The Diffusion of Victims’ Rights in Latin America: Notes on Ongoing Research

By Verónica Michel, PhD

For almost a decade I have been doing research on victims’ rights in Latin America. My interest in this topic began because while conducting research for my dissertation at the University of Minnesota I learned that victims of crime in most Latin American countries are granted a very interesting procedural right: the right to private prosecution within criminal proceedings.

I have explained in some of my previous publications (for instance, in this co-authored article with Kathryn Sikkink), that the right to private prosecution goes well beyond a victim’s right to speak granted in the US because the right to private prosecution grants the victim the right to participate  with a lawyer in the prosecution of a crime. As interesting and important as private prosecution is for access to justice (and it is, as I argue here, here, and also in a forthcoming book), in Latin America victims of crime are granted many other rights. For instance, victims have strong reparation rights, like the right to introduce a civil claim within a criminal proceeding, also known as a civil action; and victims are also granted important protection rights, like the right to be informed about the state of the proceedings or the right to be offered shelter or protection when needed.

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A content analysis of the current criminal procedure codes in 17 civil law countries in the region shows that these statutes provide quite a vast array of rights to victims of crime. What I find fascinating, however, is that all these rights are quite new. Yes, victims have always existed as long as crime has been around. But “victims’ rights” as such are quite new. As you can see in the Word Cloud above, an analysis of these 17 current criminal procedure codes reveals that among the most used concepts in these statutes we find the words “victim” (víctima) or private prosecutor (querellante).

Moreover, a closer comparison of old and current criminal procedure codes also reveals that the more recent a statute is, the more references to “victims” it makes. Some old criminal procedure codes did not even include the word victim in the whole statute. For instance, the criminal procedure codes of Nicaragua of 1879 or even the one of Honduras from 1985, did not even once mentioned the word victim.

In contrast, since 1994 we have witnessed an expansion of victims’ rights in criminal procedure. For example, Mexico’s previous criminal procedure code of 1934 only mentioned the word victim twice. In sharp contrast, its latest statute which entered into force in 2014, mentions the word 169 times!

image 2So where do these “victims’ rights” come from? Why is it that countries gradually embraced the “victim” and began to expand the rights granted to this actor? Why is it that most countries in the region today provide all these similar rights? These are the questions that I am now exploring in an article that aims to explain how Latin America came to have such a vast array of rights for victims. So, stay tuned. I will report soon a summary of my findings in this blog.


It is everybody’s business: Uniting against child exploitation

By Yuliya Zabyelina

While considerable progress has been made in reducing child mortality and increasing child health around the world, millions of children continue to be subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse. The month of June has several occasions that remind the international community to promote children’s issues and take action to prevent child abuse.

The International Day for Protection of Children is celebrated on 1 June. This day was chosen by the Women’s International Democratic Federation during its congress in Moscow in 1949 and was first celebrated as the International Day for Protection of Children in 1950. The goal of proclaiming this day is to promote children’s rights and denounce child maltreatment around the world.

Another celebration in June, namely 4 June, dedicated to children’s issues is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression established by the United Nations on 19 August 1982. Originally, the day acknowledged the victims of the 1982 Lebanon War. Over the course of time, the purpose was expanded to raise awareness about the suffering of children abused physically, mentally, and emotionally anywhere in the world.

Another key date in June promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) since 2002 is the World Day Against Child Labour celebrated on 12 June. Many countries organize events dedicated to awareness raising about and responses to child trafficking for labour exploitation.

Child trafficking is a crime involving the movement of children for the purpose of their exploitation. The 2016 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons states that children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide (28%), a 5% decrease compared to 2014.

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Image 1. Trafficking victims. Source: UNODC elaboration of national data.

Children are forced to work in different sectors, including agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and domestic services. One of the less understood and often disregarded forms of child exploitation is child begging. Children who are forced to beg at a younger age might grow up being exploited into prostitution or could even turn into victims of organs removal. Additionally, EUROPOL brings attention to the fact that children may be trafficking to be forced to commit different types of property crimes, including but not limited to burglaries, robberies, shoplifting, etc.

Whether their parents or organized crime groups exploit children, they tend to use the same means to force them into compliance. They often beat children or deprive them of food until they follow their orders. Sometimes, the threat of violence and coercion are enough to persuade children to obedience. Other times, children are manipulated psychologically.

