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Human Rights Developments

The Western Hemisphere's steady advance toward democracy since the mid-1980s suffered some serious reversals in 1992-setbacks that shook confidence that the path to democracy in the region is assured and that the rule of law is taking hold. The ouster of Haiti's first freely elected president on September 30, 1991 has not been reversed, and that nation continues to be ruled by military thugs. In February 1992, a bloody uprising by a faction of the Venezuelan armed forces almost brought down the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, and its aftermath continues to threaten one of Latin America's longest-running democracies. On April 5, 1992, President Alberto Fujimori of Peru dissolved the Congress, destroyed the independence of the judicial branch, suspended the Constitution, and assumed dictatorial powers.

Not by coincidence, those countries also experienced a serious deterioration in the human rights situation, as their rulers deliberately eliminated important safeguards, either to perpetuate and expand their power or to respond to the genuine threats against democracy. After the tragic experiences with absolute power in Latin America in the 1970s, it is disappointing to see that, with honorable exceptions, the political, military and social elites continue to combat challenges to democratic rule, not by strengthening democratic institutions, but by restricting their role in the protection of rights.

To be sure, democracy and the rule of law are in trouble not only in Haiti, Peru and Venezuela. Elsewhere in the region, periodic elections and transfers of power have not automatically led to an improvement in the quality of democracy experienced on a daily basis by the majority of citizens. Impunity for serious human rights violations committed by state agents is still appallingly pervasive; for the most part, military and police forces are accountable to courts and to civilian authority on paper only. The courts fail miserably in providing citizens with a fair and impartial forum for the resolution of private disputes, and even more miserably in protecting them from abuse at the hands of the state, or in redressing those abuses. Growing social problems and the perception of accelerating urban crime exacerbate authoritarian tendencies in important segments of public opinion, which in turn handicaps civil society in its efforts to devise solutions to these challenges. At times, even political leaders with solid democratic credentials have shown themselves intolerant of dissent and all too ready to impose curbs on freedom of information and expression.

Still, that most Latin American countries continued to live under democratic rule in 1992 has undoubtedly facilitated the identification and correction of human rights violations. Freedom of expression is vigorously exercised in most countries today and some independent journalists and media have been willing to use and test the limits of existing political space to investigate and criticize official actions. In many countries, the press has thereby increased its credibility with the public. More important for our concerns, the press has been more willing to cover humanrights matters, often sparking debate about human rights violations and what to do about them. In democratic societies, such a debate is essential before governments can be expected to adopt corrective structural reforms. However, journalists and the press were attacked many times in 1992, generally for trying to cover human rights matters or for revealing corruption in government circles. Americas Watch intervened repeatedly on behalf of persecuted journalists, and in the process advocated reform of press laws to provide greater protection for artists, journalists and opinion writers. In the case of Horacio Verbitsky, for instance, Argentina's best known investigative journalist, we objected to the use of contempt laws (desacato) to punish him for publications considered disrespectful. With the assistance of Americas Watch, Verbitsky pursued a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. At the first appearance before that body, the Argentine government agreed to repeal the desacato statute.

Democracy in the region has also seen the flourishing of civil society-independent political organizations whose members promote public policies through genuinely pluralistic discourse. Particularly encouraging has been the continued growth in Latin America of a rich, dynamic, multi-faceted human rights movement. As this report shows, monitoring human rights violations is still a dangerous activity in some countries, and an often misunderstood calling in others. Nonetheless, we are pleased to report that human rights monitoring and advocacy in Latin America are ever more sophisticated, effective and credible, and play a role of growing significance in the region's progress on human rights. For the same reason, the work of our colleagues throughout the region continues to be the single best hope for justice for the architects of the severe abuses that plagued the region in the past.

In many Latin American countries where the rule of law is weak despite the existence of elected governments, human rights violations persist, often in the form of ghastly prison conditions, police brutality, and rural violence. In 1992, Americas Watch conducted studies in Brazil and Argentina of police violence directed against suspected common criminals, or often simply against young males living in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods. Police agents responsible for killing these victims in supposed "confrontations" are almost never investigated, much less disciplined or prosecuted. Police investigators still resort almost routinely to torture as an interrogation technique. Unlike the strong public condemnation that often attends the torture of a political opponent, torture and even murder by the police of young slum dwellers frequently yields only public indifference-or even outright support for the police-which vastly complicates efforts to mobilize corrective pressure.

