Inter-American Rights Watch

U.S. Sanctions on ICC Officials on Hold

By: Andreas Munguia

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

NEW YORK, United States – On November 4, 2021, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York granted a preliminary injunction blocking an executive order issued by the Trump Administration in June of last year, which threatened to impose sanctions on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) officials and “any foreign person” assisting ongoing investigations by the court into suspected human rights abuses and other crimes by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2014. The ICC, which holds jurisdiction over investigations and prosecutions of individuals accused of war crimes, called the Trump Administration’s move an attack on international criminal justice and referred to it as an attempt to interfere with the court’s independence and its responsibility to investigate suspected war crimes. The European Union had also expressed its opposition to the move.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about a Trump administration executive order on the International Criminal Court as Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper listens during a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S. on June 11, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Yuri Gripas and Reuters.

Four dual-national U.S. international law professors and the Open Society Justice Initiative, a human rights organization based in New York, challenged the executive order on the ground that it was a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. The plaintiffs – both of whom often interact with the ICC and the Office of the Prosecutor through, for example, trainings, advice, or amicus briefs – were concerned that their interactions with the court would potentially be considered “prohibited transactions” with ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, a senior member of the prosecutor’s office. If these interactions were in fact considered “prohibited transactions” with Bensouda and Mochochoko, both of whom faced sanctions under the executive order, the plaintiffs would be subject to prosecution. In addition, because the executive order allows for sanctions to be imposed on “entities that have materially assisted designated persons,” the plaintiffs were also concerned that they would face sanctions themselves.   

The district court granted the preliminary injunction on the ground that there was a high likelihood that the plaintiffs would succeed on their First Amendment claim. According to the court, the regulations under the executive order are “content-based restrictions on free speech,” because speech in support of Bensouda or Mochochoko is prohibited while speech against them is not. Therefore, such regulations are subject to strict scrutiny under which the government must show that the regulations are narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest.   

While the court did not question the government’s stated interest in “protecting the personnel of the United States and its allies from investigation, arrest, detention, and prosecution by the ICC without the consent of the United States or its allies,” the court found that the restrictions were not narrowly tailored toward such stated interest due to the fact they also prohibited speech that was not relevant to that interest. For example, the regulations also prohibited speech pertaining to ICC investigations that did not involve the U.S. and its allies.

The litigation is ongoing, and the government must respond to the plaintiff’s complaint by January 19, 2021. However, there is a chance that President Biden may rescind former President Trump’s executive order, and thus eliminate the need for further litigation.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – US Sanctions on the International Criminal Court – 14 Dec. 2020

Just Security – ICC Associates Win Temporary Reprieve from Draconian US Sanctions – 05 Jan. 2021

Law360 Legal News – Trump’s Move to Sanction ICC Officials On Hold, For Now – 04 Jan.  2021

Reuters – U.S. judge blocks Trump’s sanctions targeting human rights lawyers, war crimes tribunal – 04 Jan. 2021

Cuban State Agents Endanger the Rights and Safety of San Isidro Movement Members

By: Anthony B. Emmi

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has found that Cuban state agents are endangering the rights and physical safety of 20 members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI). The MSI was formed in 2018 in opposition to a then-new law that made it illegal to perform art before it is approved by the Ministry of Culture. It is a group of artists, academics, independent journalists, and human rights defenders pushing for increased political and artistic freedom, as well as democracy. State agents have frequently targeted members of the MSI, for heavy surveillance and often violent detention.

A demonstration outside of the Ministry of Culture following the raid on the hunger strike. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times.

Denís Solís González is a rapper and one of the 20 MSI members identified by the protection order. Mr. Solís González was violently detained by men who were allegedly state counterintelligence operatives on November 9th, 2020. On November 11th, he was sentenced to 8 months in prison for “contempt.” He was not permitted to contact anyone until November 16th. On November 12th, two other members, Luís Manuel Otero Alcántara and Iliana Hernández Cardosa, were detained while investigating the disappearance of Mr. Solís González. Other members suffered similar detentions, along with alleged beatings and sexual abuse. When activists held a hunger strike in an apartment to oppose the imprisonment of Mr. Solís González, state agents raided the building and detained the participants. The state cited Covid-19 regulations as justification to execute the raid.

State agents have also placed MSI members under 24-hour surveillance in their own homes. Between December 1st, 2020, and December 11th, Anamely Ramos González was only able to leave her home once. The one time she was able to leave, she was escorted by state agents to the Mexican embassy in Havana.

In response to the dangers that movement members are facing, on February 11th, 2021, the IACHR issued Resolution 14/2021 (the Resolution), which grants protection measures for the 20 identified members. The Resolution requires Cuba to: (a) adopt the measures necessary to ensure state agents will respect the rights and personal integrity of the MSI members; (b) ensure the measures allow the MSI members to safely continue their work as human rights defenders without threats of violence or intimidation; (c) agree on the measures with the MSI members and their representatives; and (d) report on the actions it has taken to investigate the events that necessitated the Resolution.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Cuba: San Isidro movement and allies under the frightening levels of surveillance – 15 Dec. 2020

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – The IACHR grants precautionary measures in favor of 20 identified members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) regarding Cuba – 12 Feb. 2021

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Resolution 14/2021 – 11 Feb. 2021

The New York Times – They Call Us Enemies of the Cuban People – 10 Dec. 2020

Wall Street Journal – Cuba’s San Isidro Uprising – 20 Dec. 2020

Native American Communities Left in the Dark During COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Elizabeth Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America – Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Native American communities have been feeling the brunt of the impact. The Trump Administration focused heavily on policies that benefitted larger private companies, leaving inadequate funding for tribal governments. However, under the transition to the Biden Administration, many Native American communities are hopeful.

