It was a mugging, but the hemisphere’s “moral conscience” survived. And Mexico played a key role.
A body that you may not have heard of – the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – survived an attack by four countries: Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The commission has been around for nearly half a century. It is despised by dictators, abhorred by autocrats and loathed by the Latin nations under the shadow of Venezuela’s late Hugo Chavez. Those countries mounted a dark alley assault on what one columnist calls a “human rights heavyweight.”
So foreign ministers from around the hemisphere on Friday poured into Washington to the stately headquarters of the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s oldest body, to debate the IACHR’s future. Debate lasted nearly 12 hours and concluded with a vote of confidence in the commission.
The strong support of Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade drew the attention of my colleague Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald. He examines here whether Mexico’s ruling PRI – long a friend of dictatorial regimes in the hemisphere – has changed its stripes. His conclusion: No, this was one-off support.
First, a little background: the human rights commission is a bit of an orphan. Nations don’t even want to pay for it. European governments and entities finance nearly a third of its budget. Aspects of the commission’s charter also make some U.S. politicians uncomfortable. The charter rejects the death penalty, for instance.
So despite playing a role in setting up the legal scaffolding of the hemisphere’s human rights structure in 1969, U.S. lawmakers have never ratified the treaty.
This is the flank where Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa aims his dagger. Correa (that's him in an AP photo) has taken the lead in flaying the commission and a second OAS institution that seeks to protect freedom of expression (aiming its wrath at Correa’s own attacks on the press in his country).
Correa railed against the commission in a special preparatory meeting before the OAS in Guayaquil on March 11:
“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 a contradiction? We all know that since the world began, who finances imposes the conditions. Enough of such hypocrisy!”
Correa blasted the OAS for putting the headquarters of the rights commission in Washington, a nation that hasn’t ratified the overarching rights treaty, saying it should be in a nation that respects all aspects of rights (implying his own nation).
“Here, torture is not allowed, there is no death penalty, we have not invaded anyone at all, no drones and selectively killing of terrorism suspects without trials, along with ‘collateral damage’ of family, neighbors, etc.”
In his speech before the OAS Friday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns lauded the commission as the “moral conscience” of the region, and said that during the Cold War years it “faced down military strongmen, documented forced disappearances, and catalogued the human costs” of civil wars.
He said the U.S. supports the commission’s work “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.”
Meade, the Mexican secretary, strongly urged Latin nations to pony up more money for the cash-strapped commission, ratify the overarching treaty and obey the resolutions of the commission among:
“Now is the time for states to give full support to the Commission, particularly financial, to implement these reforms.”
Whether Mexico’s PRI vote was a one-off, President Enrique Pena Nieto wants to reassert Mexican leadership in Latin America. Meade took the trouble to travel to DC for the assembly, rather than deploying a lower level diplomat, and his support comes even though Mexico is likely to feel a pinch from future commission rulings again in the future.