Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005 - 2006
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

"Democracy and the observance of human rights are the linchpins of a hemispheric coexistence ... Democracy requires free and fair elections and an unwavering devotion to promoting absolute citizenship in which the people enjoy the fullest civil, social, and cultural rights."
--Jos� Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States

Countries of the Western Hemisphere continued to consolidate democratic gains won during the past two decades, further distancing themselves from the military dictatorships of the past. Progress, however, remained uneven. Widespread corruption, long-standing marginalization of certain groups, fragile institutions, and agitation of populist sentiment for political ends threatened the progress of the past 20 years.

Popular participation in the political process of countries that have suffered recent instability constituted an important step on the path to inclusive and strong democratic institutions. In Haiti, citizens demonstrated their commitment to democracy by going to the polls in large numbers on February 7, 2006. In preparation for national and local elections, the United States and the international community provided support for election administration, monitoring, and voter education. In December, an estimated 85% of Bolivians voted to elect the country's first indigenous president. This election marked the first time since Bolivia restored democracy in 1982 that one candidate received enough votes to be declared the outright victor.

Despite positive developments in Haiti and Bolivia, challenges to established democracies occurred elsewhere in the region. Citing concerns over the perceived bias of the electoral authority and the lack of transparency in the voting process, major opposition parties boycotted Venezuela's December legislative elections, in which President Hugo Chavez's party and its allies secured all 167 seats in the National Assembly. Though only approximately 15% of eligible voters participated, Chavez vowed to remain in power until 2021 in what would be a clear breach of the constitution. In Cuba, the lone antiquated dictatorship in the hemisphere, repression against dissidents continued, and 333 political prisoners and detainees remained in custody.

The United States continued in its collaboration with the governments and peoples of the Western Hemisphere to promote democracy and respect for human rights. Initiatives ranged from grassroots projects among politically marginalized Afro-Latinos to visits to the region by the President and Secretary, both of whom assured the people of the region of the U.S. Government's unwavering support for democratic ideals.

U.S. efforts throughout the region focused on developing transparent and accountable institutions at the local level. In Honduras, the United States funded efforts to encourage decentralization and increase the capacity of municipalities to deliver basic services. The United States also promoted dialogue between local governments and NGOs to garner greater public participation on civic planning issues. To support decentralization in Peru, the United States provided training in budget preparation and oversight to over 500 local governments and encouraged greater public participation in budgetary decisions. In Ecuador, the United States worked with 64 local governments and four provinces to increase public participation in the implementation of local assistance projects and the development of decentralized government.

The United States also focused on outreach to marginalized peoples to promote more inclusive democracy. In Bolivia, U.S. programs trained nearly 4,500 representatives of indigenous groups on the importance of democracy and rule of law and produced democracy-oriented radio programs in widely understood indigenous languages. In Ecuador, the United States provided political leadership training to Afro-Ecuadorians to increase the group's participation in elections. Additionally, the United States funded visits to the United States by several Afro-Brazilians to acquaint them with African-American culture and the importance of political participation in the democratic process.

Democracy promotion efforts also targeted judicial system reform. In Ecuador, the United States backed the creation of a coalition of 47 NGOs which monitored the selection of new Supreme Court Judges, ensuring transparency in the selection of the most qualified candidates. The United States supported Colombian efforts to address weaknesses in its justice system by designing and helping to implement Colombia's new criminal oral accusatorial system. This initiative entailed training over 12,000 justice officials, assisting 35 major universities to adjust their law school curricula accordingly, and supporting the judicial branch in its efforts to phase in new public hearing courtrooms and administrative spaces. In Guatemala, the United States provided technical assistance in case analysis methodologies to the Public Ministry and helped the Guatemalan judiciary implement oral pretrial procedures in Guatemala City. It was the first time such procedures had been implemented since the law prescribing them was passed 11 years ago.

Bolivia

Bolivia continued to face considerable political instability in 2005 but maintained a democratic course. On June 9, following weeks of social protests, Congress accepted the resignation of President Carlos Mesa Gisbert. Supreme Court President Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze assumed the Presidency and called for national elections. On December 18, Bolivians turned out in record numbers to elect Evo Morales Aima as their first indigenous President, giving him an outright majority and the largest margin of victory in Bolivia's recent democratic history. The Governments of Presidents Mesa and Rodriguez generally respected human rights, although weak institutions, corruption, social opposition, and limited resources remained serious problems. There were credible reports of abuses by security forces, including use of excessive force, arbitrary arrest and detention, and mistreatment of military conscripts. Prison conditions were harsh, and violence in prisons and prolonged pretrial detentions were prevalent. The judiciary was characterized by corruption, inefficiency, and political manipulation. Domestic violence and discrimination against women, abuse of children, child labor, discrimination against indigenous and Afro-Bolivians, forced labor, and trafficking in persons (TIP) continued.

The U.S. Government's highest priorities in Bolivia were the promotion of democracy and political and social stability. The United States worked to ensure that government security forces respected human rights and cooperated with investigations and prosecutions of alleged human rights violations. The U.S. Government targeted increasing citizen participation in democratic processes, train future indigenous leaders, improve local government, and bolster the judicial system and rule of law. The United States also promoted women's rights and assisted in combating corruption, child labor, and TIP.

The United States worked closely with other nations, including Brazil, Argentina, and Spain, to build international support for democratic transitions of power. For the December national elections, the U.S. Government conducted voter education campaigns that focused on voter efficacy, including how to vote, choose a candidate, and evaluate platforms and key electoral issues. The United States also supported a large network of local election observers, comprised primarily of local NGOs.

The United States supported democratic governance and institutions through programs to strengthen the rule of law, democratic values, municipal governments, legislative development, citizen participation, political party reform, and anti-corruption efforts. These programs encouraged the participation of women and indigenous people, particularly in the city of El Alto. The Embassy also relied on native language-speaking indigenous advisors to help it broaden links with this large and underrepresented segment of the population. In the past year, U.S. programs trained nearly 4,500 representatives of indigenous groups on the importance of democracy, and the rule of law, civic participation, and political tolerance. The United States also focused assistance on increasing political participation for indigenous communities by educating indigenous leaders about peaceful participation in politics and candidate choice and through leadership training that they replicated among their communities.

As part of its outreach to the indigenous population, the United States sent various indigenous community representatives to participate in International Visitors Leadership Programs on topics such as democracy, transparency, conflict resolution, and human rights. The U.S. Government also published op-ed pieces and invited guest speakers to discuss democracy, conflict resolution, and fighting corruption. The United States produced radio news programs in Bolivia's most common indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara. The U.S. Government funded indigenous language radio producers for the communications office of the executive branch to ensure widespread outreach. Indigenous and Afro-Bolivian groups participated in workshops on democratic values, as well as a U.S.-funded education-based program to promote improvements in political access, and responsible civic and political participation among rural and indigenous populations.

The United States held 12 workshops promoting freedoms of the press and expression. Through a program on investigative journalism held in El Alto, La Paz, and Santa Cruz, Bolivian journalists developed links to professional associations in Latin America and the United States. A four-day workshop held in the Yungas and the Chapare on political journalism emphasized the importance of freedom of expression and access to information. The United States also hosted guest speakers who taught journalists in La Paz and Santa Cruz about investigative reporting and the responsibility of the media to demand truth and accountability from the public sector on behalf of the Bolivian people.

U.S. efforts focused on combating the human rights abuses that occurred within the justice system. Programs targeting justice system reform, initiated in the early 1990s, continued to support implementation of the Code of Criminal Procedures (CCP). The U.S. Government provided extensive training and technical assistance to help strengthen the Public Ministry and other key justice sector institutions. To date, several thousand judges, prosecutors, police, public defenders, lawyers, law students, and NGO representatives have received training on the CCP. Many of these also received human rights training.
The United States worked closely with civil society to help educate citizens about their rights under the reformed criminal justice procedures and strengthen their support for these important reforms. Criminal trials became more transparent and efficient as a result of CCP implementation in 1999. The U.S. Government also worked to expand access to justice services for poor Bolivians by helping to establish one new Integrated Justice Center and supporting existing centers in areas of conflict, including El Alto and the coca-growing regions of the Chapare and Yungas. These centers provided citizens with access to mediation and other legal services, and established a positive government presence in areas where respect for the rule of law is fragile. Additionally, the U.S. Government supported the Presidential Delegate for Anti-Corruption and provided technical assistance to initiatives undertaken by that office. The United States also supported an initiative led by an NGO to pass an access-to-information law.

The United States routinely raised the importance of human rights conditions to U.S. security assistance. The U.S. Government also helped create the Bolivian Government's own human rights database. The United States continued to assist the National Police with its National Directorate of Professional Responsibility and the related Disciplinary Tribunal to investigate administrative allegations against police officers. The United States supported training police and military personnel with funding and technical expertise, emphasizing respect for human rights and internationally accepted principles of non-lethal crowd control.

The United States repeatedly highlighted to Bolivian officials the need for comprehensive action on TIP, child labor, and prostitution. The Government passed key TIP legislation in 2005, bringing it into compliance with relevant international conventions. A U.S. grant continued to support a project to keep the children of Potosi miners in school and out of the mines. The United States funded a project to improve workplace safety and to promote tripartite dialogue among workers, businesspeople, and the Government. The U.S. Government is closely monitoring the Government of Bolivia's investigation of forced labor in the agricultural sector, which affects the indigenous population in Beni, Santa Cruz, and the Chaco in Chuquisaca.

Brazil

In October 2002, Brazil's constitutional Government held its fourth general election since the end of military rule in 1985, electing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ("Lula") and members of the legislature in accordance with the 1988 Constitution. The Government of Brazil generally respected human rights, and there were improvements in a few areas in 2005. However, serious problems remained, and the human rights record of several states remained poor. Police continued to commit numerous abuses, including unlawful killings, torture, and use of excessive force. Failure to punish numerous human rights violations by state authorities perpetuated a climate of impunity. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. The judiciary was largely inefficient, lacked resources, and was often subject to political and economic influences, especially at the state level. Although an appeals process existed, a large case backlog hindered the courts' ability to ensure fair and expeditious trials. Violence and discrimination against women, indigenous people, Afro-Brazilians, and homosexuals remained a problem. Child abuse and prostitution, trafficking in persons (TIP), and internal slave labor also continued, as did intimidation and killings of rural labor organizers.

