South America

Venezuela Refers US Sanctions to ICC for Crimes Against Humanity

By: Henry Schall

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

CARACAS, Venezuela – On February 13, 2020, the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela filed a request with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  This request has the purpose of seeking an investigation of United States sanctions against Venezuela, calling the sanctions “crimes against humanity.”

The current crisis in Venezuela is due to economic collapse after President Maduro took power in 2013.  This collapse caused widespread shortages in basic food and supplies causing 4.5 million people to flee. 

Strong opposition parties emerged around Maduro within the National Assembly culminating in the 2018 election, where Maduro was reelected.  This election was widely dismissed as rigged, and fifty other countries recognize the National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the rightful president. 

To pressure Maduro in hopes that he would step down, the United States imposed new sanctions in August 2019.  In a letter to Congress, President Trump wrote that the new sanctions were imposed due to the “continued usurpation of power by Nicolás Maduro and persons affiliated with him, as well as human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens.”

President Trump signed an executive order which declared all property or interests in property owned by the government of Venezuela in the United States as blocked which cannot be used.   The new sanctions bar any transactions with Venezuelan officials whose assets are blocked.  President Trump’s order states, “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.” 

These new sanctions expand pressure on Maduro by targeting his government, but also targeting individuals, companies, and countries doing business with the government.  The United States Security Advisor John Bolton said the new sanction could be imposed on any supporters of the Maduro government, since the sanctions would force countries and companies to choose between doing business with the United States or Venezuela.  Venezuela has long blamed the United States for the current economic crisis, but the sanctions do include exceptions for humanitarian goods, food and medicine.  

In a sixty-page brief, Venezuela referred the situation in accordance with Article 14 of the Rome Statute, declaring that the Unilateral Coercive Measures imposed impose negative impacts on the people in Venezuela.  Venezuela contends these sanctions contravene international law that prevent foreign intervention in internal affairs and have caused an enormous hardship for the people of Venezuela.  The brief further declares these sanctions as crimes against humanity, citing a study by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs which provides statistical evidence that sanctions amount to a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelan Citizens. 

On February 19, 2020, the Presidency of the ICC referred the situation in Venezuela to Pre-Trial Chamber III.  According to the ICC, a State Party referral does not automatically lead to an investigation, but it may speed up opening the investigation.  Now, the Prosecutor must consider issues of jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice in determining if an investigation should be opened. 

For further information, please see:

International Criminal Court – Annex I to the Prosecution’s Provision of the Supporting Document of the Referral Submitted by the Government of Venezuela – 4 Mar. 2020

International Criminal Court – Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on the referral by Venezuela regarding the situation in its own territory – 17 Feb. 2020

BBC – Venezuela crisis in 300 words – 6 Jan. 2020

BBC – US imposes sweeping sanctions on Venezuelan government – 6 Aug. 2019

Case of First Impression: Inter-American Court and Sexual Violence in School

By: Abigail Neuviller

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

QUITO, Ecuador – On January 28, 2020 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) heard Paola Guzman Albarracin v. Ecuador, its first case pertaining to sexual violence in a school setting. Paola was a sixteen-year-old girl who took her own life after she was repeatedly sexually abused by the Vice-Principal of her school.

Petita Albarracin, mother of Paola, talking about her daughter during an interview. Photo Courtesy of the Guardian.

From the ages of fourteen to sixteen, she was sexually abused and raped by the school administrator. The sexual abuse led to a pregnancy and when her abuser took her to the school doctor for an abortion, he said he would only perform the surgery if Paola had sex with him.

Soon thereafter, Paola took her own life by ingesting phosphorus. Before she died, she told her friends on the way to school, who then alerted school authorities, but they told her to pray for forgiveness instead of seeking timely medical care.

Paola’s mother, Petita Albarracin, has continued the legal battle for over eighteen years. When she first filed suit in Ecuador, the case was dismissed. She then brought the suit to the IACtHR, an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, which rules on whether a government violated human rights.  

The IACtHR will determine whether Ecuador was responsible for failing to prevent the sexual abuse, if Paola was adequately protected from sexual violence in a state school, and if the school failed to provide her with proper medical care.

Despite this case being the first of its kind before the IACtHR, sexual harassment experienced by school students is not uncommon. In Ecuador alone, 32% of girls report experiencing some form of sexual violence while at school.

According to the United Nation’s Children’s Agency (UNICEF), three out of ten students in Latin America between the ages of thirteen and fifteen have experienced sexual harassment in school.

This sexual violence is frequently perpetrated by school teachers and administrators who take advantage of their positions of trust and authority. With students particularly, this type of violence manifests in poor school performance, high dropout rates, and social isolation.

