Inter-American Rights Watch

Illegal Pesticides: A Continual Growing Concern in Paraguay

By: Samuel Schimel

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

COLONIA YERUTI, Paraguay – Paraguay made history in a 2019 ruling that held Paraguay responsible for failing to safeguard its citizens from the severe environmental contamination caused by illegal chemicals used on large-scale agribusinesses. These illegal agrochemicals were found to violate the State’s international obligations to protect the rights to life and respect for private and family life and the home.

The seizure of 13,000 pounds of suspected illegal pesticides in January 2020. Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post.

The landmark case, Portillo Cáceres v. Paraguay, was held before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (Committee). This case was brought as a result of toxic chemical pollutants that caused the death of Rubén Portillo Cáceres and a myriad of serious health concerns for other community members. These symptoms included “nausea, dizziness, headaches, fever, stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing and skin lesions.” However, the grave of effects of these chemical pollutants did not stop here. Additionally, these chemical pollutants have had devastating effects on the environment including the killing of fruit trees, crops, and farm animals.

In reaching the decision, the Committee showed its support by stating that a right to life also concerns the entitlement of individuals to enjoy a life with dignity. It does not include any acts or omissions that would cause an individual’s unnatural or premature death. Unfortunately, this case did not end the pervasive use of dangerous agrochemicals in Paraguay entirely.

In 2020, the running street value for banned pesticides in Paraguay is more than $2 million. The illegal pesticides and their strength are twice that of pesticides that are legal in Paraguay’s neighboring border country, Brazil. Much of the illegal pesticides prevalent in Brazil end up in Paraguay due to the shared massive, yet largely unmonitored, border. Pesticides are mostly produced in China and then smuggled across the Paraguay border. Roughly 287,000 tonnes of Atrazine and 63,000 tonnes of Syngnta were sold in Brazil in 2018.

Since the last two decades, illegal trafficking of pesticides has quickly heightened into one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises deserving of more recognition. The pesticide trade is operated akin to a narcotics trade and is often controlled by rival gangs and mafias. This has led to the introduction of counterfeit and contraband pesticides that are now in heavy circulation in both developed and underdeveloped countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these pesticides carry with them extreme environmental and social consequences. There is an estimate of 3 million people poisoned and 200,000 killed each year due to exposure to these harmful and largely unregulated substances. Their use, researchers find, can poison soil, contaminate water sources and ravage entire ecosystems. These large-scale harms, of course, are supported by illegal and unregulated trade.

While the Paraguayan border is still largely unregulated leading to an influx of agrochemicals, this issue would largely be off the radar of health organizations without the 2019 ruling of Cáceres v. Paraguay. While the issue is still rampant, it is important to note that an individual’s health and safety are still protected from these dangerous agrochemicals under law and health organizations, like the WHO, which continue to advocate for agrochemical trafficking to be better policed. 

For further information, please see:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Views adopted by the Committee under article 5 (4) of the Optional Protocol, concerning communication No. 2751/2016 – 20 Sept. 2019

International Justice Resource Center – UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE RECOGNIZES ENVIRONMENTAL HARM AS RIGHTS VIOLATION – 22 Aug. 2019

Monga bay – For European chemical giants, Brazil is an open market for toxic pesticides banned at home – 10 Sept. 2020

The Washington Post – In agricultural giant Brazil, a growing hazard: The illegal trade in pesticides – 9 Feb. 2020

United Nations Human Rights – Paraguay responsible for human rights violations in context of massive agrochemical fumigations – 14 Aug. 2019

The Recent Evolution of Marriage Equality in Costa Rica

By: Alex Blake

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – In May 2020, Costa Rica became the first Central American Country, and sixth Latin-American country to Legalize same-sex marriage. The vast majority of Latin-American countries have been steadfast in suppressing the rights of LGBT people, recently, both Guatemala and Panama have filed legislation that explicitly defines marriage as between man and woman, keeping same-sex marriage illegal.

Costa Ricans March in the Streets of San Jose in Celebration of the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage. Photo Courtesy of The Tico Times and Lindsay Fendt.

