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s Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General, Luis Almagro, seeks to develop a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) mechanism for the organization, there are a number of lessons to consider from similar Hemispheric initiatives and past attempts to protect human rights in the Americas. Significant challenges have historically plagued R2P in other countries, as well as attempts to implement of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Latin America. As a result, developing an effective regional R2P mechanism will require addressing problems R2P and the Charter have faced as well as building tools that ensure that a regional R2P can prevent human rights abuses and protect the people of the Americas.

The Responsibility to Protect was adopted by UN member states in 2005 with the purpose of preventing mass atrocities—defined as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. With the lessons of the Balkans and Rwanda fresh in the minds of world leaders, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, challenged the international community to create measures in defense of common humanity. Drawing on inspiration from South Sudanese diplomat, Francis Deng’s notion of “sovereignty as a responsibility,” Canada answered the call, with the first iteration of R2P presented in 2001.

Implementing a regionalized R2P would face challenges similar to those faced in implementing other regional initiatives. For instance, in 2001, the OAS adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter in an effort to solidify and preserve democracy in the region. It enabled the Secretary General and member states the ability to invoke the charter to allow for collective action in cases of democratic crisis. As with R2P, the Inter-American Democratic Charter has been under-utilized and critiqued for being too selective. These challenges provide useful guidance for designing an Inter-American R2P mechanism would actually protect Human Rights in the Americas.

A common critique of the OAS proclamation that it defends of democracy is its inability to address threats to democracy before they become full blown crises. In recent years, threats to democracy have not come as frequently from sudden military coups, but rather from a slow assault on democratic institutions, including attacks on the press, the regular rewriting of constitutions, the alteration of term limits among others. Given that small assaults on democracy have not been enough to trigger the Inter American Democratic Charter, the OAS needs a regional R2P mechanism that seeks to develop early warning systems and programs to ensure that human rights violations are addressed early so that non-military actions are considered before they escalate.

One challenge for addressing these crises and potential early warnings has been defining democracy and a break-down of the democratic order. The Democratic Charter is triggered when “…an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime…” occurs, which makes this term’s definition important. Even in the debates leading to the Charter’s signing, questions emerged about what constituted democracy. While the Charter links democracy to traditional liberal norms and representative democracy, other leaders have pushed undemocratic actions in the name of participatory or direct democracy. One can imagine similar situations in the case of human rights. In order to ensure that human rights are protected and a regional R2P mechanism is used in good faith, it must develop a shared definition of Human Rights and a collective way of identifying violations of these rights.

Further, differences in political preferences and the balance of power within the Inter-American system have led to unevenness in how the Inter-American Democratic Charter has been invoked. Despite similar situations in the 2017 Honduran and 2019 Bolivian elections, the OAS only responded forcefully in the Bolivian case. In Honduras, due to the rapid U.S. embrace of the election results, the OAS rebuke of results did not carry the same weight or consequence.

This unequal application led many to believe that implementing the Charter is a political decision based on the interests of the few rather than based on the specifics of the crisis. Alongside differing perspectives on the proper balance between sovereignty and defending democracy, the Charter has led to politicization and polarization within the Inter-American system. This in turn has made it more difficult to implement the Charter in cases of democratic crisis.

Given these challenges, the OAS needs to ensure that an R2P mechanism is used equitably. In the case of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, there is no independent body that is designed to monitor and evaluate democratic crises other than election monitoring missions that need an invitation in order to observe national elections.

However, the OAS has two such bodies at its disposal in the case of human rights—the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These two bodies could be useful for reporting and defining of human rights abuses to the OAS. Having these mechanisms report annually on all countries in the region and produce recommendations for all member states to implement could help ensure that regional R2P policies are limited in scope while effectively protecting human rights in the region.

First, the OAS needs to learn from the challenges it has faced with Inter-American Democratic Charter implementation. Only by ensuring the protection of human rights before atrocities occur, promoting a shared understanding of human rights, and developing mechanisms to ensure the equal use and de-politicization of crises can a regionalized R2P yield desired outcomes.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is a contributing editor with The Diplomatic Courier and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
About
Wazim Mowla
:
Wazim Mowla is an MA candidate at American University’s School of International Service and is an expert on Caribbean affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Lessons from Defending Democracy for Protecting Human Rights

October 22, 2020

A

s Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General, Luis Almagro, seeks to develop a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) mechanism for the organization, there are a number of lessons to consider from similar Hemispheric initiatives and past attempts to protect human rights in the Americas. Significant challenges have historically plagued R2P in other countries, as well as attempts to implement of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Latin America. As a result, developing an effective regional R2P mechanism will require addressing problems R2P and the Charter have faced as well as building tools that ensure that a regional R2P can prevent human rights abuses and protect the people of the Americas.