The IACtHR is expected to rule on the case within the year. This decision will have a sweeping effect since its binding on Ecuador, but also the other twenty-two countries in Central and South America under its jurisdiction.

For further information, please see:

Center for Reproductive Rights – Center Argues Milestone Case at Inter-American Court of Human Rights – 29 Jan. 2020

The Guardian – Landmark Case Held on Alleged Sexual Abuse of Ecuadorian Schoolgirl – 29 Jan. 2020

Reuters – Americas’ Human Rights Court Hears Deadly Sexual Violence Case from Ecuador – 28 Jan. 2020

Center for Reproductive Rights – Groundbreaking Case at Inter-American Court on Human Rights Could Transform Girl’s Rights Across Latin America and Beyond – 28 Jan. 2020

Resolución del Presidente de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – 10 Dec. 2019

Organization of American States – IACHR Takes Case Involving Ecuador to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – 13 Feb. 2019

Chilean Protestors Human Rights are Diminished Amid Governmental Use of Excessive Force

By: Ann Ciancia

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

SANTIAGO, Chile – On October 18, thousands of Chilean people commenced protesting the government’s announcement of increasing public transportation costs. One day later, a state of emergency was declared as violence escalated within the country of Chile. The U.N. has reported over 20 deaths and 2,300 injuries of protestors since their fight for fair costs and equality began a month ago. The escalation of violence continues to grow daily in Chile.

Protestors in the Streets of Chile. Photo Courtesy of Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images.

Chile’s President, Sebastián Piñera, declared a state of emergency with night-time curfews, positioning tanks, and troops to face what he considers a “war with a violent enemy.” Many believe the excessive use of law enforcement was not necessary and has put the lives of many at a risk of safety. President Piñera has engaged in violating human rights through military demonstrations of arson, riots, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Many individuals have been blinded by these attacks.

Many victims have fallen short against the excessive force used by police. Children are being treated poorly, beaten, and detained. Amnesty International has reported over 7,000 people being detained since the beginning of the protests. Many women have reported being victims of sexual violence and being raped while in detainment. Active protestors of the country are being tortured for speaking out.

The Chilean people are being beaten for expressing their thoughts about change for their country through protests. A nationwide movement of peaceful demonstrations has led to violent riots. This has caused havoc throughout the country and has led to over a billion dollars’ worth of damage to the infrastructure of the nation. The violence against protestors in Chile has caused mass destruction in this country.

“Violence can never be the answer to people’s social and political demands.”

One particular protestor, Alex Nunez, was chased by three police officers and was severely beaten. The injuries he sustained that night, where only 5% of his brain was working, resulted in his death.

Prosecutors in Chile are investigating over 1,000 cases of abuse alleged by protestors. The abuse victims have faced range from sexual violence, to assault and torture. All of these injuries were sustained by victims from police and military members. The National Human Development Initiative collected over 50 cases in connection with homicide and sexual violence involving the Chilean security agents. A Chilean prosecutor was selected to investigate the crimes against human rights violations within the districts of Santiago.

Amnesty International is continuing to investigate possible violations of human rights law and crimes against protestors of Chile. Due to the amount of deaths and injuries, it is evident that Chilean authorities have used excessive force against these protestors. The world continues to call out President Piñera to take action to stop harmful force used against victims by police and military members and to allow protestors to use their platform for a movement to fight against inequality.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Human rights abuse accusations proliferate in Chile unrest – 15 Nov. 2019

Amnesty International – Chile: Amnesty International denounces human rights violations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – 11 Nov. 2019

UN News – Violence can ‘never be the answer’: UN rights experts condemn excessive force during Chile protests – 8 Nov. 2019

The Guardian – Chile protests: UN to investigate claims of human rights abuses after 18 deaths – 24 Oct. 2019

 

 

Head of OAS Refuses to Rule Out Military Intervention Against Venezuela

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — On Friday, September 14, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro held a press conference addressing the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela.

President Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 electoral win has been widely denounced as illegitimate by member-states of the OAS, the Lima Group, and many in the international community. (Photo Courtesy Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press)

During the press conference where he spoke to Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, Mr. Almagro stated that the OAS would not rule out military action to overthrow Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, and restore democracy.  Mr. Almagro further alleged that the Maduro regime is “Perpetrating crimes against humanity toward its population and violations of human rights.”

