In a concerning move that undermines the autonomy of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Secretary General Luis Almagro declined to renew the mandate of the commission’s executive secretary, even after the commission unanimously voted in favor of doing so.
The unanimous vote by the IACHR commissioners to grant Paulo Abrão an additional four-year term as executive secretary of the IACHR took place in January. According to a statement released by the commission, in the eight-month period between this vote and the OAS secretary general’s rejection of a renewed mandate for Abrão (an announcement made on August 15, the same day that Abrão’s contract ended), the IACHR was not properly consulted about Almagro’s decision.
The decision to bypass the IACHR’s unanimous vote cited a legal report and a confidential OAS ombudsperson’s report as basis for Almagro’s authority in doing so. But interpreting OAS internal rules and procedures in this way is legally questionable and goes against practices upheld since 2000, the IACHR said in its statement. The commission added that it had addressed the concerns raised in the confidential ombudsman’s report, and reiterated its confidence in Abrão.
The rejection of Abrão’s mandate follows previous incidents that involved efforts to influence or undermine the indepence of the IACHR. Notably, the U.S. State Department proposed funding cuts to the IACHR, after nine Republican Members of Congress criticized the commission and the OAS for purportedly “aggressively lobby[ing] pro-life sovereign nations to legalize abortion.”
The IACHR is an institution that plays a fundamental role in defending human rights throughout the hemisphere. It must remain politically autonomous and independent, in order to continue to do its work without political interference. The improper way in which OAS officials rejected the IACHR’s pick for its top leadership is deeply concerning. Secretary General Almagro should reappraise the decision, and work closely with the IACHR commissioners to reach a solution.