• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last Friday, the OAS voted to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Most importantly, the organization managed to push back against a set of cynical and harmful proposals by four countries – Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – that would have weakened the organization and reduced its funding sources. Those four countries ended up isolated from the other 30 voting members of the OAS who remained committed to strengthening the Inter-American human rights system.
Sources: AQ, Pan-American Post, IPS.
Ecuador wanted the system to be funded only by countries that have signed the San Jose Pact and wanted all the rapporteurs funded equally. This would have eliminated most of the funding for the IACHR coming from the US, Canada, and Europe without guarantees of pledges to replace that money. It also would have weakened the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, a particular thorn in the side for Ecuador's censorship-loving president.
Of course, the ALBA criticisms aren't actually about funding. The ALBA countries tried to weaken the IACHR because they are annoyed that any independent outside organizations criticizes their abuses of human rights and free speech.
So, good on the rest of the Americas including the US, Brazil, and Mexico for working to stop those proposals from being implemented. All three of those countries have all recently faced tough criticisms from the IACHR, making it notable that they still defended the commission at this session.
From the speech of Deputy Secretary Burns:
This is why we actively respond to the Commission even as it raises challenging issues for us – from the death penalty and the human rights of migrants and incarcerated children, to the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. And this is why we continue to collaborate with the Commission – including its recent on-site visit to immigrant detention facilities in the United States.
We do this not because we always see eye to eye with the Commission. We do it because we are secure in our commitment to democratic principles and in our conviction that we are accountable to our citizens for the protection of their human rights. We do it because we believe that no government should place itself beyond international scrutiny when it comes to the protection of basic human rights and civil liberties.
Strong words that I absolutely agree with. However....
On March 12 the US formally answered questions to the IACHR about the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. At that time, the US lawyer did not provide any timeline for closing the detention center and refused to admit anyone is being held in "indefinite detention," though the fact they are held without trial and without a potential release date seems to be the definition of that term. Though the US defended the conditions of the prison, as far as I can tell, no representative from the IACHR has been allowed to visit.
On the issue of immigrant detentions, here is the IACHR in July 2009 based on its visits to detention centers (longer report released in 2011):
Finally, the Rapporteurship was distressed at the use of solitary confinement to ostensibly provide personal protection for vulnerable immigrant detainees, including homosexuals, transgender detainees, detainees with mental illnesses, and other minority populations. The use of solitary confinement as a solution to safeguard threatened populations effectively punishes the victims. The Rapporteurship urges the U.S. Government to establish alternatives to protect vulnerable populations in detention and to provide the mentally-ill with appropriate treatment in a proper environment.
Here is the NYT yesterday:
On any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, according to new federal data. Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.
Four years after the IACHR visited the immigrant detention facilities and spoke out against the practice of solitary confinement, the article in the NYT from 2013 reads just like the IACHR report from 2009. Nothing has been done to respond to those criticisms.
The US gets credit for fighting back against the ALBA countries' push to silence the IACHR. The commission provides a needed voice for the hemisphere's human rights. Over the past month, with the purpose of protecting and strengthening human rights in the hemisphere, I've heard US officials praise Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay for listening and acting on the recommendations of the IACHR. The sad truth is that the US praised those other countries because the US hasn't acted on many of the important criticisms that it has received from the IACHR. It's part of the credibility gap that the US faces in this hemisphere.