In Paraguay and Venezuela, Americas Watch focused attention on discriminatory conscription of young men into military service. Americas Watch believes that international law does not prevent states from instituting a universal draft, provided that recruitment procedures are clearly spelled out in the law and are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. In Paraguay and Venezuela, and possibly also in other countries, the draft asimplemented violates those standards, because it is carried out in an arbitrary fashion. Typically, young people from poor families are rounded up, often violently; they are not given a fair opportunity to show why they should be exempted from military service; they frequently are forced to serve longer terms than required by law; and they are arbitrarily deprived of contact with their families. In Paraguay in recent months, the problem has reached scandalous proportions, with draftees reportedly being forced to work for the private gain of military leaders.

Prison conditions in most Latin American countries continued to deteriorate in 1992. In Peru and Brazil, major prison riots were put down by the authorities with excessive force and, evidence suggests, the deliberate, brutal killing of some inmates. Americas Watch investigated both massacres in the course of fact-finding trips and as part of its continuing interest in fostering worldwide debate about prison conditions. These killings highlighted a problem found in all countries where we have investigated police violence and prison conditions: that internal control mechanisms are woefully inadequate. Throughout Latin America, police and security forces are permitted to police themselves, without civilian authority or community input; courts and prosecutors have been unwilling to investigate and punish criminal actions when committed by agents of the state. The problem of official violence and the role of civilian review in its control is not unique to Latin America. Indeed, a report published by Americas Watch in August 1992 noted the lack of independent review of the behavior of agents of the United States Border Patrol-an important factor in the impunity enjoyed by those agents for many serious acts of unjustified violence against suspected undocumented immigrants.

In some Latin American countries, disputes over land use and tenure continue to be resolved by violent, often deadly means. Most of the murders are committed by private armies and hired guns, although often the perpetrators are off-duty members of the security forces. Even when they are not, complicity between powerful landowners and local or regional authorities, and the failure of courts to provide redress, give rise to governmental responsibility for these abuses. Rural violence often occurs when landless peasants occupy lands in the expectation that agrarian reform laws will be implemented, and then are evicted by force and without due process. Rural workers are also sometimes subjected to forced labor through deceit and violence. In 1992 Americas Watch continued to monitor different forms of rural violence and forced labor, particularly in Brazil; as in the past, we have made it clear that we take no position on the issue of title to the land, but insist that states have a responsibility to ensure that land conflicts are resolved peacefully and with full guarantees of due process.

The most severe human rights violations in Latin America continue to take place in the context of armed conflict. For that reason, the cease-fire agreement that put an end to the long, bloody conflict in El Salvador represented a breakthrough for human rights in the region, even if the accord is yet to be fully implemented. Unfortunately, attempts at negotiations in Guatemala and Colombia failed to produce concrete results, and civil warscontinued to rage there as well as in Peru. In all three countries, Americas Watch monitored violations of the laws of war committed by both sides to the conflict. As in the past, we continued to apply the standards developed in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which create clear obligations for government forces as well as for insurgents to protect the civilian population and to respect the life and physical and moral integrity of the enemy who has been placed hors de combat by his surrender or capture.

As described in the later chapters of this report, insurgent forces in Peru, Colombia and Guatemala commit violations of international obligations by carrying out indiscriminate attacks, failing to exercise due care to minimize harm to civilians and selectively assassinating political adversaries. For their part, security forces in counterinsurgency operations frequently carry out indiscriminate bombing and aerial and ground attacks, retaliatory attacks on civilians, forced disappearance of persons suspected of collaboration with guerrillas, and forced displacement of the rural population. In reporting on these practices, Americas Watch hopes to promote greater observance of the basic principles of international humanitarian law, which in turn will facilitate peace negotiations. These rules, which Americas Watch has applied consistently since 1983, bind insurgent groups while explicitly conferring on them no legal recognition.

Accountability for violations perpetrated in counterinsurgency settings is made more complex by the increased use of paramilitary forces, self-defense groups and civil patrols. Some governments and armed forces actively promote and encourage the creation of these forces, frequently blurring any distinction between voluntary and forced participation. These groups actively take part in intelligence gathering and arrests, and in the process apply "dirty war" tactics, such as murder, torture and disappearance. The security forces then deny responsibility for crimes committed by groups outside the chain of command, even though these groups are sponsored, encouraged and protected by the government.

