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United States Supports Strengthening of Colombian Judicial Sector

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William R. Brownfield was present at the 12th Regular Jurisdiction Meeting held November 5-6, 2009 in Paipa, Boyaca. Regular jurisdiction in Colombia includes civil, family, labor, and criminal matters. This is an annual event organized by the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice to bring together key members of the Colombian judicial branch and discuss topics related to the sector’s development. This year the topic was Access to Justice.

Thanks to the support provided by the U.S. Government – through its Agency for International Development (USAID)- and the Department of Justice, two important US justices participated at the event: David Briones, Texas Senior U.S. District Judge and Edward Prado, 5th U.S. District Judge.

The U.S. Government has strongly supported the strengthening of the Colombian judicial sector. Under Plan Colombia, the U.S. government has allotted over US $150 million to strengthen the country’s judicial system in order to make it more effective and accessible.   This has included providing support for conversion to the criminal accusatory system, training and technical assistance to members of the judicial sector, strengthening of the justice administration, greater access to justice for vulnerable and underserved populations, and support and aid to the general population so they can be a part of the judicial reform.

 


Conviction of Human Rights Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh

The United States strongly condemns the unjust and harsh verdict against human rights activist and respected lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran, and calls for her immediate release. Ms. Sotoudeh is a strong voice for rule of law and justice in Iran. We are dismayed by her continued detention and loss of the right to practice law.

Her conviction is part of a systematic attempt on the part of Iranian authorities to silence the defense of democracy and human rights in Iran. It is one in a series of harsh sentences targeting the lawyers of Iran’s human rights community which perseveres despite threats, torture, and imprisonment. We call on the Iranian government to address the international community’s “deep concern at serious human rights violations in Iran” as expressed in the December United Nations General Assembly resolution and to respect its human rights obligations, including its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 


U.S. Supports the Drafting of the Ombudsman’s First Report on the Constitutional Justice Observatory

Within the framework of the International Day of Human Rights, the Ombudsman’s Constitutional Justice Observatory launched the report entitled 15 years of Constitutional Jurisprudence. USAID’s Human Rights Program provided gfinancial and technical support for the report which was formally presented in an event held in the Bolivar Room of the Tequendema Hotel. Among those present at the event were Colombian Ombudsman Volmar Perez; USAID’s director for Human Rights in Colombia Jene Thomas; top Colombian officials from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches; as well as academics and representatives from social organizations. USAID’s initiative for this project totalled $90 million Colombian pesos.

The document is a collection of academic works that examine some of the Constitutional Court’s sentences since 2001 and was drafted by a group of officials from the Office of the Ombudsman. USAID helped to strengthen this group by providing the support of an external consultant. The report compiles sentences related to the protection of the rights of children, youth, the elderly, people with disabilities, prisoners, people with a different sexual orientation, people stricken by poverty, ethnic groups, victims of forced displacement and labor unionists. It also includes sentences on basic rights in the criminal process, habeas corpus, habeas data, the right to petition, and the right to political participation as well as collective rights.  The report also includes analyses of jurisprudence issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as accepted by the Colombian government.

This first report is a valuable reference tool for judicial operators, public officials, teachers, researchers and academicians, as well as social leaders, human rights’ and victims’ organizations, and the public in general.
Bogota D.C., December 10, 2008

 
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U.S. Supports Transparency in Justice Forum

On March 3, 2010 at the Tequendama Hotel in Bogota, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Excellence in Justice Corporation and the Transparency for Colombia Corporation sponsored the Transparency in Justice Forum, an event set to analyze the situation of the Colombian justice system. High public figures from academic and institutional sectors shared their views and tasks to guarantee a transparent and timely justice that will tend to the needs of the people.

U.S Ambassador William R. Brownfield, Gloria Maria Borrero, Executive Director of the Corporation for Excellence in Justice; Elisabeth Ungar, Executive Director of the Corporation for Transparency in Colombia; Alexander Ordoñez, Procurator General; Julio Cesar Turbay Quintero, Comptroller General; and Julia Emma Garzon de Gomez, chairperson of the Disciplinary Room for the Supreme Council of the Judicature, attended the event.

According to the 2009 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Colombia ranks 75 among 180 nations in the world (3.7 over 10). The same Index ranks Somalia as the most corrupt country graded 1.1 over 10 and New Zealand earned the first place with citizen Perception Index of 9.4 over 10.

The Forum provided an overview of the international commitments signed by Colombia to make justice more transparent and efficient, and will refer to experiences from other countries to improve its systems.

USAID carried out several projects to fight corruption in the Colombian judicial sector and promote transparency in its processes. Some of these projects include support for organizations to design a survey that evidences the features of corruption risks in the justice system and the creation of proposals to fight them, all the way to the creation of various exercises in Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Atlántico, Magdalena, Bolivar and Cundinamarca departments. The sum allotted by USAID to carry out these activities surpasses $429 million pesos.

 
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Statement by the Press Secretary, 12/27/2010

We are deeply concerned that a Russian judge today has indicated that for a second time Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev will be convicted.  We are troubled by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends.   The apparent selective application of the law to these individuals undermines Russia’s reputation as a country committed to deepening the rule of law.  The Russian government cannot nurture a modern economy without also developing an independent judiciary that serves as an instrument for furthering economic growth, ensuring equal treatment under the law, and advancing justice in a predictable and fair way.
 
The Obama administration stands in solidarity with the many people in the Russian government, in the legal system, and in civil society who are committed to strengthening the rule of law and deepening the commitment to universal values enshrined in the Russian constitution. Russia’s failure to keep this commitment to universal values, including the rule of law, impedes its own modernization and ability to deepen its ties with the United States.
 
