Latin America's Top Human Rights Organization Is Broke — And It's Blaming the Region's Governments

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights blames its financial troubles on the reluctance of governments to fund work that exposes abuse. Some governments say the commission has become too political.
May 26, 2016, 9:20pm
Los siete miembros de la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. Imagen por Juan Manuel Herrera/CIDH

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has warned that it is in the middle of a "severe financial crisis" that will require drastic cuts, which will heavily impact its ability to attend to victims across the continent.

Commission officials blame the crisis on the reluctance of governments in the region to fund a body dedicated to probing the abuses they commit, or cover up. Some governments, meanwhile, claim that the Commission has lost backers because it has become too political.

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The international body — set up by the Organization of American States in 1959 — released a statement earlier this week in which it said things are so bad that mass layoffs and cancelled visits are imminent and inevitable, unless member countries provide emergency donations.

In an editorial published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais this Monday, the commission's president, James Cavallaro, said the crisis was sparked by traditional European donors cutting back because of the influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere.

This, he added, has laid bare the reluctance of Latin American governments to come up with the cash that the commission needs.

"Some countries feel uncomfortable when the Commission highlights the challenges the region faces in human rights," Cavallaro wrote. "They strangle us financially, perhaps in order to stop us fulfilling our mandate."

Such arguments have apparently done little to persuade the region's governments to respond positively to the Commission's appeal for money.

Only Panama and Costa Rica, along with Antigua and Barbuda, offered to make immediate donations to the Commission during a meeting of the permanent council of the OAS on Wednesday.

Others suggested that the Commission only has itself to blame for the fall off in donations.

"We should ask why some have stopped trusting in it or why they doubt the system's efficacy so we can implement corrective measures," said Luis Alfonso de Alba Góngora, Mexico's representative at the OAS. "We should fight against the perception, correct or incorrect, that the Commission has been biased and politicized in some cases."

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The representatives of Argentina and Chile also argued that the commission's problems are not financial, but political.

Related: International Experts Say Mexico Has Blocked the Search for Truth in Missing Students' Case

The stand off comes after a tense year for the Commission, particularly in Mexico where a group of experts convened to support the government's investigation into the disappearance of 43 students, after they were attacked by police, ended up in a near-open confrontation.

The experts were highly critical of the official version that the students were incinerated in a garbage dump hours after they disappeared on September 26, 2014. The government only maintained a thin veil of courtesy when it all but kicked the experts out of the country in April this year by refusing to extend their mandate.

Other Latin American countries have also expressed resentment over the Commission in recent months.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly brushed off the commission's criticism of his government's legal pursuit of opposition leaders and general human rights record. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has accused the body of "exceeding its authority" in its criticism of his harasmetn of critical journalists.

Related: The Mexican Government Isn't Thrilled With a New Report on Torture and Illegal Killings

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