OAS Rejects Ecuador’s IACHR Reforms

By: Alexander J. Preiss, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

The 44th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) ended on June 6 in Asunción, Paraguay. As expected, the delegates in attendance again rejected Ecuador’s long-standing proposal to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Most analysis of the 44th General Assembly has framed this rejection as a foreign policy failure for Ecuador. However, the prominence of the debate and the marked increase in support for the proposal in fact reflect Ecuador’s rising regional power and the continued waning of Washington’s influence in the OAS.

For the early decades of its existence, the OAS effectively served as a vehicle for the United States to impose its will on the rest of the Hemisphere. Since the 1980s, however, as Latin American states began reacting to the United States’ repeated manipulations, the OAS has moved steadily away from U.S. hegemony. In the 21st century, the ascendant left in Latin America—the “Pink Tide”—accelerated this shift and captured much of the soft power lost by the United States.

This most recent General Assembly provided several pieces of evidence of this process. In addition to the IACHR debate, delegates expressed near-unanimous support for inviting Cuba to the 2015 Summit of the Americas.[1] The United States stood alone in opposing the invitation.[2] Furthermore, in March, the OAS sent a clear message of defiance to the United States with its declaration of support for democratic process in Venezuela.[3]

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño expressed considerable frustration during the meeting. He accused Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of “enormous imprudence” for spearheading opposition to the Ecuadorian proposal.[4] However, by leading to an (admittedly diluted) resolution with newfound support from powerful center-left countries Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, Patiño’s latest attempt to push IACHR reform successfully demonstrated Ecuador’s regional soft power. After cooling off from a clearly personal scuffle with Insulza, Patiño likely recognized that while this assertion of regional influence did not reach the level he had hoped, it still represented a positive gain for Ecuador.

Ecuador’s Persistent Proposals for Reform

Ecuador has been pushing for IACHR reform since the 42nd General Assembly in 2012.[5] The Ecuadorian government’s grievances focus on the IACHR’s funding structure and location. [6] In particular, Quito alleges that the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, which focuses on violations of freedom of the press, receives a disproportionately large amount of funding compared to the other nine Rapporteurships. Foreign Minister Patiño further argues that the body’s funding structure, which relies heavily on earmarked U.S. contributions, “affects its [the Rapporteurship’s] objectivity.”[7]

In 2012, President Rafael Correa (along with Bolivia’s Evo Morales) focused on allegations that the Rapporteurship had “unfairly targeted their governments at the behest of Washington.”[8] Patiño seems to have backed away from such firebrand language, but his statements do hint at the root of the matter. The Rapporteurship has repeatedly targeted Ecuador with allegations that its media laws limit freedom of the press.

Correa and Patiño also advocate moving IACHR headquarters from Washington to a Latin American country. They base this argument on the fact that the United States has not signed the American Convention on Human Rights.[9] Uruguay, a supporter of the proposal, added that moving IACHR headquarters to a Latin American country could save between three and five million dollars due to lower personnel and overhead costs.[10]

In the subtext, however, this aspect of the proposal is largely a political move by the Correa administration. Correa, like his counterparts in Venezuela and Bolivia, has often favored symbolic acts of defiance against U.S. hegemony. Correa has kicked out U.S. diplomats, rejected funding from USAID, and ended U.S. military presence in Ecuador.[11] These symbolic acts bolster Correa’s domestic position with his post-neoliberal base and his international presence as a leader of the anti-imperialist Pink Tide.

A Failure in Name Only

As expected, Ecuador’s proposal once again failed to gain enough support to pass in its original, ambitious form. Opposition remained significant, and Secretary General Insulza spoke forcefully against the reforms.[12] However, the proposal did attract more debate, and ultimately more support, than ever before. Furthermore, for the first time, it resulted in an OAS declaration on the matter.

The General Assembly agreed on a diluted declaration on IACHR reform, which supports dialogue regarding the IACHR’s Rapporteurships and funding. It also supports a new push to convince abstaining countries (especially the United States) to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights. Finally, the declaration calls for the holding of some IACHR sessions outside of the Washington headquarters (which, it must be noted, already occurs).[13]

Most analysts portray the watered-down resolution as a failure for Ecuador, and on a fundamental level, it is. However, in the broader context of the OAS’s historical trajectory, the 44th General Assembly’s treatment of this issue also reflects an increase in Ecuador’s soft power and a decrease in neoliberal influence coming from the United States and its allies.

The proposal’s failure demonstrates that the power of the Latin American “Pink Tide” in the OAS is far from hegemonic. However, Patiño’s ability to foreground the debate and spearhead a resolution with support from Argentina, Brazil, and especially Chile, signifies a more positive outcome for Ecuadorian interests than many analysts suggest. Chile’s endorsement was especially significant, given Insulza’s strong opposition to the original set of reforms. Despite the rejection, Ecuador has managed to increase multilateral support every time it has brought up this issue. This is indicative of Quito’s growing influence on moderate Latin American countries.

The broad support for inviting Cuba to the next Summit of the Americas also bodes well for Ecuador and other leftist governments that want to reduce U.S. influence in Latin America. Even rightist states that generally remain in the U.S. fold, like Colombia, Panamá, and Honduras, supported this initiative.

While Ecuador failed to push radical IACHR reform through this session of the General Assembly, this does not represent a failure for the country and its allies in the grand scheme of hemispheric power balances. Despite Patiño’s evident frustration after the meeting, the briefings in Quito on June 7 likely contained as much congratulation as bitterness.

