The Inter-American Commission selects its new Executive Secretary

On July 27, 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced that it had selected Paulo Abrao to be its next Executive Secretary, the tenth since the establishment of the Commission.  Reportedly, the Commission received over 90 applications for the post which, pursuant to Article 11 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, shall be filled by a “person of independence and high moral standing with experience and recognized expertise in the field of human rights.”  Of the five finalists, Abrao, at 41, was the second with the least experience, claiming 15 years, 5 more than Lisa Shoman, a Senator in the National Assembly of Belize, who claimed 10 years.  He will also be the youngest Executive Secretary in the Commission’s history.  The post is for four years, from August 2016-August 2020, renewable once.

The Due Process of Law Foundation organized a letter signed by the major human rights organizations in the hemisphere to promote greater transparency in the process of the selection of an Executive Secretary.  Among the issues that they proposed the most interesting was that the Commission give the reasons for selecting the successful candidate.  Unfortunately, this did not happen and one can only guess at the reasons.  What did happen and what was totally unique was that the five candidates were invited to participate in a public panel organized by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Due Process of Law Foundation and the Center for Justice and International Law to present themselves and answer some general questions previously posed by the participants at the event.   Only four of the candidates participated; Lisa Shoman was unavailable.  No one present at the session was permitted to ask a question directly of the panel, all questions had to be submitted at the time of registration for the event.  The two and a half hour session can be viewed over the internet:

Paulo Abrao is currently the Executive Secretary of the Institute for Public Policies on Human Rights of MERCOSUR and Chairman of Brazil’s Amnesty Commission, in charge of the policies on reparations and memory for the victims of the dictatorship. In the past, he was Brazil’s Secretary of Justice, Chair of the National Committee for Refugees, and Chair of the National Committee against Human Trafficking.  He was seeking the post of Executive Secretary, at a time when the OAS and the Commission are experiencing their greatest crisis, because:

“In recent decades, the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have had an essential impact in the incorporation of human rights treaties by national juridical systems, in the insertion of our countries in the international systems of human rights, in the application of the international juridical standards by States and in the development of public policies with a focus on human rights. It is a permanent challenge to deepen this work, to continue in the advance of the capacity to build dialogue and cooperation networks among the Inter-American Human Rights System, the States and civil society.” (Excerpted from the cover letter to his application).

Now that the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court has annulled Salvador’s Amnesty Law, Brazil is the only country that continues to refuse to implement an order of the Inter-American Court to render without effect its Amnesty Law.  Perhaps the designation of a Brazilian Executive Secretary can precipitate a turnaround on this issue.  Also, the fact that the Brazilian Supreme Court holds its deliberations in public, this would be a wonderful model of transparency for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to follow, given that the Commission is holding more and more of its sessions in secret.

Paulo Abrao will assume a very difficult job at a very difficult time.  We can only wish him the best of luck and success.







The crisis at the OAS

On May 23, 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a press communique announcing that it was “going through a severe financial crisis that will have serious consequences on its ability to fulfill its mandate and carry out its basic functions.” It informed that “on July 31, 2016, the contracts of 40 percent of its personnel will expire, and at this time the Commission does not have the funds—or the expectation of receiving the funds—to be able to renew them.” The Commission also reported that it had suspended planned visits for 2016 and cancelled its July and October sessions.

The Commission requested the OAS Permanent Council to place the Commission’s financial crisis on its agenda.  On Wednesday May 25th, the regular meeting of the Permanent Council listened to the Commission’s report.

Mr. Cavallaro, the President of the Commission, listed the advances that the Commission had made in recent years, particularly in reducing the backlog of pending cases and warned that these advances and others would be threatened by the loss of funds.  The Commission’s budget is comprised of “regular funds,” which are from the Organization’s regular budget and “specific funds,” which are voluntary contributions from OAS Member States, Permanent Observers and other Institutions.  The principal contributors to the specific funds are the US and Mexico (US$ 2 and US$ 1 million respectively in 2015.    The specific funds have shrunk because some European Permanent Observer countries are shifting their funds to crises closer to home, such as the migration wave that flooded Europe in 2015 and is expected again this year.  In addition, some OAS Member States have been reducing or not paying their contributions.  Mr. Cavallaro called upon the Permanent Council to come up with a contingency plan for the short, medium and long term to solve the Commission’s financial problem.  He pointed that that compared with the Council of Europe, which allocates 41% of its budget to the European Court of Human Rights, the OAS, allocates only 6% of its budget to the Inter-American Commission.

This is not the Commission’s first financial crisis, but in the past the U.S., or some other countries have always come to the Commission’s rescue and pulled it out of the hole.  During today’s session of the Permanent Council three countries responded with a financial contribution: Panama, Costa Rica and Antigua & Barbuda.  Antigua and Barbuda, (as well as other Caribbean delegations) criticized the fact that the document that Mr. Cavallaro had distributed to the delegations on the financial crisis was only in Spanish.  No doubt it also did not escape the attention of the Caribbean nations that Mr. Cavallaro, a US national, prefers to speak in Spanish to the Permanent Council, rather than in English. Continue reading