This is our fourth report monitoring the foreign policies of countries in the Americas regarding democracy and human rights. As we have in our previous reports, in the following pages we report on how Latin American representatives on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) have voted on key human rights resolutions. What we find is that while Panama, Brazil, El Salvador, and Paraguay voted to support a resolution expressing concern for the continued systematic abuses of human rights in Syria, the latter three abstained on a key vote to have the UN High Commission continue presenting reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine. (The resolution was approved anyway.) And true to form, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela voted against both resolutions, as they have on all major human rights resolutions before the UNHRC.
In this report, we also continue to track the debates and votes in the Organization of American States (OAS) concerning Venezuela and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. While the situation in Venezuela continues to worsen, with an unconstitutional Constituent Assembly launching a campaign to round up opposition leaders and the government holding much-questioned regional elections, the region has started to show greater concern. A strong resolution at the OAS General Assembly—promoted by Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and Peru—condemning the constituent assembly and calling for the release of political prisoners was narrowly defeated. While the resolution fell three votes short, the vote tally showed growing splits within Venezuela’s once solid block of Petro-Caribe allies. What we don’t know is whether U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s last-minute decision not to attend the meeting could have made the difference.
When Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pushed ahead with the assembly, 17 foreign ministers from the region convened in Lima on August 8th and 12 of them (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru) issued a joint resolution condemning the rupture of the democratic order in Venezuela. The group has continued to meet since and speak out, raising pressure on the Maduro government.
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has also created a panel of noted human rights experts to consider whether to present a case against Venezuela to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. The OAS has started to find its voice. Unfortunately, on matters of election monitoring it remains excluded from Venezuela. As we reveal, Venezuela opted to have an unknown group of individuals, the Council of Electoral Specialists of Latin America (CEELA), come to Venezuela and monitor a gubernatorial election. With scarce to no public information on their monitoring methodology, the five CEELA officials, described inside, declared the October 15 elections “free, respectful and successful”—not words typically used to describe and technically evaluate an electoral process.
In addition to tracking activities in the UNHRC, the OAS and the inter-American system of human rights, we also dedicate two chapters in each report to other issues relevant to the liberal world order. The idea is that a country’s willingness to sign on to and domestically adhere to (not always the same thing) international treaties and norms processes protecting basic rights is an indicator of a country’s commitment to a rule-based international order and to its citizens. In this issue, we examine what countries have signed on to the most international treaties regarding the environment and which perform best on basic measures such as air quality, water and sanitation, climate and energy and biodiversity.
Last, in this issue we also look at the region’s performance in protecting the lives and rights of LGBTI persons. At a multinational level, the region has made great strides with successive declarations by the OAS regarding LGBTI rights and nondiscrimination and creating a special rapporteur in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Within the inter-American system, there has emerged a growing body of jurisprudence and processes for defending and protecting LGBTI rights and the lives of the community and their defenders. Nevertheless, severe challenges remain. There is significant variation in terms of legal rights in the hemisphere, with countries like Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago failing even to have the most basic protections: laws de-criminalizing homosexual relations between consenting adults and anti-discrimination laws. Venezuela, which has no laws recognizing same-sex relationships, permitting adoptions, or defining hate crimes, also remains at the bottom of the region. And while the number and quality of hate crimes laws have improved in the region, violence against LGBTI persons and the impunity of the perpetrators remains a serious issue. One of the most under protected at-risk communities in the Americas is transgender persons. According to the organization Transrespect, between October 1, 2015 and September 30, 2016, there were 123 reported murders of trans individuals in Brazil, 52 in Mexico, 23 in the United States, 14 in Venezuela, 14 in Colombia, six in Honduras and seven in El Salvador.