The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced on 23 May 2016 that as a result of severe underfunding of its work, it has been forced to suspend its upcoming hearings and cancel its pending country visits, and it will have to lay off 40% of its staff at the end of July, when their contracts expire.
The President of the IACHR, James Cavallaro, began a statement with these words (translated here from the Spanish):
I write with deep sadness, frustration and anger. In the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights we face the worst financial crisis in history. We have absolutely empty coffers.
In past years, he noted, funding for the work of the Commission came from voluntary contributions from the US, Canada, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Norway, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the European Union.
This year, however, Europe’s international assistance priority has been the refugee crisis in that region. And states in the Americas? El Pais reports:
The only ones who have given funds to the Commission in 2016 are Argentina, United States, Peru and Uruguay. The total: 2.5 million, of which the US accounted for more than 90%.
The OAS allocates only 9.1% of its budget to finance the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. As the article in El Pais notes, this is less than the OAS allocates to take care of its buildings. Cavallaro pointed out a striking contrast between LAC funding of the ICC and of the IACHR:
Latin America and Caribbean countries’ voluntary donations in 2015 to:
- International Criminal Court (ICC): $13.7 million
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: $199,000 (sic)
Yet, Cavallaro notes, “the ICC has no pending cases from the region and there is only one situation under preliminary examination.”
I am told that this is not the first time the IACHR has had to raise its voice to get the OAS to come up with the funds for it to continue operating, but the severity of the current situation is worse than ever. In recent years, some states have tried weakening the IACHR by weakening its authority. Severe underfunding can be another route to their goal. The IACHR has been too important to human rights for this to happen. As Cavallaro noted:
Either the heads of state of Latin America and the Caribbean will take the political decision to give life to the inter-American system of protection and promotion of human rights, or they will witness its collapse.
Update: Additional details here; h/t Roxanna Altholz.