Already, it has been a tumultuous year in inter-American policy regarding human rights and democracy. The fifth of our reports on hemispheric adherence to international norms regarding democracy and human rights demonstrates a series of schisms and global shifts that we did not foresee when we started this project. For one, while the VIII Summit of the Americas, held in Lima in April 2018, addressed head on the issue of the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela, a combination of the Peruvian government’s disinvitation of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to the Summit and U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s last-minute decision not to attend led to the lowest ever attendance by heads of state (only 47%) in the history of the 24-year-old hemispheric confab.
Despite the decline in engagement in region-wide initiatives and concerns over the fragmenting consensus in the hemisphere, at the 48th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) the hemispheric body finally passed a resolution condemning the state of human rights and democracy in Venezuela. Citing the lack of basic guarantees and conditions required for free and fair elections, the resolution also declared the May 20th presidential elections that re-elected Nicolas Maduro fraudulent. In a region in which concern has been expressed over deteriorating electoral standards and the rise of unprofessional election observers, it was a clear and strong statement over what constitutes a democratic election.
Since the last report, three new Latin American members have joined the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), all of them one-time supporters of international human rights practices. But there are two problems. As we detail in this report, the June 19th, 2018 decision by the Trump administration to pull out of UNHRC will likely preclude any effort at reforming the body to better represent democratic governments. By quitting the body, the United States essentially also cedes the world’s only global forum for human rights to the abusers. There’s perhaps no better example of this than recent abstentions by Venezuela and Cuba on the UNHRC’s vote on the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population, which is suffering from a policy of displacement and genocide.
At the same time, there remains a big question mark over Mexico’s foreign policy under newly elected president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who has stated repeatedly his commitment to non-intervention. How this will play out in Mexico’s foreign policy and it’s relationship with multilateral groups is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, it is likely that AMLO’s government will at least begin a shift from Mexico’s current foreign policy started by former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda under President Vicente Fox (2000-2006) in which Mexico sought a more activist international profile in matters of democracy and human rights. (As we have detailed, though, those commitments haven’t always translated to Mexico’s domestic policies).
The trend of declining adherence to and respect for the Inter-American System of Human Rights continues and expands. In 2000, Peru, then under former President Alberto Fujimori, objected to the recommendations and reports of the Inter-American System of Human Rights (IACHR); later, in 2012, a bloc of countries led by then-President of Ecuador Rafael Correa (with support from the governments of Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela) attempted to neuter the system’s independence and scope of action. Today the assault is more “panideological.” Jamaica didn’t send a government representative to a hearing on race-related state violence; Venezuela and Nicaragua refuse to cooperate in the hearings; and the United States sent a diminishing number of representatives and challenged the authority of the IACHR.
Last, on domestic compliance with international labor rights obligations, it’s difficult to untangle fact from ideology. While there have been a series of challenges to workers’ and union rights as a result of the labor reforms of the 1990s and 2000s and the once-expanding network of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, those commitments have all too often failed in their local application. Those obligations can be strengthened in future free trade agreements including in the now U.S-free Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and in the renewed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations.