Ius Gentium

University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for International and Comparative Law Fellows discuss international and comparative legal issues


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No Justice = Get Lynched?!

Kia Roberts-Warren

When a community feels that there is no justice, what should they do? In the United States, citizens’ have taken to protesting. We’ve had the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement, Black Lives Matter, and the recent Women’s March. However, what happens when a country’s citizens are constantly disappointed in their government and police authority? When they have lost trust and faith in the judicial system? Traditionally, in many Latin American countries people have taken up vigilante justice. However, this vigilante justice is not a man/woman dressed in a costume fighting to keep their neighborhood safe; it is lynchings. Lynchings are acts of violence against individuals that usually result in death.[1] These lynchings are not being committed by criminals, nor crazed individuals, but by normal citizens/communities that come together as vigilante groups.[2] Lynchings started back in 2007 in many Latin American countries.

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Serving Some Good Old Fashion Vigilante Lynchings

Today, it has been reported that Guatemala, Bolivia, and Peru are dealing with an increase of vigilante lynchings.[3] Also, the Côte d’Ivoire has seen a rise in vigilante lynchings.[4] The victims are usually tortured, in order to force them to reveal the names of any accomplices.[5] They are beaten, mutilated, stoned, shot, or burned alive before being hung.[6] These victims are taken after being suspected of committing a crime, with many  victims  taken from home or the workplace.[7] In Latin America, men are mainly the victims but there have been a few cases involving women and children.[8] However, in the Côte d’Ivoire, children are mainly the victims due to their association in street gangs.[9]

In countries like Bolivia and Guatemala, there has been an argument that vigilante lynchings can be linked to indigenous people (there is a high population of indigenous people). However, many experts have attacked this argument because “indigenous justice” rarely includes death as a punishment.[11] ItIndigenous justice tends to focus on “righting the wrong” committed by the wrongdoer through manual labor and in extreme cases expulsion from the community.[12]

Cash Me Ousside, How Bow Dah?

In Guatemala, for example, from 2008 to October 2015, 297 died and 1,043 people were injured from lynchings.[13] The National Civil Police (PNC) reported that, of the 84 people who died at the hands of lynch mobsfrom January 2012 to May 2015, 76 were men and 8 were women.[14] Often vigilante lynchings are linked to the corruption and ineptitude of the police authorities.[15] A robbery, for example, often illicits no response or slow and ineffective response from the authorities and, therefore, the crime is never solved.[16] In the Côte d’Ivoire, violent crimes committed by street gangs have sparked vigilante lynchings of suspects.[17] In Bolivia, impunity of government officials responsible for human rights violations are the reason for vigilante lynchings.[18] In March 2016, a mentally disabled man was burned then lynched because a mob had suspected him to be a criminal.[19]

One major  problem with vigilante lynchings is that often many of the victims are innocent. For example, in Bolivia, a 54-year-old grave worker was mistaken for a grave robber by five Bolivian men visiting a grave.[20] He was tied, beaten, and hung, and, by the time he arrived at the hospital, he was declared dead.[21] In Peru, a local prosecutor’s son, was beaten, burned, and hung to death after being mistaken for a thief.[22]

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What Can Be Done?

A big problem is that lynchings usually go unpunished. This is due to the many different actors involved and the code of silence the community takes once the lynching is done.[23] In Bolivia, the prosecutor’s office is still investigating 12 lynchings from 2013.[24] There have only been a minimal number of lynching cases that have been resolved by the judicial system.[25] The idea of “People’s Justice” seems to control. [26]  Therefore, the government must do more to restore the people’s confidence that the authorities and judicial system can and will resolve crimes.

Guatemala recently submitted its country report to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. The Commission’s recommendations were underwhelming and not very helpful. It stated:

“The Commission urges the State to adopt a comprehensive policy for preventing   and combating lynchings. The State must provide a prompt, coordinated and interinstitutional response in places where lynchings could be committed. There must be a rapprochement between the State and the communities, and the Government must have with a prevention policy, and the political will to enforce it. There must also be collaboration with municipal authorities, traditional indigenous authorities, and the Ombudsman’s Office.”[27]

 

This vague recommendation doesn’t help to guide Guatemala. It is merely a reiteration of things that Guatemala should be doing. The Organization of the American States is a regional legal organization. Its influence and presence could help countries like Guatemala, Peru, and Bolivia and make them more accountable. It would also let the people know that there is somewhere they can put their trust in besides themselves. In the Côte d’Ivoire, the government has taken steps to remove the word “microbe” (“germ”) to describe children in gangs.[28] However, it has not come up with an effective and comprehensive strategy to put this change into effect.

