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Picture Eduardo Kohn

The 45th OAS General Assembly held in Washington, D.C., from June 14-16, opened a window of new hope to reach the challenges that an international organization embracing all the Americas must face in modern times.

Among those challenges, supporting and endorsing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is crucial. IACHR has been the steadiest hand in sustaining OAS credibility during the body’s more than 60 years of existence.

The IACHR has been invaluable in highlighting the unrest in Venezuela: the illegal imprisonment of opposition leaders, the illegal confiscation of private properties and the illegal shut down of absolutely all media opposed to the government. Although the IACHR is not be able to research and investigate on the ground, it has nevertheless managed to paint a complete picture of President Nicolas Maduro’s government’s lack of democracy and lack of respect for human rights.

IACHR has been very clear to denounce the lack of freedom of press in Ecuador and the violation of human rights in other countries.

During the dialogue between civil society organizations and the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, B’nai B’rith inquired how OAS will continue to give the IACHR much needed support. The answer was that the defense of the Democratic Charter, which demands full respect to democracy and human rights, must be one of the crucial goals for the new OAS Administration.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken posed clear goals when he addressed the General Assembly:

“As Secretary General Almagro has emphasized, the OAS must adapt to these modern times and to the contemporary challenges that we face. We must strengthen responsible stewardship and good governance in our own national governments and within the OAS, including its associated and constituent offices. This means shaping a more focused and fortified secretariat that faithfully reflects the Strategic Vision statement, advances an agenda for reform, and refocuses on the OAS’s core thematic pillars. And it means taking a stand against corruption and acts of betrayal by public officials in our own countries that undermine democratic institutions and the sacred trust of our people.

We must ensure that the organization and its member states safeguard and strengthen our independent human rights system, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court. These bodies must remain fully empowered to continue their essential work protecting the liberty of all our citizens. And we must continue to lead by example, holding each other accountable when we fall short of realizing our collective commitment to the principles that are enshrined in the OAS Charter, the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.”

The claim of safeguarding the IACHR was not unanimous, but the majority agreed it was necessary. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, among others, still mentioned in their speeches slogans of “imperialism” as the root of all evils of the world, and particularly in the Americas.

They are clearly very wrong. 

Poverty, inequity, discrimination and corruption are evils and unfortunately realities that those countries have not overcome and must face.

“The Americas are part of the solution to climate change, food crisis and terrorism and as we join together to face these challenges, we must also fight corruption that corrodes our institutions and once again affects the poorest,” Almagro said.

The vast majority of the member states and civil society have a clear view of the issues that must be focused on immediately if we all want a productive, proactive and better OAS. We all agreed that discrimination has decreased in recent years, but we still have racism, anti-Semitism, and are corruption and poverty, no doubt, still too high. Latin America has the highest rate of inequity in the whole world.

The secretary general said in his opening remarks that OAS must look forward to accomplishing several short term goals:

     ▪ A school of government for public servants and civil 

     ▪ A regional system for the prevention of conflict

     ▪ A pan-American education system

     ▪ Citizen security in the Americas

     ▪ Disaster management in Central America and the 

If Almagro is to address such goals successfully, in the very short term OAS will have to face immediate challenges to prove if these ideas can, step by step, become a reality. 

OAS will be an official observer during the Guatemalan elections in early September, a process that has been marred by social unrest due to serious accusations of corruption against the current Guatemalan administration. The resolution taken up on this matter by the General Assembly was unanimous: OAS must go to Guatemala and help to enhance the democratic environment, guaranteeing free elections and a government elected by the people. Guatemala agreed to allow OAS to participate as an official observer.

On December 6, congressional elections will be held in Venezuela. The secretary general offered OAS’ services as an observer and a facilitator for these elections, but this challenge will not be easily tackled. The Venezuelan government has never allowed observers in their elections except for political friends of politically friendly countries. It would be a failure for OAS if Venezuela again rejects its presence.

In one year, when OAS General Assembly meets in the Dominican Republic, the overview of this year will show us how far OAS was able to successfully overcome the challenges and the goals stated at this year’s meeting. How has citizen security has been addressed? How strong has OAS been in preventing conflicts? 

And how many countries will be still challenging IACHR, which essentially means, who is still challenging the very existence of OAS?

Eduardo Kohn, Ph.D has been the B’nai B’rith executive vice president in Uruguay since 1981 and the B’nai B’rith International director of Latin American affairs since 1984. Before joining B’nai B’rith, he worked for the Israeli embassy in Uruguay, the Israel-Uruguay Chamber of Commerce and Hebrew College in Montevideo. He is a published author of “Zionism, 100 years of Theodor Herzl,” and writes op-eds for publications throughout Latin America. He graduated from the State University of Uruguay with a doctorate in diplomacy and international affairs. To view some of his additional content,Click Here.