In recent years, the inter-American system has come under criticism and even attack by OAS member states. From the efforts by Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela to strip the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR or Commission) of much of its authority and functions, to the veiled attacks by the Mexican government on the Commission’s special team sent to investigate the Ayotzinapa massacre, to the U.S. government’s recent refusal to participate in the Commission’s hearings on U.S. cases, the inter-American system has been buffeted. A large part of its future and success will hinge on the quality and independence of the jurists that sit on the Commission and the Court.
Below are the bios of the six nominees to fill three positions on the IACHR. A number of human rights groups have signed letters raising concerns about the nominee from Argentina (a link to the letter is here) and the nominee from Mexico (a link to the letter is here), but in all cases, there have been criticisms. The extent of their experience and training in human rights law and litigation varies.
To present the nominees comparatively, Global Americans developed a scoring system that runs from -2 to 8 for each candidate based on education, experience and credibility. Below the bios we explain how the scoring system works.
The candidates below are listed by country alphabetically.
Carlos Horacio de Casas (Argentina)
Carlos Horacio de Casas is a professor of criminal law at Universidad de Mendoza. He has worked for the Argentine government in various capacities, including as: Director of Penal Affairs in Mendoza province from 1984-1986; legal counsel to the government of Mendoza from 1986-1989; and representative of the Central Bank of Argentina in Mendoza from 1986-2000. In human rights circles in his native Argentina, de Casas is best known as a defender of free speech; he has represented jailed journalists in cases before both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington and the United Nation Human Rights Committee in Geneva. He holds a law degree from Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina and a business degree from Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Santiago, Chile.
Criticism: de Casas has been criticized by Argentine human rights groups and opposition political parties for defending a soldier, Enrique Blas Gómez Saá, who worked as an intelligence agent for the government during the Argentine military dictatorship. Many human rights groups note that de Casas’ defense of the soldier is his only public interaction with the aftermath of the dictatorship; he has never defended victims of the government.
Flávia Cristina Piovesan (Brazil)
Flávia Cristina Piovesan is a professor of constitutional law and human rights at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo. Since 1991, she has been a São Paulo State Attorney; as a State Attorney, Piovesan coordinated the state’s Working Group on Human Rights 1996 to 2001. She has written four books on human rights and co-authored or edited many more books and journal articles on the topic. In Brazil, Piovesan is best known for her fight against the criminalization of abortion, which she calls the product of an unequal and sexist society. In 2016, Brazilian President Michel Temer appointed Piovesan Special Secretary for Human Rights. She holds a masters and a Ph.D. in constitutional law from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo.
Antonia Urrejola Noguera (Chile)
Antonia Urrejola Noguera is a Chilean technocrat and human rights lawyer. She has held numerous human rights-related positions in the Chilean government, including as Human Rights Advisor to the Minister of the Interior from 2003-2005 and her current position as Advisor on Human Rights to the Minister Secretary General of the Presidency, which she’s held since 2014.
In addition to her national government background, Noguera has experience with the OAS; she served as Senior Advisor to the Secretary General of the international body from 2006-2011. In Chile, Noguera is known for her advocacy work for indigenous rights and environmental human rights issues. She holds a law degree from Universidad de Chile.
Criticism: There is very little information on Noguera online. In some ways, the lack of exposure could prove to be her biggest flaw, as she doesn’t seem to have the name recognition or experience of some of her fellow nominees.
Joel Hernández García (Mexico)
Joel Hernández García has been a member of the Mexican Foreign Service since 1992. Currently, he is on the board of directors at the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), works as an international advisor to the American Law Institute, and is seeing out a four-year term (2015-2018) on the OAS Inter-American Juridical Committee. García has worked for the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs in various capacities, including as legal counsel to the Secretary of Foreign Relations from 2005-2011 and permanent representative of Mexico to the OAS from 2011 to 2013. He holds a law degree from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a masters in international law from New York University.
Criticism: García’s nomination has been criticized by numerous human rights groups. They point to his lifelong career in the Mexican Foreign Service as proof that he’s incapable of serving on the commission as an impartial arbiter of unfavorable judgments to governments throughout the region, especially in cases that involve the interests of the Mexican government.
Douglass Cassel (United States)
Douglass Cassel is professor of law and a Presidential Fellow at University of Notre Dame. He has served three four-year terms on the Board of the Justice Studies Center of the Americas and has been president of the board two times. Cassel has filed numerous amicus curiae briefs in the United States Supreme Court concerning, among other things, the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo. He has represented victims of human rights violations from across Latin America in cases before both the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He holds a law degree from Harvard.
Criticism: Cassel has been criticized for using his clout as a well-respected human rights advocate to attempt to weigh in on the controversial Ecuador-Chevron case while accepting payments from Chevron. Cassel has admitted to taking payments from the company. Much of the criticism from members of the human rights and academic communities comes from an “Open Letter” written by Cassel, in which he labels a court decision in Ecuador regarding Chevron’s alleged environmental and human rights abuses in the country “illegitimate.”
Gianella Bardazano Gradin (Uruguay)
Gianella Bardazano Gradin is a professor of philosophy of law and legal theory at Universidad de la República in Montevideo. She specializes in human rights issues stemming from Uruguay’s military dictatorship and the human rights consequences of the decriminalization of drugs in the country, and has published numerous journal articles on both topics. Gradin serves on the board of directors at the Institute of Legal and Social Studies of Uruguay (IELSUR). In 2010, she became a member of a special commission on reparations for victims of “state terrorism” during the military dictatorship. Gradin holds a law degree and a masters in human sciences from Universidad de la República; she is a Ph.D. candidate in law at Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina.
Criticism: Like Noguera, the Chilean nominee, there is very little information on Gradin online. She faces the same exposure issues as her Chilean peer.
Global Americans looked at a series of qualifications of the candidates to score them on a scale of -2 to 8. The qualifications included education, experience litigating human rights cases against the government, experience in government in independent human rights offices, experience in litigating cases before the inter-American system of human rights, research, and teaching. In addition, we gave a -1 score to candidates: who had defended human rights abuses or military offices; who had served in government offices with no portfolio on human rights; or who had been appointed by a government that had recently been engaged in a campaign to attack the inter-American system.
Below is the system we used:
Education: 1=bachelors or university degree; 2=LLM, JD or PhD;
Work Experience: 1=Teaching experience; 1=Worked with government in independent human rights body; -1=Has defended the government or former government officials in human rights abuse cases;
Human Rights Experience: 1=Work with human rights groups trying state officials; 1=Conducted research and published on human rights; 1=Litigated cases before the inter-American system;
OAS Familiarity 1=Candidate interacted with OAS in some capacity;
Nominating Government –1=If the nominating government attempted to delegitimize the functions of the IACHR in the recent past