A Human Rights Initiative for the Americas

By Andrew Reding. Andrew Reding is a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute York. | The Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 1992 | Go to article overview
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A Human Rights Initiative for the Americas


Andrew Reding. Andrew Reding is a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute York., The Christian Science Monitor


THE overthrow of elected governments in Haiti and Peru and the attempted coup in Venezuela underscore the fragility of democratic institutions in Latin America. As the Bush administration pursues its Enterprise for the Americas Initiative to extend free trade across the hemisphere, the region needs a comparable initiative to promote democracy and human rights. The Senate took a step in this direction April 2 when it ratified the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It should now ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, as part of an initiative to reinforce democratic institutions throughout the Americas.

The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights are, respectively, the global and hemispheric counterparts of the US Bill of Rights. They seek to restrain the powers of governments in favor of individuals and civil society. The preamble to the American Convention states that human rights "are not derived from one's being a national of a certain state, but are based upon attributes of the human personality, and ... therefore justify international protection."

By ratifying the American Convention, which has been adopted by every Latin American and Caribbean country except Brazil, Cuba, and Guyana, the US would gain access to both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. By recognizing the binding jurisdiction of the Commission and the Court, we could help transform these institutions into effective means of enforcing fundamental human rights, among them the prohibition on torture, rights of due process, and the right to elect governments in free and fair elections.

A key feature of the Convention is its provision for individual petition to the Inter-American Commission. This enables any person, group of persons, or non-governmental organization to file a complaint after domestic remedies have been exhausted. The commission may then present the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose decision is binding on all states that have recognized its competence. These arrangements are essential to the development of due process in many Latin countries, where local courts may lack independence, and in some cases lack authority to enforce certain rights.

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