Velásquez Paiz et al v. Guatemala: Gender Stereotypes in Guatemala

By: Justin Furry

Special Feature Reporter

Gender stereotypes and discrimination is an issue that has been in societies across the world. Recently, gender discrimination has been a big problem in Guatemala. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide, or gender motivated killings of women, in the world. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was able to explore the relationship between this discrimination and violence towards women in Guatemala in the 2015 case Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala.

On August 12, 2005, Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz, a 19-year-old student, went to a party. Throughout the evening, Claudina was regularly in contact with her parents. At around 11:45 pm, Claudina contacted her parents for the last time. Two hours later, Claudina’s parents were informed that their daughter may be in danger. They called the police, who told them that they would have to wait at least 24 hours to report Claudina’s disappearance. Claudina’s parents and friends searched for her throughout the night. The police did not formally take notice of Claudina’s disappearance until 8:30 am the next morning.

Shortly after, an anonymous tip provided information that helped police and firemen find a woman’s body. The body was later identified as Claudina by her parents. Claudina was found with a bullet wound on her forehead, as well as signs of sexual violence. There is no evidence that the Public Ministry of Guatemala or the police had undertaken any action following information of Claudina’s disappearance, except for the report made at 8:30 am on August 13, 2005. No criminal investigation was initiated until after Claudina’s body was found.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Guatemala was responsible for violating Claudina and her family’s human rights. The judgment is important because it casts further light on what specific steps are necessary for a state to satisfy its due diligence obligations within the particular context of violence against women. The Court acknowledged that Guatemala had taken some measures to prevent the generalized violence of woman in society, but the measures were far from sufficient. The Court said that whenever a report is made to the police about a missing woman, a duty of strict due diligence arises from the very first hours of the disappearance. Thus, the Court ruled that Guatemala had violated Articles 4.1, 5.1, 1.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights (“ACHR”) and Articles 1.1 and 7 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“IACVAW”).

The Court also found that the lack of a fundamental due diligence on the part of Guatemalan officials throughout the investigation process had deprived Claudina’s family access to justice in violation of Articles 8.1 and 25 of the ACHR. The Court criticized the investigation and thought the process was directed at the culture of gender bias and discrimination prevalent within both the police and prosecuting authorities. One discriminatory practice the Court considered was a report filed by the prosecutor in which the motive of the murder was described as “passionate possibly under the influence of alcohol”. The Court relied on the statements of Professor Christine Chinkin, Director of the Centre for Women, Peace and Security, at the LSE. Professor Chinkin cautioned against the concept of a “crime of passion” which is founded on gender stereotyping that justifies violence against women. To describe the murderer as “passionate” justifies the violent act and at the same time blame the victim. The Court noted that the prosecutor’s attitude was not exclusive to the authorities leading the investigation but, rather, reflected a general tendency among officials to victim blame by pointing out factors such as the victim’s lifestyle or clothing.

The judgment represents one example of the way in which the due diligence standard has the potential to address the causes of gender discrimination and violence against women.

For further information please see:

IACHR Project – Velásquez Paiz et al. v. Guatemala, Case Summary – 2015

Oxford Human Rights Hub – Velásquez Paiz et al v Guatemala: Gender Stereotypes and Lack of Justice – Part I – 9 August 2016

Centre For Women, Peace & Security – Velásquez Paiz et al v. Guatemala

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rejects Assange Complaint Against Ecuador

By: Justin Furry

Special Feature Reporter

Last month, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected the request for precautionary measures requested by the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange against Ecuador. Assange has been taking refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy since 2012 to avoided being extradited to Sweden, where authorities were seeking to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. Although that investigation was later dropped, Assange fears he could be extradited to and face charges in the United States, where WikiLeaks is currently being investigated by federal prosecutors.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo Courtesy of AP Photo.

