Monday, March 11, 2013

LatAm Assesses Reforms to Inter-American Commission

At a meeting today in Guayaquil, Ecuador, representatives of the region are studying reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) proposed by the Ecuadorean government, which many see as an attempt to weaken the body’s independence

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has been especially critical of the commission’s Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. In his weekly radio address yesterday, the president criticized the commission for allegedly adopting “an Anglo-Saxon conception of press freedom as freedom of enterprise, which is shared by NGOs…as well as the capital behind communications companies.”

Americas Quarterly has a helpful overview of the issue in a Q&A with Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director of Human Rights Watch, and Gustavo Mohme, head of Peruvian daily La Republica. The two discuss what the reforms could mean for the future of the IACHR, and both agree that the reforms threaten its legacy of human rights advocacy in the hemisphere.

So far, the movement to reform the IACHR has been primarily led by the ALBA bloc nations of Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua. At a General Assembly meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in June, these countries gained regional support for an assessment of the IACHR’s mandate and tasked the Permanent Council, made up of ambassadors from OAS member states, with drafting changes to the commission. The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on the council’s recommendations in an upcoming March 22 session.  

Today’s summit brings together representatives from the 23 countries which have ratified the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights. The officials are expected to debate the reforms and solidify their stances on the proposals ahead of the March 22 vote.

In the week leading up to the meeting, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño embarked on a tour of the region, visiting Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia and Venezuela in an attempt to build support for the changes.  

Fortunately for the commission, Patiño has had mixed success in promoting the reforms. After meeting with his counterpart earlier this month, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations Jose Antonio Meade announced that his had country had a “fundamentally different” view of the IACHR. According to a recent report in El Comercio, the governments of Bolivia and Brazil have also distanced themselves from the reforms of late in response to the commission’s willingness to adopt certain changes.

As the paper points out, this puts Brazil in a position to flex its diplomatic muscle in the region to prevent an overhaul of the IACHR. Whether the Brazilian government feels strongly enough about the commission’s work to do so, however, remains to be seen.

News Briefs
  • After Venezuelan Interim President Nicolas Maduro was officially sworn in on Friday, on Saturday the country’s election commission announced that it would be holding elections on April 14.  As The Guardian notes, many among the opposition are complaining that this violates the constitution, which calls for elections to be held within 30 days of Chavez’s death. El Universal reports that the commission also set aside an unusually short campaigning period ahead of the elections, allowing candidates to campaign for just ten days, from April 2-12. Following the announcement, opposition figure Henrique Capriles confirmed that he will run as the candidate for the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). In a confrontational speech yesterday, Capriles set an aggressive tone for his campaign, at one point addressing Maduro directly. “Nicolas, I am not going to leave you an open road, friend,” Capriles said. “You will have to defeat me with votes. I am going to fight with these hands. I’ll fight for each vote.” Capriles will likely have a difficult time challenging Maduro, as opinion polls show the MUD candidate ten points below his Chavista rival.
  • El Nacional reports that Maduro and United Socialist Party (PSUV) members in the National Assembly have backed an amendment to the Venezuelan Constitution which would allow Chavez’s embalmed body to be housed in the National Pantheon, alongside the remains of national hero Simon Bolivar. Currently the Constitution only allows Venezuelans who have been dead for more than 25 years to be buried in the Pantheon.
  • As the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs begins in Vienna this week, Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, both members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, take a critical look at the dominant anti-drug strategy promoted by the UN in a New York Times op-ed. According to Telesur, Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived in Vienna over the weekend, and is slated to defend coca cultivation for traditional uses at the meeting. El Diario reports that Uruguayan presidential advisor Diego Canepa is also in Vienna, and plans on clarifying the merits of the marijuana legalization initiative currently being debated in the country. Both nations received criticism for their alternative approaches to drug policy last week in the International Narcotics Control Board’s annual report.
  • Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has finally freed two German senior citizens who had been held hostage since November. Their capture served as a reminder that, unlike the FARC, the ELN has not publicly renounced kidnapping civilians, which is sure to be an obstacle to the group’s participation in the ongoing peace process.
  • Residents of the Falkland Islands went to the polls yesterday to vote in a referendum of the islands’ political status. The referendum continues today, and the majority of locals are expected to favor the islands’ current status as a British territory. Argentina, meanwhile, has rejected the legitimacy of the referendum as a political stunt, and maintains that the vote has no impact on its claim to the islands. As noted in Friday’s post, Uruguayan, Paraguayan and Chilean observers volunteered to monitor the referendum, a move which is seemingly at odds with these countries’ formal support for the Argentine claim. In Uruguay’s case, however, the observers are legislators of the opposition National Party and do not reflect the government’s official position on the referendum. El Pais reports that the Uruguayan defense minister has criticized the lawmakers’ decision to observe the vote, calling it a “great shame.”
  • Reforma reports that Mexican officials on Sunday announced that they had freed 104 Central American migrants who had been kidnapped and were being held in a house in Nuevo Laredo. Migrant advocacy groups in Mexico have reported a surge in mass kidnappings in recent years, and the activity is believed to be a significant source of income for criminal organizations in the country.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto marked 100 days in office on Sunday. Excelsior has an overview of some of his accomplishments since his inauguration, noting his embrace of controversial economic structural reforms first launched by his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.  
  • The trial against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, which was expected to continue with a hearing on March 19, has been delayed.  According to Prensa Libre, a judge placed a temporary injunction on the trial after Montt’s defense team disputed an earlier ruling preventing them from using testimony from expert witnesses. The prosecution has announced that it intends to fight the injunction.
  • Reuters looks at Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s efforts to show respect for deceased Hugo Chavez while also distancing herself from his brand of socialism. The news agency notes that she skipped out on Chavez’s funeral ceremony during her brief visit to Caracas last week, part of a “delicate dance” of not appearing too close to the Venezuelan leader.
  • An Argentine appeals court on Friday convicted former President Carlos Menem of illegally selling more than 6,000 tons of weapons to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s, overturning a 2011 acquittal of the former president. Both buyer nations were under arms embargoes at the time of the arms deals, and Menem could face up to 12 years imprisonment for the crime, the BBC reports.
  • Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the government-facilitated gang truce in El Salvador, which has resulted in a dramatic decrease in homicides. The occasion was marked by the addition of the municipality of Apopa to a list of “violence-free” zones in the country, bringing the number of areas where the gangs have agreed to cease violent activity to a total of five. As the ceasefire continues to hold, support for it seems to be growing. Spanish priest Antonio Rodriguez, who has been a vocal critic of the ceasefire and recently attributed the death of an associate to his opposition to the truce, has now endorsed the agreement. Still, some continue to question the impact that the ceasefire has had on violence in the country. InSight Crime points out that reports of disappearances in El Salvador have drastically increased since the truce was first announced, leading many to believe that gangs are simply hiding their victims’ bodies.

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