Thoughts for December 10th, Human Rights Day
By: Naomi Roht-Arriaza
President of the Board of Directors of DPLF,
Professor at Hastings College of Law University of California
Perhaps the most important characteristic of the human rights movement has been the ability to continue fighting in adverse conditions. One example: the struggle experienced by the victims, relatives, attorneys, journalists, activists, and others in putting an end to impunity for grave human rights violations. Starting from a situation characterized by de jure or de facto amnesties, they continued to look for ways to create openings, to take advantage of limitations and exceptions, how to find and educate independent judges, and how to link the national fight with regional and international forums.
As seen above, Latin America has been an example of the creative combination of legal and non-legal strategies to achieve the protection of human rights. Examples include the combining universal jurisdiction with the national efforts to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations, the creative use of universal civil jurisdiction or of administrative systems or migration control in countries (like the United States) where criminal prosecution becomes difficult, and the search to broaden and adapt the possibilities of the inter-American human rights system in order to respond to new needs, as in the case of the Group of Experts that is investigating the Ayotzinapa case in Mexico.
It is becoming clearer that human rights are interdisciplinary and indivisible, and the human rights movement needs to contemplate a wider scope of activities and struggles in order to protect them. Thus, the struggle for the protection of territory, water, forests, and life is becoming more central to the work of the human rights movement, which entails an alliance and a joint effort with environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and groups focused on corporate responsibility, not just state responsibility. Likewise, the recent struggle in Guatemala to remove the head of a corrupt and militarized government demonstrated once more that the fight against corruption and for a government that responds to the needs of the population and not just those in the inner circle receiving rewards, is an important part of the struggle for a country, continent, and world where the rights of all are respected.