Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The OAS Elects Uruguay’s Luis Almagro as Secretary General

March 19, 2015

by AQ Online

On March 18, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) named Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro its newest secretary general in a near-unanimous vote. In a clear display of hemispheric unity as regional ties appear increasingly strained elsewhere, the unopposed Almagro received votes from representatives of 33 of the organization's 34 member states gathered in Washington DC. Guyana abstained.

The 51-year-old lawyer and diplomat will replace outgoing Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of Chile, who has served two terms since May 2005. After Guatemalan Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein withdrew his candidacy for health reasons in January, Almagro received widespread regional support as the only remaining candidate. When he begins his term on May 25, Almagro will become the second Uruguayan to lead the OAS and the first since José Antonio Mora left the office in 1968.

During his campaign, Almagro expressed his desire to strengthen and bolster the independence of the OAS's chief human rights protection bodies, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In recent years, proposed reforms to the IACHR have drawn ire from critics who say the changes compromise the entity’s autonomy.

The issue of human rights protection has featured prominently in discussions over the OAS and its new secretary general. Almagro’s election follows increasing tension between the United States and Venezuela in the wake of expanded U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses.

Almagro's appointment also comes at a time when questions over the OAS’ relevancy and efficacy accompany concerns over a budget deficit and high levels of polarization within the organization. Almagro will get a preview of existing divisions when the hemisphere’s high-level leaders convene in Panama next month for the seventh Summit of the Americas, organized by the OAS. In September, Panama officially invited Cuba—suspended from the OAS in 1962—to attend the summit, prompting opposition from some U.S. policymakers and solidarity from Cuba’s regional allies. Meanwhile, Almagro, who approves of Cuba’s presence at the summit, has also expressed support for the country to return to the OAS as a full member.


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Tags: OAS, Luis Almagro, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of June 4

June 4, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: proposed OAS human rights commission reform; OAS meeting underway in Bolivia; Pacific Alliance meeting on Wednesday; Peru-Chile relations; and no end in sight to the anti-mining protests in Peru.

OAS Human Rights Reform Considered: Organization of American States (OAS) member states such as Ecuador and Venezuela are calling for reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights organ of the regional body. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called for changes such as cutting funding for the OAS special rapporteur on press freedom, warning that the OAS “will disappear” otherwise, which earned the endorsement of Venezuela. Insulza has further called for renegotiation of the IACHR’s statute and procedures including allowing governments to decide how the IACHR monitors them. Last Friday, the Washington Post editorial board responded to these proposals, writing, “It’s not surprising that Venezuela and its allies would push for noxious initiatives, or that Mr. Insulza would serve as their frontman […] Canada and the United States… and their democratic allies should work to ensure that the Insulza proposals are rejected—and that the OAS is perserved as an institution committed to democracy and human rights.”

AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini concurs: “The reasoning behind the proposals that Insulza is bringing to the General Assembly is unclear. What is clear is that their effect would be to whittle away at much of the independent voice of the Commission—the most effective office in the OAS—and he’s doing it by making common cause with some suspect governments."

Developments at the OAS General Assembly: Representatives from the 35 OAS member states are in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from June 3 to 5 for the organization’s 42nd General Assembly. In addition to the IACHR reforms, other issues on the table include Bolivian President Evo Morales’ desire for forward movement in regard to his country’s lack of access to the Pacific Ocean, a longstanding dispute with Chile. Argentina’s leadership wishes to rally hemispheric consensus around its claim to the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza briefed the assembly that Latin America is still far from achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UN has set 2015 as its target date for achievement of the MDGs. But expectations for concrete results are not high, notes Sabatini: "The OAS general assembly has become a theater for overreach and meaningless debate." 

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Tags: Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Jose Miguel Insulza, Organization of American States, Venezuela, Ecuador, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Sebastian Piñera, Ollanta Humala

OAS Secretary General to Meet with President Correa

May 9, 2012

by AQ Online

Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza will arrive in Ecuador tomorrow to begin discussions with President Rafael Correa over his government’s decision not to participate in last month’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. Insulza will likely also address recent calls by the Ecuadorian government to modify the OAS constitution to reduce U.S. influence within the organization.

Ecuador’s decision to boycott April’s summit in protest over Cuba’s exclusion the meeting comes alongside other recent Ecuadorian complaints, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) request to suspend the defamation sentence against El Universo newspaper. A columnist and three directors of the newspaper have since been pardoned.

Correa has recently said publicly that the only legitimate multilateral organization in Latin America is the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC)—created in Venezuela last year—which excludes the United States and Canada. Additional details of Thursday’s planned meetings have been scarce, with Ecuador’s foreign ministry saying only, “The goal is to maintain a political dialogue on the Organization of American States.”

Tags: Jose Miguel Insulza, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Rafael Correa, Organization of American States (OAS)

Hugo Chávez’ Withdrawal from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

May 7, 2012

by Christopher Sabatini
Shortly before he left for Cuba for another round of cancer treatment, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced his plan to pull his country out of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The last president to make a similar threat was Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori in 2000 when the IACHR had handed down a series of recommendations about death squad killings, the seizure of a private television station and the sacking of a constitutional court judge. 

The spectacle of two supposed ends of the ideological spectrum—the self-proclaimed socialist Chávez and the neoliberal Fujimori—railing against the IACHR is really not as surprising as it sounds. It’s the common bond of autocratic regimes that want to be free of international scrutiny and the obligations to protect and defend their own citizens that transcends ideology.  And for those, the IACHR—which has stood in defense of human rights for over 50 years irrespective of the ideology of the government—makes a logical enemy. 

Affiliated with the Organization of American States (OAS), the independent IACHR has defined human rights law and precedence on everything from holding governments accountable for disappearances by military governments during the bloody dictatorships of the 1980s (issuing a groundbreaking report in 1980 in Argentina), to arguing for aligning domestic laws concerning violence against women with international norms (1998), to defending Indigenous rights in land disputes with governments and investors in Nicaragua (1996) and Brazil (2011). Through it all, the IACHR has maintained a steady independence from the political vicissitudes in the region. 

In fact, it is the only thing that has really shown any mettle or effectiveness within the inter-American system in recent years. 

Because the IACHR lacks the power to enforce its recommendations on the member governments, its authority is moral, based on the regional public shame that comes with failing to uphold the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (to which, sadly and inexplicably, the U.S. is not a signatory) and the precedence and legitimacy of its history.

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Tags: Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

U.S. Reacts to Venezuela’s IACHR Withdrawal Plans

May 3, 2012

by AQ Online

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said Wednesday “it would be deeply regrettable” if Venezuela were to leave the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). President Hugo Chávez announced on Monday that Venezuela would seek to withdraw from the inter-governmental body, describing it as “a mechanism that the United States uses against us.” The IACHR is an autonomous branch of the Organization of American States tasked with the promotion and protection of human rights in the hemisphere.

Also on Monday, Chávez named various allies to seats on a newly created advisory body, the State Council, and tasked the committee with assessing the process for withdrawal. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan State representative for human rights, Germán Saltrón, argued that the IACHR is biased against Venezuela, and claimed that it endorsed the April 2002 attempted coup to unseat Chávez. Venezuela, said Saltrón, “is a democratic country and no one can come here to claim the moral high ground on human rights.” He added that the withdrawal may take one year.

Speaking to reporters during a daily press briefing yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “Washington considers the body an effective and unique organization within the hemisphere.” Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, said that with his proposal to withdraw Venezuela from the body, Chávez “again is trying to silence advocates of human rights throughout the hemisphere… [which] will have widespread negative implications for democracy and fundamental freedoms.” In Americas Quarterly, IACHR Executive Secretary Santiago Canton has called the commission “a crucial tool against injustice—exceeding the imagination of its founders and mak¬ing it a force in the hemisphere and an example in the world.”

Last month, the IACHR released its 2011 annual report, which denounced the Venezuelan government’s political intolerance and violence against unionists, women and rural farmers.

Tags: Venezuela, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, U.S.-Venezuela Relations, President Hugo Chávez

Panamanian Indigenous Community Seeks Protection of its Land

July 20, 2010

by Ruxandra Guidi

The Naso indigenous community of Panama is lucky to be able to call Bocas del Toro home. This is an idyllic tropical paradise that begins in mountainous forests near the border with Costa Rica and ends up in the Caribbean Sea. It’s a fertile land where they grow plantain, corn, coffee, pineapple, and grapefruit, and make some extra money by serving the growing numbers of eco-tourists who sail into Bocas del Toro.

By the same token, however, they are cursed to live in such a beautiful and coveted place. The Naso aren't all that different from many other indigenous groups in Latin America who inhabit forests rich in natural resources: They have something that many others want.

Last month, a small delegation of Naso leaders traveled to Washington to submit a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanding that the Panamanian government and special business interests in the country allow them to stay in their territories and respect their cultural, territorial and human rights. Getting American law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to represent the 3,500 Naso in the case was a challenge in and of itself.

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Tags: Panama, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Indigenous rights

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Hear Canadian Land Rights Case

January 4, 2010

by AQ Online

A Native American group in British Columbia has won a ruling by the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that will likely lead the federal government to defend its record on indigenous land rights at an international tribunal that the commission will set up later this year.

The Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group, whose traditional territory consisted of nearly 750,000 acres of land on the east coast of Vancouver Island, contends that Canada has continuously violated tribal members’ human rights since it converted the tribe’s land to private property in an 1884 land grant to a railway company. According the group’s website, their goal is to secure the titles to tribal lands and regain control over local resources. The group is also seeking compensation for the territory it claims was illegally taken from its members.

At the heart of the case is the issue of whether the current British Columbia treaty process and Canada's judicial system are effective in protecting Hul'qumi'num land rights. Observers note that the ruling could ultimately change the future of the land claims treaty process in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.

Tags: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Native American Land Rights, British Columbia