Vacancy at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: An Account on the Final Candidates

By Marianna Orlandi, Ph.D. | May 12, 2017

At the next General Assembly of the Organization of the American States (OAS), in June, the member states will vote on a new commissioner to sit on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

This international human rights body is known for its progressive stance on abortion, LGBT rights, and now even “sex-workers” is also infamous for its lack of accountability for a budget that never satisfies its own demands.

The Commission may soon be joined by an individual whose “progressive” agenda is inconsistent with the laws of many American states.

Last Friday, the six final candidates presented themselves to all the member states at an extraordinary meeting of the OAS’s Permanent Council in Washington, DC. In the afternoon, they repeated their presentations at the Dialogue with the Candidates for Commissioner of the IACHR, an event hosted by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), the Open Society Justice Initiative, and the Inter-American Dialogue.

It was in the second venue that some highly controversial topics were raised.

Antonia Urrejola Noguera, nominee of Chile, stated her favor for the decriminalization of abortion, though in an indirect way.

As a woman, she said she is in favor of “sexual and reproductive rights,” and holds that abortion bans exclusively lead to “unsafe” abortions. She then mentioned her Catholic faith (“yo soy catolica”), and that she decided not to have an abortion in the past, based on her faith. However, she holds that is should be a solely a woman’s decision.

In front of the States, the only questionable issue she raised was the duty of countries to ratify and implement all treaties. This would necessarily include the ratification and implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against of all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, the first and only internationally binding treaty elevating sexual orientation and gender identity to categories of unjust discrimination.

The nominee of the United States, Douglass Cassel, Professor at Notre Dame University, argued the Commission should have a “proactive” function. According to Mr. Cassel. It should “anticipate” the development of human rights.

He promoted “friendly agreements,” and suggested more frequent meetings – among the commissioners, with ministers in the capitals, with ambassadors, and with the civil society – and lengthier stays in Washington.

The last suggestion involves greater expenses for the Commission – and for the donor states –.

The U.S. nominee did ask also for more accountability from the Commission itself. In particular, he asked for a “functional budgeting” of the human rights body, something observers have repeatedly requested in the recent years. A functional budget would let the public know not only how many resources are raised and spent by the commission, but for what activities, and in what proportion to each other.

In the afternoon, asked on his view on “sexual and reproductive rights,” Mr. Cassel said he is against all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

He then mentioned the Commission should take note that Article 4.1 of the American Convention of Human Rights mentions that “life begins at conception.” This last statement conflicts with what critics point out about Mr. Cassel. As a former ACLU lawyer, Prof. Cassel will only reinforce the already extremely progressive attitudes of the Commission, they say.

Joel Hernández García, nominee of Mexico, was the most diplomatic. However, critics from his own country, publicly asked for resignation of his candidacy. They pointed to his lifelong career in the Mexican Foreign Service, which they claim would make him unable to serve the commission impartially, especially in cases that involve the interests of the Mexican government.

Carlos Horacio de Casas, nominee of Argentina, was the first candidate who pointed out the importance of acknowledging the presence of common-law tradition in countries in the Inter-American system, and on the need to value their potential.

At the later venue, Mr. Casas missed the chance to specify his position on “sexual and reproductive rights.” He instead applauded the precautionary measures the Commission had ordered on the case of a 10-year-old rape survivor who was not allowed to have an abortion, in accordance with Paraguay’s law. Had those “measures” been applied by Paraguay’s government, the young Milagro (“Miracle”) would not be alive.

Social conservatives, however, still support his election. They hope such remarks were a one-time mistake.

Gianella Bardazano Gradin, nominee of Uruguay, did not hide her agenda at all. She praised the work of the Commission on LGBT “rights,” and supported more work in this direction. With support of Arcus Foundation, IACHR is now offering a Fellowship on the Rights of LGBTI Persons.

The candidate also underlined the “problems” linked to criminalizing drug use. Her positions on abortion, and on all sorts of “sexual rights” are consistent with those of the Uruguayan Government.

Flávia Cristina Piovesan, nominee of Brazil, is widely known in her country for her fight against the criminalization of abortion. In her words, abortion bans are the product of an unequal and sexist society.

In front of the states, Ms. Piovesan did not touch the issue of life. She did mention, however, her involvement in the OAS working group that drafted the “indicators of progress” on cultural and social rights. Some of these indicators measure states’ “progress” depending on access to abortion – but not many states’ representatives are aware of this.

Later in the day, she clearly expressed her views: there should be no discrimination based on one’s “sexuality,” nor should there be limits to abortion, she said. She argued that “sexual and reproductive rights” stem from the international agreement reached at the International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo, in 1994.

As most abortion advocates do, she held that to prohibit abortion increases risks for women’s health.

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