The U. S. human rights and democracy strategy in Brazil focused on strengthening the judiciary, increasing political participation of underrepresented persons (mainly women and Afro-Brazilians), and launching a new program to combat TIP and internal slave labor.

In October, the Embassy supported the participation of three U.S. college professors in the Third Biannual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora. Over 300 speakers from around the world participated in 60 thematic panels on politics, literature, economics, education, and political activism. After the conference, the U.S. professors traveled under U.S. Government sponsorship to Salvador, Bahia and participated in "The African Diaspora: Contemporary Perspectives" seminar. The seminar attracted over 300 Brazilian government officials, academics, NGO representatives, Afro-Brazilian activists, and students. The Salvador Municipal Secretaries of Education and Affirmative Action and the presidents of the state universities of Bahia, Feira de Santana, Southwest Bahia, and Santa Cruz were also in attendance.

In August, the United States sponsored a three day political reform conference for the Brazilian Congress. Brazilian Congressional and Supreme Court representatives and the former Chamber President were in attendance. The conference generated discussion on political reform in the Chamber, and facilitated the passing of new legislation on political reform.

Ethical behavior among public figures became a major issue during the year. To address corruption problems, the United States sponsored the visit of two experts to conduct seminars entitled "Combating Money Laundering and Organized Crime" and "Illegal Financial Activities and Asset Forfeiture" for 350 Brazilian prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials in Rio Grande do Sul state and Sao Paulo city. The United States helped train over 4,500 law enforcement officials in proper human rights procedures, civil rights, force parameters, arrest and apprehension procedures, and positive community relations. U.S. military officials explained human and civil rights policies and the role of police in bridging the gap between law enforcement and positive community relations. One course included participants from 12 other Latin American countries.

In November, the United States supported the visit of a prominent U.S. civil rights activist to Sao Paulo. The activist visited with the Afro-Brazilian community, student groups, universities, and social service NGOs. Also in November, Presidents Bush and Lula da Silva agreed to increase cooperation on the promotion of equal opportunity.

U.S. activities targeted labor rights abuses, including against men and children who were forced into agricultural labor schemes on farms in the country's interior. To further reduce child labor and associated human rights abuses, the Embassy teamed with Partners of the Americas, Catholic Relief Services, the International Labor Organization and others to target sexual exploitation and child labor in northeast Brazil.

Brazil has a significant domestic and international TIP problem. The U.S. Presidential Trafficking in Persons Initiative supported programs to improve local capacity to address the special needs of TIP and sexual exploitation victims, to train 4,700 government and NGO technicians in case notification procedures, to support the creation of a judicial referral system, to provide specialized training in child-victim communications and evidentiary medical examinations, to fund psychological support and counseling, and to provide emergency health assistance to victims.

The United States also helped improve coordination between anti-trafficking professionals and service providers at the local level and provided technical assistance to improve the Brazilian human trafficking and sexual exploitation notification system. The U.S. Government's implementation of the Program of Integrated and Referential Actions to Combat Trafficking in Children and Adolescents for Sexual Exploitation Purposes continued. The program provided direct health, psycho-social, and legal services to over 1,100 victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation. A pilot services methodology, developed and tested with U.S. support in six Brazilian municipalities, was expanded to an additional 24 cities through the support of the Brazilian Government and other donors.

The United States sought to maximize the impact of its programs through the use of public awareness campaigns that worked with a broad range of local, state, and national TIP professionals to increase public awareness about TIP and sexual exploitation and to foster development of effective assistance, law enforcement, and judicial models for application throughout Brazil.

At the invitation of the Brazilian Government, the U.S. Government held a seat, for the third consecutive year, on the Inter-Sectoral Commission on Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. This Commission is responsible for coordinating all activities to combat sexual exploitation. The Commission identified 930 Brazilian municipalities to prioritize implementation of policies to combat TIP and sexual exploitation in the near future.

Colombia

The Government of Colombia's respect for human rights continued to improve, although serious problems remained. Colombia, although a constitutional, multiparty democracy, continued to be affected by the 41-year internal armed conflict between the Government and Foreign Terrorist Organizations, particularly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the National Liberation Army, and certain blocs of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) that were not involved in demobilization negotiations with the Government. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted in violation of state policy. All actors in the internal conflict committed human rights violations, the majority of which were committed by the illegal armed groups. Violations included political killings, massacres, forced disappearances, and forced internal displacement. Methods to deal with these threats through the civilian judiciary were complicated by corruption and a cumbersome justice system. There were considerable reductions in the number of killings and kidnappings as a result of the Government's concentrated military offensive and ongoing demobilization negotiations with the AUC. In order to better address these issues and resource constraints, the Government of Colombia began a move to an accusatorial judicial system in January 2005 with the hope of strengthening the power of the judiciary, increasing the efficiency with which these cases are handled, eliminating impunity from punishment and bolstering respect for human rights.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for Colombia tackles the root causes of human rights violations and social unrest, reforms the way those violations are prosecuted, and continues to invest in short-term emergency humanitarian assistance. Key strategic objectives included promotion of democracy and good governance, support for judicial reform and the rule of law coupled with increased access to the justice system, protection of vulnerable populations, promotion of peace initiatives, and provision of humanitarian assistance.

In 2005, the United States supported the first-ever, comprehensive baseline assessment of Colombian political parties and conducted workshops to address party financing issues. U.S. technical assistance and training led to reforms within several political parties intended to attract and include more underrepresented sectors of Colombian society, such as women, youth, and ethnic minorities. In support of upcoming Colombian elections in 2006, the United States sponsored training for political parties and voters in electoral reforms.

The United States aided Colombian municipal government efforts to involve citizens in local decisionmaking, assisting all parties in managing resources more effectively and transparently. As a way to link democracy with local governments to meet local needs, the United States helped establish 69 infrastructure projects; all were administered by local citizen committees responsible for planning, management, and financial oversight. Some 87 such committees were formed. U.S. funding also provided training for public officials on internal control, public ethics, communications, and management. Citizen oversight groups were trained in monitoring public health projects.

As part of a U.S.-funded program, journalists received protection along with other vulnerable human rights defender groups. U.S. funding helped support freedom of the press through programs aimed at monitoring human rights violations associated with journalists.

U.S. funding directly supported grants to civil society for implementing peace initiatives, including work with indigenous groups whose activities focused on peaceful resistance to the conflict. The United States supported initiatives that helped advance the application of restorative justice through establishment of peace and restoration centers, and an academic program involving restorative justice issues. The program involved 1,000 university students, 75 professors, 300 urban, at-risk youth, and 2,600 rural families in high-conflict areas.

As negotiations developed between the Government and paramilitary groups, the United States provided its views on the demobilization framework, as well as advice on institutional strengthening for the Reincorporation Program in the Ministry of Interior. For this program, the United States helped develop a comprehensive database to track and monitor individuals who demobilize, and helped to establish Reference and Opportunity Centers, where the demobilized population may receive assistance. The United States also supported the Organization of American States mission, which monitored the cease-fire and security conditions in regions with large demobilized populations.

The United States supported Colombian efforts to address weaknesses in its justice system by designing and helping to implement Colombia's new criminal oral accusatorial system, which began to replace the cumbersome inquisitorial system beginning in early 2005. The United States trained over 12,000 justice officials (judges, public defenders, police, and forensic experts) in the new system, assisted 35 major universities in adjusting their law school curricula accordingly, and supported the judicial branch in its efforts to phase in new public hearing courtrooms and administrative spaces. With U.S. assistance, the Government constructed 39 courtrooms since the inception of U.S. justice assistance programs.

The United States strengthened the Government's capability to investigate and prosecute human rights cases by training judicial police investigators, forensic examiners, and prosecutors from the Prosecutor General's national and local human rights units. In addition, the United States enhanced DNA analyzers and the Combined DNA Index System Database, updated ballistics identification systems, augmented forensic imaging and document analysis systems, upgraded an automated fingerprint identification system, and installed a wireless network for interagency connectivity. In 2005, such assistance allowed the Prosecutor General to conduct major operations against guerrilla and paramilitary criminal organizations, bringing charges for murder, assault, extortion, and drug trafficking.

The United States trained a total of 668 public officials in internal control, transparency, ethics, communications, and management processes. In addition, the program assisted the National Advisory Board on Internal Control to develop a uniform, internal control model to be applied across Colombian agencies. On May 20, 2005, a presidential decree mandated this model for all executive branch entities. As a result of these programs, the most notable impact of U.S. assistance on Government accountability was the accuracy of the National Accounting Balance in 2005: for the first time in 10 years, the Controller General scored it as reliable and did not report any auditing errors.

The United States helped Colombia to establish three additional Justice and Peace Houses, raising the total to 40. They generally existed in places where previously there was almost no access to government services. These one-stop legal assistance centers handled 995,527 cases during 2005 and fielded more than 3.6 million requests since the program's inception in 1997. In addition, the United States assisted in the certification of 670 dispute resolution experts, for a total of 1,718. The United States supported two Co-Existence Centers in more rural areas of Colombia. Co-Existence Centers provided legal and social services to marginalized rural populations and functioned much in the same way as a Justice House.

The United States provided security protection assistance through the Ministry of Interior to individuals under threat of paramilitary and guerrilla terrorist groups. In 2005, some 917 people received protection, for a total of 4,618 since May 2001. In addition, 18 offices received security upgrades, for a total of 114. Beneficiaries of the protection program included threatened human rights workers, union leaders, journalists, former members of the Patriotic Union Party, ex-mayors, and ex-city council members. The United States continued funding an Early Warning System (EWS), which operated under the auspices of the National Ombudsman and includes 21 regional EWS offices, whose main duty is to prevent massive human rights violations. The EWS issued 68 risk assessments and seven alerts, which helped prevent or mitigate human rights violations by providing local civilian and military authorities with recommendations for preventive actions.