In addition, the existence of active insurgencies provides the excuse for emergency legislation that destroys the fundamental principles of fair trial and due process. "Faceless" judges and prosecutors, diminished access to counsel, the use of secret witnesses and other evidence, and the renewed insistence on using military courts to try civilians, have continued to feature prominently in the arsenal of devices created by governments to deal with politically motivated crimes. In turn, these special courts and procedures destroy basic tenets of democracy such as the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. In Colombia, where members of the judiciary have faced relentless attack for attempting to prosecute drug-related cases, the government has ceded to the temptation to use special courts also to try a broad range of dissidents engaged in nonviolent protests. In striving for an elusive "efficiency" in defeating insurgencies, Latin American governments lose sight of the need to preserve, strengthen and expand democracy as the most effective way to protect it.

In recent years, the growth of the illicit drug trade has occasioned violence the cruelty and scope of which rivals that of the continent's most intractable insurgencies. Powerful criminalenterprises have been formed to organize the complex business of growing coca and heroin, to process the leaves in clandestine laboratories and to transport the illicit drugs to markets in the United States and Europe. The illegal nature of the trade prompts the actors to settle all their disputes by violent means. As a result, the trade generates powerful private armies, death squads and hired guns. In Colombia, the drug cartels have not only directed this violence against each other, but they have also engaged in political violence, alternately siding with powerful business concerns in rural and mining areas, or attacking the state and murdering well known political figures who they perceive threaten their interests. The Colombian cartels exercise their influence in other countries in Latin America, either because those countries have extensive coca-growing fields, or because they are increasingly used as transit points to final markets or as money-laundering centers. For this reason, the violence and corruption associated with the drug trade has experienced a steady growth in many Latin American countries.

The response to this criminal phenomenon has itself created serious problems for human rights in the region. In rural areas, programs promoted by the Bush administration to interdict drug transshipments or to eradicate crops are designed and implemented as military rather than law-enforcement endeavors. The U.S.-driven policies take on the characteristics of military occupation and counterinsurgency operations. In the Upper Huallaga Valley of Peru, where most of the world's coca is grown, growers and traffickers coexist alongside Sendero Luminoso guerrillas. This coexistence contributes to the additional blurring of any distinction between drug interdiction and counterinsurgency, serving further the impetus to employ "dirty war" tactics. In other countries, pressure for results in interdiction operations, in both urban and rural areas, have resulted in an increase in the torture and murder of those suspected of involvement in drug trafficking. Latin American governments have also felt pressure to create special judicial procedures to avoid corruption or intimidation of the courts by drug traffickers.

The Bush administration has offered large sums in military and police assistance to Latin American security forces to promote this "war on drugs." Eager to maintain this military approach, the administration has downplayed or misrepresented the human rights violations committed by the armies and police of recipient countries, and has temporarily suspended aid only when the U.S. Congress has insisted. One notable exception was Peru after President Alberto Fujimori's April "coup," when the administration itself suspended aid as a protest. The State Department has also pushed a large Administration of Justice program, ostensibly to improve the performance of courts and prosecutors. While judges and witnesses in the volatile and dangerous fields of drug trafficking and counterinsurgency must be protected, Americas Watch does not accept that defendants be deprived of anything resembling a fair trial, especially when U.S.-supported courts in Colombia and Peru more often target political enemies involved in legitimate, peaceful dissent.

This unfortunate abdication of leadership by the United Statesin the realm of justice was compounded in 1992 by the outrageous Supreme Court decision in Alvarez Machain. In that landmark case, the highest U.S. court affirmed the legality of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (dea) abduction of a Mexican doctor from his home in Mexico and his transport to California to stand trial for the murder of an American dea agent who was investigating drug cartels in Mexico. The decision caused an unprecedented wave of protest throughout Latin America, especially among judges and democratic leaders who have been pressing their institutions to live up to their role in a democratic society, and who had for years looked toward American precedents to expand protections for the physical integrity and due process rights of criminal defendants. The open flouting of international law standards in the majority opinion in Alvarez Machain convinced many Latin Americans that the United States is not serious about promoting the rule of law.

