WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
19 Sep 2012 | News

WOLA’s Human Rights Awards Highlight Strategies to Reduce Violence in Latin America

Press Release
September 19, 2012
Alternative Approaches Can Reduce Violence in Latin America
WOLA’s 2012 Human Rights Awards Highlight Effective Strategies
Washington, DC—WOLA’s 2012 Human Rights Awards focus on the need for new approaches to reducing violence in Latin America, one of the most violent regions in the world. In presenting the award to honorees that work at the front lines of citizen security, WOLA highlights the effectiveness of comprehensive strategies—to prevent violence before it starts, to strengthen the police and judicial sector, and to expose corruption. Today, WOLA is giving its Human Rights Awards to courageous organizations and individuals that work to reduce crime and violence, often at great personal risk.
Helen Mack, an activist for more than 20 years, receives the award for her work to professionalize the police and judicial system in Guatemala. El Faro is honored for its investigative journalism that shines a spotlight on corruption and organized crime in Central America; and PASSOS Education and Training Center is recognized for its work to prevent violence in the most marginalized communities of San Salvador through outreach to at-risk youth.
“We are inspired by the path-breaking initiatives of each of our honorees,” said Joy Olson, WOLA’s Executive Director. “Citizen security is a basic human right. States have an obligation to build accountable institutions that will protect all citizens from violence and crime."
Amid an atmosphere of insecurity and societal demands for immediate results, many governments in Latin America have responded with heavy-handed policies that favor indiscriminant mass arrests, unrestricted police powers, harsh sentences, and even the use of the military to carry out police patrols and take over duties that ought to be done by civilian authorities. These strategies are often politically popular, but they fail to stem the violence and instead lead to the suppression of citizens' rights, abuse of power, and corruption of government officials—all of which feed the cycle of violence.
In their acceptance remarks, the honorees recognize WOLA’s pioneering role in promoting alternative strategies to overcome violence. They also vow to carry on their own work toward more peaceful and secure communities.
"Violence will diminish if youth, families, and communities are given an opportunity to participate actively in society. In cases in which children and adolescents have been taken into account in the design of projects and initiatives that work toward harm reduction, prevention, and rehabilitation, these processes have had much better results,” said Tránsito Ruano, head of PASSOS.
Carlos Dada, one of the founders of El Faro, notes that criminal networks take advantage of weak and corrupt government institutions. "Corruption and organized crime find fertile ground in countries with weak institutions. Investigative journalism addresses these issues and exposes them to the public, but this is irrelevant if authorities have insufficient political will to make sure that these crimes have consequences," said Dada.
“People need to trust the police and know that institutions are on their side and not on the payroll of criminals,” said Helen Mack, President of the Myrna Mack Foundation and former Presidential Commissioner for Police Reform in Guatemala. Mack stresses the need to avoid focusing exclusively on special units and high-profile arrests, and emphasizes the need to invest instead in rooting out corruption and building accessible, responsible, and professional police forces and justice systems.
The awards ceremony will take place tonight, September 19, at 7 p.m. at the Embassy of France in Washington, DC.
The event will be live streamed via WOLA's website, www.wola.org.
Kristel Mucino
Director of Communications
Cell: 617-584-1713
Office: 202-797-2171