Although kidnapping rates dropped by 44% in 2005, kidnapping remained a problem. The United States assisted the Government in the development and implementation of two comprehensive anti-kidnapping training programs. Under these programs, some 112 investigators and prosecutors received training in managing crime scenes, handling evidence, and interviewing witnesses. Another 100 public security officers received tactical anti-kidnapping training.

According to government figures, over two million persons have been displaced since 1995, although the rate of displacement slowed considerably in 2005. The United States supported six international organizations and NGOs in Colombia that provided emergency humanitarian assistance such as food, temporary shelter, hygiene and household kits, psychological counseling, health care, and temporary employment to newly displaced persons. The United States also provided mid- to long-term assistance to displaced persons to help economic reintegration, including a program to return those displaced to their original homes. Through these programs, the United States assisted 584,046 internally displaced persons in 2005, for a total of 2,376,296. In addition, the United States helped more than 550 former child combatants to abandon illegal armed groups and integrated them into society, for a total of 2,641.

The United States participated in a program to combat child labor in Colombia that provided basic education for children working, or at-risk of working, in hazardous agricultural trades. The United States also supported a regional program with the International Labor Organization to prevent children's involvement in both domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation. To date 750 children have been identified as domestic laborers and are involved in the program. The U.S. Government sponsored a program against trafficking in persons that educated at-risk victims, set up a hotline for those already trafficked, and established a victim assistance and prevention kiosk at Bogota's international airport.

Cuba

For 47 years, the Cuban Government has consistently spurned domestic and international calls for greater political tolerance and respect for human rights. Cuba's human rights record remained poor in 2005. The Cuban Government ignored or violated virtually all of its citizens' fundamental rights, including the right to change their government. The Cuban people did not enjoy freedom of speech, press or movement, and were denied the right to assemble peacefully or freely form associations. Police had broad detention powers and used them frequently, including against those who questioned single-party rule. Cuban officials and their proxies increasingly tormented pro-democracy activists and independent journalists through the use of mob actions known as "acts of repudiation." Accused dissidents, some charged with common crimes, received sham trials, and those sent to prison were often held in harsh conditions. By the end of 2005, Cuban jails confined at least 333 documented political prisoners, including 60 of the 75 pro-democracy activists arrested in a March 2003 crackdown. A television program aired by the Cuban Government in December 2005 characterized pro-democracy and human rights activists as "mercenaries."

The priorities of the U.S. Government in Cuba were to encourage a genuine and peaceful transition to democracy and to direct international attention to the severe human rights crisis on the island. The regime tolerates no attempt at political or economic reform. Significant human rights improvements will be extremely difficult to achieve under current conditions, and democratic political processes will be arduous if not impossible. Throughout 2005, the United States was guided by the report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba (CAFC), a comprehensive plan to accelerate a peaceful democratic transition in Cuba and to coordinate U.S. support to a free and democratic Cuban Government. In July, Caleb McCarry was named the Cuba Transition Coordinator.

To focus international attention on Cuba's deplorable human rights situation, the United States issued high-level public statements on ongoing abuses and encouraged other governments to do the same. In July 2005, the United States condemned the detention of at least a dozen peaceful Cuban human rights activists, including Rene Gomez Manzano. In December 2005, the Secretary of State chaired a CAFC meeting and underlined that after decades of cruel dictatorship, now is the time for change in Cuba. The Chief of Mission focused on human rights themes in all interviews and public events. In a major speech on December 10, 2005, Human Rights Day, the Chief of Mission told a large crowd of Cuban activists, international journalists and foreign diplomats that citizens hold their governments accountable for their actions, and Cuba will be no exception.

The United States introduced a resolution on Cuba at the annual meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Forty-three other nations joined in co-sponsoring the resolution, including, for the first time, the European Union. The resolution extended the mandate of the Personal Representative of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Cuba and highlighted the regime's failure to live up to its obligations to its citizens. With its passage, the international community once again recognized the appalling human rights situation in Cuba.

The United States helped increase the flow of accurate information concerning democracy, human rights, and free enterprise to, from, and within Cuba. Specifically, U.S. grants to 18 U.S. universities and U.S. NGOs helped build solidarity with Cuba's human rights activists, give voice to Cuba's independent journalists, develop independent Cuban NGOs, defend the rights of Cuban workers, and provide direct outreach to the Cuban people.

To break the Government's stranglehold on public discourse, the United States Interests Section continued its effort to increase access to information about events inside and outside Cuba. In fiscal year 2005, the United States distributed nearly 300,000 magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, books, news clips, and related items. The United States also distributed several thousand short-wave radios, enabling Cubans to obtain information from the BBC, Radio Netherlands, Radio Prague, and a host of Miami-based stations, including Radio Marti. In January 2006, the Interests Section unveiled a streaming electronic billboard. The billboard features news headlines, inspirational quotes from people such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, and text from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the publication of which is banned in Cuba.

The more than 100,000 Cubans who entered U.S. facilities over the past three years were exposed to CNN En Espanol or TV Marti, read and took home press clips, and learned about their Government's incarceration of compatriots seeking peaceful change. The Interests Section's two Internet centers, aimed primarily at independent journalists, independent librarians, and human rights activists, represented the country's biggest "Internet caf�." Use was free of charge and censorship. Independent journalists were able to have their articles published overseas, and human rights activists could internationally expose human rights violations. The Interests Section also worked with like-minded diplomatic colleagues to break the information blockade and to support pro-democracy advocates. This cooperation included sharing press clips via the Internet (rather than the regime-controlled Intranet) to keep other diplomatic missions informed on developments in Cuba. More than 500 Cubans visited the Interests Section in 2005 to use its Internet facilities.

The U.S. Interests Section frequently organized videoconferences that linked Cuban civil society figures with experts overseas. In January 2006, the Interests Section and the Polish Embassy co-hosted a videoconference featuring former Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa, who urged pro-democracy activists to prepare for the inevitable political transition. One videoconference helped three leading dissidents testify before the U.S. House of Representatives, while another enabled respected international journalists to train independent journalists. Other videoconferences focused on education, rule of law, health care, and youth groups.

To promote freedom of thought, the Interests Section supports independent libraries in Cuba. Since regime censorship limits the types of books that Cubans are allowed to read, the United States supported some 300 independent libraries on the island, roughly one-third of them in the Havana area. Books, newspapers, pamphlets, and periodic training sessions are held to boost the professionalism of independent librarians.

Under the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the Cuban Government pledged not to retaliate against any Cuban returned to the island after attempting an illegal voyage to the United States. However, some "rafters" and others interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard and repatriated to Cuba said they suffered harassment or discrimination by Cuban officials. To help protect repatriated rafters, U.S. officials informed all such individuals of their rights under the Migration Accords. They followed up to the extent possible with visits to their Havana homes or telephone calls to homes outside the capital, to find out whether they experienced retaliation. The U.S. Government continued to deny visas to those implicated in human rights violations in Cuba, including those involved in the show trials of the 75 pro-democracy activists jailed in March 2003. Cuba incarcerates more people for peaceful political activity, per capita than any other country.

To provide moral support to political prisoners and to monitor their situation, the Interests Section monitored hundreds of cases and met frequently with prisoners' families.

U.S. officials met frequently with activists representing human rights, pro-democracy, independent labor, and civic society organizations. U.S. officials also supported the Cuban organizers of the Varela Project petition drive, which calls for basic political and economic rights. In January 2006, officers organized a discussion on racism in Cuba, a problem that the regime maintains does not exist, but that many Cuban participants described as pervasive. U.S. officials made a point of meeting with any Cuban who wished to discuss human rights abuses.

The Cuban Government continues to control religious activities through surveillance, infiltration, intimidation, and harassment of religious groups, religious professionals and laypersons. U.S. officials engaged a broad range of religious leaders in discourse. In fiscal year 2005, the U.S. Government issued 254 travel licenses to U.S.-based religious representatives whose work in Cuba enhanced religious freedom. The Interests Section also facilitated visa applications by legitimate Cuban religious representatives to participate in religious activities in the United States.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic has a democratically elected Government and a dynamic multiparty system. Even so, accountable, democratic governance with appropriate checks and balances is still new and fragile, and much remains to be done. Freedoms of the press, assembly, and religion were respected, but in other areas, problems remained. Security forces carried out unlawful killings and used excessive force, although deaths at the hands of police officers declined in the second half of the year. The Government generally denied the existence of racial prejudice, but acts of discrimination were common, ranging from petty to more serious. During sweeps to detect and repatriate illegal migrants, security forces did not always respect due process. Problems in child labor and trafficking in persons continued.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy targeted increasing adherence to the rule of law and respect for human rights, combating corruption while increasing transparency, promoting accountability and public demand for reform, encouraging citizen involvement in political and civic matters though better information flow via free, objective media. The U.S. strategy also supported administration of elections, training for political leaders, strengthening the transparency and professionalism of political parties, and assisting Dominican authorities in reinforcing the appropriate role for the military in a democracy. U.S. partners in government and civil society helped advance key efforts to promote democracy and human rights. To support the U.S. human rights and democracy strategy, U.S. diplomatic and programmatic efforts focused on four areas: developing and implementing legislation, norms, administrative procedures, and civil society awareness in order to battle corruption; assisting the authorities to implement new criminal procedures that increase protection of human rights, better serve citizens, and better control crime; ensuring the conduct of free, fair, and participative elections; and improving public administration through creation of a career civil service and by ensuring greater transparency in government procurement.

As in previous national elections, the Embassy made arrangements to support observation of the 2006 congressional and municipal elections. The United States funded training of 3,500 Dominican election observers.

To further bolster freedom of the press, the United States brought the president of the Society of Professional Journalists together with Dominican journalists to outline practical approaches to the country's new law on freedom of information. The trip prompted a prominent on-line daily journal to adopt a code of ethics based on principles suggested by the Society. The Ambassador regularly invited leading editors for informal sessions to convey U.S. views on the bilateral relationship.

