October 31, 2007
The Organization of American States has been rocked by crisis at its human rights commission over presumed meddling by its secretary general in a firing decision
The secretary general of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, is facing allegations that he unduly pressured the international body's human rights arm to reverse a decision to fire its freedom of expression rapporteur -- a Venezuelan criticized by many rights groups, The Miami Herald has learned.
The semiautonomous Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, is formally part of the OAS but acts autonomously. Any loss of this perceived autonomy, observers say, would cast doubts over its future decisions, including on hot spots like Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela.
In a scathing three-page Oct. 28 document obtained by The Miami Herald, IACHR Commissioners Víctor Abramovich of Argentina and Paolo Carozza of the United States said there were ''hidden pressures from political actors external to the commission'' to reverse a decision to replace Ignacio Alvarez, the freedom of expression rapporteur.
''Several commissioners admitted, either orally or in writing, that they wished to avoid carrying out a decision that could bring the commission into conflict with certain of the member states and with the secretary general,'' reads the document, which does not identify the countries by name, though OAS insiders say one country is Venezuela.
''This can only invite further efforts to influence inappropriately commission decisions in the future,'' the letter says.
Rights groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, and Human Rights Watch became angry when Alvarez was appointed almost two years ago, saying better-qualified candidates were passed up.
''It is worrisome that there is meddling by the secretary general, that there is outside meddling, in a matter that is internal to the IACHR,'' said Carlos Lauría, the CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. ''A threat to the autonomy'' of the IACHR, he said, ``worries us deeply.''
In February, the human rights commission decided to give Alvarez seven months to leave, presumably to look for another job. Instead, Abramovich and Carozza said, Alvarez used the time to lobby to keep his job, ``even urging [Insulza] to put pressure on the commission.''
A spokeswoman for Insulza did not respond to a request seeking comment, and neither did Florentín Melendez, the Salvadoran who heads the IACHR.
The State Department declined to comment on the Abramovich-Carozza letter, but the U.S. permanent representative before the OAS, Robert Manzanares, said on Oct. 18 that the United States would ``vigorously oppose any attempt to undermine the self-governing capacity of the independent commission.''