July 31, 2012
The largest and oldest international organization in the Americas is facing a serious threat. Bombarded by criticisms from various Latin American countries, the Organization of American States (OAS) – founded in 1948 to serve as a multilateral forum for the integration of its 35 member states – is now coming under fire.
One of the main problems caused by this process is the risk of weakening the Inter-American Human Rights System, which consists of the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court. These are the organizations responsible for promoting and protecting human rights on a regional level, by issuing decisions involving citizens from the American continent whose rights have been violated by states.
In January, the OAS Permanent Council approved the final report of the Special Working Group to Reflect on the Workings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with a view to Strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System. At the time, Conectas and a number of other civil society organizations publicly expressed their concern since many of the recommendations could end up weakening the system.
At the OAS General Assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia, member states decided to reopen the discussion and the OAS Permanent Council is now debating the implementation of the recommendations of the Working Group that extensively reviewed the issue. An Extraordinary Assembly is expected to be convened to address this topic either later this year or early in 2013.
Drawing on Brazil’s new Freedom of Information Law, Conectas requested access to the official telegrams of the Ministry of Foreign Relations that contained the orientation given by Brasília for its diplomatic mission in the OAS. Conectas wanted to learn what the real position of the Brazilian government was in this process of “weakening” the system (read more here). The information was denied and the organization is now calling for a response via the Office of the Inspectorate-General (CGU).
In order to broaden the voices of civil society involved in this issue, and to include Brazilian academia in the analysis of the course of such an important body, Conectas asked the opinion of Deisy Ventura, a professor at the International Relations Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP). Ventura answered three key questions on the topic and recorded a video statement asking Brazil to clarify its position on the case.
Why does Conectas claim that the Inter-American System is under attack? What is the evidence of this? Who is attacking and how?
The Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) is under attack because a group of states – primarily Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela – are trying to restrict its mandate, in particular the capacity of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to adopt precautionary measures in serious and urgent cases.
The worst part is that the process to reform the IAHRS is being publicized as an initiative to strengthen the system, when in fact it weakens it.
What is the purpose of the Inter-American System? Why should it be preserved?
The IAHRS must be preserved because there is no point signing international human rights treaties if no bodies exist to make sure they are observed. Two recent coups, in Honduras and Paraguay, staged with impunity, demonstrate why the OAS needs teeth. It is not about defense or security bodies, but about strengthening the specialized human rights bodies so they can sanction disrespect for the rule of law.
Are the criticisms being leveled at the System reasonable? Are any specific improvements needed? What are they?
The specific improvements that are needed to the system include making its bodies permanent (they currently meet in a few sessions over the course of the year) and also making a larger investment in physical resources (currently only 6% of the OAS’s budget goes to the IAHRS) and human resources to facilitate the work of the commission members and judges.