Human rights crisis
Victims’ cases in jeopardy as IACHR in urgent need of fundsMonday, May 23, 2016
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) yesterday said it is going through a severe financial crisis that will have serious consequences on its ability to fulfil its mandate, and appealed to member states, observer countries, and other potential donors to make urgent financial contributions before June 15.
The IACHR, which is mandated to promote respect for human rights in the region and act as a consultative body to the Organisation of American States (OAS), also said that the cash crunch would result in a cut in personnel if the situation is not rectified.
"The commission deeply regrets having to report that on July 31, 2016, the contracts of 40 per cent of its personnel will expire, and at this time the commission does not have the funds — or the expectation of receiving the funds — to be able to renew them," the IACHR stated in a news release.
"The commission is also very sorry to report that it has been forced to suspend the visits it had planned for this year, as well as its 159th and 160th sessions, which had been scheduled for July and October," the release added.
This situation, it said, will result in the dismantling of areas essential to its mandate. It also said it was distressed for the victims, petitioners, and civil society organisations that had planned to participate in hearings, working meetings, and other fora scheduled for the October session.
The commission also said it was deeply concerned because the suspension of sessions has a direct impact on its capacity to make progress in processing complaints of human rights violations, since it is during these sessions that the commissioners analyse, debate, and approve reports on petitions and cases.
"Moreover, it is disturbing that thousands of victims of human rights violations will be left unprotected," the IACHR added.
One of the cases before the IACHR is that of Jamaican-Panamanian Mayer Mizrachi Matalon, who has been in detention in a Colombian prison since December last year without being charged.
A petition on his behalf was filed at the IACHR on April 11, 2016 by his attorneys, Lord Gifford, QC, and Caroline Hay, after Panamanian authorities failed to act on a court order instructing that a ‘freedom ticket’ be sent to Colombia for Mizrachi Matalon’s release from La Picota jail in Bogota.
Last evening, Lord Gifford expressed surprise at the news coming from the IACHR. He said he had not yet received any word from the commission about his client’s case.
Asked if there were any other international bodies to which he could take Mizrachi Matalon’s case, Lord Gifford said: "The only other international body is the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but you can’t do both at the same time."
In its news release, the IACHR pointed out that its regular budget for this year was "less than US$5 million, which amounts to $0.005 per person in the hemisphere per year".
It explained that its staff, which is financed by the OAS regular fund, consists of 31 people – fewer employees than countries under its jurisdiction. "The other 47 employees are financed with donations, which can be unstable and unpredictable, as the current crisis shows."
The commission said that in the last two decades it has made ongoing efforts with the OAS member states to secure a budget that would enable it to work effectively to fulfil its mandate.
"As a result of these efforts, the OAS General Assembly has approved a number of resolutions expressing a commitment to address the situation. However, these have not been reflected in a significant increase in resources. While the Council of Europe earmarks 41.5 per cent of its budget to the promotion and protection of human rights, the OAS earmarks six per cent of its budget to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights," the news release stated.
The IACHR also said that in the last few months and weeks it has tried its best to confirm donations that had been pledged, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
"The total dismantling of some work teams and the cutbacks mean that it is inevitable that the procedural backlog the commission had been trying to reduce will increase again and will reach a point where it is incompatible with the right of access to justice," the IACHR said.
It also stated that beyond the immediate financial crisis, it suffers from a structural, systematic lack of funds that must be addressed and resolved, as there is a deep discrepancy between the mandate the OAS member states have given the IACHR and the financial resources they allocate to it.
The IACHR said it was hoping that the next OAS General Assembly, which will be held in June, will adopt a historic and far-reaching decision that reflects the states’ commitment to the defence of human rights in the region. "This means radically increasing the budget of the OAS regular fund and allocating to the IACHR and the Inter-American Human Rights System in general the resources needed to fulfil the mandate the states themselves have handed down. It is essential, imperative, and urgent for the states to adopt a sustainable solution to this serious, chronic problem and demonstrate their commitment to the respect and guarantee of human rights with deeds and not just words."
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