In other matters, U.S. policies toward Latin America have been much more constructive. As illustrated in the following chapters, there were many occasions in 1992 in which U.S. diplomats cooperated with human rights monitors, including Americas Watch, and either privately or publicly expressed their concern over important human rights developments. The end of the cold war derailed anti-communism as the sole engine of Washington's Latin American policy and has undoubtedly contributed to a more multi-faceted view of regions such as Central America. For the same reason, the U.S. government has been more willing to take up forceful positions in defense of democracy when the stability of elected governments has been at stake. In so doing, the Bush administration has made important contributions to preserving democracy through its pronouncements on Haiti, Peru and Venezuela. The administration also apparently offered important support to the government of President Alfredo Cristiani of El Salvador in the face of military resistance to the peace process.

Unfortunately, some of the Bush administration's most effective statements made on the occasion of Alberto Fujimori's auto-golpe or self-inflicted coup on April 5 were later negated by the acceptance of token gestures toward restoration of democracy, such as the administration's apparent acceptance of the nominal elections convened by Fujimori for a Constitutional Congress in November as significant progress toward democracy, even though they raised important issues of fairness as described in the following chapter on Peru.

Likewise, in Haiti the administration's initially strong opposition to the 1991 military coup gave way to competing interests. First, yielding to pressure from U.S. manufacturing interests who use cheap Haitian labor, the administration unilaterally softened the embargo on Haitian trade that had been imposed by the Organization of American States-a move with symbolic consequences well beyond its economic effect. Later, when the flow of "boat people" from Haiti continued to grow in the face of persistent repression, President Bush ordered their forcible return to Haiti without first screening to exempt those who qualified as refugees, in blatant violation of U.S. obligations not to return refugees to face persecution.

Overall, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. government has stood firmly on the side of representative democracy in the hemisphere, and made it clear to potential coup plotters that the days of Washington's support for anti-democratic adventures are over. This welcome development, which marks a distinct departure from the policies of the 1970s, was reinforced in 1992, and it is now clear to most Latin American political actors that respect for popular will expressed in elections is encouraged from Washington. On the other hand, there have been few signs that the Bush administration insists on the substantive content of democracy in addition to the holding of elections. For example, Washington was again silent in 1992 on the important question of accountability for gross human rights abuses of the past, an issue that defines the kind of democracy that Latin Americans are building. There has been no opposition to amnesties and pardons that have the effect of leaving egregious crimes unpunished, and precious little has been said about the need to investigate, prosecute and punish ongoing human rights violations as a means of preventing their repetition. The U.S. government has tended to blame only structural weaknesses in the administration of justice for the impunity enjoyed by human rights abusers rather than also placing responsibility for human rights violations where it belongs: on the governments and military leaders who lack the political will to punish violators.

The U.S. government has adopted a similar attitude toward non-politically motivated abuses, refraining from criticism because it considers them "internal affairs" of allied governments, or because discussion of them complicates pursuit of other U.S. interests. For example, United States Trade Representative (ustr) Carla Hills has consistently refused to suspend trade benefits to countries that do not meet labor rights standards mandated by law. In fact, Hills has often refused even to review serious labor rights violations when it has been petitioned by labor and human rights groups, including Americas Watch. For instance, Americas Watch was forced to file petitions calling for a review of Salvadoran labor rights practices for four years before its petition was finally accepted for review in 1990; the outcome of that review is still pending. In one petition that was accepted-filed by Americas Watch seeking review of the Dominican government's use of forced labor on its sugarcane plantations-Hills in 1990 cited nonpublic embassy material to dismiss extensive documentation of continued use of forced labor to find that the Dominican Republic was "taking steps to afford their workers internationally recognized worker rights," allowing trade benefits to continue uninterrupted. In one positive development in 1992, the labor rights petition submitted by several human rights and trade union organizations on Guatemala was accepted for review.

The Bush administration has also been slow to condemn violations of freedom of expression, including official harassment of journalists and the failure of governments to protect dissidents from threats and physical attacks, even though freedom of expression is a cornerstone of any substantive definition of democracy.

The growing threats to democracy in 1992 presented a serious challenge to the Organization of American States (oas) which wasfounded on the premise that collective action was needed to protect democracy and human rights in the hemisphere. In Nicaragua, the oas's Commission on International Verification and Support (ciav) continued to provide a mechanism for conflict resolution and to provide critical assistance and support to demobilized contra rebels.