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Alejandra Maria Torres sits bloodied on a street after being beaten, doused with petrol and set on fire during a lynching in Guatemala City

In the case of Latin America, it seems that a more international presence is needed to help reduce corruption and train police authorities in resolving crime. A great way to do this is to use the Organization of the American States since it is a regional organ. The same can be suggested of the African Union with the Côte d’Ivoire. These regional organizations are a part of the international community. Therefore, if they help these countries with vigilante lynchings it gives them more legitimacy and validity, but also helps to promote international law and security.

An example of the Organization of the American States taking lead would be to have the Inter-American Human Rights Court take a case on the vigilante lynchings since a case has yet to go before the court. However, the lynchings are being committed by non-State actors who are not acting under the State’s control or permission. Therefore, police officers who are in the crowd and fail to act can be tried. The police officers are State actors who are failing to act when they have a legal duty to do so. So, the omission of acting would be attributable to the State.

Kia Roberts-Warren is a 3L at UB Law. She is concentrating in international law. Kia graduated from Temple University receiving a BA in East Asian Studies during that time she spent a semester in Tokyo, Japan. Kia has an interest in international trade and human rights. She is also interested in fashion law and art law in the international context. Last year, she held the position of Career Development Director of the International Law Society and participated in the 2016 Philip C. Jessup Moot Court Competition. She recently attended UB’s Aberdeen Summer Abroad Program. 

[1] http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Guatemala2016-en.pdf

[2] Id.

[3] https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-24/lynching-still-common-practice-across-latin-america

[4] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/cote-divoire

[5] http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Guatemala2016-en.pdf

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/cote-divoire

[10] https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-24/lynching-still-common-practice-across-latin-america

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Guatemala2016-en.pdf

[14] Id.

[15] https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-24/lynching-still-common-practice-across-latin-america

[16] Id.

[17] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/cote-divoire

[18] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/bolivia

[19] Id.

[20] https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-24/lynching-still-common-practice-across-latin-america

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-24/lynching-still-common-practice-across-latin-america

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] http://www.worldcrunch.com/culture-society/lynching-in-latin-america-why-colombia-vigilante-mobs-are-spreading

[27] http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Guatemala2016-en.pdf

[28] https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/cote-divoire


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Unaccompanied Minors: Keep Them or Send Them Back? A Political Game

Annielle Makon

Tens of thousands of undocumented, unaccompanied immigrants under the age of 18 have crossed into the United States every year.[1] Since 2013, however, the United States has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of unaccompanied migrating children arriving to the country, predominately at the U.S./Mexico border.[2] The majority of the migrant children have come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, three nations plagued by organized crime, drug trafficking, and widespread corruption.[3] Gang violence in El Salvador and in urban areas of Guatemala have escalated dramatically in recent months since a weak truce among rival gangs has evaporated.[4] Gang violence has plagued the youth, especially because the gangs are targeting schools and neighborhoods.[5] This massive influx of migrants is placing extra pressure on US lawmakers, spurring even more debate on how to reform immigration policy.[6] President Obama has even called the situation a humanitarian crisis and has sent federal officials to create temporary housing in three states for the migrant children.[7]

Migrant Surge

The Dangers of Migrating

Many flee to escape the horrors of their home country.  Unbeknownst to them, the horror of the migration journey is equally terrible. There have been stories of extreme danger and criminal mistreatment along their journey.[8] Child migrants have experienced abuse and violence at the hands of drug and human traffickers, and even law enforcement.[9] Women and girls are at a high risk for rape and sexual assault.[10] Minors who begin their journey to the United States sometimes find that what they had agreed to do in the US changed or they are required to work or provide sex to “clients” to pay off their debts.[11] Additionally, many of those who are accompanied by smugglers are abandoned at the first sign of trouble, left even more vulnerable than when they began their journey to the United States.[12] Even with these many dangers, migrants continue to make the journey because of the promise of freedom from violence motivates them.

