Wednesday, June 4, 2014

IACHR Reform On the Table, Again

The government of Ecuador continues to champion reforms to the Inter-American human rights system, presenting a resolution at the current Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Asuncion, Paraguay that would overhaul funding mechanisms for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

As EFE reports, Ecuador’s proposal would create a single fund to collect donations for the IACHR, the division of which would be previously agreed upon by OAS member states and would not allow donors to allocate specific resources to each of the commission’s various rapporteurships. The resolution also echoes longstanding calls to move IACHR headquarters out of Washington DC, on the basis that the United States has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.

On Monday, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza criticized appeals to relocate commission, claiming that because it forms part of the secretary general’s office, this would have to move along with it.

Both Insulza’s remarks and Ecuador’s proposal come on the heels of a meeting of signatories to the San Jose Pact in a Port-au-Prince suburb last week, which culminated in the "Haiti Declaration" (see .pdf). This statement essentially forms the basis for Ecuador’s proposal. Among other things, the declaration calls for the creation of the single fund, and mentions Haiti, Uruguay and Mexico as potential hosts for the IACHR.

Just as with previous reform proposals, the suggestion has been met with criticism from civil society. A coalition of some 60 human rights organizations from around the hemisphere has released a joint statement objecting to it. In the NGOs' statement, the groups reject the creation of a single fund, arguing that doing so would “clearly violate the autonomy of the commission.” The organizations also oppose moving the IACHR’s headquarters, noting that its mandate allows it to choose its own meeting places according to its mission of defending human rights.

The statement also mentions the commission’s newly-created Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, hailing the IACHR’s efforts to recognize the “interdependence” of different human rights. The new office, the first “special,” full-time rapporteurship since the 1998 launch of the Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression, has been interpreted as a buffer from criticism that the commission disproportionately emphasizes civil and political rights.

If the prior failed reform efforts are any indicator, odds are slim that the current General Assembly will approve Ecuador’s proposal. But the fact that these calls for reform keep arising is worrying, as it suggests that a perception of the IACHR as “out of touch” still resonates with much of the hemisphere.

News Briefs
  • While the next round of negotiations over the fourth issue on the Colombian peace talk agenda -- victims' rights and reparations -- will officially begin after June 15 presidential elections, Semana reports that both sides have begun meeting to outline an agenda for dialogue over the issue. In remarks to the press in Havana yesterday, FARC and government negotiators also made similar calls for the country to embrace the peace process. The AFP reports that chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle asked all Colombians -- particularly members of the security forces -- not to be misled by  those who have an interest in attacking" the dialogue. Rebel leader Ivan Marquez also asserted that "all of Colombia should defend the peace process." De la Calle's remarks come after President Juan Manuel Santos' running mate, German Vargas Lleras, publicly complained about police and army officials actively campaigning for his rival, Oscar Zuluaga.
  • Beginning this month, hundreds of Colombian paramilitaries are expected to be released after serving a maximum of eight years in prison under the terms of the country’s 2005 Justice and Peace Law. While -- as Verdad Abierta notes -- courts have excluded “pure drug traffickers” from the deal, the release of perpetrators of human rights abuses does not sit well with victims and their relatives. Writing for the Thompson Reuters Foundation, Anastasia Moloney profiles responses to the releases among rape survivors belonging to the Association of Afro-Colombian women for Peace (Afromupaz).
  • Milenio reports that in a ruling last week, the Mexican Supreme Court (SCJN) found that a 2012 reform to the Michoacan state constitution -- which had been challenged by the autonomous indigenous community of Cheran -- violated federal protections of indigenous rights. Fundar researcher Mariana Mora offers a good explanation of the decision’s significance for Sin Embargo, noting that it is the first time the country has recognized indigenous municipalities’ right to prior consultation.  
  • The Washington Post reports on the way that a criminal battle for control over the port city of Tampico, in Mexico's northeastern Tamaulipas state, has fueled a climate of fear among locals. The Post contrasts Tamaulipas with Michoacan, where so-called “self-defense” militias have sprung up recently to fight criminal networks, citing analysts who say rural communities in the northern border state are not nearly as cohesive.
  • The L.A. Times, meanwhile, has published the latest look at the U.S. links of Michoacan’s militia movement. The paper notes that ties to immigrant communities in the U.S. southwest have provided vigilante groups with key funding sources.
  • On the eve of the World Cup in Brazil, a new Pew Research Center poll has found that 72 percent of Brazilians are dissatisfied with the overall state of affairs in their country, up from 55 percent in the weeks before last June's wave of demonstrations. The survey's findings on attitudes towards the economic climate were even more drastic, with the percent of Brazilians who rate the current economic situation as "bad" jumping from 41 percent last year to 67 percent. The Wall Street Journal, in its analysis of the poll, notes that this is the first time that Pew has seen majority dissatisfaction with the economy since it began monitoring the issue in 2010.
  • In an interview for the New York Times, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff struck back at critics of her country’s World Cup preparations, telling the paper that only “a small minority” of Brazilians would actually ignore the championship.  In a rare reference to her imprisonment for belonging to an urban guerrilla group under the dictatorship, the president said she and her fellow prisoners avidly followed the 1970 World Cup and rooted for Brazil’s team despite their opposition to the military government. Rousseff also said she was optimistic about improving relations with the U.S. despite the fallout from the NSA scandal, saying she is “certain we can pick up our relations where we left off.”
  • Despite NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s recent claims that he has sought asylum in Brazil, Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo told journalists that a formal request had not actually been presented.  O Globo reports that Figueiredo provided the same response as President Rousseff on the matter, telling journalists that a request “would be analyzed” if it were submitted in the future.
  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is seeing significant resistance to his proposal for a national debate on extending presidential terms from four to six years. While he did not formally submit a bill to reform term limits, Prensa Libre reports that legislative leaders of a majority of parties in the country oppose the move, including lawmakers of Perez Molina’s own party.
  • Cuban President Raul Castro quietly marked his 83rd birthday yesterday, a milestone the AP claims serves as a reminder that "his revolutionary generation's time in power is limited." His older brother Fidel is also in headlines today, for emerging from a month-long silence to lament the recent death of a star volleyball coach in a brief statement for state newspaper Granma.  
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights highlights researcher Lissette Gonzalez's analysis of the country's recently-released poverty figures, which local human rights group PROVEA has held up as a sign that social and economic rights in the country are slipping. Gonzalez discusses various patterns of variation in the available poverty data, before ultimately concluding that the overall trend shows "steady progress in poverty reduction through the first semester of 2009 and stagnation since."
  • Reuters reports that Caracas' wealthy Chacao district, a hotbed of recent opposition protests, is sponsoring an artistic contest encouraging participants to use tear gas canisters as a medium to honor the recent demonstrations, converting “instruments of repression into a tool of peaceful protest.”
  • In a column for Project Syndicate, former Chilean economic advisor Andres Velasco attempts to apply Thomas Piketty's hugely popular new work, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," to Latin America. While he acknowledges the region's massive inequality, Velasco asserts that a dramatic progressive income tax -- Piketty's primary policy proposal -- alone would not solve the problem. Instead, he argues that reforms are needed to industry, education and labor markets to address the root causes of inequality in Latin America. 
  • The Economist reports on the increasing popularity of Caribbean routes for drug smugglers (as profiled recently in the New York Times), noting that the development “brings a chunk of the drug trade full circle” to the 1980s, when the Caribbean was the preferred route for Colombian cartels.