This is part 4 in our Dejusticia Blog Series: Politics, Challenges & Opportunities of the Inter-American Human Rights System. You can view parts 1, 2, and 3, here, here, and here.
The illegal and inexcusable expulsion of Colombian migrants confirm how little basic liberties matter in Venezuela, or in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua that supported Venezuela with their vote. But the Colombian setback at the OAS is also a result of the Santos Administration’s human rights foreign policy.
The Colombian Foreign Minister’s lament about the OAS is very paradoxical. Not because there isn’t reason to be outraged by the regional body’s inaction before the humanitarian crisis at the border, but rather because the Colombian Foreign Ministry has contributed to the weakening of the OAS Human Rights System whose intervention it now requests.
Let’s run down memory lane. A couple of years ago, when Venezuela and Ecuador led an effort to remove some of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) powers, the Foreign Ministry oscillated between deliberate ambiguity and pragmatic silence. With its ambiguity it attempted to be on good terms with everyone; with its pragmatism it subordinated human rights with other foreign policy interests, like trade with neighboring countries.
In this way, it helped ALBA’s campaign take off and thus put at risk the few real powers that IACHR has in cases like the one on the border, like issuing precautionary measures to avoid imminent basic rights violations. It also took advantage of the fact that AICHR between a rock and a hard place to push for the reform that interested the Colombian government (that AICHR take Colombia off its list of countries with grave human rights violations), instead of defending the Commission.
Then came the case of Petro, the mayor of the Colombian capital Bogotá. As you may remember, the government openly did not recognize the body’s powers that it now requests, arguing (erroneously) that it was not obligated to comply with AICHR’s order that suspended Petro’s irregular dismissal by the Solicitor General (who now asks for precautionary measures against Venezuela, even though he then said that these measures were not binding).
The Foreign Ministry’s pragmatism and ambiguity have reached such levels that, in certain occasions, its positions have ended up resembling those of countries like Venezuela and Ecuador, that react against the OAS and AICHR’s defeats with calls to reform them. “We have to reconsider the OAS’ purpose,” said Colombian Foreign Minister Holguín following the vote about the crisis on the border.
On the contrary, what the vote shows are the limits of pragmatism. And the necessity for support based on conviction, not on episodic convenience, of the international human rights system and multilateral conflict resolution mechanisms.
When we play along with others’ aim to weaken the protection of human rights, sooner or later our own are weakened. Fortunately AICHR is not in this game, as shown by its quick condemnation of the Venezuelan government’s abuses against illegally expelled Colombian citizens. Let’s hope the Colombian Foreign Ministry takes the cue.
* César Rodríguez Garavito is a founding member of the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia)