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30 May 2016

Concern over the financial crisis faced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Front Line Defenders expresses deep concern over the lack of funding for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On 23 May 2016, the organisation announced that a severe financial crisis has led to the suspension of hearings and the imminent layoff of 40 per cent of its staff.

Read also: Joint Statement - International support for the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR)

The IACHR is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. The IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights and it has played a major role in promoting and protecting human rights when states have failed to do so.

The Commission has announced that it might have to reduce the staff processing urgent measures against serious threats that require an urgent response (precautionary measures), by up to 80% and cut the number of people who carry out monitoring activities in the region by around a third .

The IACHR has been instrumental in providing a safer environment for human rights defenders. Several human rights defenders in the region have been granted precautionary measures when facing great danger. That support, in many cases, has ultimately saved their lives. Many others have filed petitions before the IACHR when all local remedies failed to ensure that their rights and/or those of their community were respected.

In 1998, the IACHR Annual Report highlighted the importance and ethical dimension of the work carried out by individuals and organisations dedicated to promoting, monitoring, and providing counsel in the area of human rights. In that report, the Commission recommended that the OAS Member States should take all necessary measures to protect the physical integrity of human rights defenders and to ensure they could work under appropriate conditions. That followed resolutions, the creation of a specialised unit and finally the Rappourteurship on the situation of human rights defenders.

Over the past decades, the reports and public statements published by the IACHR, as well as the public hearings, have helped give visibility to the challenges faced by human rights defenders, legitimise their work and identify violation trends. For instance, the IACHR has recently published the report Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders that has confirmed and proved the use of judicial proceedings as a way of criminalising human rights defenders and preventing them from carrying out their peaceful activities.

Human rights defenders are the key agents of change within society. They are at risk because they touch on powerful interests when they promote social justice and human rights for all. Protecting human rights defenders and expanding the space in which civil society can work is a crucial element in promoting good governance, peace, development and human rights. The IACHR is a fundamental institution in the Americas and so far has played an invaluable role in promoting and protecting human rights in the region.

Front Line Defenders urges the members of the Organization of American States to take the necessary measures to ensure the immediate and adequate funding of the IACHR, so that it can continue its activities.