The Other Side of the IACHR Reform Debate

March 22, 2013

The Organization of American States (OAS) is set to take up proposed reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today at 11:00am EDT (live feed here). While arguments against the reforms have received column space in major U.S. media outlets, little attention has been granted to some of the criticisms laid out by the Ecuadorean government, which has been leading the effort for IACHR reform.

In a presentation [Spanish PDF here; English PDF here] to OAS members in Guayaquil on March 11, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa pointed out that Ecuador is one of seven countries to have “subscribed in absolute terms” to all of the Inter-American human rights instruments, noting that:

Here, torture is not allowed, there is no death penalty, we have not invaded anyone at all, no drone and selectively killing terrorism suspects without trials, along with “collateral damage” as family, neighbors, etc. In Ecuador, as in all true State of Law, we pursue crime, not people, but precisely because it is already a real State of Law, and no one can be above the Law, which disturbs the supremacy powers.

Correa noted that only 24 of 34 states have ratified the “fundamental document” of the American Convention on Human Rights – the “San Jose Pact” that led to the creation of two bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Consequently, he states, only for those 24 countries are the organizations’ decisions binding.

The strong asymmetry between countries attached to the Convention versus those who finance and manage, has come to a completely perverting tool that was initially developed for the benefit of each and every American. Instead of this, some countries plan to intervene in other countries, while judges hide behind immunity by not being under the jurisdiction of the system and especially of the Court.

Correa pointed out a number of contradictions within the Inter-American system, such as that the Inter-American Commission is based in “a country that is not a part of the Inter-American Human Rights System, and that has ratified none of the inter-American human rights instruments” – the United States.

He also asked:

How is it possible that the Commission is financed almost entirely, exactly 96.5%, by countries that have not ratified the Convention on Human Rights of the OAS, by countries so called “Observer States”, which are not part of the Inter-American System, and by organizations and international cooperation foundations of those same countries?

In the name of Human Rights, they pay to control others. How long will we endure such contradiction? We all know that since the world began, who finances imposes the conditions. Enough of such hypocrisy!  [Emphasis in the original.]

Correa argues that the institution’s current funding mechanisms have allowed non-signatories of the “San José Pact” to determine what human rights issues are prioritized within the IACHR.  For instance, the Commission’s Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech receives much more funding than the other eight human rights Rapporteurs (on women, indigenous peoples, LGBT issues, etc.) and, says Correa

primarily comes from the United States, which is not a signatory country of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights … [and also] the European Union, which is obviously not part of the Inter-American System. …Therefore Ecuador proposes that the Commission must allocate fair, adequate and balanced [resources] to all Rapporteurs.

Correa also pointed out that the embargo against Cuba goes against the OAS Charter and in particular articles 1, 15, 19 and 20. He denounced this as “undoubtedly the greatest outrage to international law and human rights in our continent, but which does not even appear in IACHR annual reports.” He also mentioned torture in the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay as another example of human rights abuse that is not discussed.

Correa proposed several reforms:

  • That the system be appropriated and funded by countries that are parties to the San Jose Pact, citing $15 million as the amount needed.
  • that the IACHR be headquartered in Argentina.
  • that the IACHR only have as members those countries that have signed the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
  • “adoption of a Code of Conduct for the Commission and its rapporteurs.”.”

In a Washington Post op-ed Wednesday denouncing these proposed reforms, former president of Colombia and former OAS Secretary General César Gaviria Trujillo wrote, “One proposal would prevent the commission from obtaining funds from outside the region, effectively putting a financial stranglehold on the panel. As of this year, about a third of the commission’s budget comes from Europe.” But it is unclear why countries in the Americas would not be able to fund the commission themselves.

Gaviria Trujillo also wrote:

Another reform under consideration would prevent states that have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights from nominating members to the commission. This measure appears to be designed to limit the involvement of the United States and Canada, neither of which has ratified the convention though they are nonetheless subject to its monitoring and, most important, are major sources of financial and political support for its work.

But as Correa points out:

The host country of the Commission [the U.S.] is only subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission in [its] capacity as member of the OAS; therefore, it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Human Rights nor the Commission when acting as organ of the American Convention on Human Rights. [Emphasis in the original.]

Gaviria Trujillo does not explain why the U.S. and Canada have not ratified the convention nor what would prevent them from doing so in the future.

Several of Ecuador’s recommendations have been adopted by a majority of OAS members – and signatories to the American Convention, as an OAS press release stated:

the recent Guayaquil Declaration on the process of strengthening the IASHR [was] adopted by nineteen Member Countries of the OAS – signatories to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights – in a meeting in Ecuador on Monday, March 11. The document was presented to the Permanent Council by the delegation of Ecuador, which highlighted among its proposals: that the States Parties to the Inter-American Convention strive to incorporate those who have not yet ratified the document; that the IACHR increase its efforts in promoting human rights; that all OAS Member States fully assume the financing of the system; that the Rapporteurs have “special” status; and that the Secretary General make an analysis of the operating costs of the IASHR.

With a majority of Latin American and Caribbean states poised to make changes to the IACHR over the objections of the U.S. and Canada, the U.S. and Canada will be further isolated in the region.

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