For the most part, however, despite renewed rhetorical expressions of support for democracy, the oas failed miserably to make democracy more secure in the region. At the General Assembly held in Santiago, Chile in 1991, the countries of the oas solemnly pledged to take collective action to prevent any step away from representative government. Within the next year, the Santiago Declaration was tested in Haiti and Peru, and in each case the oas showed itself to be helpless in the face of anti-democratic forces. oas initiatives to restore elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have proven particularly futile. Most recently, the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy, a little known office of the oas, sent a small team of functionaries with no experience in human rights to monitor violations on the ground. They have not left Port-au-Prince. Negotiations brokered by oas Secretary General João Baena Soares between Aristide and the de facto regime in Port-au-Prince are going nowhere.

The oas Council of Ministers went to work immediately after the April 5 coup in Peru. After several diplomatic missions by Secretary General Baena Soares and Uruguayan Foreign Minister Héctor Gros Espiell, the oas initiative to restore democracy in Peru, through dialogue between President Fujimori and the opposition, has reached a dead end. The most that has been achieved is a unilateral call by President Fujimori for November elections for a Constitutional Congress, under terms and conditions designed to create a body that Fujimori can control; the election was boycotted by a majority of the opposition forces. Fujimori has also destroyed the independence of the judiciary, and has continued to trample on the courts, a matter apparently ignored by the oas diplomatic team. This almost complete failure, sufficiently troublesome in itself, is compounded by the oas's declaration of success. On both Haiti and Peru, the diplomacy of the United States supported these self-delusional policies by the oas majority.

The oas has also failed to strengthen existing mechanisms for the protection of human rights in the hemisphere. The Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights offer promising fora for the treatment of violations through judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings in a non-political, non-ideological setting. Unfortunately, many governments in the region find these mechanisms threatening, and have taken steps to undermine the work of both bodies. In two consecutive General Assemblies, for example, the Court has been unable to obtain support from the supreme political organ of the oas to induce Honduras to comply fully with the judgment issued in the Court's landmark decisions on disappearances, Velásquez and Godínez. As a result, Honduras has felt free to refuse to pay more than two-thirds of the damages owed to the two families, and has sought ways to discredit the Court.

In September, a pathetic covert operation designed to create the impression that the two disappeared persons addressed by thejudgment were in fact alive reached a bizarre and nearly fatal end. Orlando Ordóñez Betancourt, a Honduran citizen with a criminal record who had been paid substantial sums by the Honduran government, claimed to have information establishing that Godínez and Velásquez were in fact still alive. If true, the revelation would have vindicated the Honduran military and discredited the Inter-American Court and Commission. Ordóñez managed to deceive several high ranking officials of the Honduran and Costa Rican governments who were obviously more interested in disproving the disappearance of Velásquez and Godínez than in verifying Ordóñez's wild reports. More shameful was the involvement of the Honduran military, which despite its responsibility for the disappearance of the two men and their full knowledge of their fate, supported a common criminal in spreading a baseless story. At a meeting with the Costa Rican Minister of Government and Security, the head of the Honduran military intelligence, a Honduran bishop and the Mexican ambassador in Costa Rica, Ordóñez kidnapped all four and eventually secured his safe transportation to Mexico in exchange for the lives of his hostages. Honduras did not demand his extradition.

The incident created a major scandal in the three countries, and especially in Costa Rica, where the government had been one of the Court's staunchest supporters in the region. (The Court is based in San José, Costa Rica). But the incident also called attention to the need for the political organs of the oas to support the Court more vigorously, especially by insisting on compliance with its decisions.

The other organ of protection in the region, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, fared even worse in 1992. The Commission was subjected to a persistent attack by several governments, as well as attempts to limit its access to the agenda of the oas General Assembly, to which it must turn to obtain compliance with its rulings. The Commission was deliberately excluded from any significant role in the Haiti and Peru crises, despite the existence in both cases of significant human rights issues in which the Commission's expertise would have proven valuable. At the 1992 General Assembly in Nassau, Bahamas, representatives of several democratic governments launched an unprecedented series of verbal attacks on the Commission. Argentina and Uruguay, irritated by a Commission ruling that amnesty laws by those governments in the 1980s (as well as President Carlos Saúl Menem's pardon of those who conducted the infamous "dirty war") were inconsistent with the obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights, sought the Court's help in discrediting the Commission. These two governments have submitted a request for an advisory opinion to the Court, seeking a ruling that would limit the Commission's jurisdiction to de facto violations, thus precluding it from commenting on laws and judicial decisions.

