Thursday, January 23, 2014

Debate on Relocating the Inter-American Commission Falls Flat

A proposal to move the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) out of Washington DC --backed by Ecuador and its allies among the ALBA bloc -- met with a cool response from regional diplomats yesterday, despite arguments that a venue change made more sense and could save millions of dollars in operating costs.

On January 21-22, Uruguay hosted the 3rd Conference of States Parties to the American Convention on Human Rights in Montevideo. Like previous meetings in Guayaquil, Ecuador and Cochabamba,Bolivia, the event brought together representatives of the countries most bound by the Inter-American human rights system, with the goal of discussing potential reforms.

 Unlike the two previous conferences, however, the Montevideo meeting was far less ambitious. Only Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador and Haiti had foreign ministers in attendance, and according to Spanish news agency EFE the Argentine official reportedly left the conference early.

The comparative lack of momentum did not stop Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño from taking up his longstanding calls to reform the Inter-American Commission. Among these, as, El Telegrafo reports, was his continued criticism of the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression, which Patiño claims is given undue attention at the expense of other rapporteurships. He also attacked the logic of basing the commission in the United States, a country which has never ratified the American Convention.

Uruguay’s Foreign Minister, Luis Almagro, echoed this criticism. On the first day of the conference the two ministers presented a joint report on the costs and benefits of relocating the IACHR outside of Washington. According to a statement by the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry, moving the commission elsewhere could save between 3 and 5 million dollars in operating costs, although no specific alternative locations were proposed.

Ultimately, EFE reports that the conference brought little new to the debate. It concluded with a watered down final statement calling for a “deepening” of the “legal, political, budgetary, regulatory and functional”  aspects of the report presented by Uruguay and Ecuador. The declaration also suggested that states subject to the convention “express their interest in permanently hosting” the IACHR and invited commissioners to hold sessions in these countries.

News Briefs
  • In recent months, Ecuador has gained a reputation for a relatively progressive outlook on drug policy. The country decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs last year, and President Rafael Correa has said that he supports “partial” legalization of marijuana. In October Ecuadorean drug officials signed an agreement with their Uruguayan counterparts to “deepen the debate” on drugs in the hemisphere, and the country earned praise in November for going after inhumane drug treatment centers. Yesterday, however, Correa signaled that drug legalization is not on the table in his country, at least for now. In a press conference, the president said that while he supported Uruguay’s decision to legalize marijuana as a sovereign country, his administration has “a thousand other priorities ahead of this problem.”  At the same time, Correa recognized that the dominant anti-drug strategy until now has been a “complete failure,” and told journalists: “there is no reason to exclude any possibility, including the legalization of some kinds of drugs.”
  • The AP reports on another announcement by Correa yesterday, in which he said that Washington has too many military attaches stationed in his country, adding that he would request that some of them be dismissed. U.S. diplomats consulted by the news agency say they have received no such request, and that any military officials in Ecuador are there with the explicit approval of the host country.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto told reporters yesterday that “in no way” had his government  allowed self-defense militias to grow in Michoacan state, even though -- as the L.A. Times notes -- the groups have grown in number and influence in recent months.
  • After the U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion to stay his execution, Mexican national Edgar Tamayo Arias was executed yesterday evening despite diplomatic pressure from the Mexican government. Tamayo’s attorneys had argued  he had never been properly advised of his right to legal assistance from the Mexican consulate, and that his execution was a violation of international law. An editorial by leading Mexican daily El Universal argues that Tamayo’s death goes against the principle of due process, something that -- ironically -- the United States is working to strengthen in Mexico’s judicial system. The New York Times reports that Secretary of State John Kerry warned Texan officials that the execution would harm the ability of the U.S. to protect its citizens abroad.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez appeared in public for the first time in 40 days yesterday, putting an end to speculation over her absence and criticizing her opponents for spreading rumors about her health, La Nacion and the BBC report.
  • Ahead of his January 27 inauguration, Marguerite Cawley of InSight Crime takes a look at Honduran President-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez and the challenges he will face in reining in crime and corruption in the Central American country. Cawley recently conducted an interview with former security minister and current lawmaker Oscar Alvarez, who is a member of Hernandez’s party, about the incoming president’s security plans, and also has a useful analysis of the top three obstacles to improving citizen security in the country.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales presented his eighth annual report on his administration’s progress to lawmakers yesterday. The president highlighted his government’s policies as a success, especially on the anti-narcotics front. As Telesur reports, Morales noted that the number of police operations more than doubled between 2005 and 2013. He also pointed to the fact that annual cocaine seizures rose from 11 to 22 tons as proof of his administration’s triumph in the war on drugs, even as he has been criticized by U.S. anti-narcotics officials. Additionally, Morales announced plans to build the country's first nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes, telling legislators that the governments of Iran, France and Argentina had offered to assist the project. The president also unveiled the makeup of his new cabinet, which keeps many of the same high-level ministers in place.
  • The Venezuelan government yesterday announced an overhaul of its foreign currency system. According to Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, Venezuelans traveling abroad will no longer be allowed to obtain foreign currency at the official rate of 6.3 bolivars per US dollar. Ramirez said that the move would make it easier for companies to obtain dollars to import essential goods and raw materials, and that further details of a new multi-tier currency system would be announced in the future.
  • The Guardian reports on a law that U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law this week, which will pressure the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to report on the status of reparations to indigenous Guatemalans affected by the construction of a dam of the country’s Chixoy river in the early 1980s. Both financial institutions supported the project, which was made possible by the displacement of some 3,500 Maya Achi people and murder of 400 others by security forces and paramilitary groups.

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