The Responsibility to Protect was adopted by UN member states in 2005 with the purpose of preventing mass atrocities—defined as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. With the lessons of the Balkans and Rwanda fresh in the minds of world leaders, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, challenged the international community to create measures in defense of common humanity. Drawing on inspiration from South Sudanese diplomat, Francis Deng’s notion of “sovereignty as a responsibility,” Canada answered the call, with the first iteration of R2P presented in 2001.

Implementing a regionalized R2P would face challenges similar to those faced in implementing other regional initiatives. For instance, in 2001, the OAS adopted the Inter-American Democratic Charter in an effort to solidify and preserve democracy in the region. It enabled the Secretary General and member states the ability to invoke the charter to allow for collective action in cases of democratic crisis. As with R2P, the Inter-American Democratic Charter has been under-utilized and critiqued for being too selective. These challenges provide useful guidance for designing an Inter-American R2P mechanism would actually protect Human Rights in the Americas.

A common critique of the OAS proclamation that it defends of democracy is its inability to address threats to democracy before they become full blown crises. In recent years, threats to democracy have not come as frequently from sudden military coups, but rather from a slow assault on democratic institutions, including attacks on the press, the regular rewriting of constitutions, the alteration of term limits among others. Given that small assaults on democracy have not been enough to trigger the Inter American Democratic Charter, the OAS needs a regional R2P mechanism that seeks to develop early warning systems and programs to ensure that human rights violations are addressed early so that non-military actions are considered before they escalate.

One challenge for addressing these crises and potential early warnings has been defining democracy and a break-down of the democratic order. The Democratic Charter is triggered when “…an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime…” occurs, which makes this term’s definition important. Even in the debates leading to the Charter’s signing, questions emerged about what constituted democracy. While the Charter links democracy to traditional liberal norms and representative democracy, other leaders have pushed undemocratic actions in the name of participatory or direct democracy. One can imagine similar situations in the case of human rights. In order to ensure that human rights are protected and a regional R2P mechanism is used in good faith, it must develop a shared definition of Human Rights and a collective way of identifying violations of these rights.

Further, differences in political preferences and the balance of power within the Inter-American system have led to unevenness in how the Inter-American Democratic Charter has been invoked. Despite similar situations in the 2017 Honduran and 2019 Bolivian elections, the OAS only responded forcefully in the Bolivian case. In Honduras, due to the rapid U.S. embrace of the election results, the OAS rebuke of results did not carry the same weight or consequence.

This unequal application led many to believe that implementing the Charter is a political decision based on the interests of the few rather than based on the specifics of the crisis. Alongside differing perspectives on the proper balance between sovereignty and defending democracy, the Charter has led to politicization and polarization within the Inter-American system. This in turn has made it more difficult to implement the Charter in cases of democratic crisis.

Given these challenges, the OAS needs to ensure that an R2P mechanism is used equitably. In the case of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, there is no independent body that is designed to monitor and evaluate democratic crises other than election monitoring missions that need an invitation in order to observe national elections.

However, the OAS has two such bodies at its disposal in the case of human rights—the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These two bodies could be useful for reporting and defining of human rights abuses to the OAS. Having these mechanisms report annually on all countries in the region and produce recommendations for all member states to implement could help ensure that regional R2P policies are limited in scope while effectively protecting human rights in the region.

First, the OAS needs to learn from the challenges it has faced with Inter-American Democratic Charter implementation. Only by ensuring the protection of human rights before atrocities occur, promoting a shared understanding of human rights, and developing mechanisms to ensure the equal use and de-politicization of crises can a regionalized R2P yield desired outcomes.

About
Adam Ratzlaff
:
Adam Ratzlaff is a contributing editor with The Diplomatic Courier and a specialist in Latin American foreign and public affairs.
About
Wazim Mowla
:
Wazim Mowla is an MA candidate at American University’s School of International Service and is an expert on Caribbean affairs.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.