Although such a position is patently unfounded as a matter of international law, that Argentina and Uruguay would raise such a claim is indicative of the pressures that the Commission faces. The Permanent Council of the oas is entertaining attempts to rewrite the American Convention, also presumably with the intent of undermining the Commission and the Court. Diplomatic missions tothe oas frequently pressure the General Secretariat hierarchy to prevent the Commission from acting on cases against their governments. In October, another blow was dealt to the Inter-American system of human rights when Peru threatened to rescind its adherence to the American Convention.

To its credit, the U.S. mission to the oas is one of the most supportive of the Commission and the Court. However, the United States is seriously handicapped by its failure to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, the treaty that gives life to both bodies. Given the diplomatic and political pressures, the Commission has sometimes allowed itself to be bullied into inaction. However, in its most recent session in September 1992, the Commission showed signs of a renewed will to withstand pressure and act according to its mandate as a body of legal experts on human rights. Against the wishes of some governments, the Commission received controversial witnesses at hearings, and issued precedent-setting decisions in important cases. Despite woefully inadequate funding, the Commission also demonstrated willingness to put in motion the mechanisms contemplated in the Convention, such as the "friendly settlement" procedure and the submission of new cases to the Inter-American Court.

In the face of a complex human rights picture on the continent, Americas Watch continued in 1992 to promote greater respect for fundamental freedoms through investigative missions, publications, and communications with governments. In many countries, we benefitted from ample coverage of our initiatives in the local press. Our increased name recognition and credibility has allowed us to foster and participate in a debate about human rights problems that often results in heightened awareness. This media presence also opened doors for us to discuss our concerns with governments. In general, we have found greater disposition in official circles to listen to us and to engage us in a serious debate about our findings and recommendations. There are, of course, exceptions to this generally positive trend: Cuba still refuses to allow Americas Watch to visit for research purposes or to observe trials; and President Fujimori of Peru falsely accuses us of a pro-Sendero bias, as he does all international and domestic human rights monitors.

In 1992 we conducted missions to Venezuela and Bolivia, countries that we had not covered until now. Reports on both missions will be published by early 1993. We also endeavored to maintain an intense level of scrutiny in countries where we have had a presence for many years, and to bring their human rights problems to the attention of international public opinion. We have offered testimony to the U.S. Congress on Cuba and on acts of violence by the U.S. Border Patrol against undocumented immigrants. In 1992, Americas Watch published two reports on violations for which authorities in the United States were responsible. The first, entitled Brutality Unchecked: Human Rights Abuses Along the U.S. Border With Mexico, was published in May. The second, Dangerous Dialogue: Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami's Exile Community, was published in August jointly with the Fund for Free Expression. These reports, in addition to work conducted by Human Rights Watch on prisons in the United States, our publicly statedpositions against the Bush administration policies on Haitian refugees, and our participation as amicus curiae in the Alvarez Machain case, have enhanced the reputation of Americas Watch throughout the continent as an impartial, independent critic of human rights abuses wherever they occur.

Americas Watch has continued to devote considerable effort to the use of mechanisms in international law for the protection of human rights. In close cooperation with the Center for Justice and International Law (cejil), Americas Watch continued to litigate cases before the Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights. In all these cases, cejil and Americas Watch act as co-counsel with domestic human rights organizations from several Latin American countries. In 1992 we appeared before the Court in preliminary hearings about two major cases against Peru: one concerning the 1988 massacre in the Andean village of Cayara, and the other involving the disappearance of inmates from El Frontón prison in Callao, during the bloody riots of 1986. In October 1992, the Commission decided to submit its first case against Colombia to the Court, for the 1989 disappearance of a rural teacher and labor leader in the war-torn Magdalena Medio region. cejil, Americas Watch and the Andean Commission of Jurists-Colombian Section will act as counsel for the relatives in the case.

Also in October, Americas Watch obtained a landmark victory in the struggle against impunity for known human rights abuses. After five years of litigation, the Inter-American Commission ruled that the laws passed by Uruguay (Ley de Caducidad) and Argentina (Punto Final and Obediencia Debida) and the Argentine presidential pardon, all of which had the effect of preventing prosecutions for crimes against humanity committed by the military, were inconsistent with those countries' obligations under the American Convention. The cases had been brought by domestic groups from those two countries, and litigated with our assistance. The Commission's decision marks the first time that an expert body on international law directly addressed in its holding the issue of impunity and recognized the legal obligation of states to seek truth and justice about gross abuses.

