvador (with only two convicted and then subsequently released from prison on the basis of the General Amnesty law); (c) an article describing how that Salvadoran prosecution for this crime was impeded by their attorney general; (d) an archive of U.S. diplomatic cables and other documents about the crime; and (e) a hyperlinked collection of El Faro’s prior articles about the Jesuits case.

[3] The U.S. legal proceedings against Montano are discussed in prior posts and comments: Comment [to “Spain Requests Extradition” post]: Ex-Salvadoran Military Officer [Montano] Indicted for Alleged Violations of U.S. Immigration Laws (Feb. 12, 2012); Comment [to “Spain Requests Extradition” post]: Former Salvadoran Military Officer [Montano] Pleads Guilty to Lying to U.S. Immigration Officials (Sept. 15, 2012); Former Salvadoran Colonel Inocente Orlando Montano To Serve 21 Months in U.S. Prison (Sept. 5, 2013).

[4] On December 16, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador sent a cable to the U.S. Secretary of State. It reported that earlier that month senior officials of the Salvadoran government went to Spain and met with its attorney prosecuting the Jesuits case and with other top-level Spanish government officials, who said they were embarrassed about the case’s seeking to add Alfredo Cristiani, El Salvador’s former president, as a defendant. The Spanish prosecutor also promised support and cooperation to the Salvadoran officials.

[5] Yet another post reviewed the decision in the El Mozote Massacre case by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Ecuador Continues To Restrict Freedom of the Press

On June 14, 2013, Ecuador’s national legislature adopted the Organic Law on Communications with the following provisions that threaten freedom of the press:

  • Prohibition of “media lynching,” which is defined as “a concerted effort, coordinated by several media or carried out by just one, to destroy a person’s honor or prestige.”
  • Establishment of “everyone’s right that information of public interest received through the media should be verified, balanced, contextualized and opportune” without defining those terms.
  • Establishment of media’s responsibility to accept and promote obedience to the Constitution, the laws and the legitimate decisions of public authorities.
  • Creation of the office of Superintendent of Information and Communication with the power to regulate the news media, investigate possible violations and impose potentially large fines.
  • Creation of the Council for Media Regulation and Development headed by a representative of the President with the power to exact a public apology (and impose fines for repeat offenses) when media fail to accord someone the right to a correction or the right of reply.
  • Retention of the system of “cadenas,” or official messages which all over-the-air TV and radio stations have to broadcast that the President and the National Assembly speaker may use whenever they think it necessary and that other public office holders may use for five minutes per week.

Another provision on the surface may appear to be non-controversial: a requirement for allocation of broadcast frequencies (state, 34%; private, 33%; and community, 33%). Currently an estimated 60% are privately owned. Therefore, this requirement is seen as a means of the government’s closing privately owned media, presumably those critical of the government.

Other provisions of the new law are more benign. It prohibits any form of censorship by government officials or civil servants, guarantees the right of journalists to protect their sources and to maintain professional confidentiality.[1]

Ecuadorian legislators opposing the Communications Law
Ecuadorian legislators opposing the Communications Law

This new law was strenuously challenged by the Ecuadorian legislators opposing the law, who said it will allow the government to control media through loosely defined regulations. (To the right is a photo of the objecting legislators with signs and masks over their mouths.)

Over 50 Colombian newspapers published a joint editorial condemning the law. Some Ecuadorian newspapers     (Hoy and El Commercio) had similar criticisms. Human Rights Watch said the law “is yet another effort by President Correa to go after the independent media. The provisions for censorship and criminal prosecutions of journalists are clear attempts to silence criticism.” The law also was criticized by the Inter-American Press Association, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee To Protect Journalists.

The law was defended by its author who is a member of President Correa’s political party and who said it will “protect freedom of speech with a focus on everybody’s rights, not just for a group of privileged.” Another member of that party who is the president of the legislature predicted that the law would promote more balanced news coverage.

In his TV and radio speech to the country on June 15th President Correa said that law was a precedent that other Latin American countries would follow. Critics of the law, he said, were members of the “gallada” or club that opposes any regulation of the media.

This is not the first effort by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to restrict the media. Such prior attempts have been protested by the previously mentioned NGO’s, the U.S. Department of State in its annual human rights reports and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Commission’s criticisms have caused Ecuador to launch a full-scale attack on the Commission that was not successful this last past March, but that Ecuador promises to keep pursuing.


[1] This summary of the new law is based upon articles in an Ecuadorian newspaper (Hoy), the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and a commentary by Reporters Without Borders. As always, I invite others to provide comments to correct any errors of mine and to express other opinions about the new law.