The United States funded the establishment and operation of NGOs to vocalize the importance of good government and citizen involvement. These nationally prominent groups emphasized anti-corruption work and political party reform. Some of these U.S.-funded NGOs urged political party reform around principles of majority rule, ethics, and explicit norms for political party finance. Other NGOs pushed for legislation on transparency of public expenditure, associating their efforts in a "Coalition for Transparency."

The United States provided more than 600 hours of formal training on money-laundering and other complex crimes to a core group of 40 officials, including auditors, police, prosecutors, and investigators. The U.S. assistance program supported training on criminal procedure, ethics, and case management. A revision of the Criminal Procedures Code (CPC) carried out with U.S. assistance provided important new legal safeguards. The United States arranged to develop three training modules on the new CPC, as well as providing training in oral trial skills and in techniques for investigation of money laundering. The U.S. Embassy organized seminars for journalists and academics to explain the new code and facilitated communication to the public of the new approach to enforcement of the law.

The United States helped finance initiatives to design and implement better administration of courts and public defense offices, in a pilot project for three leading prosecutorial offices. U.S. technical assistance enabled the Office of the Attorney General to select and hire 100 young lawyers for a five-month training course, producing the first corps of Dominican prosecutors with standardized professional qualifications. The United States provided support for the program that included formal written testing of aptitudes and skills of the entire corps of 773 prosecutors, certifying professional competence of most, and identifying 167 who were subsequently discharged for failure to meet minimal standards. For 40 of the qualified prosecutors, the United States underwrote training in criminology and oral trial skills.

The United States provided technical assistance to the new agency in charge of providing free legal assistance to the poor, making possible the training of 80 public defenders for six offices across the country. The United States provided support and training to NGOs offering legal aid to indigents. The number of indigents receiving legal counsel rose from 1,992 in 2004 to 14,309 in 2005.

The United States and other international participants provided support for training law enforcement officials in procedures required by the new CPC. The Embassy developed and initiated a project to strengthen the Dominican National Police by standardizing procedures and training while reinforcing the principle of respect for human rights. Reformed curricula for basic and in-service training covered modern law enforcement techniques, the new CPC, planning, automated case tracking, and internal affairs. U.S. funding supported the Police Abuse Reporting Center, an avenue of recourse for citizens.

The United States stressed respect for legal rights in a course for police and prosecutors on interviewing and interrogation techniques. The Embassy funded attendance of two senior police officers at the Latin American Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar, which included components on human rights and adherence to legal procedure. The Embassy hosted the executive director of the Independent Review Panel of Miami-Dade County for a week of seminars on preventing police abuse, reaching a diverse audience.

When tensions in rural communities and poor neighborhoods between Dominicans and Haitians prompted authorities to relocate and repatriate individuals who appeared to be illegal migrants, the Ambassador and officers from the Embassy and the U.S. military repeatedly stressed to Dominican officials of all levels the international obligation to respect human rights and to follow due process.

The United States sponsored Dominican government officials to participate at the Human Rights Implementation Meeting in Guatemala City, Guatemala as well as the Southern Cone Regional Human Rights Initiative Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The United States helped address the worst forms of child labor by dedicating multi-year funding to the Timebound Program, through which more than 4,000 children were removed from exploitative work in the agricultural sector. The United States funded a regional project for Central America and the Dominican Republic to identify exploited and at-risk children and provide them with educational opportunities.

The Embassy used the evaluations of the country in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report to emphasize to officials the need for vigorous prosecutions. At mid-year the Embassy hosted a discussion with government officials and NGO representatives to improve Dominican interagency anti-trafficking coordination and highlight the areas for improvement. The United States carried out a five-day program in the Dominican Republic focusing on trafficking, exploitation, and asylum concerns. The Embassy sponsored programs, including digital video conferences, which brought together leaders in combating TIP. U.S. assistance funded a formal assessment of Dominican anti-trafficking efforts, designed to provide recommendations for further programming.

Ecuador

Ecuador's democratically elected Government generally respected human rights. However, a weak rule of law and underdeveloped government institutions contributed to human rights abuses. There were credible reports that security forces killed citizens using unwarranted lethal force, although members of the security forces did face prosecution and prison sentences for some violations. Police tortured and otherwise mistreated prisoners and detainees, often with impunity. Prison conditions remained poor. Persons were subject to arbitrary arrest and over 60% of the detainees in jail had not been formally sentenced. Corruption and denial of due process within the judicial system were problems. Although there is a free and vigorous press, government censorship and some self-censorship occurred in the print and broadcast media. Pervasive discrimination against women, the indigenous, and Afro-Ecuadorians continued to occur and included occasional violence. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained a problem, especially commercial sexual exploitation of minors. The United States ranked Ecuador among Tier 3 nations in 2005.

The U.S. strategy in Ecuador focused on supporting democracy and good governance, as well as advocating respect for human rights. U.S. efforts included helping strengthen the judicial system and the rule of law, promoting human rights education, assisting Colombian refugees, and combating child labor and TIP.

A wide range of U.S. programs supported Ecuador's democratic institutions, and throughout the year the Ambassador, other Embassy officials, and visiting high-level U.S. officials publicly advocated respect for those institutions and constitutional processes. The United States sponsored Ecuadorian participants in programs providing in-depth looks at the administration of justice, responsible policing, grassroots democracy, drug control policy, responsible media, indigenous community development, economic and agricultural development, and improving educational systems.

The U.S. Government sponsored Ecuadorian visitors to the United States to learn about topics including combating corruption, transparency and good governance, human rights in a democracy, combating TIP, and the role of the media in a democracy. The Embassy sponsored performances of "Dialogues of Liberty," which emphasized the importance of individual liberty and personal responsibility in a democracy through dramatic speeches by actors impersonating Ecuadorian historical figures. The United States also sponsored an exhibit of informational posters on human rights and coordinated a series of debates among more than 4,000 high school students on the issue of human rights.

The United States funded a program which worked with local Afro-Ecuadorian organizations to provide political leadership training, increase voter participation, promote dialogue with political parties, monitor the participation of Afro-Ecuadorians in elections, and increase awareness of Afro-Ecuadorians among the general population. A U.S.-funded program provided training in conflict resolution to indigenous human rights ombudsmen and bilingual education supervisors throughout Ecuador. The United States supported the professional development of Ecuadorian journalists through funding participation in training seminars in the United States and participation in reporting tours. The United States also provided training in professional journalistic standards through the International Visitors Leadership Program and provided ongoing free research support to investigative journalists through the Embassy's Information Resource Center.

The United States presented grants to local partners to organize seminars on grassroots democracy and sponsored a major youth democracy conference that drew more than 400 participants from throughout the hemisphere. The United States also supported a series of initiatives developed by local NGOs to promote democratic values. These NGOs and other civil society groups peacefully demonstrated against the irregular removal of Supreme Court magistrates by Congress.

To support the efforts to establish a new Supreme Court to replace the one installed by Congress in 2004, the United States backed the creation of a coalition of 47 Ecuadorian NGOs that monitored the selection of new Supreme Court judges, ensuring transparency in the selection of the most qualified candidates. The United States also supported OAS observers of the process.

Ecuador's judicial system is plagued by inefficiency and corruption that undermine the rule of law and hinder timely and fair trials. In efforts to help contain and reverse this trend, the United States funded a number of projects to strengthen judicial effectiveness and fight corruption. This included training of the judicial police and training and technical assistance to help implement a new accusatory system. A pilot program designed to strengthen the institutional capacities of the lower courts and prosecutorial offices in the city of Cuenca produced a 41 percent reduction in unnecessary detentions and a reduction in the average time to assign cases within the judicial system from 36 to 20 hours. The United States also financed eight legal clinics in six cities where over 3,600 indigent defendants received legal counseling and defense services.

The United States expanded its program to increase effectiveness and transparency in government, working with 64 local governments and four additional provinces. Citizen participation processes were consolidated in 34 local governments while citizen oversight mechanisms monitored service improvements in 28 local governments. The program also assisted with the development of legal proposals to decentralize the government.

The United States continued military-to-military contact focused on promoting fundamental human rights and humanitarian outreach, including medical assistance and peacekeeper exercises. Human rights training was integrated into all U.S.-supported military exercises and operational training conducted in the country.

The United States implemented two programs to fight sexual and domestic violence against women and children. A domestic violence and gender program in Quito continued to improve the city's monitoring of domestic violence cases and processing of sex crime cases. A second program established an observatory in five provinces to oversee and monitor prosecutions in sexual crime cases, seeking to reduce impunity and increase transparency in these cases. Local organizations that participated in these efforts provided legal assistance to victims of sexual and domestic violence.

The United States funded a research project to investigate the economic, legal, social, ethnic, and gender-related situation within Ecuador's prisons. The study, completed in January 2006, provided recommendations for improving the formulation of public policies regarding prisons and rehabilitation.

Throughout 2005, more than 7,000 Colombians sought refugee status in Ecuador. The actual number of displaced Colombians who entered Ecuador was much larger. To help this vulnerable population, the United States provided funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the IOM, the American Red Cross, and the Pan American Health Organization to support refugee centers and provide infrastructure, such as potable water, and public health projects for this group.

The United States funded three major programs to support the Government's efforts to combat child labor. One program targeted indigenous children at risk of engaging in the worst forms of child labor. A four-year project aimed at meeting the educational needs of child laborers and children at risk of entering the banana and flower industries was in its second year of operation. An ongoing project targeted the worst forms of child labor in the agricultural and construction sectors, as well as the exploitation of minors in the commercial sex industry. The United States advocated the strengthening of Ecuador's labor laws and practices, including reform of the labor code to ensure the right of association without fear of retribution, and raised specific labor rights cases of concern with the Government.

In addition to combating the worst forms of child labor, the United States repeatedly raised with Ecuadorian officials the need for coordinated action against TIP. The United States funded a grant to the American Bar Association to review proposed TIP legislation and train judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement on the trafficking issue as well as how to effectively combat it. After the passing of an anti-TIP law in June, there were four arrests in two TIP cases by the end of the year. The United States also began work with local governments to fight TIP by assisting their efforts to dismantle alien smuggling organizations. Cooperation between U.S. and Ecuadorian officials led to the dismantlement of 34 alien smuggling rings and the arrest of 205 alien smugglers. The United States provided equipment at airports and border crossing areas to allow authorities to better monitor travelers, in part to limit human trafficking. The United States also supported the design of a national database for missing persons.

