Human Rights and The Legal System in Latin America

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Introduction (Done by Christen)
Latin America is no stranger to hardship. From the age of Colonial domination, to the present, Latin American people have battled with issues of diversity, ownership, political leadership, economic breakdown and rebuild, and a continuous battle against social inequality. By addressing the social and structural issues of past colonialism, current Government, Military, Economic structure, Urbanization and Ethnicity within Latin American culture we hope to unveil the numerous current human rights violations that are imposed upon Latin American people within, and outside, the Latin American Legal System.
Human Rights Violations of a Colonial Past (Done by Christen)
10,000 years ago Indigenous populations dominated the region of Latin America. Ancient Aztec, Maya, Inca and countless other advanced civilizations dominated the area and it became known as the most powerful civilization throughout The Americas until its downfall due to the Spanish Invasion (Colonization in Latin America). In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas in search of a direct trade rout to Asia, however his accidental discovery of South America ultimately lead to the exploitation of the indigenous people who inhabited the area. With Columbus leading the way, many other Conquistador's followed to Latin America from Spain. Demands for gold and other resources were ensured by a self instated punishment system, the first "legal system" instated by Spanish colonialists. This system enforced the enslavement of the indigenous population, with any resistance resulting in a Spaniard cutting of the nose or ears of an indigenous slave. Many indigenous women were raped and abused by Spanish colonialists, resulting in the start of a mixed racial population in Latin America. Columbus and other Conquistadors profited from the labor of indigenous slaves whom they forces to mine Gold and Silver, and work fields. Many indigenous peoples were also sent back to Spain as slaves. Indigenous peoples battled the European oppression, yet by the time a treaty for the rights of freedom and possession for the indigenous population was signed, hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples had been killed by decease, enslavement, or suicide. Colonial oppression was also seen through the purging of native cultural practices in Latin America. With colonial Spaniards committed to converting the indigenous population to Christianity, indigenous culture was soon lost along with indigenous freedoms. The colonial history of Latin America plays a huge role in understanding where certain human rights violations seen today had stemmed from, making it an important starting point when addressing current human rights violations and the current legal system. Ultimately, the events of Latin America’s colonial past set the stage for the thousands of social inequalities, discriminations, and human rights violations seen in Latin America today.

Racial and Sexual Discrimination
Inflicting on Human Rights (Done by Christen)

Latin America is no stranger to the Universal Phenomenon of racism, as we have seen in the above re account of early colonialist behavior, European conquistadores immediately pronounced indigenous people as inferior beings. Treated accordingly to the assigned social category, indigenous populations were even refused the acknowledgement of human existence. Suffering from a multitude of abuses, this history paved the way for much of the racial discrimination and human rights abuses seen in today’s Latin American Societies. Indigenous peoples are not the only population that suffered from racial discrimination in Latin America. Around 10 million African American slaves were transported to Latin America to work plantations, and another 10 million Asian and Middle Eastern populations later on, thus making Latin America the most Diverse ethnic population in the world. This also makes it prone to human rights violations for racial reasons. Human rights are Technically Legally protected by Constitution, statutes and laws in many Latin American Countries. However, mass social movement’s that pushed for the assimilation of indigenous cultures often undermines these laws. As a result, indigenous populations human rights are oppressed, limiting their opportunities for work, education, and opportunities to impact their society. This Oppression can also get violent to the point of Racial genocide such as the Argentinean “Conquest if the Desert”, a military campaign directed by General Julio Arentino Roca in the 1870’s to establish Argentinean dominance over the indigenous Patagonia populations, leaving over 1,300 dead ( Genocides in History). Although Government constitution is set in place to protect against racial discrimination and human rights violation, there are still numerous human rights abuses such as police brutality, torture, unlawful execution by civil and military authorities, cases of racial slavery, as well as reluctance to persecute government officials for corruption; violence and discrimination against women; violence against children, Child labor, sexual abuse, sex trafficking of women and children, and discrimination against black and indigenous people recorded. Unfortunitly Darker-skinned citizens, particularly Indigenous and afro-mixed populations, frequently encounter discrimination, under representation in the government and experience higher rates of unemployment, lower wages and lower educational opportunities. Racial discrimination has also led to segregation, which has influenced gang conflict due to lack of opportunities, and Latin American Infrastructure due to the inability of certain racial groups to move up in the social and economic structure. As one can see, racial discrimination has had a huge impact on the basic human rights of Latin American people.
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LINK TO REPORT ON RACIAL ISSUES IN BRAZIL------------> <------------


