Protest outside of Congress for #JusticeForBerta

Photo coverage from a School of the Americas Watch-organized protest outside of the Cannon and Rayburn House office buildings in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2016. Protestors demanded justice for the murder of Honduran indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Cáceres shot to death in her home last month. Protestors also called on the U.S. government to cut off security assistance to Honduras and take responsibility for the United States’ role in legitimizing the 2009 coup in Honduras.

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Photographs from the Berta Cáceres Vigil & March in DC

A vigil and march in honor of Berta Cáceres, the beloved and globally recognized Honduran indigenous and environmental rights activist who was murdered last month, was held in Washington DC on April 5, 2016 outside of the buildings of the World Bank and the Organization of American States (OAS).

The roughly 100 or so people gathered for the vigil included members of Berta’s family, colleagues from the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), local activists, human rights defenders from throughout the Americas visiting for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearings, and representatives from a wide range of environmental, indigenous, women’s and human rights organizations.

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The first to gather for the vigil outside of the World Bank building were surprised to find that someone had scrawled “Berta Lives” by the front entrance with a blood red paint marker.

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Moving Mini-Documentaries by Sanders Campaign Spotlight U.S. Activists

The Bernie Sanders endorsement ads that spotlight activists fighting for rights in the United States —from the Black Lives Matter movement to immigrant farmworkers’ protests in Immokalee, Florida— are so powerful and moving.

I love the Sanders campaign’s emphasis on listening to the voices of real communities in America and their very real needs for equality and the protection of their human rights.

Watch Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, display a profound grace and power while finding her place as an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement:

Watch a a bilingual Spanish-English mini-documentary ad featuring Udelia Chautla, a Mexican immigrant farmworker and activist, who talks about her family, the rights movement in Immokalee, and the role that Sanders played in securing better labor conditions:

Honoring Women Who Defend Rights in the Americas: International Women’s Day 2016

These are excerpts from a longer-form blog published on the Latin America Working Group‘s Just Americas blog.

In Honduras, just days before International Women’s Day, we were devastated to learn of the murder of Berta Cáceres, an internationally recognized Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist. Berta won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in successfully halting a proposed dam on the Gualcarque River, considered sacred by the local Lenca peoples. Berta showed incredible leadership in the defense of human rights, even in the face of threats against herself and her family. In a 2013 interview, Berta lamented, “I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world. I take precautions, but in the end, in [Honduras] where there is total impunity I am vulnerable. When they want to kill me, they will do it.”

Berta Cáceres.gifSadly, Berta’s worst fears came true when she was murdered in her home on March 3, 2016.


In El Salvador, we stand in awe of the women who have taken action to protect women’s rights and fight for a life free from violence against women (VAW). Last year, LAWG had the honor of meeting Jeanette Urquilla and her team at the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (ORMUSA) who diligently document every form of VAW from intrafamilial violence to economic exploitation. Alongside other strong feminist organizations, ORMUSA has pushed for legal advances that have moved the country closer to equality and protection from violence. On our trip to San Salvador last year we also met the fierce human rights defender Karla Avelar, a trans woman who has taken up the mantle of advancing protection through the law and defending LGBTI rights as the director of COMCAVIS TRANS.


In Guatemala, after decades of fighting for justice and more than four weeks of intense testimony, the Sepur Zarco sexual slavery case reached an historic verdict last month.

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Eleven brave Mayan women detailed the war crimes committed against them during the country’s civil war and two military officers responsible were found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity, including sexual violence, sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and cruel and degrading treatment. Sepur Zarco is a huge victory for women’s rights and justice and marks the first time in the world that sexual slavery committed during civil conflict was successfully prosecuted in the country where the abuses took place.


Read the rest of this blog here.

El Salvador’s Security Strategy in 2016: Change or More Mano Dura?

by Sarah Kinosian and Angelika Albaladejo on February 29, 2016

As noted in our second post, El Salvador’s mounting security crisis has been met by a heavy-handed government response, which centers on sending the military and police into the streets to outgun the gangs and filling the country’s jails with even the lowest-ranking of alleged gang members. Beyond escalating violence and presenting extremely serious human rights concerns, this plan is simply not working. But, as 2016 unfolds, the government has a chance to set a new course and roll out an existing strategy to curb the violence.

PNC officers meet President Sanchez Ceren at ceremony presenting the police with arms and vehicles

Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén meets with officers during a ceremony turning over weapons and vehicles to the National Civil Police (PNC). Photo credit: Presidencia El Salvador, Flickr

Instead of addressing the drivers behind astronomical murder rates, current strategy aims to shoot and arrest the problem away –a well-worn security policy in Latin America known as “mano dura,” or “iron fist.” Throughout Latin America it has been well documented that this hardline approach is not only bad for human rights, but does not work in the long run. In neighboring Honduras, the Latin America Working Group and the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor documented in 2015 that as the list of abuses committed by militarized police forces continues to grow, “the central problem with this tactic becomes clearer: these soldiers are educated for war, not peace, and putting them on the streets turns each citizen into a potential enemy.” Studies in Mexico and Guatemala have also confirmed that relying on soldiers for citizen security for an extended period of time has not sustainably lowered rates of crime and violence. In the case of Guatemala, the United Nations has declared that greater use of the military in public security “has not resulted in visible improvements.”

In El Salvador, previous bouts of mano dura policies, including mass arrests, not only failed to bring down murder rates, but made matters worse. After being incarcerated in the early 2000s, gang members from local criminal groups were able to consolidate due to connections made while imprisoned. They then expanded their operations nationally, giving rise to the country’s current security landscape, in which two main gangs wield exceptional power over territory and murder rates have risen across the country. (See here for more on El Salvador’s gangs.)

Today’s policies might bring about similar adverse effects. As a former colonel in the military warned, “More repression of the gangs by the state only makes them more sophisticated. Applying the most severe penalties only emboldens the gangs because they are the product of social exclusion and inequality.” A commander in the Salvadoran police force warned of several other problems with the current security strategy:

You can’t kill a mosquito with an M-16. The gangs are a moving, growing target. Furthermore, by police being abusive, you’ve handed part of the community to the gang. You need intelligence to build cases, a strong judicial system and a working prison system. You also need to investigate financial crimes, but only the (now-former) Attorney General’s Office can do that, and right now, it won’t.

However, in the early months of 2016, the Salvadoran government appears to be continuing its hardline stance with the claim that the mano dura approach will work if given enough time. Vice President Óscar Ortiz recently said, “We’ve never had this level of prosecution and strategy deployed to strike and dismantle crime, like we do now. But it’s going to take some time.”

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An officer of the National Civil Police (PNC) stands in front of a poster depicting actors within El Salvador’s security strategy. Photo credit: Presidencia El Salvador, Flickr

In conjunction with continued deployments of police and soldiers, lawmakers are proposing hardline legal means to bring down the gangs. There is currently a gang registry law under debate in Congress, introduced by the right-wing ARENA party, which would create a list of alleged gang members and their collaborators. Lawmakers say this registry would make it easier for judges to apply harsher sentences to gang members under a law that has newly defined gang members as terrorists since August 2015. As noted in an earlier post, aside from the potential to escalate violent gang tactics and perpetuate an overall rhetoric of war, police do not often differentiate between gang members, collaborators and those who simply live in gang-controlled neighborhoods, leaving the door open for wrongful imprisonment and creeping mass incarceration rates.


See the rest of this post on the Latin America Working Group‘s Just Americas blog. This article is the fifth in the Latin America Working Group and Security Assistance Monitor series ” El Salvador’s Violence: No Easy Way Out.”

How Violence Affects Women in El Salvador

The violence gripping El Salvador affects women in a different way than men. Within the current security crisis, gang and security force violence has exacerbated a broader, long-standing acceptance of violence against women. More than half of all Salvadoran women say they have suffered some form of violence in their lives. Over a quarter of these women were victims of sexual or physical violence.

While men are far more likely to be murdered, women are significantly more likely to experience intrafamilial, sexual, or economic violence. To make matters worse, women receive little to no guarantees of protection from the state. Due to ineffective governmental institutions, corruption, and social acceptance, impunity reigns in nearly all cases of violence against women.

At work, many women face discrimination and abuse ranging from wage and pension theft by business owners to extortion by gangs. More than half of all working Salvadoran women are employed in the informal sector, placing them at higher risk of exploitation and extortion because the state does not regulate these jobs.

