On March 22, the Organization of American States (OAS) held its 44th Special Session of the General Assembly to approve recommendations presented by the Permanent Council for strengthening the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Last week, Freedom House signed on to a declaration by almost 100 policy figures and former heads of state that urged the OAS to sustain the commission’s mandate to protect fundamental freedoms in Latin America. Freedom House trustee Diana Villiers Negroponte shares her views on the significance of the final resolution, agreed upon after 12 hours of deliberation by OAS foreign ministers, and what it means for the future of the IACHR as an independent watchdog in the region.
The world was outraged when a 14-year-old girl in Pakistan was shot in the head last week simply for being an ardent advocate for the right of girls to an education. Unfortunately, Malala's case is not an isolated one. In most parts of the world today, individuals and organizations working to advance social, political, and environmental justice face imminent danger as a result of their work. In the past two months alone, a 70-year-old activist in Cambodia was sentenced to 20 years in prison because he challenged the government's policy of confiscating local land for powerful corporate interests; in southern India, police used live ammunition on villagers protesting against a proposed nuclear power plant; a human rights lawyer opposing the creation of special economic development zones was shot dead in Honduras; and in the United Arab Emirates, an outspoken critic of inhumane treatment of political prisoners was assaulted in the street twice and faced government surveillance.
For some time, Latin America was identified as one of the success stories from the wave of democratic development that accompanied the waning years of the Cold War. Over the span of a relatively few years, a region notable for violent insurgencies, military juntas, oligarchies, and caudillo rule underwent a historic transformation that left practically every country with a freely elected government and a civic environment in which an array of liberties were respected. After the democratic upsurge, the lone holdout was Cuba, with its inflexible and increasingly anachronistic Communist dictatorship. Over the past decade, however, the commitment of governments in the region to democratic standards has wavered, in some cases considerably.
Freedom House is deeply troubled by the reported killing of Colombian activist Luz Neida Gomez Gomez, the treasurer of a local community action council in Vereda Buenos Aires, Colombia. Authorities must conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into her death, and ensure that all steps are taken to hold accountable those responsible for this crime.