Three Conceptual Essays for Studying Human Rights in Latin America

  • Use the concepts and models of these three essays to help analyze human rights issues in Latin America. These are secondary, not primary sources. See also
  • Concept and Issues in Studying Human Rights.
  • A brief history of human rights
    Essay 1: Summary of Recent Models, Themes, and Issues in the Study of Human Rights in Latin America by Elizabeth Jelin and Eric Hershberg, editors, in Constructing Democracy: Human Rights, Citizenship, and Society in Latin America (1996, out-of-print.)
  • By the 1990s, social scientific studies of transitions from authoritarianism were facing increased criticisms for their failure to grapple sufficiently with the societal distension of democratization (e.g., Fox, 1990; Waylen, 1994). In hindsight it is apparent that the previous decade's preoccupation with issues of institution building did indeed come at the expense of considerations of the composition and role of collective actors in democratic societies, particularly those collective actors representing the so-called popular sectors. The political science literature was concerned principally with interactions among elites and with specific types of institutional arrangements conducive to stable democratic governance. Connections between democratization at the regime level and societal democratization were largely overlooked. To the extent that these matters entered the discussion at all, it was in the context of the potential that regime change opened up for the subsequent democratization of other spheres of social life (Kaufman, 1986; Przeworski, 1986).
  • But criticism of the transitions literature for overlooking the multiple dimensions of democratization must be tempered by a recognition of the circumstances facing observers of Latin American societies during the period in question. The pernicious effect of the dictatorships on the possibility of securing the most basic human rights---those associated with life and with the physical integrity of the individual-amply justified the preoccupation with identifying strategies for overcoming these regimes and inaugurating more open and competitive political orders in which civilian authority would be ensured. It is nonetheless striking that the classic studies of democratization in Latin America have made no mention of authoritarian relations based on differences of gender, ethnicity, or race in a region characterized by vast inequalities along these and many other dimensions.
  • Experience of the past several years underscores the commonsensical observation that transitions to democracy entail much more than the (re)construction of institutions and the dismantling of nondemocratic forms of exercising power, whether authoritarian, corporatist, or coercive in nature,' Democratization involves changes not only in society but also in political institutions: It requires the emergence of new sets of rules governing the distribution of power, respect for individual rights, and recognition of social actors. People have to adopt beliefs and practices embedded in the notion of democracy and, at the same time, must learn how to act within the new institutional framework, For their part, political leaders and dominant classes have to acknowledge the rights and identities of diverse social actors. The fundamental challenge during the post-transition period is to combine formal institutional changes with the expansion of democratic practices and to create a culture of citizenship encompassing individual and collective actors across the entire spectrum of the diverse social and cultural landscape of contemporary Latin American societies.
  • There is ample precedent for observers of Latin America to turn their attention to social questions. Until the 1980s, analyses of the region frequently focused on expansion of the rights associated with the idea of social citizenship. Concern with the development of social rights guided the enlargement of the public sector during populist and postpopulist regimes at the same time that it fostered the development of social movements and popular demands upon the state by a wide range of groups.
  • Composed of peasants and workers initially, and of women, neighborhood residents or youth later on, these movements remind us that the expansion of social citizenship in Latin America was a historical process marked by highly contradictory features: The expansion was driven in part by deeply rooted patterns of clientelism and political patronage characteristic of populism, but the top-down social relationships associated with such patterns coexisted with pressures exerted from below toward both a more democratic distribution of power and for greater participation. These pressures grew stronger over the years as the region witnessed the development of new and more autonomous social actors.
  • The expansion of social citizenship was a central theme in the analytical perspectives that predominated in Latin America throughout the 1970s. Adherents of these perspectives exhibited relatively little concern for expanding the basic rights of the individual-rights they at times dismissed as merely formal, "liberal," or "bourgeois." They also attached little importance to the collective rights of ethnic and indigenous groups, often dismissing them outright with the ideological justification that the quest for equality needed to overshadow all other considerations, Yet the harshness of human rights violations by the military dictatorships that ruled much of the region during the 1970s, and that persisted in some countries well into the following decade, gave rise both to a significant human rights movement and to the revalorization of "formal" democracy. Rooted in struggles against dictatorships, these movements stimulated unprecedented activism around issues of human and civil rights.
  • The ensuing shift in focus affected both the content of societal demands and the perspectives of social scientists who analyzed processes of democratic transition. Whereas it was once commonplace to differentiate among civil, political, and social rights, and to conceptualize citizenship primarily in terms of social rights, in the 1980s basic human and civil rights could no longer be dismissed or taken for granted. Instead, they became the center of political activism and intellectual preoccupation. Calling on the state to guarantee and protect individual rights. and insisting that public officials be held accountable for their actions, social actors articulated new demands that were pivotal to the process of rebuilding democratic institutions or, in some countries, of constructing such institutions for the very first time.
  • Particularly in the Southern Cone, these developments are best understood when we recall that the impact of human rights violations was not limited to the popular classes. Indeed, the middle and upper classes were victimized as well. The popular sectors had always been targets of violence from above: it was an inescapable feature of everyday life, one to which they had somehow grown accustomed, though by no means always acquiescent. The middle and upper classes, in contrast, had rarely needed to insist that the state acknowledge their citizenship rights, since historically their civil, social, and political rights had largely been assured. This scenarios during the 1970s, as the rights of relatively privileged groups ** ?? less immune to the predations of authoritarian rulers. To an extent unprecedented in many countries, these groups were compelled to express their grievances and to articulate demands against the state. The fact that rights violations cut across all segments of the social structure, albeit to varying degrees, implied a widened social basis for concern about rights, for demands that they be respected, and for solidarity among the diverse victims of abuses by the state.