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action. 

References

[1] “Países latinoamericanos presionan a EEUU sobre Cuba en Asamblea de la OEA.” Ultima Hora. 5 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.ultimahora.com/paises-latinoamericanos-presionan-eeuu-cuba-asamblea-la-oea-n801019.html

 

Ramsey, Geoffrey. “LatAm Backs Cuba’s Participation at Americas Summit.” The Pan-American Post. 6 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.thepanamericanpost.com/2014/06/latam-backs-cubas-participation-at.html

 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Birns, Larry et al. “The Council on Hemispheric Affairs Applauds OAS Solidarity with Venezuela.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 8 March 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.coha.org/the-council-on-hemispheric-affairs-applauds-oas-solidarity-with-venezuela/

 

[4] “‘Ahora no hay condiciones’ para resolver cambio en CIDH, según canciller Patiño.” El Universo. 6 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2014/06/06/nota/3062601/ahora-no-hay-condiciones-resolver-cambio-cidh

 

[5] Azuci, Mabel. “Bolivia and Ecuador lead calls for OAS human rights commission reform.” El Pais. 7 June 2012. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://elpais.com/elpais/2012/06/07/inenglish/1339076711_096325.html

 

Duckworth, Catie. “The Dangers of the Hemisphere Operating Without the IACHR’s Guidance.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 25 July 2012. Accessed 10 June 2014:

http://www.coha.org/the-dangers-of-the-hemisphere-operating-without-the-iachrs-guidance/

 

[6] “OEA aprueba resolución sobre CIDH sin cambio profundo propuesto por Ecuador.” Terra (Agencia EFE). 5 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://noticias.terra.com/america-latina/paraguay/oea-aprueba-resolucion-sobre-cidh-sin-cambio-profundo-propuesto-por-ecuador,ef15a0f2b6e66410VgnCLD200000b1bf46d0RCRD.html

 

Ramsey, Geoffrey. “Debate on Relocating the Inter-American Commission Falls Flat.” The Pan-American Post. 23 January 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.thepanamericanpost.com/2014/01/debate-on-relocating-inter.html

 

[7] “OEA aprueba resolución sobre CIDH sin cambio profundo propuesto por Ecuador.” Terra (Agencia EFE). 5 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://noticias.terra.com/america-latina/paraguay/oea-aprueba-resolucion-sobre-cidh-sin-cambio-profundo-propuesto-por-ecuador,ef15a0f2b6e66410VgnCLD200000b1bf46d0RCRD.html

 

[8] Azuci, Mabel. “Bolivia and Ecuador lead calls for OAS human rights commission reform.” El Pais. 7 June 2012. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://elpais.com/elpais/2012/06/07/inenglish/1339076711_096325.html

 

“Secretario José Miguel Insulza rechaza cambio de sede de la CIDH.” El Universo. 3 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2014/06/03/nota/3052016/secretario-insulza-rechaza-cambio-sede-cidh

 

[9] “Secretario de OEA rechaza mover sede de Comisión Interamericana de DD.HH. de Washington.” El Universo. 2 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2014/06/02/nota/3050981/secretario-oea-rechaza-mover-sede-comision-interamericana-ddhh

 

Ramsey, Geoffrey. “Debate on Relocating the Inter-American Commission Falls Flat.” The Pan-American Post. 23 January 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.thepanamericanpost.com/2014/01/debate-on-relocating-inter.html

 

[10] Secretaría de Comunicación, Presidencia de la República de Uruguay. “Reunión de Estados parte de la Convención sobre Derechos Humanos.” 21 January 2013. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.mrree.gub.uy/frontend/page?1,inicio,ampliacion-ppal2,O,es,0,PAG;CONC;1961;39;D;estados-parte-la-convencion-sobre-derechos-humanos-se-reunen;5;PAG

 

Ramsey, Geoffrey. “Debate on Relocating the Inter-American Commission Falls Flat.” The Pan-American Post. 23 January 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.thepanamericanpost.com/2014/01/debate-on-relocating-inter.html

 

[11] Partlow, Joshua. “Ecuador Giving U.S. Air Base the Boot.” Washington Post. 4 September 2008. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/03/AR2008090303289.html

 

Santamaria, Carlos. “After Bolivia, USAID now out of Ecuador too.” Devex. 16 December 2013. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

https://www.devex.com/news/after-bolivia-usaid-now-out-of-ecuador-too-82511

 

[12] “Secretario José Miguel Insulza rechaza cambio de sede de la CIDH.” El Universo. 3 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2014/06/03/nota/3052016/secretario-insulza-rechaza-cambio-sede-cidh

 

[13]“OEA aprueba resolución sobre CIDH sin cambio profundo propuesto por Ecuador.” Terra (Agencia EFE). 5 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://noticias.terra.com/america-latina/paraguay/oea-aprueba-resolucion-sobre-cidh-sin-cambio-profundo-propuesto-por-ecuador,ef15a0f2b6e66410VgnCLD200000b1bf46d0RCRD.html

 

“‘Ahora no hay condiciones’ para resolver cambio en CIDH, según canciller Patiño.” El Universo. 6 June 2014. Accessed 10 June 2014 at:

http://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2014/06/06/nota/3062601/ahora-no-hay-condiciones-resolver-cambio-cidh

 

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