It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of the norms, commitments and institutions that defined the post World War II era is at best uncertain. This is also true in the Western Hemisphere. While the OAS General Assembly and its Permanent Council have produced important votes condemning the deterioration of human rights and democracy in Venezuela and Nicaragua, the loud and sometimes undiplomatic resistance by countries such as Bolivia and many of the Caribbean countries, in particular to the Venezuela resolution, reinforces the sense that the hemisphere is fractured.
But it’s not just the Western Hemisphere. Nor is it now just the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) threatening multilateral norms and institutions. As we’ve noted before, the Dominican Republic has declared itself not officially part of the Inter-American system of human rights after cases involving the treatment of Dominican citizens of Haitian descent came before the IACHR. The United States too has shown a surprising and unproductive lack of cooperation with the IACHR. The U.S. delegation’s not-so-subtle efforts to threaten the IAHRC by mentioning its budget are a dangerous precedent.
Similarly, the U.S decision to pull out of the UNHRC threatens not just the future of the world’s premier—for all its flaws—human rights body, but also any serious efforts to reform it. This upcoming election cycle for new members to the UNHRC provides an opportunity to replace some of the more human rights abusing and retrograde countries with more forward leading governments that support and defend democracy and human rights. While that won’t save the UNHRC, it would be an important step in addressing the body’s much needed reform.
President Trump’s decision to skip the Summit of the Americas in Lima was regrettable, but Vice President Pence’s offer to host the next Summit may help restore broader hemispheric commitment to the process and reinforce U.S. commitment to the region.
Regarding our special section on labor rights in this report, two things stand out. First, for all their imperfections and spottiness in implementation, U.S. free trade agreements have served as a powerful tool for improving labor rights in partner countries. One wonders what would have occurred in countries like Colombia, which ranks as one of the worst countries for labor rights, in their absence.
Unfortunately, by abandoning the TPP, the Trump administration missed an opportunity to level the playing field for U.S. workers vis à vis Asia and Mexico. Fortunately for their workers, the other TPP countries have continued with the negotiations and eventual confirmation under the CPTPP, which will help to update to ILO standards and bring attention to labor laws and conditions in member countries. Second, the mainstream indices of labor rights tend to overlook Cuba and Venezuela, arguably two of the most repressive regimes for labor rights, raising a question of ideological, cognitive dissonance among many of the groups that purport to defend the lives of workers and their rights to association, collective bargaining and independent representation.
It’s been three years since Global Americans’ reporting on foreign policy and the democracy monitoring project was started. Across these three years one thing is clear: the survival of the rules-based global order is at greater risk than at any previous point in the 21st century. That’s dangerous for the future of democracy and human rights in the Americas, especially given the precipitous U.S. retreat from regional and global leadership. Now more than ever, it’s important for the traditional and emerging democratic powers of the Americas to continue to espouse the universal value of democracy and human rights and stand up for regional collaboration.