  • The transition to democracy in much of Latin America thus coincided with, and was partly stimulated by, a significant increase in the scope and variety of popular mobilization around issues of individual and collective rights. At the same time, the transition to democracy took place under conditions of profound social change. Particularly noteworthy was the trend toward growing inequality that prevailed throughout the region in the 1980s and has continued in most countries to the present. These circumstances suggest a need to examine the linkages between the characteristics of the political system and the evolving concerns of citizens in their everyday lives.
  • Conceptually, the societal issues raised by the process of democratization can be approached from at least three perspectives: first, in terms of equity and social inequalities; second, in terms of the nature of social struggles seeking to define the contents of democracy; and third, in terms of the process by which individual and collective actors are formed, particularly through the emergence and consolidation of citizenship. Let us consider each of these briefly.
  • The first perspective, concerning equity and social inequalities in the democratic process, pertains to the distributive effects of economic adjustment policies that have been implemented throughout Latin America in recent years. Most analyses of the topic stress the social costs of adjustment and the deepening of social inequality that accompanies it, and highlight the limitations of social policies that serve as mechanisms to compensate for the differential effects of economic changes. The burden the crisis places on women, the old, and the young, as well as the increase in social polarization, entailing the endangerment of working and living conditions at one extreme of the social hierarchy and income concentration at the other-these are two of the key issues raised by such an approach.
  • An alternative way to analyze the relationship between democracy and equity is to look into the effects of poverty, marginalization, and violence on respect for human rights. Violations of human rights do not cease automatically at the moment of democratic transition: The weaknesses of nascent democracy are accentuated when large sectors of the population live in poverty and marginality. As Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Malak Poppovic, and Tulio Kahn (1993: 3) concluded after reviewing worldwide quantitative and qualitative data, "Political democracy is fragile as long as basic economic rights cannot be guaranteed." Indeed, it comes as no surprise that social demands based on inequality and exclusion, which persisted in a subdued and hidden way during the moment of political transition, have reemerged as fundamental issues of protest and mobilization during the 1990s.
  • The second theme perspective concerns social struggles around competing definitions of democracy and its contents. Emphasis here is on the contrast between the optimistic expectations placed on the process of transition to democracy and the often frustrating reality of the workings of the institutional system. The resulting disenchantment reflects difficulties inherent in the democratic process, but also specific obstacles derived from the context in which processes of transitions have taken place in Latin America. Under current circumstances of economic globalization. the relationship between political and economic systems involves complexities that are beyond the scope of this chapter. Yet the deep tensions that exist between capitalism and democracy-or more generally, between markets and states-are evident in a wide range of social conflicts. These tensions will have to be eased through the design of democratic institutional mechanisms, but this is no easy task given that secular trends are fostering ever greater inequalities.
  • Whatever initial expectations might have been regarding the connections between political democratization and social democratization, we now know that there exists no automatic or linear relationship between the formal functioning of democracy and the democratization of society, whether defined in terms of equity. participation and citizen control, or expansion of individual and collective rights. Nor does a democratic system ensure that actors and practices will in fact be democratic, or that democratic ideologies will prevail. Relationships among the relevant variables, as well as their sequencing and timing, turn out to be contingent and often erratic; change takes place slowly and is rarely unidirectional. In short, democratic outcomes are inherently provisional and uncertain (Przeworski, 1986), insofar as they are the result of a continuous social struggle about the distribution of socially valued resources and about the design (and redesign) of institutions intended to channel social conflict.
  • The third perspective centers on the social and cultural bases or components of a democratic society. To become active and responsible citizens, people require opportunities to develop special skills. Such opportunities, in turn, depend on access to public spaces and institutions. Hence we see the relevance of analyzing the notion of citizenship as well as the societal processes and mechanisms that foster the skills associated with it.
    The Emergence and Evolution of the Human Rights Network by Kathryn Sikkink in Elizabeth Jelin and Eric Hershberg, editors, Constructing Democracy: Human Rights, Citizenship, and Society in Latin America (1996, out-of-print)
  • The human rights movement has undergone tremendous changes in the last twenty years in terms of its size, the issues on which it works, and the manner in which it conducts its work. These changes are the result of three factors: the movement's response to new situations of human rights abuses and to a new international context, its evaluation of the effectiveness of its earlier work. and its reaction to the constant dialogue that the human rights movement maintains with the governments and people of each country. In addition to these changes, important continuities can be found among the people who work in the movement and the ideals that motivate them.
  • We can distinguish three historical periods in the development of the human rights network in Latin America. The first, dating roughly from 1973 to 1981s, was the period during which the human rights movement emerged. At this time, many of the key human rights organizations, both international and domestic, were set up or expanded, formed connections among groups, and developed the basic methodology of their work. The second period. dating roughly from 1981 to 1990, witnessed the consolidation of the human rights network. Many new groups formed during these years, and existing human rights organizations expanded their funding base and membership while experiencing some of their most important successes, as many of the key countries in Latin America that had been the focus of their early efforts made the transition to more democratic governments. The third period, from 1990 to the present, is one of refocusing and retrenchment for the Latin American human rights movement, as it struggles to respond to new forms of human rights violations in -a global context in which attention is focused elsewhere. Each of these historical stages will be examined in terms of the nature of the movement, the target countries that were the focus of its work, and the evolution of the characteristic human rights themes and tactics used by the movement during each period.
  • Stage 1: The Emergence of the Human Rights Movement (1973-1981)
    Human rights as a central foreign policy issues and human rights groups as an important type of movement are relatively recent phenomena Prior to 1973, most human organizations did not yet exist or were relatively small. Only eight years later, a wide range of organizations and policy options were capable of generating a forceful international response to human rights violations ms. International human rights pressures were often applied inconsistently, however.