However, Mr. Almagro’s statements have been condemned by the Lima Group, a coalition of Latin American countries plus Canada, formed in 2017 specifically to address the Venezuelan crisis.  The Lima Group has accused Mr. Almagro of promoting military interventionism against Venezuela—a sentiment echoed by the Venezuelan government.  “Almagro attacks Latin America and the Caribbean. . . [and] intends to revive the worst military intervention on the continent,” said Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez.

Venezuela denounced the American Convention on Human Rights in 2012 but remained a member-state of the OAS until 2017, when President Maduro announced Venezuela would begin the two-year process to withdraw from the organization.  In June 2018, OAS held an extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela from the OAS with a majority voting in favor of suspension.

In 2017, the Maduro Administration replaced Venezuela’s legislative branch, the National Assembly—which was dominated by opposition parties—with the regime-controlled “Constituent Assembly.”  The administration has gone further to stay in power by blacklisting and jailing opposition candidates and shutting down critical news outlets.

Critics of the Maduro Administration have proposed that a military coup is one of the last hopes to restore a legitimate constitutional democracy in Venezuela.  They have also warned that allowing President Maduro to remain in power could lead to a return to the Latin American military dictatorships of the mid-20th century.

At least 2.3 million people have fled Venezuela’s political and economic crisis that began in 2014 following a sharp decline in crude oil prices.  Approximately 93% of Venezuelans still in the country do not earn enough to buy food, and most must devote hours every day just to find food.  According to a recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Venezuelan security forces have killed over 8,000 people in non-protest related operations since 2012.

For more information, please see:

Independent – Venezuela government guilty of ‘worst human rights crisis in its history’ – 21 September 2018

Al Jazeera – Lima Group rules out military intervention in Venezuela – 17 September 2018

BBC News – How Venezuela’s crisis developed and drove out millions of people – 22 August 2018

PBS – 5 reasons why the crisis in Venezuela could get worse – 27 July 2018

United Nations Human Rights OHC – Venezuela: Continued impunity amid dismal human rights situation – UN report – 22 June 2018

Foreign Policy – It’s Time for a Coup in Venezuela – 5 June 2018

Reuters – OAS calls extraordinary assembly to vote on suspending Venezuela – 5 June 2018

Al Jazeera – Venezuela’s crisis explained from the beginning – 23 March 2018

Chilean students and teachers march against Pinera administration

By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile – On Thursday, thousands of students and teachers held a massive demonstration in Chile. They gathered to denounce profit-making in higher education under President Sebastian Pinera’s administration.

Demonstrators take part in protest in Santiago, Chile. Image Courtesy of Rodrigo Garrido.

Organizers estimated around 120,000 participants in the demonstration along central Alameda Avenue in Santiago. Similar protests took place in other main cities of Chile such as Coquimbo, Valparaiso, and Temuco. The march was called by the National Confederation of Students of Chile (Confech) and was the first major protest under the month-old administration of conservative President Pinera. They demanded an end of profit-making, student debts, and sexism in higher education.

This protest follows a recent decision by the country’s constitutional court to overturn a law that prohibited for-profit companies from controlling universities. While profit-making from higher education is illegal, critics have long claimed that some companies that operate universities have found ways to exploit loopholes in the law. These companies find ways to turn a profit without re-investing the money in reduced tuition or improved education.

Young people consider higher education a business that is putting them and their families in debt. One spokeswoman for the students, Sandra Beltrami, said “the demands of the student movement are still valid and remain the same. We want to be in the classrooms, we want to have classes, we want to study a career in order to be someone in life and have a profession like many people in this country, and we cannot do it because there is still profit in Chile.”

Students and teachers marched through downtown Santiago and made their point by banging drums, toting banners, and sometimes throwing rocks and blocking traffic. There were small confrontations with police who occasionally used tear gas to disperse protesters.

President Pinera is a conservative billionaire who served a term as president from 2010 and 2014. His first term was marred by massive student protests seeking an education overhaul. Earlier in the week, President Pinera sent a bill to Chile’s Congress to increase public financing for technical colleges. In a move that many thought was intended to defuse tension with students, he promised that access to free education was “here to stay.”

Higher education was free in the country until 1981 when Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship pave the way for the development of private universities with no constraints on tuition fees. Now, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that Chile has the fourth-most-expensive university system in the world.

For more information, please see:

Sputnik – Chilean Students March Against Unfair Education – 20 April 2018

FMT News – Chile’s students launch first protest under Pinera administration – 20 April 2018

The Santiago Times – Pinera administration faces first student march in Chile – 19 April 2018

Telesur – Over 120,000 Chilean Students March Against Profits and Sexism – 19 April 2018

Democracy Now – Chile: Massive Student Mobilization Protests Privatization of Education – 20 April 2018