President Obama has spoken frequently with President Medvedev about this case and others as part of their ongoing conversation about President Medvedev’s important campaign to strengthen the rule of law and modernize Russia’s political and economic system. We will continue to monitor closely the next stages in this case, including the fairness of the sentences and the review by higher courts during the appeals process.

 


The United States Announces the U.S.-Pakistan Gender Equity Program

After the bilateral Strategic Dialogue meeting in Islamabad today, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new five-year, $40 million Gender Equity Program to be funded by USAID aimed at advancing women’s rights and empowerment in Pakistan by:

  • Expanding women’s access to justice;
  • Helping women exercise their rights in the workplace, community, and home;
  • Combating gender-based violence; and,
  • Strengthening the capacity of Pakistani organizations that advocate for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the elimination of gender-based violence.

The U.S. has already committed $12.5 million for this program and nationwide grant-making is expected to begin in August. Grantees will include non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, policy think tanks, academic research and training institutions, professional and business associations, media, civic advocacy organizations, civil society coalitions, as well as partnerships with relevant government or quasi-government entities addressing women’s equality and empowerment.

 
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Statement about Murders of Human Rights Defenders in Russia

 

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman,

The United States was shocked and saddened by two recent and brazen murders of human rights defenders in Russia. On January 19, Stanislav Markelov, director of the Rule of Law Institute in Moscow, and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist with the Novaya Gazeta, were murdered in broad daylight in central Moscow. An attorney who spent the better part of the decade pursuing human rights and social justice cases, Markelov had represented Anna Politkovskaya prior to her death in 2006. The murders occurred minutes after Markelov announced at a press conference that he would continue to fight the early release from prison of Yuri Budanov, a former Russian tank commander who was convicted in July 2005 of strangling an 18-year-old Chechen woman. With Ms.Baburova’s death, Novaya Gazeta has lost four reporters to murder or other mysterious circumstances since the year 2000.

We would welcome an initiative by Russia to report to the Permanent Council on the status of their investigations and their efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes, which unfortunately are not isolated cases. If left without justice, the killings of journalists and human rights activists have a chilling effect on freedom and respect for the rule of law in a society.

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

 
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Statement by Ambassador John Beyrle on the murder of Natalya Estemirova

Yesterday, Russia lost one of its most remarkable citizens, Natalya Estemirova.  I was shocked and saddened to learn of her murder and my heart goes out to her family and to her colleagues at Memorial.  Natalya was a tireless crusader for the rights and dignity of all individuals.  All of us who knew her deeply respected her and her work, and many Americans have asked me to express their condolences to her family.

Natalya understood the danger of her work in Chechnya, but refused to be intimidated.  Natalya’s courage and dedication are sources of inspiration; she will truly be missed.  We fully support every effort to bring those responsible for this cowardly crime to justice.  Natalya would expect that of us.

 
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Remarks by Ambassador John Beyrle at the Reception for the Committee to Protect Journalists

Thank you for coming this evening to recognize the important work of the Committee to Protect Journalists.   It is an honor for me to welcome Paul Steiger, the Chairman of the Board of the CPJ;   Joel Simon, the  Executive Director;   and of course  Kati Marton,  a member of the board and leader of the delegation.

The Committee’s independence and impartiality is the source of its authority in the United States, in Russia, and around the world. It holds all to the same standards of accountability: the CPJ recently called on the American Secretary of Defense to conduct an independent investigation of the 19 American media workers who lost their lives during the fighting in Iraq.

In supporting the work of the Committee, the United States government makes a clear statement of its commitment to the safety of journalists around the world. As Americans, we deeply believe that a free society depends upon a free press;  and a free press cannot exist unless journalists feel safe. If journalists are afraid to report the truth, the press is not free. If those who threaten to kill journalists are not identified and brought to justice, society as a whole is weakened.

Being a jouralist has been a dangerous profession in many countries including my own. The murder of Don Bolles, an investigative reporter killed by the mafia in Arizona, is a well-known but not unique example. Russian history also has known many journalists and writers who were exiled, imprisoned or killed for criticizing injustice, for exposing corruption, or for simply telling the truth. Many of you here tonight knew Natalia Estemirova. She was one of several journalists who spoke about the murder of innocent people, and other violations of human rights in Chechnya. She was killed in July 2009, and her murder has never been solved.

American journalist Paul Khlebnikov was murdered in Moscow in July 2004. He was the author of several books and many articles about the connections between business and organized crime.His killers, and those who ordered this killing, have never been brought to justice.

In October 2006 an unknown assassin killed Anna Politkovskaya, who was widely known for her reporting about the conflict in Chechnya, and her reporting about violations of human rights.  Anna was a true voice of freedom. Her children, Vera and Ilya, are here with us tonight.

Tonight we recognize the courage and determination of journalists in all countries who seek to report the truth;  and we remember those who have lost their lives because they were not willing to be silent. And we recommit ourselves to work for the day when all journalists around the world can work without fear.

And now it’s my great honor to ask Kati Marton to say a few words.

 
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Third Anniversary of Death of Anna Politkovskaya

Today we mark with sadness the third anniversary of the tragic slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. To date, no one has been brought to justice in this case, similar to other cases involving violent crimes against journalists in Russia, including Paul Klebnikov and more recently Natalya Estemirova. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 in retaliation for their work. In only one case have the killers been convicted.

While we welcome calls by Russian officials defending the necessity of a free press, the failure to bring to justice the killers of these journalists undermines efforts to strengthen the rule of law, improve government accountability, and combat corruption.

 
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