  • The 1973 coup in Chile was a watershed event in the creation of the Latin American human rights network. As one human rights activist put it "Human rights was not in my vocabulary. Human rights entered my vocabulary on September 11, 1973 [the day of the Chilean coup], when it was suddenly denied to one-third of the Chilean population." Membership in existing human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (in both Europe and the United States) grew in response to the Chilean coup, and new organizations were created, including the Washington Office on Latin America and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Chilean organizations that formed to confront government repression, especially the Committee for Peace (subsequently known as the Vicaria de Solidaridad), became models for human rights groups throughout Latin America as well as sources of information and inspiration for human rights activists in the United States and Europe. U.S. and European groups also served as links between human rights groups in Chile and intergovernmental human rights groups.
  • The emerging network of the 1970s built upon international legal norms created in an earlier period. The touchstones for international human rights efforts were the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These in turn were the product of an earlier generation's concerns with human rights that had emerged out of the horror of the Holocaust. Latin America was an important player in the post-World War II debate over human rights. Latin American states championed the inclusion of human rights language in the United Nations charter and passed their own American Declaration of Human Rights even before the UN Declaration had been signed. This set of legal norms gave the human rights network of the 1970s a solid legal and institutional basis.
  • Although these international human rights norms already existed before the 1970s, they were not implemented in practice. Human rights did not constitute an important foreign policy category, nor was the term used frequently by social movements to frame their concerns or demands. What happened in the 1970s was essentially the "creation" of the human rights issue as an important and shared category to express the concerns of groups in both the south and the north--a category that found an echo in policy circles in the United States and in Europe.
  • The issue of human rights provided a meeting place for diverse groups that found it to be a useful framework for their concerns as well as a common ground on which to work. The early human rights network focused its efforts on a range of rights narrower than that included in the human right documents of the UN- especially on the so-called rights of the person, including the freedom from execution, torture, and arbitrary imprisonment. The early human rights NGOs helped set the tone. Amnesty International, founded in 1961, has a narrow mandate to concentrate its efforts on defending prisoners of conscience, opposing torture and the death penalty, and advocating the right of any accused person to a fair trial. The focus on basic rights of the person found a parallel in the liberal ideological tradition of the Western countries, where the human rights movement had the majority of its members. But this focus was also consonant with the human rights problems in the main target countries of the early movement. Given such cases as those of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil, it seemed imperative to address the problems of execution, torture, disappearance, and political imprisonment committed on such a large scale by the military regimes in these countries.
  • Most of the key human rights organizations were established during this period of emergence of the human rights network. Amnesty International already existed, but in the 1970s the Washington Office on Latin America, the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, and many other groups were set up in the United States and Europe. In Latin America. SERPAJ and many of the pioneering groups in Argentina and Chile were established. By the end of the period, with the founding of Americas Watch in 1981 and of the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights in 1980, many of the key institutional actors were in place, thus allowing the network to start functioning. In addition, new human rights legislation in the United States, changes at the OAS/IACHR and the UN, and support of the progressive church in Europe and many Latin American countries provided channels for the movement to begin to have an effect.
  • During this period, the human rights movement developed its basic strategies and tactics. The bulk of network activity revolved around information and denunciation, which involved gathering, publishing, and disseminating information about human rights violations and calling upon governments to criticize and isolate the worst violators. Groups in the human rights movement provided both facts and testimony--direct stories of people whose lives had been affected. Most important, activists interpreted facts and testimony in such a way as to make political action possible.9 Activist groups framed issues in clear-cut terms and referred to notions of right and wrong because their purpose was to stimulate people to take action. Without clear messages, powerful testimony, and appeals to shared principles, NGOs would not have been able to capture the imagination and energy of so many people.
  • One problem during this early period of the human rights network was that information tended to flow largely in one direction: from south to north. Specifically, human rights organizations in Latin America sent reports and information to intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations located in the north. This arrangement reflected the crisis mindset that often characterized early network activity, for the urgent need to document massacres or to free a particular person from prison inevitably meant that the priority was to get information into the bands of an individuals who could dc: something about it. In short, it was usually a matter of getting info! information out of a repressive country. Yet this one-way flow of information often left strategic and a agenda-setting activities mainly it the hands of the "information receiver,,,' in the -United States and Europe.
  • Of course, providing information would not be an effective strategy for changing human rights practices unless this information were used to engage more powerful actors to pressure repressive governments. The primary strategy that human rights organizations developed during this period was to provide information designed to convince governments and international organizations to use other policy tools, such as aid cutoffs, to try to limit human rights abuses. Elsewhere, this practice has been referred to as "leveraging" (Keck and Sikkink, 1992). By getting their information published in the media, NGOs placed added pressure on governments to raise human rights issues in their talks with repressive governments.
  • Stage 2: Consolidation of the Human Rights Network (1981-1990)
    This second period was characterized by increased numbers of human rights organizations, the growth of existing groups, and the evolution of targets, themes, and tactics within the human rights network. Indeed, the regional and international context within which the network operated had changed. The Reagan and Thatcher administrations created a political atmosphere in the north much less conducive to the theme of human rights. And regionally, governments in Latin America were suffering their worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with many undergoing a process of transition from authoritarian to electoral regimes. The network had to confront the difficulties of working on human rights situations in the context of political transition. By the end of the decade, some of the main targets of the early human rights network-Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and Paraguay-had returned to democratic regimes, whereas in a handful of other cases, such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the existence of formally elected civilian governments made it more difficult for the network to draw attention to the ongoing violations of basic rights.
  • Despite these apparent difficulties, this period was one of growth and consolidation for the Latin America human rights network. Contrary to the expectation that human rights policy would disappear when Carter left office, the Reagan administration paradoxically stimulated human rights efforts: The cold war vision of Reagan and UN Ambassador Kirkpatrick, and their support for repressive, right-wing governments, brought a new constituency to the human rights movement. By offering a consistent policy of opposing human rights abuses whatever the ideological coloration of the. government involved, in stark contrast to the Reagan administration's single-minded anticommunism, the human rights network gained a higher profile and expanded its funds and supporters.
