By Carlos G. Guerrero Orozco and María de los Ángeles Estrada
Months of devastating health impacts from the coronavirus have also laid bare a series of auxiliary problems that leaders of government and civil society must reckon with in the years to come: the social, economic and governability crises that have grown as a result of the pandemic have eroded protections of citizens’ fundamental rights. As authorities chart paths to recover, they will have to reassess the needs of the public and restructure their policies to address those violations. Repairing the harm done to these victims should be at the center of the debate.
In Latin America and the Caribbean in particular, the vortex of challenges delivered in 2020 has been especially impactful as a result of certain structural failings that have long been undertended by those in power. While responsibility for the inception and immediate spread of COVID-19, the year’s main driver of instability, may lie abroad, in the region, the pandemic has been exacerbated by weak public institutions and cultures of corruption that have wrecked many of the countries for years.
As hundreds of thousands of people have been sickened and killed by the virus, society has also witnessed government failures to share information and set protocols, violations and restrictions of human rights, and the proliferation of acts of corruption. In innumerable examples put forward by the media, the international community, and civil society organizations, including our groups, Derechos Humanos y Litigio Estratégico Mexicano and the Transparency and Anti-corruption Initiative of the School of Government and Public Transformation of the Tec de Monterrey, which gathered over 350 claims of corruption and governmental failures in Mexico related to the pandemic, this concurrent high-level calamity has not been properly addressed by state leaders; many of the unfortunate deaths, detentions, briberies, and conflicts of interest, among other irregular acts, could have been avoided.
As a result, the trust that citizens place in their public officials has likely been damaged. Demands to hold public officials who have failed to account — and to replace them — will surely grow. Leaders who seek to regain their population’s confidence should prioritize a conversation with the victims of these human rights violations and acts of corruption and formalize mechanisms to provide them access to justice.
Citizens who have been harmed, acting independently or represented collectively by civil society organizations, should be given clear access to the courts and administrative and human rights authorities as they seek legal redress. They should be entitled to reparations as a consequence of acts of corruption. And states should officially recognize that good public administration is a human right. Only then will the recovery from the pandemic be whole.
Views expressed in this publication are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paris Peace Forum.
Carlos G. Guerrero is a litigation attorney and chair of Derechos Humanos y Litigio Estratégico Mexicano (DLM), a non-profit that defends human rights and promotes accountability in Mexico and Latin America. He has consulted for the Inter-American Development Bank and for Transparency International in Madrid on anti-corruption matters. He holds a law degree from Escuela Libre de Derecho (Mexico City) and a master’s degree in government and public administration from the Instituto Universitario de Investigación Ortega y Gasset (Madrid).
María de los Ángeles Estrada is the executive director of the Transparency and Anti-corruption Initiative of the Tec de Monterrey (ITAC). She has worked for governmental agencies in Mexico on transparency matters and for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the Embassy of the United States of America. She holds a law degree from the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico and a master’s degree in International Law from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
The organizations they lead developed a nationwide platform to report corruption and governmental failures related to COVID-19 in Mexico. For its 2020 edition, the Paris Peace Forum selected the digital tool (called “Denuncia Corrupción Coronavirus” in Spanish or “Whistleblowing Corruption Coronavirus” in English) as one of the 100 projects that promote development and peace amid the pandemic.