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June 2013
 Vance Center eNotes
Welcome to the Vance Center eNotes, where you can read about our organization's latest news and developments.

Vance Center Supports Efforts to Improve Living Conditions in Brazil Amid Protests


Ongoing mass protests in Brazil have brought attention to issues that the Vance Center began to advise on this spring. Catalytic Communities, a Brazilian NGO seeking to integrate the favela communities of Rio de Janeiro into wider society, asked for advice on housing law and land registration procedures. The Vance Center is analyzing Brazilian housing and property laws in light of international standards, to help raise awareness in Brazil of the strength of these laws. While considered to be some of the most progressive in the world, the laws are unknown to most of the population and, as a result, rarely enforced.  


The Vance Center also is looking at alternative models for registering land ownership that might provide greater security and stability to Brazilian favela communities. Due to rapid gentrification and housing inflation, these communities are under threat of being priced out of these areas, some of which are being developed in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.  


Another Vance Center project supports Brazilian NGOs engaged in promoting and participating in the efforts of the Brazilian National Truth Commission, created in 2012 to investigate human rights violations by state actors during the 1964-85 military dictatorship. The effort specifically seeks to strengthen civil society's participation in transitional justice.


Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities, recently wrote in The New York Times about the ongoing protests in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities. Click here for her article and see excerpts below.

"Despite improvements in economic growth and reduced inequality of recent years, Brazil suffers from horribly inefficient public services, thanks to corruption and the lack of political will to prioritize their proper delivery. Transportation, education and health care are woefully inadequate. For example, though Brazil spends 5.7 percent of G.D.P. on education, two-thirds of Brazilian 15-year-olds are incapable of more than basic arithmetic. Brazil spends about 9 percent of G.D.P. on health, yet ranks lower than comparable economies in Latin America on infant mortality, life expectancy and a range of other indicators. All this while we spend $20 billion on the World Cup, more than the past three World Cups combined.


"The largest protest so far was in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, which makes sense since Rio is bearing the brunt of current misspending as it prepares to host both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. At least US$27 billion will be spent on the Olympics, all in Rio. The authorities' city "plan" has been comprised of taking advantage of the mega-events to institute policies under the guise of 'integration' and 'poverty reduction.' In reality, however, they are fueling the expulsionof the city's low-income groups, especially residents of the city's vibrant and consolidated central or well-located favelas, to the urban periphery. It's worth mentioning that these favelas have provided centrally located affordable housing to people for decades, in some casesover a century, and are well-developed residential neighborhoods. It is also worth noting that despite Brazil's reductions in inequality over the past 13 years, in Rio de Janeiro inequality has remained much the same over the same period and continues to be among the worst in the world.


"Fortunately we've reached the last straw. And thanks to social media -- Brazil is the world's second-biggest user of both Facebook and Twitter -- and the fact these protests are decentralized, unaffiliated with political parties, and that Brazil is, despite its growing pains, a democracy, the protests will intensify and persist.


"Officials should acknowledge we've reached a new moment they are entirely unfamiliar with. As such they ought to take a humble position before their constituents, taking the time to listen, recognizing citizens not as walking votes but rather informed, aware human beings with real grievances and, more importantly, solutions. It is time democratic institutions follow their citizens and take advantage of the incredible opportunities for voicing and debating concerns, and developing solutions made possible by the Web. Could 20 cents lead to direct democracy? Brazil may just lead the way."

 New Alliances with Environmental NGO in Peru

Through contacts made by Vance Center staff during a recent trip to Peru, the Vance Center Environmental Sustainability Program has begun a collaboration with Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA), a private not-for-profit association founded in 1986 that has become one of the most influential Peruvian environmental organizations.  Its mission is to integrate environmental concerns into development policies, to achieve a sustainable and fair society, and to promote responsible citizenship based on ethical principles and respect for nature.  SPDA promotes and facilitates the effective implementation of environmental policies and regulations, actively participates in policy and technical dialogue, and intervenes in defense of the public interest in selected cases.

Staff members from SPDA and the Vance Center are currently working together to develop three significant projects.  The first will provide practical guidance to facilitate compliance by timber exporters in Peru with U.S.-Peru import/export regulations.  A second project will study ways to prevent the expansion of certain agricultural production, particularly palm oil plantations, from threatening Peru's forests and other natural resources.  The third project under development will promote the conservation of ecologically valuable land by private persons and entities.  

Joint Delegation on Media Freedom in Montenegro


The Vance Center earlier this year formed a delegation with the Swedish Bar Association to investigate media freedom in Montenegro. That country's candidacy for accession to the European Union depends in part on meeting international and regional standards for media freedom. The four-member delegation issued its report in May, concluding that "the relationships between the independent press and the government and between the independent press and pro-government press are permeated by polarization and antagonism."


In addition, the report found, "The government continues to influence the marketplace for news through its ownership of a daily paper and its placement of a high volume of advertising in favored media. Certain incidents of violence against journalists have not been adequately investigated, and the number of libel suits remains a concern. In addition, independent observers repeatedly noted that the lack of clear ethical standards or a generally accepted self-regulatory body undermines the quality of journalism in Montenegro."


To staff the delegation, the Vance Center turned to the City Bar's Committee on Communications and Media Law. Former Committee chair David McCraw, also a member of the Vance Center Committee, and Committee member David Cook volunteered. Vance Center executive director Alexander Papachristou had proposed such joint initiatives to the Swedish Bar Association, whose annual meeting he addressed in 2012. Christian Ahlund and Lars Vikllund joined the delegation. The Vance Center is grateful to the Swedish Bar Association for its partnership in this delegation.  

The Vance Center Welcomes New Committee Member

Timothy Wilkins, the newest member of the Vance Center Committee, is a corporate partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the New York office and has been working on complex cross-border finance transactions, private equity, and joint ventures for many years. Mr. Wilkins speaks Japanese and has worked with European and US clients in cross border transactions, including those in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and Japan. He worked in Tokyo as a lawyer and investment banker for 11 years and serves on the firm's Global Diversity & Inclusion Committee.


Mr. Wilkins also chairs the Board of The Opportunity Agenda and is an active member of the national board of the Peer Health Exchange and the advisory board of Equality Now.  He also initiated the firm's Legal Outreach program for New York City high school students and is a member of its Advisory Board.

Summer Law Student Interns


The Vance Center is fortunate to have two law school students as interns for the summer.  Gustavo Alvira Gomez, originally from Colombia, is a rising 3L at Tulane Law School and is pursuing a certificate in international law.  He is fluent in Portuguese (having lived in Brazil for a year) as well as in Spanish and English.  Benjamin Gerson is a rising 2L at Hofstra Law School and a member of the City Bar's African Affairs Committee, for which he has written a paper on freedom of expression in Africa.  He is interested in economic development in the global South and in human rights.  Gustavo and Ben are both participating in projects in the Vance Center's programs on freedom of expression, human rights, environmental sustainability, and strengthening the legal profession.


Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice | |
Phone: (212) 382-6680. Address: 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036