  • Nongovernmental human rights organizations, the most important part of the human rights network, grew dramatically in terms of both absolute numbers and size (including membership and coverage). From g1980 to 1990, the total number of international human rights NGOs doubled. The combined staffs of the three largest NGOs in the United States doing international human rights work in the 1990s-Amnesty International/USA, the Watch Committees, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights-grew from approximately 25 in 1981 to over 200 in 1992, while their combined budgets went from less than $4 million in 1981 to almost $40 million in 1992.
  • These groups expanded their coverage of the world as well. The fastest growing of the U.S.-based human rights organizations, Hunan Rights Watch (of which Americas Watch is one branch), evolved from the small Helsinki Watch organization established in 1978 to a large umbrella organization for five regional Watch committees covering the entire globe. The organizations that experienced the greatest growth in the United States were precisely those with greater global coverage-that is, the ones that worked on Latin America as well as on other parts of the world and strived to criticize human rights violations wherever they occurred.
  • The number of Latin American human rights organizations also expanded dramatically. A 1981 directory of organizations in the developing world concerned with human rights and social justice listed 220 such organizations in Latin America. compared to 145 in Asia and 123 in Africa and the Middle Fast (Human Rights Internet, 1981). And an updated directory, published in 1990, lists over 550 human rights groups in Latin America. Of all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, only Grenada does not have a domestic human rights organization (Human Rights Internet. 1990). Some countries such as Brazil, Mexico, and Peru have 50 to 60 domestic human rights organizations. And more than 200 groups outside the region specifically work on human rights in Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean, whereas 140 international organizations were identified as having a concern with human rights in Latin America.
  • The changing political situation in the region led the Latin American human rights network to adopt new themes and tactics and thus to begin to alter the nature of its work. In a number of countries, the human rights movement became an important component of the coalition calling for transition to democracy, and the human rights agenda formed a part of the demands of the political opposition. Whereas previously the movement had focused on documenting and denouncing abuses by military governments, it now called on emerging democratic regimes to hold accountable the perpetrators of past human rights abuses.
  • Most human rights groups in the region adopted a legal strategy focused on advocating trials for those responsible for repression. The strategy of legal accountability enabled the human rights movement to be consistent with its members" shared values, which were embodied in international human rights law, and to provide a united lobby to pressure governments. The decision of the Alfonsin government to try the commanders in chief of the Argentine junta briefly encouraged confidence that more far-reaching accountability was possible in Argentina and elsewhere in the region. By the end of the decade however, it had become clear that legal accountability was extremely difficult to implement in all but exceptional cases This realization led to a new concern within the network toward the end of the period-a concern over the problem of impunity. What, indeed, were the implications of the failure to punish perpetrators of human rights abuses?
  • This period was also one in which the human rights movement increased its support from public and private foundations. Some membership organizations, such as Amnesty International, have raised the bulk of their funding from individual donations and through direct mail appeals, but most human rights organizations have sustained their work on money from private and public foundations. Perhaps the most understudied aspect of the growth of the human rights issue network is the support that nongovernmental groups have received from a handful of key foundations and funders.
  • The Ford Foundation was the leader among large U.S. private foundations in initiating an international human rights program. Long a supporter of academic research in Latin America, Ford increasingly found its academic grantees under attack from repressive regimes determined to silence any protests. In an attempt to protect the grantees and to maintain academic freedom, the foundation helped them leave their countries and work abroad; it also set up independent research centers to continue research within repressive countries (Puryear, 1982). After approving these pilot human rights programs, Ford decided to make international human rights one of its program priorities in 1978-1979. Since that time, it has maintained a substantial human rights grants program, continuing its support of academic institutions but also venturing to fund nongovernmental human rights organizations in the United States, Latin America, and elsewhere. Of the NGOs that Ford funded, the Vicaria de Solidaridad in Chile was seen as the "flagship" organization, a model of NGO activism. Ford also funded groups such as the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo and Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) in Argentina. In addition, virtually all of the large human rights NGOs in the United States have received money from Ford.
  • Other foundations, as well as government funding agencies in Europe and the United States, have also initiated programs funding human rights. By the early 1990s, a group of fifteen to twenty major U.S. private foundations were making regular grants for human rights work, while another twenty foundations gave occasional support for human rights. Another extremely important source of funding for Third World human rights groups has been grants from government agencies such as the international development agencies of Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. Both Sweden and Norway now have special agencies designed to fund NGO human rights work, and the political party foundations in Germany have also contributed to human rights organizations in Latin America, international church organizations, such as the Worlds Council of Churches, have also provided crucial funding for human rights work.
  • During this period, NGOs began to work more effectively with regional and international human rights organizations. Latin American NGOs started to become more interested in and savvy about the potential role for NGOs at UN and OAS human rights meetings (Palacio, 1992). Much of the information received by the United Nations Human Rights Commission outside of actual sessions comes from NGOs (International Service for Human Rights, 1992). Nongovernmental organizations and foundations have also carved out an important role for themselves in connection with the work of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Indeed, NGOs played a crucial role in three significant recent cases of disappearances in Honduras heard before the Inter-American Court. The initial complaints were filed by a Honduran human rights organization, and the legal team assembled to represent the complainants included lawyers associated with Americas Watch and the International Human Rights Law Group. These lawyers not only offered their services pro bono but also received important institutional support from their organizations. Since neither the court nor the commission provided funding for travel by witnesses or lawyers to attend hearings, funds had to be raised to pay for these costs (Mendez and Vivanco, 990). Ford was among the foundations that supported that effort. Although it is somewhat troubling that a regional court could not litigate an important case like this without major support from foundations and nongovernmental organizations, such funding certainly speaks to the increasingly interconnected nature of intergovernmental and nongovernmental human rights efforts.
