The Inter-American System: Down (way down) but not out

Global Americans Executive Director Christopher Sabatini talks about how the Inter-American system has failed to keep Human Rights violations in check... And what it would take for it to succeed.

When Mauricio Macri won Argentina’s elections, many celebrated it as the beginning of the end of Chavismo in Latin America. Your average tía from El Cafetal might have said it was what the region needed: the opposite of a Chavez-like regime that will restore respect for basic freedoms in Latin America. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Global Americans, a group of scholars doing much-needed work in the region, just published a comprehensive report to scrutinise the role of Latin American countries in upholding human rights across South America. In other words, they’ve looked at -for example- UNASUR, and proven what we already suspected: when it comes to protecting our freedoms, the institution is a waste of money (and, frankly, of good oxygen). The report also looks at other mechanisms like the UN Human Rights Council and the Inter-American system and evaluates the real value they add.

Christopher Sabatini, Executive Director for Global Americans, talked to Caracas Chronicles about the report:

CC: Venezuela is in the process of gathering signatures for a recall referendum. If successful, we could have elections soon. We know for a fact that the time before elections normally comes with a wave of human rights abuses, and observers are key to guarantee visibility of these issues. Do you think that UNASUR would re-think its stance on the country ahead of the elections, since Maduro’s days might be coming to an end?

CS: On its own UNASUR is incapable of mounting a professional, credible election observation mission.  The charter commits UNASUR efforts to accompany the country’s electoral commission–not a prescription for any objective election mission.  Moreover, in the past UNASUR delegations have only arrived close to election day when–as you mention–the bulk of the violations in Venezuela have occurred before the balloting process.  It will take democratically committed members in UNASUR to stand up and tell the Emperor he’s naked, and to call for a real democratic objective mission.

But there’s not much hope for the Inter-American system either. The report reveals that Venezuela and Ecuador have systematically tried to undermine its mandate in recent years, resulting in Venezuela’s withdrawal from the system. For Sabatini, restoring its standing would be “up to a collection of democratically-committed states to start to re-stitch together the democratic and human rights consensus in the hemisphere (…) Fortunately, the OAS now has a leader who understands that and has the cojones to do it”.

CC: The New Kids on the Bloc, as you call the UNASUR/CELAC duo, have always been associated with the left-wing agenda in the region. How is it that they haven’t managed to bring agreements and solutions to indigenous disputes in the region, which -as we can see in your report- are spiralling out of control?

CS: There’s a certain irony in the so-called leftist governments like Morales’, Correa’s or Chavez/Maduro’s or the Ortega’s: they’re not really modern left.  Many of them are not progressive on many of the issues of today’s modern left: LGBT rights, indigenous rights, or women’s rights. Specifically, in the case of “consulta previa” provisions it’s been the “liberal, pro-market” states of Colombia, Chile, and Peru that have made the greatest progress.

Perhaps the most important take-away from the report is the emphasis that Global Americans puts on the UN processes such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which will take place in November for Venezuela. In the process, the Venezuelan civil society will have the opportunity it doesn’t have at home: challenging the government’s policies, and have other States questioning the Bolivarian way of safeguarding our rights.

For Sabatini, the challenge remains at home: the media has to pay the most attention to these mechanisms and their domestic impact. “Latin American media need to pay greater attention to the foreign policies of their governments–to demand the same level of accountability in those governments’ foreign policies as they do in domestic policies”, he adds.

It’ll be up to us to keep Venezuela in the spotlight next November when our NGOs and civil society groups have their turno al bate to challenge the government, ask for commitments and be a pain in the butt for those who are not held accountable at home. And Venezuela’s seat in the Council won’t make any difference this time around.