The UNODC database of transnational crimes, SHERLOC, offers several court cases of child begging. In case CA Brasov 43-Ap-2009, a Romanian perpetrator recruited ten people, of which one was a minor at the time of the crime. The victims were taken to Greece. Once there, the defendants used threats and various forms of coercion to force the claimants to beg for them. The victims were also forced to commit other crimes like shoplifting and sale of false gold jewelry. In another case in Norway, a Romanian defendant was charged with human trafficking for having exploited his two children, a girl and a boy, for the purpose of begging. The father “gave the children sheets of paper with different texts, mainly referring to different types of handicaps and the ‘Regional Association certificate for physically disabled children, deaf and sick.’” This association never existed and was used to create the false appearance of children collecting donations for a care center. The family had no other source of income but the funds gained from child begging.

The UNODC has been working along with national governments and non-governmental organizations to combat human trafficking, including child exploitation. Through the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, established in accordance with resolution A/RES/64/293 Article 38 of the General Assembly on 12 August 2010, the UNODC provides humanitarian, legal, and financial aid to victims of trafficking in persons. Furthermore, the UNODC, together with other agencies such as the ILO and UNICEF, created the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC). This program constitutes a series of activities that raise awareness and promote media coverage on the issue of child labor. It also calls for efforts to reduce the impact of conflicts and disasters on the lives of affected children.

What I learned this semester–3%

Microphones on a table

By Prof. Brian Arbour

One of the joys of teaching in political science is that our ideas, theories, and thoughts about the world are constantly tested against the reality of contemporary politics. This semester, I taught our department’s course on Media & Politics. Doing so forced me to examine recent trends in the news media and, in particular, coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The most striking thing that I learned was that the mainstream news media dedicated a scant 3% of their coverage of the 2016 general election campaign to the issue of experience/leadership.  

This fact comes from a report issued by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Policy and Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. My students read this report as part of our discussion of campaign coverage in the 2016 campaign. The report examined news reports from 5 television news broadcasts (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, Fox) and 5 newspapers  (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post). Each story was coded by a team of experienced coders at the firm Media Tenor.

That the media gave only 3% of its general election coverage to issues of experience and leadership is but one small factoid. The Shorenstein Center did not feature it as a key element of its report.

Yet, to me, it says so much. One, it is a stunning indictment of media performance in the 2016 campaign. The media focused, as the always do, first on the horserace, with 42% of coverage. 17% of coverage focused on controversies, with only 10% on policy,  and 4% on the personal traits of the candidates. In many ways, these numbers make it look like a normal election held between normal candidates.


But of course,  one of the candidates was not normal. Donald Trump had never served in government or the military–no other president is similarly inexperienced. A candidate could overcome these deficiencies, but Trump certainly has not. He has demonstrated that he lacks a sufficient knowledge of policy, a detailed understanding of the workings of government, or an ideological core to measure ideas against. He is woefully unprepared for the office and has shown little or no inclination to learn any of these basic requirements of the job.

Yet the political media did not find these deficiencies compelling enough to address with anything more than cursory coverage. The media worked under the assumption that Trump was basically like any other party nominee–evidence be damned.

The 3% statistic helps explain another puzzle from the 2016 election. The exit poll run by the major television networks asked voters “Do you think Donald Trump is qualified to serve as President?” Only 38% of voters answered yes. Yet 46% of voters chose Donald Trump to be president. These voters who did not think that Trump was qualified to be president but voted for him anyway made the difference on election day. Without them, Trump would not have won.

How did 10% of voters choose that a candidate’s lack of qualifications was not important enough to disqualify that candidate.  Perhaps they were just following the cues provided to them by the media coverage of the campaign–knowledge and experience are not important for a president.  Let’s pray they are right.

Climate change: Global problem, local response

By Susan Kang

The People’s Climate March was held this past Sunday, anchored by a Washington DC march that drew 200,000 protestors as well as 350 solidarity events in the U.S. and beyond.  As you may know, global climate change is a significant problem that is likely to have disastrous effects in our lifetimes.  We only need to look at the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy in New York City alone to recognize how vulnerable we are to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and global warming. Continue reading “Climate change: Global problem, local response”