“All Human Beings are both free and equal in dignity and
rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)


Urbanizations Effects on Human Rights
and The Legal System (Done by Christen)

The Later half of the 20th Century has seen a spread of hyperurbanization flood across Latin America. Unfortunitly due to a gap in the social structure, there is little industry to support this newfound infrastructure leading to many problems. Large National debt, privatization of industry, lack of education and overall lack of opportunity to move up in social structure has led to mass unemployment, thus expanding the already massive gap between the rich and the poor (Global Change and Urbanization In Latin America). This has then further resulted in urban crime in many major urban centers advancing the occurrence of violence and human rights violations in new urban centers. Due to the lack of other opportunities, people resort to a life of crime to attain their basic needs. As a result, on one saide, those law-abiding citizen are then faced with crime inflicting on their daily lives and oppressing their human rights. On the other side, rural migrants are forced to move into squatter settlements as a result of them not being able to afford proper housing in new urbanized sectors. These rural migrants tend to be the racially segregated population resulted from racism and cultural assimilation. This migration influences the segregation further, resulting in the indigenous populations having less opportunity ,and thus being involved in criminal activity and gang violence. Ultimately urbanizations affects the every day human rights of Latin American citizens living in squatter settlements as well as those in more urbanized environments.


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Governmental Influence on Human Rights and The Legal System (by Rubab)

A judicial system is the system of law courts that administer justice and constitute the judicial branch of government. A western nation views the judiciary as a key sector in a strong democracy. Therefore the judiciary has a significant role in our society. Canadian government respects the judicial branch and takes all necessary steps in order to insure a democratic state. However, that cannot be said for Latin American countries who are still struggling to transition to a democratic society. Due to the colonial legacy of Latin America, it has been characterized by very diverse types of governments. Military figures, revolutionary systems, western style parliamentary democracy, bureaucratic authoritarian system are just a few that can be named. Today in Latin America, western- style democracy is predominant. Most of Latin America practices a civil law with the exception of a few countries like Cuba. Civil law is inspired by Roman law; it is also known sometimes as Continental European Law. This type of law is interpreted rather than developed. “Democracy is very much on trial in Latin America” Richard S. Hillman says in his book “Understanding Contemporary Latin America”. Democracy is facing major obstacles because of the way governments are being run in Latin America. In order for a strong judicial sector to work, the other levels of government must be effective. It is the legislative branch that makes laws. They must insure that the laws are being made for human rights. This does not seem evident when disappearances are common in Colombia and torture has reached wide spread proportions. In Peru, there are still hundreds of prisoners who are charged with false accusations. Often they are captured without any evidence and face poor conditions in the prison. They do not get fed properly. Neither do they get a chance to meet their families. It is challenging to believe that a state has laws yet they are violating human rights. Therefore a democratic state must have human rights laws and they must be applied. It is the responsibility of the executive branch to enforce human rights laws in order to fulfill the job of a judiciary. It seems clear that the judiciary is not independent in Latin America. An independent the judiciary insures that it prevents unconstitutional laws from being passed.

Human rights in Latin America








Military Effects on Human Rights and The Legal System (by Rubab)

The military has a vast impact on the human rights and the democratic movements in Latin America. Ever since the countries of Latin America got their independence the military always has been present. Throughout the twentieth century the military played an authoritative role. Especially during the Brazilian Coup in 1965, the bureaucratic authoritarian system became popular and the military gained more strength. Therefore today the military can play a key role in making the roots of democracy stronger or return the current state of the legal system back to authoritarianism. The military is often involved in political intervention. However today, many steps can lead to a better democratic reform. One way is apolitical professionalism according to Richard S. Hillman. Hillman encourages the use of apolitical professionalism in ranks and political community. Furthermore he says that a limited autonomy of organization and tactics will allow the policy making by civilian policymakers rather than the army.

In modern Latin America the military is the powerful institution in most countries. Military takeovers started during the 1960’s through 1970’s and ever since this regime have violated or repressed human rights. Torture, murder, rape and detention without judicial sanctions violated laws. These laws included national and international laws. When the government tried to lower the human rights violation the army made the government regret their actions. These actions only wasted the time and money of the few good men. Often these actions resulted in embarrassed government back downs which made the victory of military evident. Therefore it can be concluded that the military in more assertive then the legal system therefore it violated human rights. However the attitude of military could be changed through an idea of apolitical armed force.


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Legal System in Latin America
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