U.S. Government (In)Action

The U.S. immigration system, as a whole, is long overdue for an overhaul. Republicans have passed legislation to force the Obama administration to quickly deport the undocumented immigrants.[13] Yet, the chances of that this legislation becomes a law are slim.

ImmigrantChildren

Currently, many of the unaccompanied minors are being sent to Arizona, though they will not stay there indefinitely.[14] The goal is to process each child within 72 hours and either turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation proceedings or to the Health and Human Services Department (HHSD) to reunite them with their families or place them in foster homes (pending deportation proceedings).[15] In addition, the Obama administration has partnered with the Mexican, Guatemalan, and Honduran governments by placing a public service announcement regarding the dangers of sending unaccompanied minors across the border.[16] Additionally, the Obama administration has stated that the unaccompanied minors are not entitled to any kind of residency or protected status.[17] Yet, they still come.

Domestically, there needs to be reform within the court system. There are roughly 260 immigration judges in the United States and each judge hears about 1,500 cases annually.[18] The unaccompanied Mexican and Central American minors seeking asylum is not as simple as cases from other countries since they often take longer to adjudicate.[19] Whether asylum can be granted to the unaccompanied minor depends on the ability of the minor’s home country government to control non-state actors.[20] Backlog cases have not been this high since 1994, when there were nearly 425,000 cases pending.[21] Yet, they still come.

ChildMigrants

Internationally, the United States owes these children no legal duty. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention) is an international human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children.[22] The Convention defines a child as any individual under the age of eighteen and requires that the state act in the best interest of the child.[23] Article 19 of the Convention states that the parties must “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence.”[24] Therefore, nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law.[25]  Although, the United States played an active role in drafting the Convention they have yet to ratify it.[26]  The Convention is unlikely to be ratified in the near future because it forbids both the death penalty and life imprisonment for children.[27] Therefore, by not ratifying the treaty the United States owe no international obligations to the unaccompanied minors. Yet, they still come.

This immigration problem is a complex issue with no easy answers. The main issue should be addressing the root causes of the flight and protecting the children in the process. The US and Central American governments need to address the economic and violence issues that cause these minors to flee. Most importantly, we need to stop treating child migration the same as adults. They should be treated and protected as children. The US government needs to focus its priorities on protection and less on enforcement. These children are in need of protection, not deportation.

Annielle Makon is a third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. Candidate (’15). She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. While studying Political Science, Annielle developed a passion for human rights and international relations. In addition to being a CICL Student Fellow, Annielle is an Associate Editor on the Journal of International Law. Annielle also interns at Amnesty International in the Sub-Saharan Africa unit.

[1] Jonathan Ernst, Record number of undocumented minors entering US – report, Reuters (January 31, 2014) http://rt.com/usa/record-undocumented-minors-entering-us-441/.

[2] Mark Seitz et al., Report of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 2013) http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/upload/Mission-To-Central-America-FINAL-2.pdf.

[3] Ernst, supra  note 1.

[4]Id.

[5]Id.

[6] Ernst, supra note 1.

[7]Bob Ortega, 5 answers: Why the surge in migrant children at border?, The Republic (June 10, 2014) http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/immigration/2014/06/09/immigrant-children-arizona-border-answers/10246771/.

[8] Seitz, supra note 2.

[9] Seitz, supra note 2.

[10] Seitz, supra note 2.

[11] Seitz, supra note 2.

[12] Seitz, supra note 2.

[13] Evan Perez, Number of unaccompanied minors crossing into U.S. tops 60,000, CNN (August 2, 2014) http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/02/us/border-crisis-milestone/index.html.

[14] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[15] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[16] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[17] Ortega, supra  note 7.

[18] Hayley Munguia, The Unaccompanied Minor Crisis Has Moved From The Border To The Courts, Fivethirtyeight (October 2013) http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-unaccompanied-minor-crisis-has-moved-from-the-border-to-the-courts/

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Convention on the Rights of the Child, Sept. 2, 1990, A/RES/44/25.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.