Monday, April 7, 2014

IACHR Creates Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has announced the creation of a new full-time Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The move widens the Commission’s focus, and may buffer it from some of its regional critics who claim it disproportionately emphasizes civil and political rights.

As Commission Chair Tracy Robinson noted in the IACHR’s Thursday press release, the announcement is truly historic. It marks the first time that a “special,” full-time rapporteurship has been created since the launch of the Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression in 1998. While the Inter-American human rights system has nine thematic rapporteurships that focus on a variety of issues, the Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression has been the only one with full-time responsibilities, as well as the only one which is financed entirely by donations from states inside and outside the region. As a result, the office has traditionally had greater resources to devote to its work. Every year since its creation the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has presented an extensive separate report to the OAS, while the other thematic rapporteurships have included sections on their respective issues in the Commission’s main annual report.

As El Universo reports, this imbalance has been the primary target of criticism from Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who in recent years has championed a major overhaul of the Inter-American system. Although they gained the backing of Ecuador’s allies in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the reforms were defeated in a General Assembly session in March 2013. Still, the debate highlighted broad support in the region for reassessing the IACHR’s mandate, as well as discontent with the Commission’s location in Washington DC, mainly because the United States has not ratified the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights.

The Commission has attempted to address some of these grievances, releasing its own list of reform proposals early last year. While the creation of a new Special Rapporteurship was not specifically mentioned, it is in line with the IACHR’s pledge to devote more energy to promoting economic, social and cultural rights in the hemisphere.

Thursday’s announcement, then, appears to be a direct response to allegations by Ecuador and other left-leaning Latin American governments that the Commission has focused on civil and political rights, mirroring U.S. foreign policy interests.So far none of the left-wing heads of state that have criticized the IACHR of late have responded to the announcement. Still, it provides an important counterpoint to claims that the Commission is out of step with the region, or in Correa’s words, that it promotes “an Anglo-Saxon conception of press freedom as freedom of enterprise” while ignoring significant progress against poverty and inequality.

The new Special Rapporteurship will essentially be a revamped version of the IACHR’s current Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is expected to be up and running by late 2015, and Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi -- a former Brazilian Human Rights Minister -- has been tasked with overseeing this process.

News Briefs
  • With 96 percent of ballots counted, Luis Guillermo Solis of the center-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC)  won Costa Rica’s second round presidential election on Sunday with 77.8% of votes, compared to 22 percent for Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN). While Solis’ election has been practically ensured since Araya dropped out of the race last month, the wide margin of victory has allowed him to claim a strong mandate. La Nacion reports that Solis topped his self-imposed goal of receiving one million votes, even though the election saw the greatest levels of absenteeism in the country since 1953.
  • The Washington Post reports on increasing demand for heroin in the United States, a pattern which has led marijuana growers in Mexico’s lawless “Golden Triangle” region to abandon their crop for the more lucrative poppy plant. The surge in the U.S. heroin market, according to U.S. authorities, corresponds with a new marking strategy by Mexican supply networks, which are sending the drug to areas where prescription painkillers are particularly popular.
  • The Mexican government’s initiative to begin disarming unincorporated “self-defense” groups in Michoacan has, predictably, not gone over well with militia leaders. Animal Politico reports that three of the top autodefensa commanders have accused the federal government of breaking a pact signed in January. Disarmament has also met opposition from some locals, who staged small-scale protests in towns throughout the state yesterday, Milenio reports.
  • The AP’s “Cuban Twitter” story continued to receive attention in the press over the weekend. In a short piece for the New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson referred to the program as an example of the “dangerous absurdity” of U.S. Cuba policy. On Sunday, the Washington Post’s editorial board criticized characterizations of the program as dated. While the Post editors note that USAID may have been “ill-suited” for funding ZunZuneo, they argue that criticism of the program should be refocused against the Cuban government.
  • Meanwhile, Reuters reports Cuban state media has said that ZunZuneo is just one of many similar U.S.-sponsored programs to promote social media use as a means of challenging government control in the country, citing three other examples of SMS-based initiatives of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB).
  • The Center for Democracy in the Americas has taken advantage of the hype around the ZunZuneo story to publish a new paper by Cuba expert and UNC-Chapel Hill professor Louis A. Perez, Jr, titled “Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” In it, Perez poses a strong challenge to the commonsense explanations of the U.S. embargo’s endurance. Rather than a factor of the strength of the Cuban-American lobby in Washington, he argues that the embargo is an extension of longstanding U.S. expansionist attitudes towards Cuba, dating back to statements made by U.S. President John Adams in 1823.
  • The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) delegation of foreign ministers monitoring the situation in Venezuela has returned to the country for a second visit, Ultimas Noticias reports. The UNASUR ministers are expected to meet with opposition and government supporters to continue to press for dialogue, even as a proposal to hold Vatican-mediated talks has made little progress since it was first presented. Yesterday, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition released a statement welcoming the UNASUR visit as “useful,” and expressed hope that President Nicolas Maduro would “sincerely commit” to dialogue.
  • The Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss has an update on Colombia’s presidential election, just 50 days before the vote. While polls show President Juan Manuel Santos is ahead of former Bogota Mayor Enrique PeƱalosa 26 to 18 percent, the two will likely face off in a second-round contest, in which the latter is expected to have a slight advantage.
  • A new Datafolha poll published on Saturday suggests that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity has fallen in recent months. The survey found that the percentage of respondents who rated her government as “great” or “good” fell to 36 percent from 41 percent in February, and that the number of those who say they intend to vote for her dropped from 44 percent to 38 percent. Still, as the AP notes, this is more than double the support for her closet challenger, Senator Aecio Neves.
  • Brazil’s O Globo takes a look at the state of marijuana policy debate in the South American country. The paper notes several recent measures of progress on the issue, including the presentation of two bills to legalize the cultivation and sale of the drug this year, a federal judge’s January ruling that Brazil's ban on marijuana is unconstitutional, and a more recent decision allowing the use of cannabis-derived drugs for medical treatment. While drug policy activists cited by O Globo hope to raise the issue ahead of general elections in October, the lack of mainstream political support for relaxing marijuana policy may prevent any meaningful debate.
  • Also on the drug policy front, Spanish news agency EFE has an interview with Luis Yarzaba, who was recently appointed head of an independent commission tasked with evaluating Uruguay’s marijuana regulation law. While the specific regulatory mechanisms of the law are expected to be released later this month, Yarzaba cautioned that the benefits of marijuana regulation will have to be judged in the long-term, which he described as “roughly five years.”