 

 

 

Latest U.S. Report on Human Rights Around the World

StateDeptlogo

On Friday (April 19th), the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.[1]

In his Preface, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said, “It is in our interest to promote the universal rights of all persons. Governments that respect human rights are more peaceful and more prosperous. They are better neighbors, stronger allies, and better economic partners. Governments that enforce safe workplaces, prohibit exploitative child and forced labor, and educate their citizens create a more level playing field and broader customer base for the global marketplace. Conversely, governments that threaten regional and global peace, from Iran to North Korea, are also egregious human rights abusers, with citizens trapped in the grip of domestic repression, economic deprivation, and international isolation.”

Therefore, Kerry continued,” we advocate around the world for governments to adopt policies and practices that respect human rights regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability; that allow for and honor the results of free and fair elections; that ensure safe and healthy workplaces; and that respect peaceful protests and other forms of dissent.”

In so doing, Kerry acknowledged that “from our own experience [we know] that the work of building a more perfect union – a sustainable and durable democracy – will never be complete.”

The Introduction to the Report highlighted these five developments from 2012.

  1. Shrinking space for civil society activism around the world. Active participation of civil society in determining policies for the society is an important part of human rights. Yet in 2012, many governments “continued to repress or attack the means by which individuals have the ability to come together, air their views, and put forward their own proposals.” Mentioned specifically in this regard were Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Egypt, Bangladesh and China. [2]
  2. The ongoing struggle by people in the Middle East and North Africa for democratic change. Although there were some encouraging changes in this region, there also was “erosion of protections for civil society, sexual violence against women, violence against and increased marginalization of members of religious minorities, and escalating human rights violations.” This was most pronounced in Syria, but significant problems in this regard were seen in Bahrain and Egypt.
  3. Steps toward emerging democracy and a tentative opening for civil society in Burma. In 2012 Burma “continued to take significant steps in a historic transition toward democracy.” These changes are “the result of hard work by the Burmese people and sustained U.S. and international pressure to reform.” This transition, however, is not yet complete. Much work remains to be done.[3]
  4. The game-changing nature of information and communication technologies, in the face of increased suppression of traditional media and freedom of expression.  New technologies have made information more widely available throughout the world. Yet some governments seek to stop the free press. The world-wide number of journalists killed or imprisoned increased. Some governments used counter-terrorism as a “pretext for suppressing freedom of expression.”  Others endeavored to restrict internet freedom. Ecuador was cited as an example of a state where the president publicly criticized specific journalists and encouraged lawsuits to be brought against them, where a ban was instituted on press coverage favoring one candidate, philosophy or political theory and where the government used legal pretexts to harass and close several media outlets.[4]
  5. The continued marginalization of and violence against members of vulnerable groups. Too many governments “continue to persecute, or allow the persecution of, members of religious and ethnic minorities; women; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people; people with disabilities; migrants; and members of other vulnerable populations, including tribal communities.” Anti-Semitism in the Middle East, Europe and Latin America was specifically mentioned as a problem.

These reports have been prepared by the State Department pursuant to a 1961 federal statute. Since then other federal statutes require U.S. foreign and trade policy to take into account countries’ human rights and worker rights performance.

Since 1976 a Coordinator of Human Rights (later upgraded to an Assistant Secretary) in the Department of State has the overall responsibility for preparing these reports based upon information from U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, foreign government officials, nongovernmental and international organizations, published reports, foreign government officials, jurists, the armed forces, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and labor activists.


[1]  News of the Report in the U.S. media has been virtually nonexistent. Here is the New York Times article on the Report.

[2] On April 21st China responded to the U.S. criticism with “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2012.” This year, the Chinese report focused on U.S. gun crime, citing “astonishing casualties”; growing poverty in the U.S. and a wide wealth gap; and America’s overseas wars. It also singled out what it said was low voter participation in U.S. elections and the detention of terrorism suspects in Guantánamo.

[3] Similar recent reports about Burma come from Human Rights Watch, Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a Burmese Buddhist. On the other hand, the government continues to declare amnesties and release political prisoners, and we continue to be inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi’s, whose  acceptance in 2012 of her Nobel Peace Prize of 1991 was the subject of an earlier post.

[4] Ecuador’s wide-ranging measures to squelch hostile journalism have been the subject of persistent and detailed criticism by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and as discussed in a prior post Ecuador in retaliation has mounted, and continues to mount, a campaign to try to weaken the Commission and thereby its criticism of Ecuador.