Monday, June 10, 2013

Organization of American States Adopts Two Human Rights Conventions; U.S. Has Objections

Merco Press reports that the General Assembly of the Organization of American States meeting last week in Guatemala adopted two human rights conventions-- the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Related Forms of Intolerance and the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. According to JTA, at a ceremony on Saturday, six countries signed the new conventions-- Argentina, Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

The new Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance contains a broad definition of prohibited discrimination (Art. 1):
Discrimination may be based on nationality; age; sex; sexual orientation; gender identity and expression; language; religion; cultural identity; political opinions or opinions of any kind; social origin; socioeconomic status; educational level; migrant, refugee, repatriate, stateless or internally displaced status; disability; genetic trait; mental or physical health condition, including infectious-contagious condition and debilitating psychological condition; or any other condition.
The introductory language of the Convention proclaims that parties to it are "disturbed by ... a general increase in cases of intolerance and violence motivated by anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, or Islamophobia, and that directed against members of other religious communities, including those with African roots."  It goes on to recognize "that peaceful coexistence among religions in pluralistic societies and democratic states is based on respect for equality and nondiscrimination among religions and on a clear separation between the laws of the state and religious tenets."

Under Art. 4, states agree to  prevent and prohibit "publication, circulation or dissemination, by any form and/or means of communication, including the Internet, of any materials that advocate, promote, or incite hatred, discrimination, and intolerance."

Footnotes to both Conventions (which continue at the end of the respective documents) indicate that the United States has reservations. The U.S.states in part:
The United States believes that what is needed in this area are enhanced measures and efforts to implement existing human rights instruments, not the adoption of new instruments.  Additionally, we are concerned that some provisions of the draft conventions could undermine or are incompatible with international human rights law protections including those related to freedoms of expression and association.
At the Guatemala meetings, officers of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights were also elected. (OAS press release). Winning candidates were Jose de Jesús Orozco (Mexico) who was reelected, Stanford Law Professor James L. Cavallaro (United States) and Paulo De Tarso Vannuchi (Brazil). Here is the U.S. State Department's press release on the OAS meetings.