Assange’s complaint against Ecuador arises out of new set of rules imposed by Ecuador. In October 2018, Ecuador forced Assange to comply with a new “cohabitation protocol.” These new rules forced Assange to take responsibility for his maintenance, health, food, cleaning and laundry expenses, as well putting restrictions on who could visit him and when. The Ecuadorian government has said that if Assange fails to comply with the new rules, then it would lead to a potential withdrawal of Assange from asylum.

Assange says Ecuador is seeking to end his asylum and is putting pressure on him by isolating him from visitors and spying on him. A friend who regularly visits Assange says he complains privately that the Ecuadorian government recently removed embassy diplomats who were sympathetic to Assange and replaced them with officials who are much less friendly towards him. Assange’s lawyers have also cited media reports suggesting Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno had tried to reach an agreement with the United States on handing over Assange to the United States government in exchange for debt relief.

Assange’s complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights argued the existence of a “potential risk” to his situation in the embassy for the conditions that regulate his asylum granted in 2012. Assange also demanded that he be protected from extradition to the United States. In November 2018, United States federal prosecutors mistakenly made public a document which suggested that Assange had been secretly indicted by the United States. United States Officials have denied that Assange has been charged and his name mistakenly appeared in the document in an apparent “cut and paste error.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced its decision to reject Assange’s complaint through a statement issued by the United State’s Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office stated “(t)he decision was based on the fact that the request filed by Assange did not comply with the requirements of gravity, urgency and irreparable harm provided for in Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.” Although the Commission rejected Assange’s complaint against Ecuador, they did remind Ecuador of an international law which states “that no state should deport, return or extradite someone to another country where that person might face human rights abuses.”

With his complaint against Ecuador being rejected, it seems like only option for Assange is to comply with the new rules imposed by Ecuador or possibly face a withdrawal of his asylum.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Human rights agency rejects Assange complaint against Ecuador – 14 March 2019

Telesur – IACHR Denies Precautionary Measures Requested by Assange – 13 March 2019

Telesur – IACHR Requests Information on Assange’s Condition – 1 February 2019

Sputnik International – OAS Requests Info on Assange’s Conditions in Ecuadorian Embassy in UK – 1 February 2019

What Have We Learned From the Rwandan Genocide?

The legacy of Rwanda’s genocide has some compelling messages about the impact of hate speech and why words matter.

By: Cora True-Frost

A memorial to the thousands who were killed in and around the Catholic church during the 1994 genocide is seen outside a church in Ntarama, Rwanda on Friday. Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press.

THIS FIRST WEEK OF April marks the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a three-month long massacre during which Hutu militants killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus after the Hutu president was killed. The international community responded to the atrocities late, and then sought accountability after the genocide by establishing the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) to try those most responsible.

It is important that we remember the horror of the genocide and reflect on the mistakes made, in order to work toward a more peaceful future. One of the main takeaways from the ICTR’s atrocity trials is that words matter.

The world of the Rwandan genocide may to most people seem far removed from the United States. It does not to me. I am a law professor who grew up an Army brat, often abroad. I graduated high school in Nuremberg in the former West Germany – the site of the famous Nuremberg Tribunal held in the wake of the Holocaust. I know that words matter. Always mindful of the horrors of the Holocaust and the ways that democratic majorities can scapegoat and dehumanize minorities, my professional focus has been in constitutional and international law.

The law, and particularly international criminal trials, should teach us about past mistakes. The legacy of Rwanda’s genocide has some compelling messages for American people about the power of our words, and the danger of hate speech. Few of us are immune to the polarizing media coverage. Our leaders and media pundits use generalizations about cultures and fear-mongering to drive home support for policy in a very profound and impactful way. Creating hate as opposed to understanding will lead to repeat mistakes. This week in particular, we should heed the legacy of Rwanda’s genocide, reminding our nation of what can happen when we don’t identify and speak about the impact that fear has on our united psyche.

We Americans know words matter. We famously have strong free-speech protections. We are outliers in the international community for refusing to penalize hate speech. However, even those of us with the strongest commitments to free speech understand that speech can be dangerous and even constitute incitement.