Guatemala

Guatemala is a democratic republic in which parties across the ideological divide participate freely in the political process. The law provides for freedom of speech, press, association, and assembly, which the Government generally respected. Justice system abuses continued, however, including unlawful killings by police, harsh and dangerous prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and failure to ensure due process. Poorly trained and equipped police, prosecutors, and judges were further disabled by corruption within their ranks and by intimidation and killing of their peers. Increased levels of societal violence committed by gangs, organized crime, vigilante groups, and unknown actors exacerbated human rights abuses. Groups engaged in promoting human rights continued to suffer from intimidation and violence. Weaknesses in these government institutions prevented adequate investigation and prosecution of all crimes, including numerous killings around the country, as well as threats and violent acts perpetrated against civil society activists and some NGOs engaged in exhumations of victims of the 36-year internal armed conflict. These weaknesses allowed for continuing impunity for human rights abuses committed during the internal armed conflict. The effectiveness of government programs to combat persistent violence and discrimination against women and indigenous communities, trafficking in persons, and lack of enforcement of labor laws was limited. Such consistent failures by weak government institutions eroded citizens' confidence in governmental authorities and democratic principles.

The U.S. strategy in Guatemala focused on helping the Government build the capabilities of its democratic institutions while encouraging transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. U.S. efforts in Guatemala aimed to strengthen the capacity of civil society to be a practical partner in the struggle to consolidate democracy.

One of the challenges to Guatemala's democratic system is low citizen participation in the political process. The United States developed a joint project with the OAS to help Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal implement new reforms to the Electoral Law. Those reforms included, among others, decentralizing poll centers for the 2007 general elections to encourage widespread citizen participation. The United States worked with 15 municipalities and municipal associations to strengthen decentralization, citizen participation, and transparency in local governance.

The United States also sponsored programs on the local government level in the areas of citizen participation, leadership, conflict resolution, and participatory planning, with particular emphasis on including disenfranchised groups.

While the press in Guatemala is free to report and criticize, it has not always enjoyed a productive working relationship with government institutions, particularly the National Civilian Police. The United States sponsored training to instruct both law enforcement and the press in crime scene protection. As a result, relations between these traditionally antagonistic groups improved, which also increased press access and ability to report the news.

Guatemala boasts a strong, if fragmented, civil society that played an important role as watchdog and advocate for democratic principles. In 2005, the Ambassador and other representatives of the U.S. Government met frequently with journalists, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and other activists to publicly express support for their work. The Embassy also continued to urge the Government to investigate threats and provide additional protection when appropriate.

Many NGOs reported burglaries of their offices after suspecting burglars were targeting sensitive information about their activities. U.S. officials met repeatedly with activists and encouraged the Government to carry out investigations. Responding directly to organizations' need to protect potentially sensitive data, the Embassy hosted a data security seminar. The seminar, conducted by Embassy personnel, focused on simple, low-cost ways to safely store electronic files offsite. The seminar was well received and was attended by more than 40 individuals from various human rights organizations.

The United States advocated for the Guatemalan Congress to approve two government initiatives to strengthen the observance of human rights and rule of law. In July 2005, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a local office at the Government's invitation. The United States endorsed government efforts to re-launch a UN Commission to Investigate Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatus (CICIACS). The Constitutional Court had ruled against the original initiative in 2004, and the United States urged the Government to follow through on its pledge to submit a revised proposal.

One of the serious threats to democracy in Guatemala is its weak justice system. The United States provided substantial material and technical assistance to build the capacity of justice sector institutions and to initiate needed reforms. In an effort to improve prosecutions of serious crimes, the United States provided technical assistance in case analysis methodologies to the Public Ministry. That program also helped create an analysis unit that provided services to other prosecutors' offices in corruption and money laundering cases. The project helped the Guatemalan judiciary implement oral pretrial procedures in Guatemala City. It was the first time such procedures were implemented since the law prescribing them was passed 11 years ago.

In January 2005, the United States began providing technical assistance to the Government and civil society organizations to help implement the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and to develop a national agenda against corruption. To increase the capacity of the National Civil Police to investigate police officers implicated in crime or corruption, the United States helped create an Inspectorate General to oversee the Office of Professional Responsibility. U.S. law enforcement advisors helped the new inspectorate define its mandate, structure, and operational guidelines.

The United States provided material support and training to the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights and the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women, Children, and Victims of Trafficking in Persons. The United States continued to provide technical assistance to the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman to improve its capacity to monitor, register, and fight violations of due process in criminal cases.

In previous years, the United States funded expansion of a network of justice centers intended to modernize and streamline judicial processes while bringing them within reach of more citizens. The success of the justice centers had a multiplier effect, promoting local initiatives such as a shelter for domestic violence victims, a legal aid office at the University of San Carlos for non-criminal cases, and improvements in administrative services provided by other justice sector institutions. The United States secured a commitment from the Government to allocate resources for 15 centers in 2006.

At-risk youth are vulnerable to recruitment by the increasingly powerful gang structure, a trend that posed serious threats to citizens' security in recent years and undermined citizens' confidence in government. In 2005, the United States supported crime-prevention activities in 16 different Guatemalan jurisdictions. Another U.S.-funded program helped create local "crime prevention councils" to promote awareness and community involvement with at-risk youth. In addition, the program supported a local NGO in its efforts to develop model centers called "youth houses."

Unresolved issues from Guatemala's 36-year internal conflict continued to fester. Many victims of political and human rights crimes remained missing while the accused perpetrators enjoyed impunity. The United States funded a project that developed legal cases related to human rights violations committed during the conflict. The project aimed to overcome institutional obstacles to prosecution that allowed for continued impunity. This project helped lay the groundwork for future prosecutions that could be applied in other human rights cases. In 2005, exhumations were conducted at 128 sites. Embassy personnel also visited sites to demonstrate support for forensics workers and victims' families. In December, the National Reparations Program, one of the products of a three-year human rights project sponsored by the United States, made its first reparations payment to civilian victims of the internal conflict.

In past years, the United States encouraged the Defense Ministry to incorporate human rights training into its curriculum and provided technical assistance. In 2005, approximately 400 members of the military received formal training in human rights; all military personnel are now required to receive human rights training and it is embedded into every Guatemalan military school.

Historically, women and indigenous persons have been largely excluded from positions of influence in both politics and industry. To encourage greater representation, particularly in the political forum, the United States actively recruited women and indigenous persons to participate in its International Visitors Leadership and Fulbright Programs. An indigenous woman and city council representative participated in the program "Grassroots Democracy for Young Leaders."

Land conflicts, one of the sources of broader political conflict in the past, were particularly acute in the Alta Verapaz area. The United States funded a local NGO to mediate land conflicts and introduce their methodology for mediation to local authorities. U.S. funding helped provide training to Public Ministry staff in women's rights, launch an awareness campaign in several languages, and develop a graduate certificate program for justice sector professionals, indigenous women, and civil society advocates.

The United States is concerned with building the capacity of government institutions to fight such ills as child labor and trafficking in persons (TIP). The United States funded projects to improve labor law compliance and to minimize the incidence of child labor. Through these projects, the United States supported the efforts of the Ministry of Labor and NGOs to train labor inspectors, educate employers and workers about their rights and responsibilities, and provide educational opportunities to children who would otherwise be forced to work.

The United States supported civil society's effort to reform the penal code to provide for increased penalties for traffickers. Taking advantage of interest in trafficking generated by that effort, the United States sponsored a three-day joint training session for police, prosecutors, and victims' assistance providers. The United States also funded a regional anti-TIP conference, co-hosted by the Guatemalan Government and the OAS, which was aimed at coordinating national anti-TIP efforts.

Haiti

The human rights record of the Interim Government of Haiti remained poor. After Jean Bertrand Aristide resigned as president and departed the country in February 2004, Boniface Alexandre, chief justice of the Supreme Court, assumed office as interim president in accordance with the Constitution. In March 2004, Gerard Latortue was installed as prime minister of the Interim Government upon recommendation from a Council of Eminent Persons to President Alexandre. While civilian authorities generally maintained control of the security forces, there were frequent instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority. State-orchestrated abuses ceased under the Interim Government. However, there were credible allegations of extrajudicial killings by members of the Haitian National Police, incidences of retribution killings and politically motivated violence, and kidnappings for ransom. Prison conditions remained poor, and prolonged pretrial detention continued to be a problem. Legal impunity remained a major problem, and police and judicial officials often failed to respect legal provisions or pursue and prosecute suspected violators. Child abuse, violence and societal discrimination against women, trafficking of children, and child domestic labor remained problems. Endemic corruption, a deteriorating judiciary, and worsening economic and social conditions exacerbated this situation.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in Haiti focused on providing stability and assisting in the reconstruction of democracy and democratic processes, including respect for the rule of law and for human rights. Given the security and political situation on the ground, the initial focus was on assisting the Interim Government election efforts, reconstructing the criminal justice system, disarming all nongovernmental forces, supporting good governance, assisting human rights organizations and supporting reconciliation, reconstruction, and social reintegration efforts.

In preparation for national and local elections, the United States provided technical assistance, training, and support for elections planning, development of a new electoral law, implementation of a voter roll, and creation of a Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). Efforts by the United States to increase voter awareness and political representation included journalist training and voter and civic education programs through a U.S.-supported community radio network, establishment of a media unit and elections results center within the CEP, support for political party development, support for domestic and international elections observers, and public opinion polling. Party poll monitors from each department and at the national level received training in monitoring the entire electoral process and support to implement an election-day poll watching campaign. An international team of 10 long-term pre-elections observation experts was deployed in five separate departments to assess the adequacy and transparency of the electoral process. Also, civil society organizations with members throughout the country received training and organizational assistance, enabling them to prepare a 5,000-member nation-wide domestic election observation effort.