  • Today the human rights movement in Latin America is confronting- a period of transition and challenge. In part, the challenge is a product of success and of changing international circumstances. Because the movement has contributed to blocking the worst violations of human rights in many countries, it is perceived as less necessary than before. Moreover, many of its initial demands have been incorporated into government policy and in the work of international organizations, which now move independently to condemn human rights abuses in a manner that would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. The other part of the challenge facing the network is the need to continually adapt its definitions and strategies to the changing global and regional context.

  • Stage 3: Refocusing and Retrenchment of the International Human Rights Network in Latin America (1990-Present)
  • Most of the human rights situations in the hemisphere are no longer gross violations of human rights by a military dictatorship but, rather, the more difficult and complex problems of human rights violations under various types of elected regimes. Haiti and Peru still command attention, but world concern with human rights has largely turned to other regions and problems. In this new context, the Latin American human rights movement has been undergoing a period of refocusing and retrenchment.
  • Some organizations have responded to the new context by closing their doors. The most symbolic of such actions was the Chilean Catholic Church's decision to shut down the Vicaria de Solidaridad, perhaps the most renowned humans rights organization hi Latin America, at the end of 1992. In its place, the church opened a new office to work on issues of poverty in Chile. Some institutions in the network, such as the lnter-American Commission on Human Rights, have been partially neutralized within the new context. Most analysts agree that the high point of the commission's work was the Argentina report presented in 1980 to the OAS General Assembly. The member-governments of presented criticism of the mast blatant practices of military the OAS were able to allow regimes. With the return to electoral forms of government throughout the region, however, some OAS members have strenuously objected to attempts by the commission to investigate continuing human rights violations. Many OAS members associate human rights violations with authoritarian regimes and thus argue that, ass by definition, the commission is overstepping its mandate by investigating the human rights practices of elected governments.
  • Countries that once held themselves up as champions of human rights are now on the receiving end of the commission's inquiries and resolutions. For example, the commission found admissible for the first time in 1989 a case against Mexico related to irregularities of the electoral process. The Mexican government, which prided itself as a defender of human rights in Chile and El Salvador, vehemently protested that the decision of a domestic electoral body "is not and cannot be subject to international jurisdiction," adding that, should a state submit itself to such jurisdiction, it "would cease to be sovereign." (Organization of American States, 1990:103-105).
  • The Inter-American Commission needs to make the transition that the European Human Rights Commission has made. Although the latter's early fame also rested on its investigations of human rights abuses in Greece under the military junta, it now spends its time investigating the human rights practices of democratic states. But the Inter-American commission, severely underfunded and understaffed, facing a constantly mounting workload, under pressure from governments resentful of its work, and lacking strong champions, has thus far not been capable of making this transition. Likewise in the foundation community, the changing international context has led to difficulties. The human rights program at the Ford Foundation, for example, was set up in response to the human rights violations by military dictatorships in Latin America, In these "black and white situations," where the good guys were distinct from the bad, it was easier for the regional staff to generate support for human tights projects within the foundation. But as they became involved with human rights activities in other countries such as Peru and Columbia, where high levels of violence existed under formally democratic governments and lines of responsibility were not always clear, the foundation staff sometimes found that funding decisions were more difficult to make.
  • One dilemma currently facing the human rights movement is that it may have become too dependent on foundation funding. Indeed, excessive reliance on international funding can discourage the search for domestic sources of finance and distort policy priorities. By the same token, international funding decisions can decisively determine which groups will prosper and grow and which will wilt away. Foundations may now he shifting resources out of human rights work in Latin America to other regions, as well as to other issues such as the environment. For instance, human rights groups in the Southern Cone. which are no longer perceived as priorities in the funding community have experienced a significant decrease in external funding over the past five years, and church funding for NGO human rights work, on Latin America also appears to be declining. Dwindling funds have forced many human rights organizations in the Southern Cone to reduce their size and the range of their programs.
  • Nongovernmental human rights organizations have responded to this changing human rights situation by addressing new targets and developing new themes and tactics. New themes that have taken on importance         in the human rights movement of the 1990s include issues of impunity; violations committed both by governments and by insurgents in situations of armed conflict; problems of endemic human rights violations under electoral systems; and rights violations of especially vulnerable groups, such as women, children, homosexuals, and indigenous peoples.
  • The Watch Committees have led the way by deciding to focus on the application of the Geneva Convention (i.e..the laws of war) as well as on that of the UN Declaration and Covenants no Human Rights. Because the protection of human rights is primarily the responsibility of governments, human rights organizations tend to direct their criticisms to the practices of governments. In doing so, how-ever, they are left with little to say in the context of civil wars in which abuses s are committed by guerrilla organizations, as in the cases of Sendero Luminoso or the contras in Nicaragua. They are also left open to the opportunistic challenges of governments claiming that human rights organizations "never talked about the other side." This was a particularly effective rhetorical device used by the Argentine military to condemn human rights organizations during the military dictatorship. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in its report on Argentina, felt compelled to directly respond to the question "Why doesn't the Commission investigate terrorist acts? In other words, why is it that the commission concerns itself exclusively with actions attributable to governments?" In response, the Commission contended that the simple and legally precise answer to the first question is that the sovereign states of the OAS have not chosen to give the Commission jurisdiction to investigate terrorism and subversion. . . . Even the most cursory review of these norms reveals that the task of the Commission-as, in general, that of all either intergovernmental bodies set up for the protection of human rights-is to investigate only those actions imputable to governments. (Organization of American States, 1980)
  • Although this answer is straightforward and compelling, Americas Watch has discovered that the decision to monitor the application of the Geneva Convention allows them greater latitude in investigating the range of new forms of human rights abuses, especially those that occur in situations of civil war or armed conflict, The members of Amnesty International have also recently approved a change in their mandate that allows them to condemn human rights violations perpetrated by insurgents as well as by governments in the context of armed conflict (Amnesty International, 1991b).