Indeed, many terrorist prosecutions turn on speech acts. The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda recognized the power of speech to lead to violence when it upheld the convictions of key figures in the genocide: Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the Kangura newspaper; Ferdinand Nahimana, an historian and founder of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM); and Jean-Bosco Baryagwiza, a Rwandan diplomat and executive committee chairman of RTLM. The print and broadcast media fomented and disseminated statements of broad hatred of the Tutsi ethnic group through aggressive and demeaning rhetoric, even labeling the opposition as “inyenzi” (cockroaches) and calling for their extermination.

Today, our leaders’ rhetoric is running too close to past mistakes. Words matter. America’s highest leaders’ refer to undocumented migrants alternately as “rapists,” “bad guys” or “criminals” who “infest” our country. We Americans must demand change in that practice, and heed the lesson of the Rwandan tribunal: that there is often a thin line between hate speech and hate crime.

Professor Susan Benesch’s work on dangerous speech can be helpful in discerning that line. We can regard with extra vigilance: speech by powerful speakers who have a high degree of influence over their audience; situations in which an audience has grievances and fears; speech that either explicitly or implicitly calls for violence; contexts that include past acts of violence, including a lack of efforts to confront or solve these acts of violence; and means of dissemination that may be the primary or sole news source for the relevant audience.

In our country, reported hate crimes have risen three years consecutively, including a 17 percent rise from 2017 to 2018, according to the FBI. Indeed, the FBI director cites white nationalism and violent extremism as threats to the U.S., even as our president says he “does not really see white nationalism as a threat.” Our increasingly polarized media leaves a chasm of understanding between us Americans.

To honor the lives unnecessarily lost in the Rwandan genocide, we Americans can, while embracing our culture of free speech and free media, ensure that we treat all people, whatever their nationality, as human beings deserving of respect.

C. Cora True-Frost is an associate professor at the Syracuse University College of Law and director of Impunity Watch.

African Court Dismisses Unemployment Case Against Rwanda

By: Hannah Gabbard
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

ARUSHA, Tanzania – On May 11, 2018, the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR) dismissed Chrysanthe Rutabingwa’s claim against the government of Rwanda as invalid.

Spectators at the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights. Photo Courtesy of AfCHPR on Twitter.

In 2001, Rutabingwa was fired from his position as an Audit and Evaluations Expert at the Ministry of Finance for allegedly disclosing confidential documents. Rutabingwa claimed that his dismissal was unfair and unconstitutional. In particular, Rutabingwa claimed that the Republic of Rwanda, for failing to solve Rutabingwa’s unemployment, violated his right to equality and equal protection, right to be heard, right of access to public services, right to work in equitable conditions and right to equal pay, and right to enjoy favorable work conditions.

Rutabingwa appealed to AfCHPR on November 10, 2014 against the Republic of Rwanda. He sought reimbursement of salaries dating back to 2001, government provided housing, reinstatement of public service employment, and $1,000,000 U.S. dollars for damages and humiliation.

In Rwanda, Rutabingwa filed in a court of first instance. Following their judgement, the High Court dismissed Rutabingwa’s claim. Rutabingwa never appealed to Rwanda’s highest court, the Supreme Court. AfCHPR dismissed Rutabingwa’s case for failing to exhaust local remedies in Rwanda before appealing to AfCHPR in Tanzania.

AfCHPR has ruled on four cases against the Rwandan government. As Rwanda’s withdrawal from the declaration that provides the court with jurisdiction took effect in 2017, AfCHPR can only proceed with cases filed prior to 2017.

For further information, please see:

African Union – Chrysanthe Rutabingwa vs. Republic of Rwanda Order – 11 May 2018

African Union – Chrysanthe Rutabingwa vs. Republic of Rwanda Judgement – 11 May 2018

The East African – Rwanda government wins longstanding court feud with sacked employee – 16 May 2018