U.S. Southern Command’s Human Rights Division is an institutional statement of the command’s commitment to maintain a robust human rights program.
The Human Rights Division has five primary responsibilities:
- Advising and reporting on human rights issues
- Establishing and supporting human rights training programs
- Ensuring that human rights are integrated into SOUTHCOM exercises and operations
- Advancing respect for human rights by supporting regional initiatives
- Serving as a liaison with other entities working human rights issues, such as the inter-agency community, international organizations, and non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs)
In advising and reporting on human rights issues, the Division monitors and analyzes developments in international human rights law and ensures that personnel assigned to the SOUTHCOM staff receive all the information they need to comply with Defense Department policies and directives and the Command’s own human rights policy.
In order to help build networks and partnerships throughout the region and open up opportunities to foster understanding and respect for human rights, the Division led the development of the Human Rights Initiative.
Human Rights Initiative
The Human Rights Initiative (HRI) is a program initiated in 1997 to encourage military leaders serving democratic governments to develop, and be able to measure, an institutional culture of respect for human rights within their forces. Phase I of the Initiative was developed through a series of six region-wide seminars that produced the Consensus Document which contained specific plans of action and measures of effectiveness. This document outlined a model human rights program in four areas – doctrine, training, internal control systems, and cooperation with civilian authorities. Phase II, which began in 2002, focuses on implementation of the Consensus Document within military forces in the region. Currently, nine nations have agreed to implement the Human Rights Initiative. To help countries further their human rights goals, SOUTHCOM partnered with the Center for Human Rights Training (CECADH), a non-governmental organization based in San Jose, Costa Rica. CECADH serves as the HRI Secretariat and assists participating military and security forces with implementing and sustaining their human rights programs.
Some of these participating nations have already developed comprehensive human rights implementation plans. Several concrete results include the printing and distribution of human rights manuals for soldiers, the printing and distribution of new national security doctrine with a human rights component, human rights training courses for officers and soldiers in units throughout the national territory, and a regional conference focusing on human rights as the basis for combating terrorism that involved the participation of representatives from sixteen nations.
SOUTHCOM´s Human Rights Initiative entered a new phase in 2006 with the implementation of bilateral seminars to assist participating military and public security forces assess the effectiveness of their human rights programs. These seminars, called Strategic Progress Assessment Seminars, were conducted with the armed forces of Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Guatemala and included the participation of human rights experts from non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Department of State.