Human rights

Human rights panelist, Daniel Brinks, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, lectures about social and economic rights and transitional justice during “The Puzzle of the Americas: Human Rights” seminar Thursday in the Agricultural Sciences building.

Human Rights was the topic of the U.S. - Latin America Relations symposium Thursday.

Thursday’s panel included Daniel Brinks, an associate professor in the School of Law at the University of Texas at Austin, Jorge Chabat, a professor in the Division of International Studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, and Rubia Valente, a teaching associate at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Chabat, who focused on human rights, specifically security in Mexico, discussed the reasons for abuse. He said since the war on drugs was launched in 2006, there have been more than 60,000 deaths. Ninety percent of those, he said, are the result of criminals killing other criminals.

“The real reason is the incompetence of security forces and the lack of supervision in their armed forces,” he said. “Again, the solution is not, not enforcing law. The solution is enforcing law properly with control.”

The concern for human rights in Mexico changed in 1990, Chabat said, when Mexico began to globalize and become vulnerable to outside pressure. There have been a number of commissions to enhance human rights and enforce law, he said, but there is still a need for improvement.

Since 2007, he said the human rights watch has documented 250 disappearances.

Some of the problems in Mexico, Chabat said, are the corruption and incompetence of the security forces, as well as the tolerance of government to abuses committed by the security forces.

“The situation probably won’t change very fast in the future,” he said, “but at some point I hope that security forces will prepare to perform their function properly by protecting the population and attacking the criminals.”

During his speech, Brinks discussed the overall landscape of human rights after roughly 35 years of democracy.

Brinks gave a few examples of human rights problems.

He said Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, has 650 deaths caused by violence a year. Rio, another state in Brazil, has 1,054 deaths per year caused by violence.

Some of the reason for this, he said, is because of the public’s attitude.

“Democracies respond when people care, basically,” Brinks said. “And people don’t care when you kill this many people if they think that what you’re killing is criminals.”

For every person the police kill in the U.S., he said, they arrest 37,000 people.

In Rio, it is one in 23, he said.

“Democracy has gotten better across Latin America,” Brinks said. “We have all of this concern for human rights. We have more information. Yet, the impunity level, the response of the state to the violence that happens because the police are untrained and so on, is really completely ineffectual.”

Valente, the last to speak, focused on the education in Brazil. She said many of the social problems in Brazil stem from the large education gap between the different economic classes.

The universities, she said, are free for students, but because they are so competitive, it is typically the wealthy students who are able to get accepted because of their private school backgrounds.

“This is problematic because education,” Valente said, “particularly higher education, is the most effective tool for social mobility.”

In public middle and high schools, she said, there is a lack of investments, qualified teachers and curriculum from the government.

Despite the problems in Latin America, Brinks said there is still optimism.

Democracies take time, he said.

The event, hosted by the Department of Political Science, the Department of History, Tech Student Democrats, the Honors College, the Office of Diversity and Student Government Association, is a four-part series called “The Puzzle of the Americas: A Weeklong Journey into the Complexity of U.S.-Latin American Relations.”

Topics include migration, immigration law, drug trafficking, human rights and “Free the Cuban Five.”

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