In 2016, the Costa Rican government began to show a serious interest in the legalization of same-sex marriage when it filed for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to interpret the right to privacy and right to equal protection and whether these rights extended to same-sex couples. In its 2017 opinion, the Court held that governments “must recognize and guarantee all the rights that are derived from a family bond between people of the same-sex”, and that it was discriminatory and inadmissible for separate legal provisions to be established just for same-sex marriages, the Court further went on to demand that member-governments “guarantee access to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination”. Finally, the Court stated that transgender people should be allowed to change their name on identity documents. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ rulings apply to all countries that have signed the American Convention on Human Rights (the “Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica”, (1969)). When the Court delivered this opinion, it gave Costa Rica 18 months to adhere to its guidelines and adopt same-sex marriage.

While Costa Rica was making these incredible strides in Human Rights law toward acceptance of LGBT’s and legalizing same-sex marriage, there was still major opposition within the country. Evangelical candidate Fabricio Alvarado ran against the progressive candidate Carlos Alvarado Quesada.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the center-left Citizen’s Action Party campaigned on a pro-same-sex marriage platform and promised to implement the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling as required to recognize such unions. On the other hand, right-wing candidate Fabricio Alvarado pledged to ignore the requirement if he was elected.

While the polls indicated a close election and there was much protest on both sides of this debate, Mr. Alvarado Quesada, the progressive, won the election rather handily. A few short months after the election, in August 2018, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and started the 18t month grace period in which the country would have to legalize same-sex marriage, the Legislative body did not act, and in May 2020 the law was extinct. President Alvarado Quesada was quoted on the day of legalization saying, “Today we celebrate freedom, equality and democratic institutions”.

Costa Rica seems to intend to keep pushing the envelope and further progress its laws to empower those of different sexual orientations and sexual identities in the future. Costa Rica must serve as an example for the rest of Latin-America and Central America and urge all other governments to follow its lead.

For further information, please see:

BBC News – Inter-American Human Rights Court backs same-sex marriage – 10 Jan.  2018

CBS News – Costa Rica becomes the first country in Central America to legalize same-sex marriage – 27 May, 2020

Human Rights Watch – Costa Rica First in Central America to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage – 26 May, 2020

PBS News Hour – Costa Rica legalizes same-sex marriage – 26 May, 2020

 

IACHR Expresses Concern over the Human Rights of U.S. Sex Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Rebecca Buchanan

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On November 13, 2020, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a press release expressing concern over the human rights of U.S. sex workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cat Hollis, Founder of the Haymarket Pole Collective. Photo Courtesy of OPB.

The statement called for the U.S. government to strengthen its guarantees that individuals engaged in sex work would maintain their environmental, economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly during the pandemic’s containment and mitigation measures. The IACHR reiterated its belief that the discrimination and stigma facing sex workers in the United States pose a great risk to human rights and dignity and must be eliminated.

In its press release, the IACHR drew on information from reports indicating that sex workers throughout the United States have experienced increased violence, discrimination, and poverty during the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders and social-distancing measures instituted in most U.S. states have severely decreased opportunities for income through sex work, leaving these workers unable to cover the costs of basic needs and essential services. When reaching out for help, individuals engaged in sex work have been met with dwindling opportunities for housing, a lack of accessible healthcare, and exclusion from many social assistance programs.

Sex work is criminalized in most U.S. states, leaving sex workers dangerously excluded from State registration systems, social services, and necessary healthcare provisions. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these unstable conditions, leaving sex workers especially vulnerable to the virus and its larger effects. Businesses providing sex work were banned from receiving U.S. Small Business Administration Loans, which offered relief to businesses struggling as a result of the pandemic because of a stipulation excluding live performances or services of a “prurient sexual nature.”

Spurned by the U.S. government, sex workers and the businesses that employ them have been forced to turn elsewhere for assistance. The Haymarket Pole Collective, an Oregon based group that advocates for Black and Indigenous strippers and other strippers of color, recently received a grant from the Oregon Health Authority. The $600,000 grant will be used to fund relief and wellness kits which will include mail-in COVID-19 infection test kits, in addition to other necessities.

The work of the Haymarket Pole Collective addresses the impact of sex work discrimination on minorities, which are often disproportionally affected by situations of emergency or social unrest. In its statement, the IACHR expressed fears that minority populations within the sex work community face rapidly increasing prejudice and discrimination during the pandemic. In particular, the IACHR highlighted the uniquely hostile situation of transgender sex workers who often lack government identification documentation aligned with their gender identity or expression. As a result, transgender sex workers “are exposed to the dual denial of various essential services, including health.” The IACHR called on the U.S. to guarantee that transgender individuals receive adequate care policies and health services respectful of their gender identity. 