Numerous high-level delegations visited Haiti to express support for elections, including the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary for Political Affairs. On her September 27 visit, the Secretary of State underscored U.S. support for inclusive and fair elections in Haiti. During her press conference, the Secretary urged Haitians to exercise their right by using the powerful weapon of the vote, noting that "elections can be a very important and precious step along the road to democracy."

The United States sponsored a pre-election presidential debate series that was broadcast twice on National Radio and Television. The debates were covered by both daily newspapers as well as by major and provincial media outlets.

The United States funded journalist training for elections coverage and a network of 40 community radio stations. The Embassy sent 20 attorneys, civil society leaders, judges, journalists, scholars, government officials, and human rights activists to participate in International Visitors Leadership Programs in the United States on judicial reform and human rights, drug demand reduction, anti-corruption, and humanitarian response to disasters and crises.

In honor of Martin Luther King's birthday, the Embassy issued a press release with translated excerpts of Dr. King's March 25, 1965 speech, which called for universal participation in elections and engagement in the political process. The Embassy presented its civic education program, "Democracy for All," which emphasized citizens' rights and duties in democracy and elections participation to over 1,000 residents of Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince's largest slum. The majority of program graduates decided to register to vote as a result of the program and several declared their candidacies for local office.

Following the departure of President Aristide, the United States initiated a comprehensive administration of justice assistance program with the Government. U.S. assistance to the national police included technical assistance, equipment, training, and human rights vetting for new recruits. In early 2005, the United States initiated a training program for judges and prosecutors to improve their capacity to investigate and prosecute criminal cases, improve transparency in the judicial system, and address urgent issues such as high levels of pretrial detention. This project trained more than 800 judges, prosecutors, clerks, and other judicial personnel nationwide. It trained 20 civil society organizations on advocacy and lobbying techniques, preparing them to advocate for the adoption of relevant legislation and measures aimed at improving judicial independence, impartiality, and accountability. The project also sponsored special prison and court hearings as well as legal assistance in order to reduce the backlog of pretrial detainees. During a press conference concluding a U.S.-sponsored human rights training for members of the Haitian Coast Guard, then-Ambassador Foley publicly denounced the poor functioning of the judicial system and the state of pretrial detention, which he termed a violation of detainees' human rights. Then-Ambassador Foley called on the judicial authorities either to charge or release those awaiting judicial determinations in their cases.

In public statements, the Ambassador condemned politically motivated violence, stressing the importance of general respect for the human rights of all citizens. During a December 9 press conference in recognition of International Human Rights Day, then-Charg� d'Affaires Carney renewed U.S. support for Haitians in their efforts to exercise the fundamental human rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then-Charg� Carney also underscored the importance for Haitians to practice one of the most vital human rights: the right to elect freely their own leader. In conjunction with the press conference, the Charg� presented certificates to the winners of an Embassy-sponsored essay contest on the subject of democracy, human rights, justice, and national dialogue. The winning eight youths, four each from secondary and university levels, were highlighted on media programs throughout Port-au-Prince in the following months. The Embassy held three book discussions on the topics of non-violence, conflict resolution, and the U.S. judicial system.

The United States supported civil society strengthening and civic education programs. The Civic Forum program provided citizens with knowledge, skills, and encouragement to participate in the democratic process and engage their local officials in areas of common concern. Haitians formed committees that were able to propose solutions that rely on local resources and increase citizen participation. The United States supported a government anti-corruption unit and worked with local organizations that advocated for greater transparency and trained public officials in anti-corruption measures.

Under the Victims of Organized Violence program, the United States partnered with three local NGOs, four local hospitals, and three non-profit international organizations to assist 682 victims of violence and human rights abuses. Grants and training enabled local organizations to provide legal aid as well as medical and psychological assistance to victims of organized violence.

The United States focused on combating child labor practices in Haiti, particularly internal and external trafficking of children as domestic workers or restaveks. The United States funded an anti-trafficking program to shore up government efforts to fight child trafficking and provide services to victims. Haitian officials participated in the anti-trafficking training programs for government officials held around the country during the year.

Honduras

Honduras is a constitutional democracy. In November, Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales of the Liberal Party won the presidency in elections judged by domestic and international observers to be free and fair. The ability of the former Maduro administration to respect and promote the human rights of citizens was compromised by government corruption, impunity for violators of the law, and violence perpetrated by gangs and organized crime. Serious problems existed in a number of areas. Members of the police, private security forces, and vigilantes reportedly committed extrajudicial killings and arbitrary and summary executions. Human rights groups accused former security force officials and the business community of colluding to organize "death squads" that engaged in extrajudicial killings, particularly of street youth. Prison conditions remained harsh and dangerous, and detainees often did not receive due process. Members of the economic, military, and political elite enjoyed considerable impunity regarding violations of the law. Violence and discrimination against women and discrimination against indigenous people continued, including the Government's failure to address long-standing land rights disputes over territories traditionally claimed by indigenous communities. The administration of justice was problematic due to an inefficient, under-staffed, and under-funded police force, as well as public prosecutors and judicial officials who were subject to corruption and political influence. Child labor, particularly in rural areas, and trafficking in persons (TIP) remained serious problems.

The U.S. strategy in Honduras continued support for democratic political processes and emphasized the need for improvements in human rights conditions, particularly in the areas of the rule of law and combating TIP.

The Ambassador and other U.S. officials worked closely with Honduran government officials, NGOs, labor unions, and other organizations to discuss areas of particular concern and to encourage reforms. A senior U.S. official discussed these issues with senior officials of the Maduro Administration during two visits in the summer and fall. The U.S. Government also sent various civil society leaders and government officials on International Visitors Leadership Programs in 2005, on topics such as the administration of justice, the rule of law, anti-corruption, civil society, democracy, and journalism.

The United States provided assistance for the February 20, 2005 open primary elections and the November 27, 2005 general elections. Efforts sought to increase the voting public's awareness of significant recent electoral reforms, including the new method of direct election of members of Congress. The United States also provided assistance for the elections through support for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the National Registry of Persons, and the International Foundation for Election Systems under a Cooperative Agreement with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights' Center for Electoral Assessment and Promotion. The United States helped fund the Honduran Federation of NGOs (FOPRIDEH) to support a nonpartisan voter education campaign and provided funding to the OAS for an Election Observation Mission for both the primary and general elections. During the February 2005 open primary elections, the Embassy had more than 40 election observation volunteers. For the November 2005 general elections, the Embassy assisted with approximately 60 trained international observers and provided significant logistical support to facilitate the 112-member OAS observation mission.

The United States continued its efforts to promote democracy through the development of transparent and accountable democratic institutions at the local level. The United States provided funds for municipal development efforts to promote decentralization and increase the capacity for basic service delivery in 32 municipalities. The United States also financed a program that promoted civic participation and democratic planning by facilitating dialogue between NGOs and local government.

The United States supported a program to promote free press in Honduras through training journalists and improving public awareness of the importance of independent media.

The United States promoted the rule of law and administration of justice in areas such as police reform, judicial reform, and anti-corruption initiatives. To foster the development of a more professional police force and to reduce human rights abuses, the United States provided a third year of support to assist the Police Internal Affairs Office in investigating complaints, including those from private citizens, and made recommendations on how to respond to substantive complaints, ranging from administrative disciplinary action to criminal charges. U.S. officials also conducted numerous basic criminal investigation courses to improve police and prosecutorial effectiveness.

The United States continued to support the Strengthened Rule of Law Program. In its third year after implementation, progress associated with the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) continued. More than 3,200 oral trials were held nationwide, including more than 1,400 in the program's pilot courts in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. The CPC provides non-trial case resolution procedures similar to plea bargaining or conciliation, and more than 3,200 cases were closed through this mechanism. The United States also supported the drafting of the new CPC that, if passed, would modernize procedures relating to commercial and private transactions, including land tenure and inheritances. The United States also supported the efforts of the Supreme Court "purging unit" to clear backlogged cases dating back to before the implementation of the new criminal code. By the end of fiscal year 2005, 176,000 cases were closed. The U.S. Government contributed to reaching the unit's goal of completing all cases by December 2006 by developing an Internal Operations Manual making the purging process more efficient through uniform procedures. The manual also regulated potential abuses and ensured accountability.

FOPRIDEH, with U.S. assistance, promoted broader and more effective civil society participation in justice sector reforms and in exercising oversight of the public policy process.

To improve the country's fight against corruption, the United States provided funds for transparency and anti-corruption efforts. Activities included improving the capacity of the Government's Superior Audit Institution, developing and implementing a Transparency and Anti-Corruption Public Awareness Campaign, strengthening independent national and local anti-corruption institutions, and supporting civil society social auditing efforts to provide oversight and monitoring of the use of public funds. The Embassy encouraged the Government and the Attorney General's office to pursue vigorously cases that involve corruption, particularly those involving government officials.

The Embassy hosted a Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) Human Rights Initiative seminar for 65 military and civilian personnel. During this week-long exchange, the military worked with SOUTHCOM staff and a cross-section of government and NGO participants to implement training programs and establish working relations to promote and protect human rights. Human rights were integrated into all levels of military academic and field training, enhancing the commitment to international human rights norms and the rule of law.

U.S. officials repeatedly engaged government, private sector, and labor union officials on the importance of enforcing labor law and ensuring that core labor rights are protected. The United States funded a project to strengthen labor systems in Central America titled, "Comply and Win." Another U.S.-funded project supported efforts to improve the functioning of regional labor markets while strengthening the protection of core labor standards. It provided assistance to the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration and forged alliances with international private businesses and NGOs, including the Continuous Improvement in the Central American Workplace project.

Child labor continued to be a significant problem in Honduras. The United States supported the International Labor Organization's International Program on the Elimination Child Labor, as well as other organizations that conducted projects aimed at combating and gathering information on the worst forms of child labor. These projects worked to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children and to reduce child labor in the agricultural sector. The Government participated in a U.S.-funded regional project to combat child labor through education, which included direct action in Honduras. A U.S. expert spoke at seminars organized by the Honduran Manufacturer's Association on the prevention and eradication of forced child labor in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Honduras is a source and transit country for trafficking in persons for sexual and labor exploitation. A U.S. NGO led a seminar in Tegucigalpa for government officials and NGO representatives on techniques for interviewing trafficking victims. The United States provided training, technical assistance, and equipment to police investigators and prosecutors working to combat TIP, as well as public awareness campaigns on TIP. The United States also provided funds to support the Frontier Police to prevent and interdict the transportation of illegal immigrants, including trafficked persons. A U.S. NGO led a U.S.-sponsored seminar on techniques for interviewing trafficking victims in Tegucigalpa for government officials and NGO representatives.

