OAS General Assembly Elects Three New IACHR Commissioners during its 43rd Regular Session

Current Composition of the IACHR
Credit: OAS

The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) held its 43rd regular session from June 4 to 6, 2013 in Antigua, Guatemala. [OAS; IACHR]  Notably, the General Assembly filled three upcoming vacancies on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), electing two new Commissioners and electing current IACHR Chair José de Jesús Orozco to a second term. [OAS Press Kit]  Additionally, the General Assembly adopted treaties against racism and discrimination, heard from the heads of the Inter-American Court and Commission on Human Rights, and held discussions with civil society groups and the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) on the topic of drugs, this year’s theme. [OAS Press Releases]  Following the General Assembly, the IACHR hosted a regional conference dedicated to discussion of the friendly settlement process.

IACHR Commissioner Elections

The General Assembly elected three Commissioners to the IACHR: José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez (Mexico), James Cavallaro (United States), and Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi (Brazil).  The first round of elections resulted in the election of James Cavallaro and José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez; however, Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi and Rodrigo Escobar Gil were both tied for the third position.  After a second round of voting, Mr. Vannuchi prevailed for the last position. [Fourth Plenary Session Video]  The IACHR Executive Secretary, Emilio Álvarez Icaza L., and staff members of the Executive Secretariat were present to witness the elections and congratulate the incoming Commissioners.

The other three Commission candidates were Javier de Belaunde López de Romaña (Peru), Rodrigo Escobar Gil (Colombia), and Erick Roberts Garcés (Ecuador). [Justicia Viva]  Information about each candidate’s professional experience is provided below.

James Cavallaro

The U.S. nominated Stanford University Law Professor James Cavallaro, who also directs the Law School’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic and sits on IJRC’s Advisory Board. [U.S. Department of State]  Before joining the Stanford faculty, Mr. Cavallaro directed the human rights program at Harvard Law School and worked with a number of human rights NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). [Stanford]  See his Curriculum Vitae, posted online by Justicia Viva.

José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez

Mexico nominated José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez for a second term.  Mr. Orozco is currently serving his first term as Commissioner and Chair of the IACHR.  [IACHR]  Mr. Orozco is also a researcher at the Legal Research Insitute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and served as a Magistrate in Mexico’s highest electoral courts for 16 years.  See his Curriculum Vitae, posted online by Justicia Viva.

Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi

Brazil nominated Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi, who currently directs the Lula Institute.  Previously, he held the post of Minister of Human Rights in the administration of former President Lula and worked as counsel to trade unions.  In the 1970’s, Mr. Vannuchi was held as a political prisoner subsequent to signing a document condemning the torture of political prisoners and later played a role in Brazil’s Truth Commission.  See his Curriculum Vitae, posted online by Justicia Viva.

Javier de Belaunde López de Romaña

Peru nominated Javier de Belaunde López de Romaña, a partner at Estudio Echecopar, a Peruvian firm associated with Baker & McKenzie.  [Estudio Echecopar]  Mr. Belaunde is also a Professor of Law at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and acted as an ad hoc judge on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2002-2003 and again in 2005-2006.  See his Curriculum Vitae, posted online by Justicia Viva.

Rodrigo Escobar Gil

Colombia nominated Rodrigo Escobar Gil for a second term.  Mr. Escobar is currently serving his first term as Commissioner.  [IACHR]  From 2001 to 2009, Mr. Escobar was a Justice on Colombia’s Constitutional Court, acting as President from 2007-2008.  He was also a Professor of Public Law at various Colombian universities, including the Pontifical Javierana University and Sergio Arbolada University, where he serves on the law school’s Human Rights Committee.  See his Curriculum Vitae, posted online by Justicia Viva.

Erick Roberts Garcés

Ecuador nominated Erick Roberts Garcés, who has previously served for the Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office.  See his Curriculum Vitae, posted online by Justicia Viva.

For the first time ever, the public had an opportunity to watch candidates make presentations to and answer questions from the OAS Permanent Council on May 1, 2013. [OAS]  During the forum, Mr. Cavallaro stressed that the U.S. should ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, Mr. Vannuchi highlighted the importance of education in avoiding human rights abuses, and Mr. Roberts Garcés called for reform of the Chapter IV procedure, which he deemed a “black list” of countries that do not meet human rights standards.

Prior to the General Assembly’s session, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) wrote a letter to the Foreign Ministers of the OAS Member States, requesting that they abide by the standards set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights for the election of Commissioners to the IACHR. [CEJIL]  The Convention states that Commissioners must be “persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights.” American Convention, art. 34.  CEJIL underscored that such standards are meant to ensure that elected Commissioners function independently and autonomously to protect and respect human rights in the Americas.  [CEJIL]  A number of U.S.-based organizations also urged the U.S. government to nominate a candidate with the language abilities, familiarity with the Inter-American System, and knowledge of the OAS Member States necessary to meaningfully contribute on the Commission. [ACLU]  This election is considered by many to be particularly important as it comes soon after the IACHR’s recent reform process. [Justicia Viva, El País]

The IACHR is made up of seven Commissioners who serve four-year terms and are eligible for reelection once. [IACHR]  The General Assembly elects the Commissioners from a list of candidates nominated by OAS Member States. The Commissioners four-year terms will begin in January 2014.  Though the  IACHR members are generally nominated by their own country of citizenship, they serve in an independent capacity and not in representation of any government.

