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June 2013
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Ministry for Foreign Affairs publishes reports on human rights situation – Sweden

Ministry for Foreign Affairs publishes reports on human rights situation

The human rights reports, presented by Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign
Affairs in spring 2013, cover the 35 countries of the Americas. The
reports reflect the Government’s ambition to integrate human rights into
all areas of foreign policy and are part of its efforts to safeguard
human dignity and the integrity, freedom and inviolability of the
individual. This is the eleventh time the Swedish Foreign Service has
compiled and published reports on human rights in individual countries.

The reports naturally reveal differences between the countries regarding
the level of enjoyment of civil and political rights as well as economic
and social rights. At the same time, the overall picture that emerges is
a hopeful one. The Americas, with the exception of Cuba, are currently
characterised by established democracies, with free elections,
multiparty systems, free media and a good level of respect for freedom
of assembly, expression and religion. Many governments are actively
working to strengthen respect for the rule of law by introducing new
laws, placing the military under civilian control, reducing numbers in
overcrowded prisons, reducing impunity and bringing perpetrators of
violence within the police and military before civilian courts,
appointing independent judges, and educating police and military
personnel in human rights.

Most countries in the region – with Cuba as the most obvious exception –
have ratified and signed the fundamental UN human rights conventions.
All Latin American countries, except for Cuba, have also acceded to the
Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.

The UN special rapporteurs commenting on the human rights conditions in
these countries have primarily focused on shortcomings concerning the
rights of indigenous peoples, the incidence of the death penalty, racial
discrimination and torture.

In most parts of the region, the death penalty is absent. Where the
death penalty is legal, it is rarely enforced, with the primary
exception being the United States. In several countries, however, a
level of police brutality occurs that leads to death in prisons and
remand centres. Several reports show that individuals, often the poorest
members of society, are detained without trial and that women in
particular are subjected to sexual violence. Accordingly, deficiencies
exist with regard to the right to freedom and personal safety.

Freedom of expression is generally respected but is threatened in
several countries by violence and threats of violence against
journalists. This has led to self-censorship, particularly in relation
to reporting on drug trafficking and military and police violence.
However, the growing group of people using the internet to blog, for
example, has contributed to strengthening freedom of expression and
democracy in countries such as Cuba.

The well-established multiparty systems in the region strengthen
democracy in Latin America, which only a generation ago was held in the
iron grip of military dictatorships. Today, in many parts of the region,
women hold high political positions. Eight of the countries have women
heads of state or government. However, indigenous people remain greatly
underrepresented in leading political forums.

By global comparison, many countries in the region are characterised by
considerable property and income inequality. Indigenous people often
lack both financial assets and political influence. Safeguarding the
right to work and the opportunity to earn a living is challenged in many
areas by the high rate of unemployment within the formal economy and by
underemployment and vulnerability in the informal sector. Gender pay
differentials are also substantial.

Significant efforts are being made in several countries to strengthen
the right to health and education, and thus the right to an adequate
standard of living. Life expectancy is rising in many places. The right
to abortion is very limited and is often granted only if the woman’s
life is in danger. This means that the number of teenagers at risk of
giving birth is great – representing almost one-third of all first-time
mothers in several countries.

Extensive criminal violence threatens citizens’ security in many Latin
American and Caribbean countries to the extent that it constitutes a
significant obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights. This violence,
which is often transnational, is partially linked to trade in narcotic
drugs. Many reports from the region contain accounts of extensive
violence against women and children, including sexual exploitation and
family violence.

In many parts of the region, LGBT people have gained markedly improved
legal rights, including the right to same-sex marriage, although
harassment and public abuse still occur.

Resources are being increased in many countries to improve the living
conditions of disabled people through both non-discriminatory
legislation and efforts to increase the accessibility of buildings and
public transport. The reports also highlight measures being taken in
various places to reduce violence against people with mental
disabilities in institutions.

Civil society organisations can operate freely in most of the countries.
In a number of cases they have been the driving force in efforts to
strengthen human rights legislation and have contributed to drawing
attention to the situation of children, indigenous people, LGBT people,
refugees and other groups, and to violence against women.

Tags: blog, economy, education, expression, freedom, health, human rights, internet, police, public transport, transport, violence

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