We started this project to answer a question: Do Latin American countries have a double standard in regard to human rights and democracy-related issues when it comes to those in their region or among allies of the Global South? Once we started going through the data we found that it varied. The region doesn’t vote as a bloc when it comes to political or civil rights, regardless of the target country. Nor do members respond in the same way to political and civil rights concerns directed at them.
We looked at how select Latin American countries participated in the second cycle of the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review. In the UPR process, member states receive lists of human rights concerns from other governments, which they can “accept” or “note.” The act of accepting implies that the receiving state recognizes the legitimacy of the issue and will work on it. A note implies that the receiving state recognizes the concern but does not necessary agree or endorse it.
We looked at the content of those recommendations and the reactions from the target countries, focusing specifically on first-generation human rights (political and civil rights and LGBT rights)—as opposed to other economic, social, or cultural rights—and how a country under review responded to recommendations related to political and civil rights.
We had the advantage in that the countries in the region and out are diverse in terms of human rights. In a number of countries in the region, such as Venezuela and Ecuador, political and civil rights have inarguably been in retreat, while in Cuba they remain nonexistent. At the same time, among many of the leaders of the new Global South, such as Turkey, Russia and South Africa, such rights have also been at risk. In its 2015 Freedom in the World survey, Freedom House downgraded Turkey’s rating from 60 to 55 compared to the previous year. We also included among these nonregional countries China, Belarus and North Korea, all generally accepted as autocracies. Here’s what we found:
A subset of countries in the hemisphere consistently ignored or downplayed human rights concerns not only in their neighbors but also in their allies in the Global South.
Brazil failed to call out civil and political rights abuses in China, Russia and Turkey; Bolivia held its tongue over violations of political and civil rights in China, Iran, Russia, and Belarus; Colombia remained silent over China, Turkey, Russia, and Belarus; the Dominican Republic only spoke out on human rights in Colombia; El Salvador found human rights violations only in Cuba and Belarus worthy of mention; Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were pretty much mute when it came to human rights concerns in almost any country, giving a pass to North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Russia (except Cuba), and Turkey (except Nicaragua).
But there was also a set of countries that did call out human rights abuses across the hemisphere and within the Global South.
Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay didn’t flinch from making human rights recommendations to neighbors or to trade and diplomatic partners in the Global South like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Belarus, or Cuba.
Many of the same countries that shied away from raising concerns with others were also less tolerant of criticism of their own matters.
Cuba responded favorably to 20% of the 116 political and civil rights concerns that were raised; the Dominican Republic did so to only 38% of 34—most of those concerning the treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The only exception to this general rule was Argentina.
For a full list of all the results and country-by-country details of how states made their recommendations, please click here.