Mar 22, 2013

Nobel Laureates to OAS leaders: "Vitally important to strengthen" the Inter-American Human Rights System

Ed: The OAS is meeting today to decide on measures to reform the Inter-American Human Rights System. The Nobel Women's Initiative, JASS, Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres in Nicaragua and other Americas Program partners have been active to preserve the vital functions of the Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights that have been important in exposing violations and protecting human rights defenders. The Permanent Council was stuck on language about non-governmental funding to the System after a long series of meetings this week and last, but a meeting of nations that have signed the American Convention on Human Rights (San José Pact) agreed to remove proposals that would have seriously weakened the System. 

A group of center-left governments led by Ecuador objected to aspects of the precautionary measures and sentences against their governments. They have accused the U.S. of exercising excessive control over the operations of the system and argued that States that have not signed the Pact should not have representation on the Commission. The U.S. and Canada, among others, have not signed the regional human rights commission and  that lack of basic commitment to the System undermines regional efforts to guarantee human rights. Civil society organization and especially women's organizations that we work with have responded saying that the flaws should be addressed by strengthening, not weakening, the system. The draft resolutions call on all nations to sign the Pact and governments to fund all Rapporteurs adequately and equally.

Here is the press release and letter issued yesterday from Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Jody Williams and Rigoberta Menchu, from the Nobel Women's Initiative.

Nobel Women's Initiative: On the eve of a deadline for defining the future of the Inter-American human rights system, six Nobel Peace Laureates have sent an open letter to leaders in this hemisphere calling on them to strengthen both the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Tomorrow members of the Organization of American States (OAS) will be presenting proposals for reforming the regional justice system created in 1948, and which primarily oversees compliance with the American Convention on Human Rights adopted in 1969.

In their open letter to OAS leaders, the six Nobel Laureates—Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee, Mairead Maguire and Tawakkol Karman—note that the Inter-American Human Rights System has "proven to be an effective tool" for defending the basic rights of women and others threatened by rising levels of violence in some places in the region. They say the OAS mechanisms have been important in giving "voice and protection" to women and others at-risk.

The Nobel Laureates sent the letter in response to concerns from human rights groups in the region that some countries within the OAS are trying to weaken the power and effectiveness of the Inter-American Human Rights System. In 2011, Nobel Laureates Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Jody Williams led a delegation to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to investigate rising violence against women human rights defenders. The delegation heard testimony from women and organizations that had turned to the Inter-American Human Rights System after hitting walls in their own countries.

"It was really important that the Inter-American Court took [our] case," said Imelda Marrufo, whose organization denounced rising femicides in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  "Authorities [in Mexico] were calling the femicides a 'myth'. The case led to the formal recognition that the killings existed."

Last week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard the case of 11 women from Atenco, Mexico who were sexually assaulted by police in 2006 when Mexico's current President—Enrique Peña Nieto—was Governor of the state where the assaults occurred. A day after the Inter-American hearing got started in Washington, the Mexican government finally offered the women of Atenco a "friendly solution" to the case. The "solution" includes a public apology and reparations for the psychological and other damage caused by the sexual assaults.

The women of Atenco have since rejected the Mexican government's offer, instead opting to move forward with their case. "We are never going to be victims," said one of the Atenco women. "We are survivors full of hope."

Read the full text of the open letter below.

For more information, please contact:
Rachel Vincent, Media Manager
Nobel Women's Initiative
Mobile +1 613 276 9030


An Open Letter from Nobel Peace Laureates to All Member States of the Organization of American States

On the eve of the Extraordinary General Assembly on March 22, 2013, we are writing to call on all member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) to join together to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System.

The Inter-American Human Rights System—made up of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights—has proven to be an effective tool for the defense of basic rights, especially for groups that face discrimination in the justice system: women, indigenous peoples, Afro-Americans, migrants and displaced persons, members of the LGBT community, leaders of political opposition and the poor. The System also plays a critical role in cases where state actors are in complicity or directly involved in committing human rights violations.

The Inter-American Human Rights System has protected women human rights defenders and survivors of violence by making the work of such defenders visible, investigating complaints and contributing to prevention.  This is vital work in a region where threats against some women and their communities are a daily fact of life.

At this juncture in history—when human rights are all too often taking a back seat to corporate and other interests—the goal should be to broaden and strengthen the System and ensure full funding for its important functions.  This support should extend to all eight of the thematic Rapporteurs and the country Rapporteurs.

We urge the member states that have not ratified the Convention to do so as soon as possible to send a strong signal that human rights are a priority. We also strongly encourage the member nations to strengthen the system by fully and promptly complying with the recommendations and decisions of the Commission and the Court, and contributing to funding their operations at an adequate level.

The Inter-American Human Rights System has given voice to and protection to human rights defenders throughout the region, as well as at-risk populations.  At this critical moment in it development, we call on all OAS countries to reaffirm their commitment and support for the important work of the Inter-American Rights System.


Jody Williams
Chair, Nobel Women's Initiative
Nobel Peace Laureate, 1997

Rigoberta Menchu Tum
Nobel Women's Initiative
Nobel Peace Laureate, 1992

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