The IACHR financial crisis: where are the resources to finance human rights?

Urgent call to OAS Member States

Nothing reflects governments’ priorities more clearly than their choices in assigning resources. The financial crisis currently affecting the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), caused by the insufficient allocation of resources by the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS), demonstrates their lack of political will to protect and finance human rights both within and beyond their territories.

In its 23 May statement, the IACHR denounces the worst financial crisis in its history as the culmination of “a systemic and structural situation of inadequate financing”. The IACHR financial crisis is the “tip of the iceberg” of the deprioritization of human rights in public budgets of countries across the region. The signatory organizations, all of which work to promote justice in the distribution of resources and the use of fiscal policy to guarantee human rights, have been advocating for the role of the Inter-American System in precisely these areas – overseeing states’ obligations in the use of financial resources to guarantee human rights, eradicate poverty and confront inequality.

The current situation throws into relief the urgent necessity to demand transparency, accountability and participation in the way OAS member states prioritize and assign resources for human rights in their budgets.

The progress made by the IACHR in confronting structural problems and serious violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in the region will be weakened by this lack of resources. Moreover, this is happening in a context that urgently requires that the IACHR play a more vigorous role in the defense and protection of these rights.

With the creation of the IACHR within the framework of the Organization of American States, member states committed to financing this body adequately in order to “promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as consultative organ of the Organization in this matter.” However, states have not shown the political will to meet these commitments. With an annual budget of $8 million, the Inter-American System is the “poorest system in the world”, with less resources than the corresponding entity in Africa ($13 million) and Europe (€100 million). The scant contribution from OAS member states to this organization partly explains the meagre assignation that it makes to the IACHR (6% of its budget). However, statistics on voluntary donations (additional to the regular fund) show that countries have not made significant contributions through this channel either when compared to the donations made to other global human rights mechanisms.

Proposals and alternatives to tackle the IACHR’s insolvency, in both the short and long terms, are available. Civil society organizations and activists rightly propose an analysis of how spending priorities are defined within the OAS, to explain why the IACHR only receives 6% of the budget of this organization, and also the implementation of a combination of obligatory and voluntary funds by member states to guarantee the consistent and stable financing of the Commission. Other proposals to resolve the situation include the creation of a sustainable financing fund for the bodies of the Inter-American Human Rights System, the establishment of an obligatory mechanism for direct contributions, and other channels to support a sustainable financing for the IACHR. The signatory organizations reiterate the necessity and pertinence of these proposals.

Additionally, the signatory organizations call on OAS member states to: immediately assign the necessary resources to cover the deficit that is endangering the IACHR’s functioning; to carry out a analysis of the impact of the current allocation of 6% of the OAS budget on the promotion, protection and fulfillment of human rights in the region; to raise said allocation sufficiently for the adequate functioning of the IACHR; to generate clear, obligatory and stable mechanisms to guarantee the financing of the IACHR and to ensure it will not be submitted to the political will of states so that the current crisis is not repeated. In the same vein, we propose that OAS member states include in their annual national budgets allocations directed to sustain both national human rights institutions and the Inter-American System of Human Rights. The free and independent use of these resources by the IACHR in the fulfillment of its mandate must be respected and guaranteed.

It is not a lack of resources, but a lack of political will, that has generated the IACHR crisis. However, in the face of a lack of resources, states have a wide margin for action to generate such resources, through combatting tax evasion and avoidance, illicit financial flows and the flight of resources to tax havens. In addition, States must also comply with their obligation to finance the protection and realization of human rights through international cooperation.

The IACHR is an autonomous body whose independence and solidity has substantively advanced the content and reach of international human rights law, and which has played a crucial role in the strengthening of democracy in the region. In the forthcoming OAS General Assembly in June, member states have the opportunity to show the international community that they can raise to the challenge and comply with their human rights commitments.

Signatory organizations: Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (DeJusticia), Centro de Análisis e Investigación FUNDAR, Fundación para el Avance de las Reformas y las Oportunidades (Grupo FARO), el Instituto de Estudios Socio-económicos (INESC), Red Latinoamericana de Deuda, Desarrollo y Derechos (Latindadd), Red de Justicia Fiscal de América Latina y el Caribe y Oxfam Internacional.

Links to other appeals:
    •    Open letter from the Coalition of Human Rights Organizations of the Americas (in Spanish)
    •    Oxfam calls on donors and governments to overcome the IACHR financial crisis (in Spanish)
    •    Twitter: #CIDHenCrisis