  • In Latin America, examples of the trend toward investigating and denouncing "endemic" human rights violations under formally elected governments include work on human rights in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. The human rights movement turned its attention to Mexico in the late 1980s and became especially active in the 1990s in denouncing the problems of executions, routine use of torture, violence related to land disputes, and violations of press freedom (Americas Watch. 1990; Amnesty International, 1991x). In Brazil, too, there is a new awareness of endemic human rights abuses, including vigilante executions; poor prison conditions, and violence related to land disputes (Americas Watch, 1989, 1992). These issues are often more difficult for the movement to work on because responsibility is harder to locate and there may be limited sympathy or even opposition from domestic groups.
  • The human rights movement is refocusing its work on new groups, During the period of its emergence, the movement was concerned primarily with victims of political repression. These were often political leaders, students, and union leaders. and more likely to be male and middle class than otherwise. Today, however, the human rights movement is increasingly turning its attention to new groups such as women, street children, homosexuals, and indigenous peoples. The International Council of Amnesty International recently voted to consider for adoption as prisoners of conscience those persons who are imprisoned solely because of their homosexuality (Amnesty International, 199.1x), Similarly, Americas Watch has developed a new program dedicated to the defense of women's rights. and groups in Argentina and Brazil have turned their attention to the rights of children and adolescents.
  • The human rights movement has also adopted new strategies and tactics. Some groups are now making an active attempt to reverse the flow of information and to include a wider range of actors in the process of strategizing and agenda setting. For example, the Washington Office on Latin America disseminates a newsletter and information packets in Spanish to inform human rights groups in Latin America of developments in Washington that could affect their countries. The Inter-American Institute for Human Rights, based in Costa Rica, has been offering classes and training sessions for human rights leaders and activists since it was established in 1980. The International Human Rights Internship Program, in addition to arranging for internships and training opportunities for human rights activists in both the north and the south, informally tries to help supply information to Third World organizations about sources of funding. And, finally, the Watch Committees cultivate intense relations with key nongovernmental organizations in target countries, sometimes serving as conduits for funds to Third World NGOs.
  • The human rights movement continues to rely primarily on the tactics of documentation and denunciation. In countries where gross violations of the basic rights of the person have increased or continue unabated, such as Peru or Haiti, this strategy is likely to remain effective. But in the new international context, the network is placing increasing emphasis on influencing public opinion as well as governments. In the context of dictatorships, it was usually impossible for human rights organizations to reach the public through domestic media: but the return of elected governments with relatively free press has enabled both international and domestic human rights organizations to reach out directly in their efforts to influence public opinion.
  • Once the process of transition to democracy has been completed, local human rights organizations may find it harder to attract funding for their ongoing work: but they may also lose contact with the international network as the human rights situations in their countries are perceived to be less important or less dramatic than before. One participant in a recent retreat for NGO activists expressed the resulting sense of isolation as follows: "In the transition period, all these international groups drew back. . . . Then we lost touch with those organizations. That's terrible for us because there is a kind of central decision that when a country starts a new process, there is no longer any need for international action and support" (Sterner, 1991: 51).
  • In this situation, human rights organizations may find it necessary to carve out new roles for themselves in the post-transition period, yet there are few models detailing how to accomplish this shift. After the return to democracy in Greece, for example, domestic human rights organizations were simply dissolved and the international and domestic human rights movement around Greece could not be sustained. Yet, as all of the contributions to this volume suggest, there continue to be enormous obstacles to the full realization of human rights for everyone living in Latin American democracies. National, regional, and interregional human rights organizations can play an important role in meeting the challenges brought to the fore by the consolidation of democracy, but doing so will require flexibility and an openness to grappling with new issues and to adopting novel organizational .forms. The possible directions for human rights organizations include the following:
    1. a move toward becoming more traditional civil liberties organizations, using domestic law and courts to fight against infringement of basic civil and political rights,
    2. expansion of their range of rights, including
    economic, social; and cultural as well as the rights of previously neglected groups, such as indigenous groups, women, and children; and
    3. devotion of more energy to human rights education or training in schools, the Judiciary, the military, and the police.
    We know very little about the effectiveness of human rights pressures exerted by the international network as a whole, although there are some studies of the impact of different parts of the network (e.g., Smith, 1986; Kamarotos, 1990), The first task is to define what we mean by a successful or effective human rights movement. Above all, a successful human rights movement is one that has an immediate impact on the victims of human rights violations-that is, by saving lives, stopping torture, helping to get political prisoners released from prison, limiting police abuse, and so on. This human aspect must be taken into account in any discussion of success; it can be called the short-term impact of human rights work. However, with all measures of effectiveness in the human rights realm, such effectiveness is extremely difficult to prove or document.