An important focus of our work continues to be the quest for accountability for gross human rights violations. In October, Americas Watch published a report on the conviction by a Paraguayan court of several of General Alfredo Stroessner's highest-ranking police authorities for the torture and murder of a political opponent in 1977. In the same month, we sent an observer to the final stages of the trial in Bolivia of former General Luis García Meza, who was responsible for atrocities after seizing power by force in 1981. In the Southern Cone countries, we have continued to monitor implementation of the governments' duty to investigate state crimes, to disclose the truth regarding these crimes to the families and the public, and to offer reparations to the victims.

We have had occasion to review the relationship between human rights and peace as we monitored efforts to find negotiated solutions to long-standing armed conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia. In all three cases, the issue of human rights has become an integral part of the search for solutions, as the mediators and the warring parties have realized that a lastingpeace cannot be achieved until violations that fuel the conflict are brought under control. However, continued vigilance is still necessary so the peace process does not bury the matter of accountability for crimes against humanity under the rug of "national reconciliation." True reconciliation, we have insisted, can come only after truth and justice. For example, in Nicaragua, where our objections to blanket amnesties went unheeded in 1990 when the war came to an end the acts of violence between former contras and Sandinistas that continue to plague the country can be traced in some measure to the lack of resolution of accountability issues. The peace process in El Salvador has provided new fertile ground to test these principles, as we discuss in the chapter on that country. El Salvador has also given us the opportunity to monitor the way in which the United Nations has begun to carry out new roles and functions assigned to it by the international community in the aftermath of the Cold War.

Americas Watch increased its efforts to document non-politically motivated violence, to analyze the structural reasons for its persistence, and to recommend policies to put a stop to it. Inevitably, we have had to comment on the sad state of the administration of justice in many democratic countries, and the inability of the courts to provide redress to victims of abuse. This breakdown in the institutional response to violence applies to a wide variety of violations, including domestic violence against women, prison conditions, police killings and torture, rural violence in disputes over land, and abuses against ethnic minorities. We believe that this violence is indicative of an official failure to address the content of democracy and not simply its forms. Fortunately, our work in this area finds receptive ears, particularly among our colleagues in the human rights movement, who have in many cases shifted focus to address such violations and to insist on citizen participation to curb them. But we have also found that public opinion and some governments have come to pay closer attention to these problems as well, which makes us hopeful that in a democratic setting solutions can be found.

As in previous years, we have dedicated important efforts to strengthening our relations with our colleagues in the hemisphere. This has helped us understand the evolution of human rights problems in the Americas, and it has made our research and analysis more rigorous. We have also had occasion to note that human rights monitoring remains an extremely hazardous activity in several Latin American countries. In relevant sections of this report we discuss in detail attacks and threats against our colleagues, and actions we have taken in an attempt to provide some protection for their courageous work. When monitors have been publicly and unfairly attacked, we have not hesitated to defend their reputation and their right to monitor. On occasions, we have taken urgent steps to ensure their safety, by intervening directly with governments to provide protection, by applying for protective measures before international bodies, and by seeking similar intervention from U.S. embassies and members of the U.S. Congress.

In 1992, the Latin American human rights movement suffered two tragic losses through causes unrelated to persecution. In February, Augusto Conte took his own life in Buenos Aires. The father of ayoung desaparecido in the 1970s, Conte was the founder and vice chair of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (cels), a pioneering human rights organization. In 1983 he was elected to the Argentine Congress on a human rights platform. In October 1992, a helicopter accident in Brazil claimed the lives of Severo Gomes and his wife, along with democratic leader Ulysses Guimarães and his wife. A former cabinet member and senator, and at his death a member of the Council of the Republic, Gomes had lent his considerable influence and prestige to the promotion of human rights causes as the head of Ação pela Cidadania.

Americas Watch owes a great debt of gratitude to Augusto Conte and Severo Gomes, not only for helping us understand the problems of Argentina and Brazil, but also for their leadership and ideas that have helped to shape the human rights movement. As we face the still daunting challenges to human rights in the region, we, like our colleagues in Latin America, will sorely miss them.

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