Thorny human rights reform put off at OAS meeting

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia Wed Jun 6, 2012 12:15am EDT

Related Topics

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (Reuters) - The Organization of American States (OAS) delayed on Tuesday the controversial reform of its human rights panel, which a growing number of Latin American nations have criticized.

The leftist leaders of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela argued for changes to be made to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during a meeting of OAS members in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba this week.

Brazil, Mexico and Argentina also called for the OAS's rights entities to be "modernized," though other members states such as Costa Rica said any reform would have to preserve the commission's autonomous, international character.

After a long debate, members agreed to tackle the reform "in six months or in the first quarter of 2013 at the latest."

Several Latin American governments have bristled at what they call overreach by the commission, mainly for weighing in on disputes that are still being heard in domestic courts.

They have called for changes at the commission and its sister organization, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, widely seen as the most important bodies of the 35-member OAS.

Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said the commission is influenced by non-government organizations that are financed by private businesses keen to undermine "unfriendly" governments.

"(Rights) organizations aren't there to act as prosecutors in democratic states. They can't assume that role," he said.

Ecuador chided the commission after it called for President Rafael Correa to halt legal action against journalists who wrote about the business dealings of one of Correa's relatives.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has accused the commission of working against him and his government's representative, Roy Chaderton, accused the panel of conducting "an inquisition, especially against leftist governments."

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff upbraided the body last year after it urged her government to suspend licenses for, and halt construction on, the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, saying it posed a threat to the Xingu indigenous reservation.

The Brazilian delegate in Cochabamba called, however, for the reform process to be "prudent."

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch say the OAS bodies provides crucial protections for citizens in countries with weak judiciaries or a history of authoritarian leaders.

The commission can investigate and observe human rights cases in OAS countries but some countries, like the United States, do not recognize the jurisdiction of the court or its power to enforce rulings.

(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Jackie Frank)

FILED UNDER: