April 16th, 2010
02:29 PM ET

Report: Human rights lacking in 5 Latin American countries

Five Latin American countries did not offer adequate human rights last year, an Organization of American States commission said in an annual report.

Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras and Venezuela were listed in the 2009 report released Thursday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. All but Honduras also had been listed in the 2008 report. Honduras was added this year because of a military-led coup in June that toppled a democratically elected president.

"The situation in each of those countries does justify a hemispheric investigation," said Robert Pastor, a Latin America national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

Cuba and Venezuela are often criticized by rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Rights Watch.

In Cuba, the commission said, the government keeps citizens from "the full enjoyment of human rights, especially political rights, guarantees of due process and independence of the judiciary, deprivation of liberty of political dissidents, restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and residence, restrictions on freedom of expression, the situation of human rights defenders, and the freedom to associate in labor unions."

Cuba was led by Communist dictator Fidel Castro from 1959 until 2008, when illness forced him to permanently relinquish power to his brother Raul Castro.

Venezuela also comes in for pointed criticism, with the report saying that leftist President Hugo Chavez is using government institutions to squelch political opposition.

"In Venezuela," the commission said, "the full exercise of their rights has not been guaranteed to all people without regard to their stance towards government policies, and that the punitive power of the state is being used to intimidate or punish persons on the basis of their political opinions."

Human rights defenders and journalists cannot freely perform their occupations because of "numerous violent acts of intimidation carried out by private groups ... together with the discrediting statements made by high-level officials against the media and journalists on account of their editorial stance," the report concluded.

The Chavez government also is engaged in "systematic opening of administrative proceedings based on legal provisions that allow a high level of discretion in their application and enable drastic sanctions to be imposed."

These problems are compounded, the commission said, by "a pattern of impunity ... regarding cases of violence, which particularly affects journalists, human rights defenders, union members, persons participating in public demonstrations, persons in prison, peasants [campesinos], indigenous peoples and women."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a 319-page report in February that said Venezuela routinely violates human rights, often intimidating or punishing citizens based on their political beliefs. The report said a lack of independence by Venezuela's judiciary and legislature in their dealings with Chavez often leads to the abuses.

Venezuela and Cuba are the worst offenders, Pastor said.

"Venezuela has moved decidedly backward by the decisions of Chavez and, in many ways, is the most-serious case in the Americas," Pastor said.

"Cuba has pretty much stayed the same, which is bad," he said.

Colombia is included again in the 2009 report because of continuing abuses connected with the a 45-year-old war between the government and Marxist rebels, particularly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"These include the participation of the paramilitary leaders ... a persistent pattern of violation of the rights to life and to humane treatment, the situation of ethnic groups and intelligence activities against human rights defenders, community leaders, justice operators and the IACHR itself," the commission said.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere, "suffers from grave situations of violence that prevent the proper application of the rule of law," the commission said.

In addition, the commission said, Haiti lacks the necessary institutions to guarantee human rights.

The newcomer to this year's report was Honduras, where a coup ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya on June 28. An interim government ruled the nation until January, when a president chosen in November elections took office.

"Human rights violations are a direct consequence of the breakdown of constitutional order," the commission said.

The OAS panel visited Honduras from August 17-21, nearly two months after the coup.

"The commission confirmed during its visit to Honduras that ... there have been grave human rights violations, including deaths, arbitrary declaration of a state of siege, repression of public demonstrations using disproportionate force, criminalization of social protest, arbitrary arrests of thousands of people, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and poor conditions of detention, militarization of the territory, an increase in instances of racial discrimination, violations of the rights of women, serious and arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and grave violations of political rights," the commission said. "The IACHR also confirmed the ineffectiveness of judicial remedies to protect human rights."

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous panel created by the OAS. The commission consists of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country. They are elected by the OAS General Assembly. - CNN's Arthur Brice contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Colombia • Cuba • Haiti • Honduras • Venezuela • World
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