Finally, the IACHR noted the increased potential for police violence against sex workers as tensions around the pandemic continue to grow. The IACHR urged the U.S. to implement training programs for police officers, medical officials, and social services personnel regarding the social, economic, and human rights of sex workers. If properly implemented, these trainings could provide sex workers with greater access to social welfare systems and allow for more accurate reporting on situations of sexual slavery, labor exploitation, and human trafficking.

For further information, please see:

American Psychological Association – How COVID-19 impacts sexual and gender minorities – 29 June 2020

Amnesty International – Include Sex Workers in the COVID-19 Response – 28 July 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: IACHR calls on States to guarantee the human rights of women engaged in sex work in the context of the pandemic – 13 Nov. 2020

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Program providing COVID-19 relief to Oregon sex workers meets overwhelming demand – 14 Nov. 2020

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health – COVID-19 Prevention and Protecting Sex Workers: A Call to Action – 14 Oct. 2020

IACHR Condemns Sterilizations of Migrants Detained at ICE Facility in Georgia

By: Shane Kelly

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

GEORGIA, United States of America – On October 30, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for sterilization procedures performed on detainees of the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, GA.

Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Photo courtesy of CNN.

Specifically, the IACHR admonished the non-consensual hysterectomies and neglect of surgeons, which violated rights to personal security, family, and privacy afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, the complaint presented by human rights organizations describes the compounding harm caused by the risk of COVID-19 infection, experienced by those subjected to the procedures.

The complaint, presented to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security by numerous social justice organizations, alleges that the migrant detention center in Irwin County, GA, has been sterilizing women with neglect towards general medical care, including a lack of effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The IACHR has called for the immediate cessation of said practices, as well as investigations and prosecutions of those responsible.

The complaint is corroborated by testimonies from a former nurse, multiple detainees, and an independent medical team. The former nurse describes some shocking stories, including one of a detained immigrant woman who underwent surgery to have one of her ovaries removed because of a cyst, only to awake from anesthesia with a total hysterectomy. The medical team’s report found records of nineteen migrant women who experienced negligent care, discriminatory treatment, and dangerous environments considered inefficient in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

In the international context, the IACHR invokes the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in the Case of IV v. the State of Bolivia, where the court recognized the autonomy and reproductive human rights of women in their lives and bodies. The IACHR also looks to the “Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking, Resolution 01/20 on Pandemics and Human Rights,” for recommendations and guidelines in remedying this issue.

These violations of migrant women’s rights come amidst a time of harsh scrutiny of ICE’s procedures in its operations of detention centers. Other violations made public include: deplorable living conditions; lack of separation in a global pandemic; and deprivation of the right to freedom of religion. The IACHR is further concerned with the lack of response from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Human Services following the publicity of the conditions by the press, the submission of the complaint, and the IACHR’s condemnation. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also recently urged action from the inspector general to investigate the allegations.

For further information, please see:

Reliefweb – IACHR Expresses Its Concern Over Reports of Sterilizations and Surgical Interventions Without Consent in Migrant Detention Centers in the USA – 30 Oct. 2020

ICDC – Lack of Medical Care, Unsafe Work Practices, and Absence of Adequate Protection Against COVID-19 for Detained Immigrants and Employees Alike at the Irwin County Detention Center – 14 Sept. 2020

CNN – Whistleblower Alleges High Rate of Hysterectomies and Medical Neglect at ICE Facility – 16 Sept. 2020

The IACHR Brings Freedom of Expression Violations, Against Indigenous Broadcasters, to the Attention of the Inter-American Court and the Government of Guatemala

By: Christian González

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

GUATEMALA – Two recent cases involving actions of the Guatemalan government against local indigenous radio stations have been reported and brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Inter-American Court”) and the Government of Guatemala, by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Anastasia Mejía Triquiz, the director of Xolabaj Radio and TV, was arrested by police on September 22nd, 2020. Photo Courtesy of The Coalition For Women In Journalism.

