Americas freedom of expression rapporteur embroiled in firing controversy

Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Jose Miguel Insulza is reportedly facing an allegation that he unduly pressured the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to reverse a decision to fire its Freedom of Expression Rapporteur.

Special Rapporteur Ignacio Alvarez, a Venezuelan national, was criticised by many rights group on his appointment two years ago, the October 30, 2007 edition of the Miami Herald reported.

The issue of the reversal of the decision came to light after two of its seven commissioners, Victor Abramovich of Argentina and Paolo Carozza of the USA, abruptly left its latest round of hearings three days before they were scheduled to end on October 19, the Herald quoted several insiders and observers as saying.

According to the Herald, Abramovich and Carozza walked out in protest against “an unusual 5-2 vote by the commissioners” to reverse a decision, reaffirmed only a week before, to fire Alvarez, presumably after discussions with Insulza and pressure by the Venezuelan government. In an October 28 three-page justification of their dissenting votes, which the Herald obtained, the two commissioners blamed the reversal on “hidden pressures from political actors external to the commission.”

The paper quoted the document as saying that several commissioners admitted, either orally or in writing that they wished to avoid carrying out a decision that could bring the commission into conflict with certain member states and with Insulza. They did not identify the countries by name. “This can only invite further efforts to influence inappropriate commission decisions in the future,” the document said.

The Herald also said rights groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch became angry when Alvarez was appointed almost two years ago, saying that the IACHR had passed up better qualified candidates to hire a little known IACHR insider. Alvarez was reportedly backed by the Venezuelan Commissioner on the IACHR, Freddy Gutierrez, known as a critic of many IACHR actions.

The Herald quoted the CPJ’s Senior Programme Coordinator for the Americas as saying that it was worrisome that there is meddling by the Secretary-General and from outside, on an internal IACHR issue. The Coordinator is gravely concerned about a threat to the autonomy of the IACHR.

In February, the IACHR had given Alvarez seven months to leave, presumably to look for a new job but according to Abramovich and Carozza, he used the time to lobby to keep his job, “even urging (Insulza) to put pressure on the Commission.”

Alvarez was recently in the news here after he wrote the Guyana Government requesting an explanation of its decision to cut off state advertising in the Stabroek News. He has not yet gotten a reply.

The IACHR is an autonomous organ of the OAS. Its mandate is found in the OAS Charter and in the Americas Convention on Human Rights. It represents all the member states of the OAS. The IACHR has seven members who act independently, without representing any particular country. They are elected by the OAS General Assembly. The IACHR is one of two bodies in the Inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Critics have said that if the IACHR becomes vulnerable to outside pressures, there would be doubts over its future decisions, including in hotspots like Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela.

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