August 07, 2012
The Inter-American Human Rights System is under strong attack. A process of reform deceitfully called “strengthening” conceals an attempt to limit its capacity to act autonomously and independently. Read the article on the issue, as well as explanatory videos recorded with Conectas specialist partners.
Human rights organizations from all countries in the region have identified Brazil as a detractor.
Brazilian diplomacy openly recognizes that its relations with the system are extremely strained, but it denies the attacks. As far as the Ministry of Foreign Relations is concerned, Brazil is merely looking to “streamline” the system. But what is really at stake?
The system was created in 1960, within the sphere of the Organization of American States (OAS), with an independent commission and court to complement the action of states. By issuing urgent measures, it has saved numerous lives.
It has permitted the destabilization of dictatorial regimes, exacted justice and combated impunity in democratic transitions, and it is now demanding the strengthening of democracy, by working against rights violations and for the protection of vulnerable groups.
It has made an extraordinary contribution to the promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in the region.
Nevertheless, when the commission issued recommendations in the case of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, Brazil was unforgiving. Affronted, the government publicly criticized the commission, recalled its ambassador to the OAS, withheld payment of its quotas for a period of months and withdrew the candidacy of a Brazilian member to the commission.
This was the first time that Brazil reacted with such virulence, even though Brazilian social organizations and victims have made frequent appeals to the system. Between 1998 and 2011, Brazil was the subject of 27 “precautionary measures” (recommendations with urgent status) by the commission. The court, meanwhile, has issued four sentences against Brazil since 1998.
Prior to Belo Monte, the Brazilian government appeared to be making an effort to comply with these recommendations and sentences. The Maria da Penha case – which resulted in a law on violence against women – is one example.
Since it is a source of international embarrassment for states, the Inter-American System has been the target of attacks from different countries throughout its history. The United States, for example, has never accepted the jurisdiction of the court and has not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights.
Incidentally, the system should not be confused with the OAS itself. The OAS has 35 members, but only 25 are signatories of the convention, and of these only 21 accept the jurisdiction of the court.
The main threats today include proposals that: restrict the power of the commission to adopt precautionary measures (the only instrument for urgent and serious cases), suppress the possibility of carefully analyzing cases of countries with records of gross violations and limit the authority of the offices of special rapporteurs, such as the one on freedom of expression and access to information.
Each country or block has its own specific interests concerning one of these points. Brazil has openly sought to limit precautionary measures. Its position has encouraged other more extreme positions, particularly by Ecuador and Venezuela, which have recently been questioned in cases of political rights and freedom of expression.
If Brazil does indeed want to streamline the system, then silence and behind-the-scenes action cannot be options. What is needed is an Inter-American System that is strong, autonomous and independent.
The country cannot bear the stain, on its history, of having contributed to ending the most important mechanism for the protection of human rights in our region.
DEISY VENTURA, 44, is a professor at the International Relations Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP)
FLÁVIA PIOVESAN, 43, is a professor at the Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and a member of the OAS Working Group on the Pact of San Salvador
JUANA KWEITEL, 39, is program director at the NGO Conectas Human Rights
Article originally published in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, on August 7, 2012.