Mapping the Injustice: Why We Need the Inter-American Commission

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Click to explore some emblematic human rights cases throughout the Americas, many of which have been positively influenced by the Inter-American System. These were taken from Amnesty International's report “Transforming Pain into Hope: Human Rights Defenders in the Americas" (Photo Credit: Katie Striffolino via ArcGIS).

Click to explore some emblematic human rights cases throughout the Americas, many of which have been positively influenced by the Inter-American System. These were taken from Amnesty International’s report “Transforming Pain into Hope: Human Rights Defenders in the Americas” (Photo Credit: Katie Striffolino via ArcGIS).

This Friday, a Special Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly will meet in Washington, D.C. to consider and adopt a draft resolution regarding strengthening the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). While not many would argue the IACHR is perfect, its integrity and core principles are under attack at the very moment the system is needed most by so many throughout our hemisphere.

On September 22, 2012, Honduran human rights lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera was killed. Gunmen shot him five times outside a wedding ceremony in a southern suburb of the capital, Tegucigalpa. Antonio Trejo Cabrera had reported receiving death threats linked to his work representing the victims of human rights abuses amidst the ongoing land conflict in the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras. Antonio Trejo Cabrera had been a lawyer for three peasant cooperatives embroiled in the complex land-rights dispute in Bajo Aguán. He had helped campesino communities to regain legal rights to land in the valley and was due to travel to Washington, D.C. in October 2012 to take part in hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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Indigenous Colombians Struggle to Survive

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Women in the Embera Katío community in Aguasal, Chocó Department, Colombia

Women prepare food in the Embera Katío community in Aguasal, Chocó Department, Colombia

The indigenous community of Colombia is in serious danger of extinction if their human rights continue to be ignored and violated.  Amnesty International’s new report details a startling increase in attacks against indigenous peoples across the country leaving many communities struggling for survival.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of America, 114 men, women and indigenous children were killed and thousands were forcibly displaced in 2009. Among other violations against indigenous peoples are forced disappearances, threats, physical abuse of women, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the persecution of indigenous leaders.

These injustices threaten the very existence of such communities and it is imperative that the Colombian government respond. The Minister of Colombia, Valencia Cossio, recently stated, “The report [of Amnesty International] erroneously assumed that ‘internal armed conflict’ and ‘paramilitaries’ are to blame for the violence, and they do not face the fact that indigenous communities have been displaced and killed by the FARC and emerging criminal groups. ”

However, Human Rights Watch has continued to document great tolerance by the military for paramilitary atrocities. According to Human Rights Watch, the phrase “sixth division” is a common phrase in Colombia when referring to paramilitary groups in the country. At its most wrenching, there is collaboration between the military and paramilitaries of Colombia that according to Human Rights Watch includes:

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It’s that Time of year again: IACHR Hearings

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Anyone who does work on, or pays attention to anything going on in Latin America would know that it is the season for meetings and hearings to be held at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in DC.  I had never attended anything at the commission, well, until last week. I had no idea what to expect walking in, I just knew I was there as an AIUSA observer.

The building itself is really big, and nice. Spanish is one of the working languages of the Organization of American States, (OAS) along with English and Portuguese, but it may as well be THE working language. Everything was conducted in Spanish.

One of the hearings I was asked to observe at, was a public hearing including two cases regarding the human rights abuses committed by the Mexican military.  AI has been following these cases closely, and they will most likely both be included in a report that AI will be releasing at the end of November addressing how flawed the military justice system in Mexico is, and how relatively easy it is for military personnel to get away with committing human rights violations.

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