WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

We envision a future where public policies protect human rights and recognize human dignity, and where justice overcomes violence. WOLA tackles problems that transcend borders and that require both domestic and international solutions. Through strategic collaborations, we partner with courageous people working on social change—advocacy organizations, academics, religious leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and government officials—and together, we advocate for more just societies in the Americas.

Challenging Mexico on Human Rights

Prevailing over Corruption and Impunity

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Building Momentum to End the Trade Embargo against Cuba

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Advocating for Women Incarcerated on Drug Offenses

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Investigating Abuses against Migrants

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Supporting Inclusive Peace in Colombia

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Challenging Mexico on Human Rights

The disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa over a year ago brought world-wide scrutiny to issues of justice and human rights in Mexico. WOLA helped to publicize the findings of the international Group of Experts that disproved the government’s account of what happened to the students. WOLA also worked with 82 U.S. Members of Congress who wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry about the “broader pattern of grave human rights violations in the country, including cases of torture, arbitrary detentions, kidnappings, and extrajudicial executions.” This year, thanks in part to WOLA’s advocacy, the United States withheld millions of aid dollars to Mexico because it had not made progress on human rights. As WOLA’s Maureen Meyer told The Washington Post: “it shows how concerned the U.S. is about the human rights situation in the country.”

Prevailing Over Corruption and Impunity

2015 began with uncertainty over whether the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)—a unique UN-backed investigative body combating impunity and organized crime—would be renewed. By September, Guatemala’s president and vice president had been arrested for massive corruption, uncovered by the CICIG and the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office. In the intervening months, as thousands of Guatemalans mobilized for justice and accountability, WOLA collaborated with local civil society advocates to mount a strategic campaign supporting the CICIG. WOLA facilitated the Twitter campaign #CICIGSí, which became a trending topic in Guatemala, and WOLA served as a go-to source for analysis on the issue. As WOLA’s Adriana Beltrán described on PBS NewsHour: “This is a triumph of hope, of new possibilities created by those who want a different Guatemala.”

Building Momentum to End the Trade Embargo against Cuba

During 2015 WOLA focused on high-impact education and advocacy aimed at ending the trade embargo and lifting travel restrictions on Cuba. Given the current Republican-controlled Congress, bipartisanship is critical to success. WOLA leveraged our decades of experience on Capitol Hill to build momentum. WOLA’s Marc Hanson provided background information and expertise. By the year’s end, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) had led a dozen Members of Congress in launching the Cuba Working Group to support a new policy framework for U.S.-Cuba relations. Republicans and Democrats joined together and new bipartisan legislation was introduced to lift the trade embargo and the travel ban.

Advocating for Women Incarcerated on Drug Offenses

Women across the Americas are incarcerated at an alarming rate for minor drug offenses. This year, WOLA Senior Fellow Coletta Youngers, an internationally recognized expert on drug policy reform, embarked on a new effort with partners in the region, including the OAS Inter-American Commission of Women, to provide guidelines for policy change. WOLA researchers also visited women’s prisons in San Jose, Costa Rica and Bogota, Colombia and produced a series of photo essays telling the stories of individual women caught in the cycle of poverty and imprisonment. From the United Nations to the U.S. Congress, these stories are impacting the way policymakers view and weigh the costs of unjust laws on women, families, and communities.

Investigating Abuses against Migrants

Backed by the U.S. government, Mexico has increased security at its southern border. WOLA’s Maureen Meyer and Adam Isacson traveled to Chiapas to investigate the impact on people fleeing violence in Central America. They found a serious humanitarian crisis. The crackdown has not deterred people from coming north. Instead, it has caused migrants to take more dangerous routes, exposing them to additional violence in transit and abuse by authorities. The aggressive new enforcement has not been matched by increased capacity to screen migrants to determine if they have a legitimate claim to asylum, which many do. WOLA’s on-the- ground research became a national story, triggering coverage including a New York Times editorial that cited WOLA’s analysis.

Supporting Inclusive Peace in Colombia

As peace talks progress with the hope of ending the decades-long war in Colombia, WOLA has been the go-to source of information on the potential impact of the accords. WOLA’s Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli
has played a central role in supporting the creation of the Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA), which has joined forces with Colombia’s 102 indigenous groups to form the Ethnic Commission for Peace and the Defense of Territorial Rights, a unified front
of Afro-Colombian and indigenous territorial and traditional authorities created to offer collective proposals for the peace process. In December 2015, in recognition of her work defending the rights of these communities, Gimena was invited to witness the private reconciliation ceremony between the FARC and the survivors of the Bojaya massacre.