Foreign Policy Blogs

IACHR’s Mandate Under Fire

Image: U.S. Dept. of State.

Image: U.S. Dept. of State.

In an upcoming meeting in Washington, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will consider a proposal that would greatly diminish the ability of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to address human rights violations in the region.

At the Forty-Second General Assembly meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a bloc of states led by the Ecuadorian delegation won approval to submit the proposed overhaul of the IACHR’s monitoring and enforcement powers to the General Assembly for consideration. The freedom of expression and related human rights are particularly vulnerable under the current proposal.

As it stands, the proposal seeks to limit the issuance of recommendations, or precautionary measures. Recommendations are the main tool used by the IACHR to bring attention to human rights violations in the Americas. These measures call on concerned member states to take specific and immediate action to prevent and redress gross violations of human rights.

Though the meeting is set to consider the strengthening of the IACHR system, the proposed changes would restrict the independence and impartiality of the body by giving greater control if its affairs to OAS member states, prohibit the IACHR from soliciting external financial support, and disallow the publication of its reports on freedom of expression.

The proposal is spearheaded by the constituent states of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, and organization founded in part as reaction against the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed in chief by the United States. The governments in these nations have been the subject of IACHR recommendations and are now seeking to restrict the ability of the regional human rights body to investigate into and publicize into what is argued to be the sovereign’s prerogative in domestic affairs. This position has received support in the form of votes from many Caribbean nations who receive heavily subsidized oil from Venezuela, the founding member of the Bolivarian Alliance.

Though other nations in the Americas such as Costa Rica, the U.S. and Canada oppose these measures, their influence does not enjoy the clout it has historically. The U.S. has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, the foundational document of the OAS human rights system. Recent U.S. administrations have not been particularly engaged with the OAS, portending a weak resistance to the proposed changes.

Nations such as Peru, Brazil and Chile have also come under the scrutiny and criticism of the IACHR and reacted against it. These latent tensions could potentially sway more votes in the General Assembly to the reformist bloc and push the proposal through. Should this happen, the major human rights protecting body of the western hemisphere will suffer a grievous blow to its presence and activities in the region. A certain lack of political will was already somewhat of the hallmark of the OAS, where the body’s relations were somewhat fractured since its inception. The major threat posed by the proposed reforms to the IACHR is not only the reduction in the visibility of and accountability for human rights violations in the region or the cohesion of the OAS human rights system itself, but the endangerment of the transitional, reconciliation and reconstruction processes still ongoing as a result of the historical oppression and conflict across the Americas.



Marc Gorrie

Marc C. Gorrie holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, a JD from Indiana University Maurer School of Law – Bloomington, and an LLM in international human rights law with a specialization in international labor rights law from Lund University (Sweden). He is a port welfare worker and ship visitor for the Seamen's Church Institute in Ports Newark and Elizabeth, NJ, where he also collaborates on an educational program on the Maritime Labour Convention directed at port chaplains and welfare workers. He recently contributed to an EU project on legal education and law school curricula in the Gambia, and has held a research fellowship in legal ethics, lectured on federal Indian law and American legal ethics, and worked as a disability advocate.