The first involves the legal obstacles faced by four local stations operated by indigenous people, including access to radio frequencies and criminal consequences imposed on any unauthorized operations. The second involves the arrest, detention, and delayed hearing process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquiz.

On April 3rd, 2020, the IACHR presented a merits report to the Inter-American Court regarding four Guatemalan radio stations, each operated by a different indigenous ethnic group. These four are: a station based in Sumpango operated by Kaqchikel Maya, a station based in San Miguel Chicai operated by the Achí Maya, a station based in Cajolá operated by Mam Maya, and a station based in Todos Santos Cuchumatán operated primarily by Maya of Mam heritage. The IACHR found that the Guatemalan government placed legal barriers that prevent access of radio frequencies to local indigenous communities and caused indirect discrimination against them.

Guatemalan law dictates that radio frequencies are assigned to parties that can produce the highest financial offer, making it essentially a bidding process. The IACHR asserts that this burdens indigenous communities due to the fact that many suffer from poverty and cannot afford to make competitive offers. This in turn disenfranchises these communities from lawful radio broadcasting. Article 13.3 of the American Convention states that “[t]he right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies…. or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.” According the IACHR, the Guatemalan government has violated Article 13.3 by imposing these funds-based restrictions, effectively preventing indigenous communities from preserving and sharing their culture and language through community radio stations.

Furthermore, Guatemalan law criminalizes unauthorized operation of radio broadcasts as a theft offense, which the IACHR views as an additional burden on indigenous communities and as government censorship, a violation of Article 13.2 of the American Convention. The IACHR has compiled a list of remedial recommendations for the government to follow that include increased access to radio frequencies, refraining from the use of criminal law against indigenous communities, and full reparations to those communities already harmed. The case is pending in the Inter-American Court, which is currently waiting on receipt of written arguments from parties.

On October 22nd, 2020, the IACHR Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression released a statement to the Guatemalan government regarding the arrest and detention of Anastasia Mejía Triquiz. Mejía Triquiz is a journalist of K’iche Maya heritage and the director of the Xolabaj Radio and TV stations based in Joyabaj. On September 22nd, she was arrested by the National Civil Police on charges of sedition and attempt with aggravated arson and aggravated robbery, though further justification of these charges has not been given by the government.

The Office believes that Mejía Triquiz’s arrest is possibly linked to her coverage of local demonstrations against the alleged corruption surrounding Joyabal Mayor Francisco Carrascosa’s use of COVID-19 relief funds. Her coverage and criticisms of Carrascosa were broadcasted on Xolabaj’s Facebook page.

Mejía Triquez has been detained for 31 days without a judge’s official order of pre-trial detention. Her first statement hearing has been postponed twice, and it seems she will have been detained for a total of 37 days before her first hearing. The Office alleged that this as a deprivation of her personal liberty and freedom of political speech, and acknowledges the indirect censorship effects this has on other indigenous broadcasters. In its press release, the Office called on the Guatemalan government to respect the expression and liberty rights of Mejía Triquez and to guarantee her a diligent investigation of the charges brought against her.

The Office stated that it believes that Mejía Triquez’s arrest and the above pending case in the Inter-American Court constitute an ongoing effort by the government to quash the freedom of expression rights of indigenous community broadcasters throughout Guatemala.

For further information, please see:

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Press Release: The IACHR presents case involving Guatemala before the Inter-American Court (Spanish) – 25 Sep. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Report No. 51/18, Petition 1779-12: Indigenous Kaqhikel Maya People of Sumpango and Others vs. Guatemala (Spanish) – 5 May 2018

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – American Convention on Human Rights – 22 Nov. 1969

Inter-American Court of Human Rights – Case Information: Indigenous Kaqhikel Maya People of Sumpango and Others vs. Guatemala (Spanish) – 5 Aug. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression – Press Relese: The Office of the Special Rapporteur considers inadmissible the delay in the detention process of indigenous journalist Anastasia Mejía Triquis in a pandemic context and calls on the State of Guatemala to respect and guarantee her right to personal liberty and due process of law – 22 Oct. 2020

Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos – We demand the release of the journalist Anastasia Mejía in Guatemala (Spanish) – 21 Oct. 2020

Facebook – Xolabaj Radio – Last Updated Oct. 19, 2002