  • But we cannot limit our definition of success only to the direct impact on victims of repression. As important as it is to help such victims in the short term, human rights work also has broader, medium-term objectives (Hoffman. 1981). In particular, we can consider a human rights movement to be effective if it helps to
    1. strengthen regional and international human rights organizations;
    2. destabilize and delegitimize authoritarian governments, and contribute to redemocratization;
    3. influence linkages between the democratic opposition in Latin America and political groups abroad; and
    4. reinforce transnational ties between rights groups in Latin America and policymakers and NGOs elsewhere. 19
    Indigenous Rights: Some Conceptual Problems by Rodolfo Stavenhagen in Elizabeth Jelin and Eric Hershberg, editors, Constructing Democracy: Human Rights, Citizenship, and Society in Latin America (1996, out-of-print)

  • The recent emergence of indigenous peoples' ethnic rights as a special case of human rights poses two conceptual questions that need to be addressed from different angles. How does the notion of "ethnic rights" relate to the generally accepted concept of human rights? And if indigenous peoples claim recognition of special rights specifically on the basis of their "indigenous" character, what is the value of the concept of indigenidad, or "indigenity?" Insofar as the recognition of ethnic rights has a collective basis, the relationship between individual and collective rights merits analysis, as does the ambiguity surrounding the use of the term ethnic minority and its application to indigenous peoples. Furthermore, the scope of the concept of a "people" in general, and of "indigenous people" in particular, should be delineated, especially as it relates to the broadly extended notion of "rights of peoples." Finally, the concepts of self-determination and autonomy should be specified in the context of indigenous peoples living confronting the boundaries of the modern territorial state. This chapter addresses each of these issues, but first it is necessary to consider the evolving demands of indigenous peoples on the American continent, along with the response that these demands have elicited from Latin American states.
    Although the term indigenous has many definitions, it is used in this chapter to refer to descendants of the original inhabitants of the Americas, those who preceded the European invasion and whose cultural characteristics distinguish them from the rest of society.' Generally occupying an inferior social position vis-a-vis the rest of the population, they suffer economic and social marginalization. Consisting of more than 400 groups, each with an identity of its own, the indigenous or Indian population of the Americas totals some 30 million people. Indigenous groups vary greatly, ranging from inhabitants of the Amazon jungle to highland peasant farmers.
  • In many Latin American countries Indians are but a small minority of the population. (This is the case in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica.) Elsewhere, by contrast, Indians constitute a significant portion of the population (as in Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru) or even a majority (as in Bolivia and Guatemala). Indigenous people are dispersed among populations everywhere, sometimes to the point where their specific cultural traits have practically disappeared. But one of the fundamental elements of indigenous identity in the Americas is its territoriality: To belong to an indigenous group paeans to have the consciousness of possessing a territory and of maintaining special ties to the land.
  • For reasons that are well known, indigenous peoples occupy a disadvantaged position in the social hierarchy. Poverty, malnutrition, poor health conditions, and a lack of adequate medical care and sanitation are endemic. These problems are rooted in the unequal position of Indians in the economic structure--especially in agriculture. Indeed, since the colonial era Indians have been stripped of their lands and subjected to brutal forms of exploitation. Although the most egregious abuses have declined gradually as a result of continuing struggles for justice, their effects remain evident in the hardships that characterize the daily lives of indigenous people today.
  • The origins of discrimination and human rights violations against the Indians can be traced to the productive structure as far back as the colonial era, and to the social, political, and legal institutions developed by Latin American states following independence. Dominant ideologies rejected the specificity and even the existence of indigenous peoples. The concept of "nation" that swept the region during the nineteenth century excluded indigenous and ethnic groups from the national community, giving rise to racist, nationalist, and positivist ideologies that lacked a place for indigenous peoples-even though they often constituted a numerical majority. As a result, by the beginning of the twentieth century indigenous peoples had become minorities, discriminated against and subordinated, exploited and rejected, by dominant groups as well as by the mestizo and creole populations.
  • The dominant society has never been without voices to defend the Indians, and both active and passive resistance from indigenous people themselves is a recurrent theme in Latin American history. In recent decades.. governments in the region have grown more aware of the terrible social and economic situation faced by the great majority of the indigenous population, and numerous measures have been implemented in an effort to improve living conditions for Indians. Yet contemporary conceptions of the Indian differ only in nuance from those of the modern period. To this day, a common belief is that the state must be culturally homogeneous and that development policies for Indian communities must reflect a strategy of integration and assimilation. Indeed, the official vision of the future of Latin American societies remains one of nations without Indians. Of course, museums will remain as silent testimony to the greatness of the Indian past, and crafts and folklore will be preserved or recreated for the pleasure of tourists. But specific Indian groups, along with their cultures, languages, idioms and artistic expressions-in short, their very identities-will presumably disappear, inevitable victims of progress, modernization, economic development, and national integration.
  • While processes of acculturation are thus evident; indigenous cultures persist. Buttressed in recent years by a growing sense of collective identity and by strategies of political resistance, such cultures constitute a significant element in the sociopolitical landscape of contemporary Latin American This fact, however, has been acknowledged only recently in official descriptions of the region. a delay that can be seen as one of the structural causes of human rights violations against the Indian peoples of the continent. Often the weakest sectors in society, indigenous people are frequent victims of the most flagrant violations of human rights.
  • Beyond the question of human rights, however, lies that of collective rights. Although constitutions and legislation have adopted the principles of equality before the law and of nondiscrimination and proclaim, at least formally, absolute respect for individual human rights, Latin American countries rarely recognize the collective rights of ethnic groups, indigenous or otherwise. Indeed, most constitutions in the region do not recognize even the existence of indigenous populations.
  • Recently, several states adopted new constitutional texts in which for the first time reference was made to indigenous rights and indigenous peoples were recognized as such (Stavenhagen, 1988). In Brazil, for example, the eighth chapter of the 1988 Constitution refers to indigenous peoples; in Nicaragua, following the conflict between the Miskito Indians and the Sandinistas during the 1980s, the autonomy of the Atlantic Coast communities was established; and in Mexico, Article 4 of the 1991 Constitution was modified to include a section on the rights of indigenous peoples. In addition to reiterating individual rights, the new charters recognize some collective rights, including those relating to language, culture, common law (Stavenhagen and Iturralde, 1990), and, in some cases land.
