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South American states urged to engage with rights system reform

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 31 October 2012 - ARTICLE 19 makes a plea for greater awareness and more involvement in the Americas on plans to reform the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights.

ARTICLE 19 is greatly concerned that countries across the region are not taking international negotiations seriously and is urging states to engage fully in this process, to make sure that any changes made strengthen human rights in the region and not weaken them.

“It is worrying that there is so little discussion about plans to reform the Inter-American Human Rights System. Any changes to the system could have an enormous impact on people across the region and at the moment those people do not seem to be represented in discussions that would impact directly on them,” said Paula Martins, ARTICLE 19's Director for South America.

A series of meetings have been held by the Inter-American Commission on Human (IACHR) Rights to discuss proposed reforms to the organisations rules, policies and practices by the Organization of American States (OAS).

ARTICLE 19 is attending the final consultation meetings this week, which are due to be held in Washington D.C (USA) on 31 October.

For several months, questions have been raised about the role of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights (ISHR). Countries, including Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia among others, have accused the system of lacking autonomy and independence. On the basis of these concerns, they have made active attempts to push forward reforms that could seriously undermine the role of the Inter-American Commission and of its Special Rapporteurs.

The OAS General Assembly has asked its own Permanent Council to adopt a plan that will introduce changes to the workings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Despite the crucial importance of these planned reforms, most discussions about the future of the system have been taking place behind closed doors and many states have failed to make their positions on the matter clear.

Reforms to improve and strengthen a system that protects human rights in the Americas is certainly most welcomed, but all stakeholders and especially member states, must make sure that any changes made do not weaken this mechanism.

The only way to do this is to hold open and inclusive discussions in order to find the best possible ways to guarantee that the important historical role played by the Inter-American System in promoting democracy and human rights in the continent will not be taken for granted or abandoned.

“The media has not given enough coverage to this issue and governments across the region do not seem to want to inform people or explain to them what is happening with the international negotiations that are taking place. This needs to change” said Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19's Executive Director.

ARTICLE 19 considers that the transparent and inclusive manner in which the Commission tries to handle the process of consultation on proposed reforms deserves to be praised.

ARTICLE 19 urges states across the continent to deal with the situation similarly. This extremely important reform process needs to be both transparent and inclusive.

ARTICLE 19 also believes that states must be more pro-active in informing their citizens about the changes being discussed; consult on their opinion; and take that information into consideration when considering reforms. This is what is expected from truly democratic governments that give due respect to the rights of freedom of expression and information of their people.

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