Jamaica

The Government of Jamaica generally respected the human rights of its citizen, however, there were serious problems in some areas. Members of the security forces committed unlawful killings. Mob violence and vigilante killings against those suspected of breaking the law remained a problem. Police and prison guards were accused of abusing detainees and prisoners. Although the Government moved to investigate incidents of police abuses and punish some of those police involved, continued impunity for police who commit abuses remained a problem. The judicial system was overburdened and lengthy delays in trials were common. Homophobia was present and sometimes virulent, characterized by discrimination and violence against individuals suspected or known to be homosexuals and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Trafficking in persons (TIP) continued to be a concern.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in Jamaica focused on promoting democracy and good governance and increasing the government's ability to enforce the rule of law and protect the human rights of Jamaican citizens. Target areas included support for civil society, increasing citizens' ownership and sense of responsibility for their government and society, improving community-police relations, building capacity within the security forces, and addressing the rights of children and persons living with HIV/AIDS.

The United States provided capacity building to civil society groups. Through coalition building, networking, and advocacy, these groups pioneered policy changes to combat the high levels of crime and violence in Jamaican society. U.S programs also focused on improving community-police relations and law enforcement in an inner-city community.

In an effort to promote media freedom and freedom of speech, the United States hosted a digital video conference on the topic of ethical reporting with local press organizations, practicing journalists, and academics in recognition of World Press Freedom Day. Visiting U.S. academics spoke with journalism students, media, and other academics to discuss media ethics and the impact of broadband Internet on the media.

The United States provided assistance to a local NGO to establish two research and documentation centers, which provided central repositories of information on citizens' rights. As a result, this information was accessible in greater volume to the public over the Internet.

In an effort to strengthen the capacity of the legal system, the United States provided 12 case management systems to Jamaican courts. These systems increased the ability of the local judiciary to process cases through the court system and expedite resolution of cases. Other projects increased the level of training for court reporters to improve the efficiency of record taking and storage. Both initiatives provided a valuable reference point for citizens requiring legal information and increased citizen access to public information.

The United States provided assistance for the development of a new curriculum for the Justice Training Institute and for the training of magistrates, judges and prosecutors in a variety of subjects, including evidence, money laundering, intellectual property, sentencing, extradition proceedings, and legal writing.

The United States conducted nine management training workshops and created 27 policy and position papers that were utilized to support new policies. Several workshops were held with command officers throughout the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) on the topic of use of force and the proper planning of police operations. The United States developed a template for operational planning that included such critical points as risk assessment, threat assessment, rules of engagement, use of force briefings, command and control, and community revitalization and social intervention.

The development and implementation of the JCF Professional Standards Branch was completed in 2005. It consolidated several separate units that were responsible for officer conduct into one internal affairs and anti-corruption unit. Specialized training and equipment enabled this new unit to investigate police conduct more professionally. The JCF removed approximately 50 members for misconduct or corruption.

The United States continued to support a community policing program in the Kingston inner-city community of Grants Pen, designed to facilitate the creation of a model community police station. Seventy specially trained police officers were selected and assigned to duty in Grants Pen.

In conjunction with local civil society groups, the United States continued to develop, produce, and distribute educational materials used in primary schools throughout Jamaica to improve understanding of human rights norms and the roles and responsibilities of the citizenry. The books emphasized the inherent rights of children and allowed educators to incorporate human rights into the national curriculum.

U.S. officials frequently raised issues with Jamaican officials and civil society leaders regarding respect for the rights of women, children, and persons with disabilities. The stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica is a critical issue, with accusations of mob violence and denial of police assistance. The United States provided technical assistance to the Public Defender's Office to draft anti-discrimination legislation supporting the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized groups, including those with HIV/AIDS. The Ambassador's Fund for HIV/AIDS supported education outreach to all parishes and a U.S. grant sponsored a program that focused on prevention and combating stigmatization that was aired on national television for World AIDS Day.

U.S. funding provided training to 72 members of the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF). JDF members received training in a variety of courses, including human rights instruction. The training prepared enlisted personnel who assisted local police units in patrolling high crime areas in Jamaica. It included units on basic leadership, operations in urban terrain, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society. Courses aimed at senior military officers highlighted the impact of the rule of law on human rights as well as how to incorporate human rights considerations into the planning and conduct of military operations.

U.S. officials maintained an open dialogue with the Government of Jamaica on the prosecution and criminalization of TIP cases. U.S. officials worked with NGOs and relevant government ministries to press for vigorous enforcement of the Child Care and Protection Act, particularly the clause prohibiting the trafficking or sale of children. The United States provided funding for a TIP awareness program that worked with young persons across the country to educate them about the risks of the island's sex trade and human trafficking. It also conducted a medical awareness campaign that briefed journalists and spoke directly to the public about the definition and costs of trafficking. The United States pushed the Government to conduct police raids of businesses around the island where credible evidence of TIP existed.

Peru

Peru continued its transition to democracy. The administration of President Alejandro Toledo placed a high priority on respect for democracy and human rights and was committed to running a free and fair election to select Toledo's successor in 2006. Peru has a vibrant and diverse media that was not constrained in criticizing the Government and an active NGO sector that closely monitored human rights. The Government continued to reform key institutions, including the judiciary, the police, and the military, although significant challenges remained. Peru suffers from high levels of poverty and inequality, and the Government faces significant resource constraints. There was growing public impatience with perceived governmental inefficiency and the slow pace at which the benefits of economic growth reached the majority of the population. The judicial system suffered from both inefficiency and corruption. Poor prison conditions and occasional excesses by security forces contributed to human rights problems. There were reports of police abuse of detainees. Violence against women and children and discrimination against persons with disabilities, indigenous people and racial and ethnic minorities took place. Labor advocates alleged that labor laws restricted collective bargaining rights. Child labor remained a serious problem in the informal sector.

The U.S. fostered democracy and human rights in Peru by fighting corruption; promoting economic transparency, decentralization, judicial reform; and strengthening the National Congress through support to watchdog civil society groups. The United States supported follow-on recommendations from Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), efforts to fight child labor and child sexual exploitation, and programs to promote greater political participation by marginalized groups. The United States also supported an innovative public schools program that promoted a culture of lawfulness in a long-term effort to fight corruption, a key weakness of Peru's nascent democracy.

The United States funded activities to support legislative reform and civil society oversight of Congress. Working with Peruvian civil society organizations, the United States provided technical assistance to increase legislative transparency, strengthen congressional committees, improve congressional capacity to draft effective legislation, and enhance citizen oversight of the legislature. These efforts led to a reduction in the number of congressional committees and the establishment of a center for parliamentary research in Congress.

The United States supported the regional governments formed in 2003 as newly elected mayors assumed their positions, many for the first time. The United States supported activities to improve transparency, citizen participation, and governmental accountability. The Government of Peru has made significant advances in furthering decentralization by transferring a large number of authorities and resources to regional and municipal governments. By September 2005, 70% of authorities scheduled to be transferred were completed, and 16% and seven percent of the national budget were transferred to regional and municipal governments, respectively. Despite the failure of an October referendum to create macro-regions out of existing regions, the decentralization process continued, if at a slower pace in this pre-electoral period.

In 2005, the U.S. Government continued its support for the National Decentralization Council and expanded the provision of technical support to all 537 local governments located in San Martin, Ucayali, Huanuco, Pasco, Junin, Ayacucho, and Cusco. Assistance included training in budget preparation, citizen participation in budget decisions, and oversight of budget expenditures. The Special Incentive Fund, created by the United States last year, made its first awards this year to each of 17 municipalities. The awards co-finance small-scale infrastructure projects and benefit municipal governments.

Peru is one of four nations worldwide participating as a pilot country in the G-8 anti-corruption and transparency initiative, of which a major goal is strengthening democracy. Funding, including U.S. contributions, supported implementation of the G-8 compact with Peru. As part of the G-8 compact, the U.S. Government also supported the initiative of Peru's Superior Council for State Acquisitions to form an Inter-American Organization Government Procurement Institution, in order to promote greater transparency in the procurement practices of regional governments in the Western Hemisphere.

Throughout 2005, the United States supported the development of the judiciary. As a result of U.S. assistance, the number of permanent judges increased to over 90 percent. In addition, in April, the judiciary established specialized commercial courts, which have reduced average case processing time from two years to two months. The average time for enforcement of decisions in commercial cases fell from three years to less than six months.

The United States promoted additional reforms in diverse areas. The Ministry of Education formally incorporated into its national curriculum a class on "values and citizenship" based on a U.S.-funded program that promotes a culture of lawfulness.

An array of outreach and public awareness programs, including International Visitors Leadership Programs, speakers, and public videoconferences with U.S. and Peruvian experts, promoted better public awareness of judicial issues, transparency, the costs of corruption, race and ethnic relations, and the rights of women.

The United States also funded police training in human rights and non-lethal crowd control. To establish a police presence in zones east of the Andes, where illicit coca is cultivated, the United States funded three special academies that graduated 400 new police officers in 2005. All U.S.-Peru military training missions incorporated human rights training. In addition, the Military Assistance Group sponsored a number of seminars that featured both military and civilian participation and that dealt with issues directly related to democracy, including civil-military relations, civilian control of the military, military justice reform, and legal aspects of the fight against terrorism.

The United States helped finance efforts to implement the recommendations of the CVR. The United States continued to support projects initiated in 2004, including providing support to the Ombudsman to open a documentation center. The United States also supported NGO activities to clear unsubstantiated arrest warrants for terrorism and to provide psychological treatment to victims of violence and torture.

