Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Under Fire, Inter-American Commission Releases Draft Reforms

Facing an overhaul of its responsibilities by members of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has unveiled a counter-proposal in an effort to preserve its independence and strength as a regional human rights watchdog.

Last Friday, the IACHR released a series of draft reforms aimed at clarifying and improving its function. The proposals come in response to strong condemnation of the Commission from some countries in the region (namely the ALBA bloc nations of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Cuba) for allegedly serving as a foreign policy tool of the United States.

At a June 2012 meeting of the OAS General Assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia, these countries gained regional support for reforming the IACHR’s mandate. The Permanent Council, made up of ambassadors from OAS member states, was tasked with drafting an overhaul of the IACHR, and the General Assembly is slated to vote on the Council’s recommendations in an upcoming March 22 meeting.

This was widely seen as an attempt to limit the independence of the IACHR and place it under more control of member states. Civil society groups throughout the region have voiced opposition to reforms, warning that if passed they could hamstring the Commission. Even United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has expressed concern over changes to the IACHR. In a visit to the OAS last week, he urged the General Assembly to “preserve the valuable legacy and accomplishments” of the Inter-American human rights system.

The IACHR’s suggestions appear to be a counter-proposal to the Permanent Council’s overhaul. EFE reports that Commission President Jose de Jesus Orozco presented the recommendations with the hope of having them approved by OAS members and civil society by March 11 or 12, ahead of the scheduled General Assembly vote.

All of the proposals are listed on the IACHR’s website, and the body is currently holding a period of public consultation on the changes. The Commission will be accepting comments on the reforms from stakeholders until March 1.

Among the proposed changes is an extension of the time states are given to comply with the Commission’s recommendations before the issue is passed on to the Inter-American Court (from two months to four). The Commission has also suggested changes to the format of its annual reports on human rights in the hemisphere, broadening it to include the human rights situation throughout the region as opposed to focusing on a handful of “problem countries,” as it does now.  This practice was strongly opposed by the ALBA nations, which found themselves frequently singled out in recent years. In another nod to the ALBA bloc, the IACHR has included language in its draft mandate that prioritize social and economic rights.

OAS Secretary General Jose Insulza hailed the IACHR’s proposals as “an enormous step,” saying they take into account 80 percent of the concerns raised by the ALBA bloc in Cochabamba.

Despite these concessions, the Commission has retained the right to hear allegations of human rights abuses presented by individuals and groups in the without obtaining government permission.

News Briefs
  • Ecuador’s El Comercio reports that with more than 40 percent of ballots counted, President Rafael Correa’s Alianza Pais party appears to have gained a two-thirds majority in the country’s National Assembly. If this holds, it would give Correa the absolute majority he needs to pass legislation over the objections of the opposition. According to the National Election Council, the complete results of legislative elections will not be available until tomorrow.
  • The New York Times reports that a rash of violence in Mexico has overshadowed President Enrique Peña Nieto’s announcement of a new crime-prevention program last week, raising questions over whether he can successfully combat crime without resorting to the controversial military-heavy approach of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.
  • InSight Crime has a helpful analysis of the recent violence by Mexican analyst Alejandro Hope, who argues that it is still too early to judge the Peña Nieto administration’s progress on security. The Mexican public seems to think otherwise, however. Reuters reports that a new poll shows the president has a lower approval rating than Calderon did at the start of his term in 2006.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s return to Venezuela* early Monday morning has been almost universally interpreted as a bad sign for his recovery. The NYT and L.A. Times both note that Chavez’s death looks increasingly likely, with the only uncertainty being whether he will step down before dying, thus automatically triggering elections.  The Washington Post quotes Eric Farnsworth of the Washington DC-based Council of the Americas as saying that he believes Chavez’s return is part of an attempt to disprove the opposition’s claim that he is incapable of governing. According to him, the next few months will most likely see “an effort by the government to muddle through, working to buy time for Chavez’s eventual recovery, if indeed he does recover.”
  • Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe may return to politics once again. After launching a new political movement called the Pure Democratic Center last month, Uribe announced yesterday that he is considering running for a Senate seat “if the circumstances demand it,” El Colombiano reports.
  • A seven-member delegation of U.S. congressmen arrived in Havana, Cuba yesterday to meet with imprisoned US contractor Alan Gross as well as high level Cuban officials and discuss Gross’ in the context of improving bilateral relations. The delegation, which includes three senators and two members of the House of Representatives, is slated to meet with Cuban parliament president Ricardo Alarcon, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and potentially Raul Castro.
  • It appears that the international speaking tour of Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez is off to a rough start. BBC Mundo and the Miami Herald report that Sanchez was forced to cancel a speaking event in Feira de Santana, Brazil after it was disrupted by a group of pro-Castro demonstrators.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered the nationalization of Spanish-owned airport operations company SABSA yesterday, saying it had failed to make promised investments in the country. SABSA is the third Spanish company that Morales has nationalized in the past ten months, prompting the Spanish government to “re-consider” its diplomatic relations with Bolivia, according to El Pais.
  • The Associated Press takes a look at U.S. anti-drug assistance to Costa Rica. Although it is the most peaceful country in Central America, a spike in its crime rate has many Costa Rican officials concerned about creeping influence of drug trafficking networks and organized crime. Others, however, see the country’s support for U.S.-backed counter-narcotics operations as an affront to its proud democratic history and reputation as “the Switzerland of Central America.”
*Note: yesterday’s post included a link to Telesur footage of Hugo Chavez’s December 7, 2012 arrival in Venezuela after receiving hyperbaric oxygen treatment in Havana, not of his latest return to Caracas as was initially claimed.

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