Human rights slip in Latin America in 2014, says rights group

LIMA – Progress on human rights in Latin America suffered “serious setbacks” in 2014, a prominent U.S. advocacy group said Thursday.

Human Rights Watch cited cases in Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela, among the 13 countries scrutinized in the region.

Advances in Colombia’s peace talks with a guerrilla group and a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations were positive last year but major violations committed in Mexico’s “abuse-riddled war on drugs,” cast a shadow on the region, according to executive director Kenneth Roth.

In individual country reports, HRW said President Enrique Peña Nieto made “little progress” in prosecuting widespread killings, enforced disappearances and torture committed by soldiers and police since taking office in 2012.

The disappearance and presumed murders of 43 students in Iguala in September – which provoked huge protests calling for Peña Nieto to tackle corruption and abuse surrounding the case – were central. 

“Members of all security forces continue to carry out disappearances during the Peña Nieto administration, in some cases, collaborating directly with criminal groups.”

Since 2006, approximately 22,000 people have gone missing, the government said in August 2014, with not a single prosecution for enforced disappearance as of April.

Venezuela was called out for the use of excessive force against peaceful protestors in 2014, with violations “practiced systematically” by security forces.

Accumulation of executive power under presidents [Hugo] Chavez and [Nicolas] Maduro has eroded human rights guarantees and “enabled the government to intimidate, censor and prosecute its critics,” the New York-based group said.

Prospects of reprisal against those hostile to the government had forced journalists and rights defenders to think before speaking out, it added, curbing liberty and freedom of expression.

In Colombia, journalists and defenders faced death threats and violence while a “lack of effective investigations means perpetrators are rarely arrested.”

The group criticized the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos for promoting bills that undercut responsibility for unlawful killings of civilians by the military.

Caution should be applied to transferring cases from civilian to military courts, it warned, which “lack independence and have a very poor record investigating human rights violations."

In the Caribbean, HRW exposed Cuba, where short-term arbitrary arrests of critics have “increased dramatically.”

Reports of arbitrary detentions jumped from 2,900 in 2013 to 7,188 in January through August 2014, according to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation – which the government views as illegal.

The government uses other repressive tactics such as beatings, public shaming and termination of employment, HRW said.

In his annual summary, executive director Roth wrote “the world has not seen this much tumult for a generation,” drawing attention to the rise of ISIL, and Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria.

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