The U.S. Embassy played an active role in promoting human rights. In May 2005 British journalist Sally Bowen was convicted of slander for citing a source who stated that drug kingpin Fernando Zevallos was a narcotrafficker. The Ambassador spoke out against the decision, joining ambassadorial colleagues and Peruvian advocates of democracy and press freedom advocates in the outcry over this miscarriage of justice. Subsequently, the decision was reversed, the judge in the case was suspended, and Fernando Zevallos was sentenced to prison for narcotrafficking.

After former CVR President Salomon Lerner received threats against his life, the Ambassador hosted a highly visible public lunch for CVR members, which was attended by other members of the diplomatic community, to show support and concern for the safety of this eminent democracy rights activist and his colleagues.

The Embassy also supported and monitored U.S. programs to combat child labor in Lima and in the mining sector. The United States funded various programs to support Peruvian NGOs in their efforts to implement anti-trafficking programs in alliance with the Government. These programs included the development of a statistical database and related police training for tracking trafficking in persons cases, as well as campaigns to promote additional legislation and greater public awareness of this vital human rights issue. On April 27-28, the Government of Peru and the OAS hosted an international seminar on "Combating Trafficking in Persons," in coordination with the U.S. Embassy.

Suriname

Suriname is a constitutional democracy. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, and the civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. National Assembly elections in May 2005 were judged to be free and fair in accordance with international standards, and incumbent President Ronald Venetiaan was subsequently reelected by indirect vote. Problem areas included police mistreatment of detainees at the time of arrest, abuse of prisoners by guards, and overcrowding of local detention facilities. A shortage of judges resulted in a significant case backlog and lengthy pretrial detentions. Self-censorship by some media continued. Instances of corruption in the executive branch were more visible. Societal discrimination against women, minorities, and indigenous people persisted, as did violence against women. While the Government took significant steps to combat trafficking in persons (TIP), trafficking remained a problem, with women and children in the commercial sex industry constituting the majority of the victims. Child labor in the informal sector also remained a problem in spite of government activities to combat it.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy is to strengthen Suriname's weak law enforcement institutions and democratic processes and to address critical human rights issues in broader programs targeting transnational crime, HIV/AIDS, health, education, media professionalism, and economic development. U.S. officials routinely and publicly highlighted the need for improvements in human rights conditions in Suriname. The Ambassador and other Embassy officers also worked privately with officials, NGOs, and other organizations to identify areas of particular concern and promote systemic reforms.

The United States contributed funding to the Organization of American States Electoral Observation Mission, which brought 16 parliamentary election observers to Suriname in May 2005.

A U.S. journalism professor and former journalist trained 30 Surinamese journalists on broadcasting techniques to help the media effectively convey facts via radio and television.

The Government generally respected the rights of freedom of assembly and association, and NGOs and civic groups generally operated free of government interference. The U.S. Government continued promoting support for the growth of civil society by discussing these issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

To foster professionalism, strengthen respect for the rule of law, counter transnational crime, and improve security in order to foster economic development, the United States provided both training and material support to several elements of the Suriname Police Corps and the prosecutor's office to strengthen their counter-narcotics and overall law enforcement capabilities.

The United States continued to work with the Government to improve the quality of the Surinamese Armed Forces, enabling it to support police efforts to combat transnational crime and to enhance humanitarian assistance to citizens. Two officers received training on legal and human rights issues.

The United States continued to promote greater attention to the issue of HIV/AIDS in Suriname, providing funding for government and NGO programs aimed at prevention, fighting discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS, technical assistance, and institutional capacity building. U.S. Government funding was directed toward the training of dozens of Voluntary Counseling and Training providers and trainers, key to the resounding success of a new national know-your-status campaign the Government kicked off in December 2005. The Ambassador and other Mission officials made several public speeches to encourage awareness and reduce discrimination. The 2005 U.S. Ambassadors' Fund for HIV/AIDS provided financial support to several projects, addressing HIV/AIDS awareness and stigma and discrimination against infected persons.

TIP for sexual exploitation remained a serious concern in Suriname. The United States strongly and consistently urged government action against trafficking in persons and continued funding a two-year program to assist Suriname in that fight. As part of this program, the U.S. Government conducted a train-the-trainer workshop on investigating and prosecuting TIP and interviewing TIP victims. Government and NGO participants included members of the anti-trafficking commission founded in 2003, composed of various ministries and a local NGO, and headed by the Ministry of Justice and Police. The United States also funded a visit by a U.S. federal judge to meet with Surinamese judges to discuss TIP and other concerns. A digital videoconference featuring a presentation by a high-level U.S. official on the roll-out of the U.S. Department of State's 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report, with participation of government and NGO officials, raised awareness and sharpened subsequent media coverage and attention to TIP for months ahead. A visit by a U.S. anti-trafficking official generated in-depth media coverage of TIP, and together with continuous advocacy by the Ambassador and other mission officers, helped keep TIP at the forefront of the government agenda. Embassy-organized events to bring together government officials and representatives of source countries contributed to improved coordination in combating TIP.

A prominent government official was successfully prosecuted for TIP and sentenced to two years in prison. At year's end, police arrested the owner of the largest brothel in the capital of Suriname for trafficking a female victim into Suriname for sexual exploitation. The trial was pending the conclusion of police investigation. Police investigations of TIP-related cases increased, showing a significantly more proactive approach than in the previous years and an improved coordination resulting from greater attention to TIP at higher levels of government. These developments appear to be a direct consequence of U.S. anti-TIP advocacy and U.S.-sponsored training programs for public and NGO officials. The Ambassador also wrote letters to members of the National Assembly, providing information to those who expressed concern about TIP.

Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez, in office since 1999, has increasingly consolidated power within the executive branch, extending its control over the country's other branches of government. Legislative elections in December 2005 further solidified Chavez's power. His party and its allies secured all 167 National Assembly seats, following a decision by the main opposition political parties to boycott the elections due to concerns that the secrecy of the vote would not be guaranteed. Record low voter turnout and concerns over the independence of the National Electoral Council demonstrated a decline in public trust in political institutions and processes. Continued politicization of an already corrupt and inefficient judiciary, implementation of new laws governing libel and media content that further restricted freedom of speech and press, and official harassment of the political opposition characterized the human rights situation during 2005. In addition, other serious problems remained. Police and military units killed criminal suspects in "confrontations," which eyewitness testimony often categorized as executions. The attorney general's office reported that of the more than 6,000 police officers implicated in killings during the last five years, only 88 were convicted. The condition of Venezuela's prisons remained harsh, and the authorities were unable to contain prison violence that contributed to 304 deaths and 517 injuries in prisons through September 2005. Child labor and violence against women and children continued to be problems, and the Government took insufficient steps to combat trafficking in persons (TIP).

The United States supported the efforts of the Venezuelan people to strengthen independent civil society, particularly groups working for deepened respect for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Senior U.S. officials continued to speak publicly on behalf of freedom of association, freedom of the press, and other human rights. The United States worked closely with other governments to coordinate support for democracy and human rights in Venezuela, especially in defense of the press and civic associations facing increased government pressure and harassment.

To help strengthen political parties in Venezuela, the United States supported non-partisan initiatives by the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute. With participation across the political spectrum, these projects focused on political party renewal and internal democratization and provided technical assistance to political parties. These programs trained members on issues such as how to choose and position a candidate, how to reach the masses with a campaign message, and how to raise funds.

The Embassy also began a series of exchanges between young political leaders from the United States and Venezuela that included representation from across the political spectrums of both countries. To foster communication between pro-Chavez National Assembly deputies and members of the opposition, the United States sponsored a workshop on conflict resolution led by a U.S. mediation expert.

In the lead-up to the December 2005 National Assembly elections, the United States consulted with election observation groups, including those from the OAS and EU. The United States also supported a program to conduct an audit of the Venezuelan electoral registry.
U.S. officials continued to publicly express concern that the media law passed by the National Assembly in December 2004 threatened freedom of the press. Embassy officials expressed the same concern in private conversations with Venezuelan officials. The Embassy invited visitors, including judicial experts, to speak about the negative ramifications of the media law on press freedom. The Embassy hosted a series of conferences and events around Press Freedom Day to send the strongest possible message to the Venezuelan media that the United States supported its struggle to maintain press freedoms. Grants were provided to support media involvement in human rights reporting and strengthen the media's investigative journalism skills.

The United States worked to strengthen the human rights NGOs in Venezuela, some of which worked in a climate of intense government pressure and harassment. One grant provided technical assistance to train human rights organizations and practitioners in successful strategies employed by human rights defenders in other countries. The program also sought to increase the institutional capacity of NGOs through exchanges with other human rights groups in the region and solidified links between Venezuelan human rights activists and other key human rights activists in Latin America. The Embassy brought speakers from the United States to talk about prison reform and property rights as human rights.

The United States also assisted local NGOs focused on encouraging peaceful debate and conflict resolution, supporting democratic institutions, and promoting civic education. The United States sent a group of Venezuelan student political leaders to Ecuador for a U.S. Embassy-sponsored international forum on building grassroots democracy.

To address extrajudicial killings and torture, the United States arranged a series of digital videoconferences between U.S. law enforcement officials and local police that focused on protecting human rights in daily police activities. One NGO provided database technology to local human rights groups to assist them in tracking and documenting extrajudicial killings.

The Venezuelan Government used the justice system selectively against the political opposition and NGO leaders. U.S. officials observed criminal proceedings against opposition leaders to demonstrate U.S. concern regarding due process. The United States invited opposition leaders under investigation, along with government supporters, to Embassy events to demonstrate U.S. support for democracy and political tolerance and rejection of judicial intimidation. Embassy officers, congressional delegations, and visiting U.S. officials also delivered messages to the Government in defense of NGO leaders accused of treason for accepting U.S. funding for non-partisan purposes.

The United States continued to express concern that the Government should do more to combat TIP. In 2005, Venezuela was placed in the Tier 3 list of countries, a strong indication that the Government must increase anti-trafficking efforts. The Venezuelan mission to the OAS impeded efforts by the OAS, IOM, and the United States to host the first hemispheric anti-trafficking experts conference in Washington, and in its place proposed to hold the conference on Margarita Island.

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