Friday, March 22, 2013

OAS Assesses Reforms to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Organization of American States (OAS) holds its 44th Special General Assembly in Washington DC today, in which the body will vote on controversial proposals to change the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). According to the schedule posted on the OAS website, consideration of the proposals will begin after 11:00.

Today’s meeting is the result of a process that began in 2011, when the OAS Permanent Council set up a working group to study ways to improve the IACHR. The following year, at a General Assembly in Cochabamba, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa won approval for more drastic reforms to the IACHR. After months of regional campaigning by the Ecuadorean government, support grew for some of Correa’s proposals, and a general consensus in favor of the reforms grew among the countries which have ratified the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights.

These were eventually presented in a joint statement signed at a recent regional meeting in Guayaquil. The eight-point document includes a proposal to relocate the IACHR from its current office in Washington to a country which, unlike the United States, has ratified the American Convention. Correa had stumped for Buenos Aires to be the new seat of the commission, but a new location was not specified in the joint statement.

It also includes a proposal to amend the way in which the IACHR is funded. The reformers are calling for all funding for the commission from countries outside the region to be abolished. This would be problematic for the human rights watchdog, as it currently receives about a third of its funding from Europe. As the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) notes in a helpful overview of today’s OAS session, the commission’s much-lauded Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression could lose nearly its entire budget if this is passed.

In addition, the Guayaquil statement includes a provision which would bring all eight of the commission’s issue-specific rapporteurships under the general budget of the OAS, instead of allowing individual states to finance them directly.

In a press conference yesterday, Commission President Jose de Jesus Orozco said that these proposals amounted to “financial strangulation.” He claimed that the OAS budget as a whole is insufficient, which forces the IACHR to seek outside finding. Orozco also pointed to the IACHR’s own reform proposals, which it presented to the OAS last week, as proof that the body is participating in and “fulfilling its role” in the reform process.

Another issue to be addressed today is the IACHR’s authority to recommend that states take “precautionary measures” to protect those whose rights it deems are at risk of being violated. While Ecuador was unable to gain enough regional support for revoking this authority to include it in the Guayaquil statement, the Ecuadorean government will likely try to independently introduce a measure calling for the end of this practice. Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo PatiƱo has spent the last several weeks touring the region and drumming up support for his country’s suggested reforms, so backing for such a proposal may have increased since.


News Briefs
  • Although some Colombian media reported this week that an agreement between the government and FARC rebels on agrarian reform would be ready yesterday, the two parties did not come to a final agreement this week, Semana reports. They will begin negotiations in Havana again on April 2.
  • Caracol Radio reports that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has signed a contract authorizing the construction of the 100,000th free low-income home in the country, paid for by money seized from drug trafficking organizations. This comes eight years after a law authorizing the government to use seized funds went into effect.
  • The Venezuelan government’s recent accusations that the United States intelligence agencies are plotting a coup in Venezuela have been met with apparent confusion in Washington. An anonymous administration official told Reuters: “Some of the recent false allegations are bizarre and unhelpful, similar with efforts in the past to draw us into an unnecessary debate.”
  • The New York Times has more on the recent statement by Francisco Jalics, one of two priests who Pope Francis is accused of having identified as dissidents to the Argentine military junta during the country’s Dirty War. This week Jalics publicly denied the allegations against the pope. On Wednesday, he told reporters, “The fact is: Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio.”
  • Spain’s El Pais reports that several liberation theologians in Latin America have endorsed Pope Francis, largely for his more humble attitude towards the office and his recent call for the Church to do more work against poverty.