This Friday, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will elect four out of seven members to sit on the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, a critical human rights body in the region. Both the Commission and OAS General Assembly have rightly established rigorous criteria for these positions. Members are expected to have high moral authority; recognized expertise in human rights, independence, impartiality, and absence of conflicts of interest; and contribution to the balanced and representative integration of the organization. Having members who meet these standards is important.
The Commission has an essential role in monitoring and protecting human rights, as well as setting new rights standards for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Commission’s work has been especially important in advancing the rights of women and girls to be free from all forms of violence and gender discrimination. In 2021, it took the case of Cristina Britez Arce and her family v. Argentina to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, resulting in the Court’s recognition of obstetric violence – violence suffered in the context of pregnancy and childbirth – as a violation of human rights. In 2022, the Commission took the Beatriz case and others v. El Salvador, regarding the country’s absolute ban on abortion, to the court.
The case is expected to set an important precedent in the Americas. In a region tilting toward authoritarianism, it is critical to maintain the independence of bodies that protect the human rights of the most vulnerable populations. To take one example, restrictions on women’s rights not only affect women, but also increase the arbitrary power of the government over the whole community, undermining basic pillars of democracy. This is why the OAS General Assembly should ensure that candidates meet the high standards for membership in the Commission. OAS member states should ensure that the next group of Commissioners have the qualifications and independence to protect the human rights of everyone in the Americas.
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