An IHS hospital. Many, like this one, are located in isolated areas, causing difficulties hiring staff and supporting services. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

The Indian Health Service (IHS), the agency that provides hospital and health services to tribal communities, has long been criticized for its failure to provide effective healthcare to Native Americans. The IHS suffers from funding and supplies shortages, which the pandemic has only exasperated.

Native Americans visiting IHS hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms were handed inhalers and received instructions to simply “get rest.” During the commotion between the federal government and the state governments in regard to proper funding and access to supplies, IHS hospitals fell by the wayside. These hospitals lacked suitable staffing and were forced to wait months for life-saving equipment, causing the death rate of Native Americans to soar.

The Navajo Nation has been affected in a higher proportion than other tribes with over five hundred deaths recorded thus far. In the beginning months of the pandemic, positivity rates for IHS patients from the Navajo Nation in Phoenix reached about 20% as compared to a 7% positivity rate nationally during that same time. Although the positivity rate has decreased, it still remains about three times higher than the national average.

The positivity rates for Native Americans in states like Arizona and New Mexico saw heights of up to 30%, even though these communities make up only a small portion of the population.

Many health officials in IHS hospitals even took to social media to beg for personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer, and other equipment. The hospitals relied on donations as their main source for supplies. Even when the donated equipment did arrive, many of the staff realized that they never received the proper training and that they lacked understanding of how to use the equipment.

Even worse, some of the PPE that Native communities received was inadequate to help protect those using it. In an email to tribal officials, one IHS worker wrote, “we can get you N95s (they’re expired, but the C.D.C. and I.H.S. say that they’re still OK to use).” Many of the IHS health officials were left feeling as though they were the last priority, but they still made use of what they were able to receive.

Native communities have lacked proper healthcare service for years. The U.S. government has failed to provide sufficient funding and services for the healthcare system it helped create for Native Americans. Tribal elders, seen as the most important members of the community, suffered greatly at the hands of their untreated underlying health conditions. Despite this, Native Americans look to President Biden with hopes he will provide their communities with much-needed relief.

For further information, please see:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – COVID-19 Mortality Among American Indian and Alaska Native Persons – 14 States, January-June 2020,  11 Dec. 2020

Indian Health Service – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – 28 Feb. 2021

The New York Times – Native Americans ‘Left Out in the Cold’ Under Trump Press Biden for Action – 18 Feb. 2021

The New York Times – Native Americans Reliant on Hospital Feel Abandoned by U.S. During Pandemic – 3 Jan. 2021

The New York Times – Pandemic Highlights Deep-Rooted Problems in Indian Health Service – 3 Jan. 2021

Unaccompanied Migrant Children Continue to be Detained at the U.S. Southern Border

By: Ryan Ockenden

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

CARRIZO SPRINGS, United States of America – Within recent weeks, thousands of unaccompanied migrant children have arrived at the southern border of the United States. President Biden has agreed not to turn back unaccompanied minors in spite of Title 42, the emergency public health law invoked by former President Trump, which authorized turning away the majority of migrants due to COVID-19.

Trailers previously used to house oil workers have been turned into bunks for the unaccompanied migrant minors. Photo Courtesy of Eric Gay and Associated.

Although President Biden promised to take a more humane approach to unauthorized immigration, his administration has re-opened the controversial Carrizo Springs detention center, to house these unaccompanied minors. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, minors cannot be held by border agents at these detention centers for more than 72 hours. After 72 hours, the unaccompanied minors must then be transferred to shelters while the Office of Refugee Resettlement can locate their family members in the United States and arrange for their release to the families. The Biden administration is not following this law. Due to the lag in processing, children are being held for much longer in detention centers like that in Carrizo Springs. Once unaccompanied minors arrive at the shelters, many of them are not being released to their families, despite the families being located, because of the requirement that the minors quarantine for ten days and test negative twice for COVID-19.

In the past, the Inter-American Court and Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has asserted that detentions at the U.S. southern border must be as brief as possible. Further, the IACHR has stressed that the best interests of a child are the primary consideration in any action taken in relation to the child. COVID-19 has posed a confounding problem for the American government: whether to prioritize public health; or, to get children out of shelters and into their families’ possession as soon as possible.

Many human rights advocates feel that the Biden administration is reverting to the perverse policies under former President Trump. The advocates believe the vulnerable children are being held in unsafe facilities that do not meet their best interest: being sent to safety with their family members in the United States.

In the face of a health crisis, the Biden administration will continue to face two issues: (1) ensuring children are not held for more than 72 hours in Border Patrol custody; and, (2) whether prioritizing public health and quarantine policies over reuniting unaccompanied minors with their families is appropriate. On the first issue, the Biden administration has said that they do not want to keep the facilities open long, but they have no current alternative since they did not inherit a system that manages COVID-19 and the influx of unaccompanied minor migrants. On the second issue, the Biden administration has shown no indication to change their policy, raising questions about whether they are seeking the best interests of the children.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – Carrizo Springs detention facility cannot become status quo for children – 23 Feb. 2021

NPR – Biden Pledges That Border Shelter For Teens ‘Won’t Stay Open Very Long’ – 25 Feb. 2021

Pacific Standard – What laws protect detained children from mistreatment on the border? – 24 Jun. 2019

Politico – Biden promised a ‘fair and humane’ immigration overhaul. What he inherited is a mess – 26 Feb. 2021

The New York Times – Thousands of Migrant Children Detained in Resumption of Trump-Era Policies – 26 Feb. 2021

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


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