A group of populist Latin American states—led by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela—hopes to reduce the role of an international human rights commission and watchdog. These radical states aim to weaken the commission because it goes against their political ambitions, as it entails scrutiny and judgments of human rights violations by an outside organization.
The group aired their grievances on March 22, when the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) held a much anticipated discussion to debate reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose essential mission is to promote and defend human rights in the western hemisphere.
Commission president Jaime Manilla warned in a letter to friendly heads of state about the eroding separation of powers, disregard of public opinion, and weakened press independence that such reforms could cause.
One proposed reform would have blocked all but member-state funding for the human rights body, cutting off support from Europe. The special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, a body within the commission dedicated to defending freedom of the press, was also on the chopping block.
For decades, the IACHR challenged military dictatorships, documented disappearances, and denounced human rights abuses in the time of civil strife. The IACHR has also zeroed in on human rights violations in Venezuela, angering the late Hugo Chavez, who announced before his death that he was withdrawing his country from the commission.
With the continuing violence in Mexico and Central America, the need for a strong human rights voice is still critical.
Rightfully, the Obama Administration argues that press freedom and a watchdog role for the OAS and the IACHR are critical for the functioning of the Inter-American system. William Burns, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, made it clear that “the democracies of our hemisphere must continue to stand for justice, transparency, the rule of law and human dignity in our region and beyond.”
When confronted with pushback from OAS states, the members trying to “reform” the IACHR agreed to postpone debate until 2014, due to what they explained as a lack of consensus. But they vowed to continue advocating for the “strengthening of the commission”—a euphemism for actually weakening it.
Yvette Betance is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.