Friendly Settlement Conference

After the close of the General Assembly, the IACHR held Inter-American Conference on Human Rights and the Exchange of Best Practices on Friendly Settlements, the first regional conference devoted to discussion of the friendly settlement of disputes before the Inter-American Commission. [OAS; IACHR]  The friendly settlement mechanism permits petitioners and States to enter into an agreement of their own making regarding the State’s responsibility for and reparation of alleged violations being examined by the Commission, without a formal determination of the merits by the Commission.  The process had in the past been somewhat informal with respect to the Commission’s role in facilitating, approving, and enforcing settlement agreements.  However, with the creation last year of a Friendly Settlement Group and other efforts, the IACHR is dedicating resources to standardizing and formalizing the friendly settlement process.

Conventions Against Racism and Discrimination    

On June 5, 2013, the General Assembly voted to adopt the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance, as well as the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance.  [OAS Press Release]  The process of negotiating and drafting the conventions began in 2000 when the General Assembly instructed the Permanent Council to study the need for such treaties.  The IACHR Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination welcomed the General Assembly’s decision as a historic and significant step towards ending racism and discrimination in the Americas. [IACHR]  The Rapporteurship participated in the working group that helped bring about the Assembly’s decision to adopt the conventions.

Statement from the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

In his remarks to the General Assembly, the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), Diego García Sayán, reviewed some of the IACtHR’s highlights from the last year. [Fourth Plenary Session Video]  First, he stated that it was important for OAS Member States to allow the IACtHR to hold public hearings in their territories so that the public may understand how the tribunal functions.  As examples, he pointed out that Ecuador and Colombia had already allowed such hearings, the court will soon hold hearings in Mexico, and Guatemala has given permission for hearings to take place there in 2014.

He also mentioned a few important cases the court decided in 2012, including Case of Atala Riffo and Daughters v. Chile, in which the court found that Chile discriminated against a lesbian woman when its courts denied her custody of her children based on her sexual orientation; Case of the Kichwa Indigenous People of Sarayaku v. Ecuador, in which the court found Ecuador responsible for violating indigenous rights to property and cultural identity for allowing a private oil company to explore on Kichwa lands; and Case of Artavia Murillo et al. (“In Vitro Fertilization”) v. Costa Rica, in which the court held that Costa Rica’s ban of in vitro fertilization violated the petitioners’ rights to privacy and family rights, personal integrity, and sexual health, among others.

Lastly, Judge Sayán raised the issue of funding, stating that while the IACtHR recently received its first ever budgetary increase from the OAS, it was still forced to rely significantly on funds from States outside the Inter-American system.  He also urged those American States that have not ratified the American Convention on Human Rights or accepted the IACtHR’s contentious jurisdiction to do so.

Statement from the President of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

The President of the IACHR, José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, highlighted some of the areas in which the countries of the Americas have protected and promoted human rights, including by making advances in gender equality, banning torture, and modernizing their justice systems. [Fourth Plenary Session Video]  However, he also pointed out that access to justice, indigenous rights, migrants’ rights, freedom of expression, children’s rights, protection of human rights defenders, the rights of detained persons, and the rights of sexual minorities are still problematic in the region.  Furthermore, he expressed concern that States do not always follow the IACHR’s recommendations and, therefore, impunity remains a concern.

Mr. Orozco Henriquez then singled out three States requiring special attention.  He stated that Cuba must protect political rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement; Honduras faces problems with citizen security, freedom of expression, and protecting human rights activists; and Venezuela lacks judicial independence and fails to protect human rights defenders and freedom of expression generally.  Lastly, he raised concern over Venezuela’s denunciation of the American Convention in 2012.

Drug Policies

During the session, the General Assembly held several sessions on the topic of drug policy.  Civil society groups had an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the OAS, during which they raised several important points related to combating drugs. [OAS Press Release]  A number of groups called for drug addiction to be labeled a disability, brought attention to how current drug policies result in violence against minorities, and pointed out the relationship between the drug trade and trafficking in weapons and persons.

Additionally, the Inter-American Commission of Women and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission held a joint roundtable discussion on the high rate of women incarcerated for drug offenses. [OAS Press Release]   While the President of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Maureen Clarke, stated that an investigation on the topic is underway, Executive Secretary Carmen Moreno indicated that there is still very little information on women arrested for drug-related crimes and warned against relying on assumptions and stereotypes that adversely affect women.  In a separate hearing before the General Assembly, Ms. Clarke also stressed that the drug trade has resulted in increased violence against women.