The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held hearings yesterday on human rights practices in the United States, but the U.S. government deflected questions by claiming it lacked sufficient time to prepare due to the recent shutdown.
The independent human rights monitoring body of the Organization of American States (OAS) is holding its 149th session in Washington, DC from October 28 to November 1. The session kicked off yesterday morning with hearings in which U.S. representatives were called upon to explain the conditions of detainees at the Guantanamo prison, the treatment of undocumented migrants and the digital surveillance of foreign countries.
Yesterday’s hearing on NSA surveillance programs marked the first time that U.S. diplomats were asked to explain the practice to the international community at large. But as Foreign Policy reports, the commission received little in the way of explanation. Deputy U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS Lawrence Gumbiner said he could not provide a response, because of the October 1-16 federal government shutdown. “With the government closed and most of its employees furloughed, we lost the time essential for us to engage our inter-agency colleagues and prepare for this hearing,” Gumbiner told the IACHR.
According to the AFP and EFE, Gumbiner gave the same answer in the hearings on Guantanamo Bay prison conditions and immigration, invoking OAS member states’ right to respond to the commission’s concerns in writing within 30 days.
This response was criticized by some human rights advocates, who pointed out the hearings had been scheduled months in advance, and that the controversies at stake had been occurring for several years. UN Special Rapporteur against Torture Juan Mendez was especially critical of the U.S. response, telling reporters that the shutdown was no excuse because “[t]his case is a decade old.” Similarly, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) -- a member of the coalition which backed the IACHR petition regarding immigration rights -- notes that the IACHR issued a number of recommendations on immigration detention and due process in 2010, which the U.S. has yet to implement.
While little progress was made in these hearings, it is significant that the IACHR began the latest session with an emphasis on the United States. The commission came under fire this year from left-wing governments of the ALBA bloc, who accused it of serving as a tool of U.S. foreign policy. These countries proposed a number of reforms, including moving the IACHR from its current office in Washington DC to a country which, unlike the United States, has ratified the American Convention. Although these proposals were defeated, left-wing governments in the region continue to call for changes to the IACHR. At a meeting in Cochabamba last month, for instance, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales agreed to give the IACHR until June 2014 to alter its performance, when both governments would “assess what alternatives to take.”
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