Foreign Policy Blogs

Taking on the Americas

On the heels on the announcement that Latin America is forming a new regional organization without the US and Canada to rival the Organization of American States, it looks like the current Inter-American system is coming under fire. Or at least it is from Venezuela. After the release of a 300 page report by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) on the human rights situation in Venezuela that applauded advances made towards economic equality but also accused the government of intimidating opponents and suppressing democracy, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez vowed to withdraw from the IACHR. If he follows through, it will mean that Venezuela will no longer participate in one of the most respected organs of the OAS.

The IACHR and its counterpart, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, hold a special place in the human rights world for the situations it has been willing to tackle and the subsequent judicial decisions and reports they released. Unlike the European regional human rights system, the IACHR has dealt with some extremely contentious issues including enforced disappearances, indigenous rights, the liability of non-state actors in conflict, police abuse, and political amnesties. Governments in Latin America have sometimes been reluctant to cooperate with IACHR, but in the end normally do because the investigations and reports issued by IACHR were part of the means to get to a stable, democratic end in Latin America. Because of this, while some may disagree with the outcome of specific cases there is no doubt that the respect bestowed upon the IACHR has been hard earned. In that light, Chávez’s ire is not just a slap in the face to the OAS and IACHR, but to the progress that Latin America has made as well.

The interesting thing about this situation is that the IACHR report did not point out anything we did not already know. Judicial independence has been increasingly questioned in Venezuela, as has Chávez’s disdain for media outlets critical of the government.  Last month David Sussman on the FPB Venezuela Blog wrote on the closure of another six TV stations by Chávez, nominally for not abiding by regulations. But as Sussman pointed out, there are reasons to question this justification:

The government’s action appears to be yet another effort to restrict critics, a timeworn pattern under Hugo Chávez. He has a history of silencing those who do not agree with him, whether through selective licensing of media outlets, the disqualification of opposing politicians, or the dismissal of leading members of his own government. These moves to limit dissent are often lightly veiled under the guise of bureaucratic negligence (e.g. stating that a radio station is closed because it does not have the appropriate paperwork). If all were true, though, this would show a great ineptitude on the part of the opposition in terms of attaining necessary registration and licenses.

This was the behavior outlined by the IACHR report. Though congratulating Venezuela for its improvement in the field of economic, social, and cultural rights, the report called for a balance with decreasing protections for civil and political rights. Though this is just the start of this particular saga between IACHR and Venezuela, one can only hope that fairer minds prevail and the IACHR stands its ground.



Kimberly J. Curtis

Kimberly Curtis has a Master's degree in International Affairs and a Juris Doctor from American University in Washington, DC. She is a co-founder of The Women's Empowerment Institute of Cameroon and has worked for human rights organizations in Rwanda and the United States. You can follow her on Twitter at @curtiskj

Areas of Focus: Transitional justice; Women's rights; Africa