Women often face the highest levels of violence in their own homes. In the first nine months of 2015, the Attorney General’s Special Attention Unit for Women attended to 1,283 cases of intrafamilial violence against women. While this represents an average of almost five reports each day, the true number is almost certainly higher as many cases of domestic violence go unreported.

The prevalence of sexual violence against women in El Salvador is also staggering. Between January and August 2015, the National Civilian Police (PNC) registered an average of nearly five cases per day of sexual violence against women, including rape and sexual assault. And victims are often the most vulnerable—more than half of these assaults were carried out against girls, adolescents, and the disabled, as seen in the graph below.

El Salvador Sexual Violence January-August 2015

See the rest of this post on the Latin America Working Group‘s Just Americas blog. This article is the fifth in the Latin America Working Group and Security Assistance Monitor series ” El Salvador’s Violence: No Easy Way Out.”

 

No Life Here: Internal Displacement in El Salvador

The horrific violence gripping El Salvador has contributed to a humanitarian crisis that has forced hundreds of thousands of citizens to flee their homes. But the Salvadoran government has not fully recognized the problem of internal displacement and has failed to provide solutions.

In 2015, 324,000 people were displaced by crime and violence in El Salvador, up from 280,000 displaced in 2014. This type of “exodus,” as it has been described by civil society organizations, is typically led by women in the community and “constitutes a break in the social fabric, an uprooting of the community marked by a disruption in the education of children and youth.”

Making matters worse, the alarming level of displacement shows no signs of slowing in 2016. In fact, the International Rescue Committee included El Salvador in its “Crisis Watch List for 2016” which highlights countries where escalating violence and insecurity will likely continue fueling displacement.

Gangs and other criminal organizations are by far the main violent actors causing internal displacement, according to cases documented between August 2014 and December 2015 by the Civil Society Roundtable Against Forced Displacement, as seen in the chart below:

Violent Actors Causing Displacement 2014-2015
See the rest of this post on the Latin America Working Group‘s Just Americas blog. This article is the fourth in the Latin America Working Group and Security Assistance Monitor series ” El Salvador’s Violence: No Easy Way Out.” 

Infografía: Los Costos en Derechos Humanos durante el Plan Colombia

Los Costos en Derechos Humanos durante el Plan Colombia InfográficoYo compilé los datos y diseñé esta infografía con el Fondo Educativo del Grupo de Trabajo sobre asuntos de América Latina (LAWGEF) para aclarar las violaciónes de los derechos humanos que ocurrieron durante el Plan Colombia. Esta infografía fue publicado antes de una visita del presidente de Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, para celebrar el “éxito del Plan Colombia” en su 15 aniversario. Mil gracias a Julián Gómez Delgado por el traducción al español.

Haga clic aquí para ver la infografía: “Los costos en derechos humanos durante el Plan Colombia”. 

 

Infographic: The Human Rights Costs during Plan Colombia

Human Rights Costs During Plan Colombia CoverI compiled data and designed this infographic with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) to shed light on the human rights violations that occurred during Plan Colombia. This infographic was published ahead of a visit by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to celebrate the “success of Plan Colombia” on its 15th anniversary.

Click here to see “The Human Rights Costs during Plan Colombia” infographic.

U.S.-Cuba Relations: What We’ve Accomplished Together in 2015, What Remains to Be Done

The following blog, co-written with Mavis Anderson, was originally published on the Latin America Working Group’s website.

A shorter-form version of this blog was also published on Progreso Weekly and on HuffPost Politics.

The forward-looking policy changes that have taken place over the last year would not have been possible without the decades of tremendous work by advocates, grassroots activists, diplomats, policymakers, and the vast network of organizations in the United States and Cuba focused on ending the embargo and normalizing relations between the two countries.

The December 17, 2014, announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro paved the way for change after more than five decades of an unjust and damaging policy. Since then, significant changes have been made to the U.S. regulations on Cuba travel and trade, but the goal of the policy still remains the same.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 8.53.52 PMAs we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the December 17th announcement, it is time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the last year and, most importantly, what actions we need to take moving forward to end the embargo and normalize relations between the United States and Cuba once and for all.

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