  • In contrast to the long-standing neglect of the indigenous question in Latin American constitutions, virtually every Latin American state has enacted one or another law or decree, or even packages of legislation, referring specifically to the indigenous population. Of a diverse nature, this legislation generally obligates the state to favor the economic and social betterment of indigenous populations.
  • Agrarian law warrants special mention, since the problem of land is fundamental for indigenous peoples throughout the continent. Several countries maintain special arrangements for Indian lands dating back to the colonial era, Beginning in the nineteenth century, indigenous communal lands have had access to an ever-diminishing supply of natural resources, due to pressures from latifundias as well as to colonization by mestizo farmers, commercial plantations, and multinational enterprises. Many indigenous peoples have lost their lands and their ecological basis for sustenance in this manner. It is for this reason that the agrarian struggles of indigenous peoples are so deeply etched in the modern history of Latin America.
  • Responding to this situation, some governments have adopted agrarian legislation favorable to indigenous peoples, especially with regard to the protection of collective or communal property. This legislation is particularly evident in the experience of Mexico. Bolivia, and Peru, but it has emerged to a lesser extent in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia and, during democratic periods, in Guatemala and Chile. Other countries, in contrast, have destroyed indigenous property rights and promoted private landownership. Although the Universal Human Rights Declaration recognizes the right to collective or individual property, legislation in many Latin American countries denies the right to collective ownership of land. Individual property rights-with their associated processes of accumulation and concentration, on the one hand, and of atomization and fragmentation, on the other-have been a powerfully destructive force in the history of indigenous peoples in the Americas.
  • The educational and cultural policies of Latin American governments have been highly "integrationist," as have the legislative frameworks through which these policies are implemented, By failing to take into account the specific cultural characteristics, goals, and aspirations of indigenous groups, educational policies, characterized by obligatory castilianization (linguistic assimilation), have imposed Western models that observers have deemed ethnocidal because of their support for unilateral acculturation and, hence, the disintegration of indigenous groups, Questioning of these educational policies, by the indigenous people and others, has led some governments to bestow official status on indigenous languages, paving the way for bilingual and bicultural education long demanded by Indian organizations.
  • There is much debate over the question of whether an educational policy respectful of indigenous cultures and supportive of their development can be compatible with the dominant conception of national unity and development, Do the social and cultural rights of peoples enshrined in international law translate into the rights of Latin American indigenous groups to receive education in their own language. along with protection and respect for their culture by society as a whole? The debate rages on in many Latin American countries; yet in a world characterized by ever greater integration and cultural homogenization, the cultural rights of peoples have taken on increasing importance as basic human rights.
  • The rights of indigenous peoples to land, property, and a culture of their own constitute one set of issues for legislation in contemporary Latin America, but the case of criminals law highlights a separate and perhaps even more complex problem, This problem concerns the applicability of juridical. norms belonging to a specific (Western) sociopolitical tradition„ At stake is not only the scope of state jurisdiction but also the applicability of customary law as it emerges from indigenous communities and the degree to which the legal order can accommodate these particularities. Penal codes in some Latin American countries grant special recognition to the "customs" of indigenous peoples; in other countries, juridical practice is relatively flexible with regard to practices and customs internal to indigenous communities. Nevertheless, indigenous organizations protesting human rights violations decry the countless instances in which the law, particularly criminal law, has been applied inflexibly in situations where sociological or Cultural context should have constituted a mitigating factor. Beyond these issues, however, lies the fundamental question of whether indigenous peoples can or should have the right to govern themselves in accord with their own norms of conviviality, and whether and to what extent these norms conflict with those imposed by the national state.
  • Closely linked to this question is one of even greater importance, concerning the political representation of indigenous people. In most Latin American countries, Indians enjoy "on paper"' the rights of all citizens to participate in the political process. But the modes of discrimination against indigenous peoples are so numerous and profound that these individuals remain, in practice, politically marginalized throughout most of the region. Only rarely are there legal mechanisms to enable indigenous groups to participate as collectivities in the political order, In most countries, the liberal doctrine of individual representation leads to an explicit rejection of even the possibility of according collective rights or representation on the basis of ethnic or other ascriptive categories.
  • Liberal democratic theory was designed for societies in which all individuals are effectively equal, and in which socioeconomic differences can be confronted through social and economic policies. Ethnic differences, by contrast, are destined either to disappear through integrationist or assimilationist policies. or to stimulate the creation of political mechanisms designed to strengthen ethnic and cultural pluralism. These mechanisms remain largely absent in Latin America. despite advances in several countries over the past decade.
  • For the most part, indigenous organizations have shown little interest in legislative questions, aside from instances in which laws affect them directly, as in the case of the Estatuto do Indio (Statute of the Indian) in Brazil or the Ley de Comunidades (Law of Communities) in Paraguay. These organizations are gradually becoming more aware of legal issues, however, and have begun to put forth proposals that go beyond the traditional demands for greater attention to the economic and social needs of indigenous communities. Yet their calls for political representation, territorial autonomy, and self-determination have seldom received sympathy from state authorities, who contend that the civil, cultural, and political rights of ethnic groups can be satisfied within the framework of existing political systems.
    Calls for self-determination and autonomy, in particular, are becoming more frequent in declarations of indigenous peoples' organizations in national and international forums across much of Latin America. Yet whereas leaders of the movement cite rights enshrined in international agreements and in UN declarations, Latin American governments frequently perceive a risk to territorial integrity posed by "separatist" and secessionist demands. This debate is likely to continue, and to become more pressing, in much of Latin America during the coming years. Thus the issue of indigenous rights will require greater attention on the part of human rights specialists, lawyers, and social scientists. At the same time, this issue cannot be separated from the debate over democracy, justice, and citizenship in Latin American countries.