OAS’s work for human rights stands on two legs – the Commission and the Court (see Structure). The Commission monitors respect for human rights in different countries and consists of a group of independent experts. One of the Commission’s most important tasks is to investigate cases where individuals consider that the state has violated their rights. The Commission reports irregularities and advises the relevant government. If the country concerned does not follow the Commission’s advice, the case can be referred to the Human Rights Court, which has its origins in the 1969 US Convention on Human Rights. The court rules in cases where governments are accused of violating the convention.
As democracy has gained a foothold in Latin America, the nature of the cases reported has changed. In the past, disappearances and torture were common, nowadays more cases are about freedom of expression and discrimination. Women, children, the disabled, homosexuals, indigenous peoples and immigrants are some groups whose rights have also been taken more seriously in recent times. Despite a positive development in several countries, gross violations of human rights are still one of the continent’s major problems. Impunity in cases of torture, extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detention is common.
In 2013, 25 countries had ratified the US Convention on Human Rights (also known as the San José Pact). Two of them (Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela) have since withdrawn from the Convention, which thus applies in 23 countries. Both the Court of Justice and the Commission have had serious financial problems in recent years as a result of the increase in the number of notifications.
Other areas of cooperation
In 1996, four years after the great UN summit in Rio de Janeiro, America’s leaders held a summit on sustainable development. An action program was then prepared in a large number of areas. OAS also has a special unit for sustainable development and the environment (OSDE) which, through external funding, runs projects in areas such as water supply, climate change, natural disasters and renewable energy. In 2006, the first ministerial meeting on sustainable development was held in Bolivia.
Problems related to drugs have received a great deal of attention. Corruption, violence and other problems related to drug trafficking are seen as a threat to democracy. Since 1986, there has been a Commission on Drugs (Cicad) and following a decision in 1998, a method was developed to evaluate individual countries’ work against drugs. The evaluation is based on cooperation, not sanctions, as the fight against drugs is a sensitive issue that has periodically created tensions between the countries, especially between the United States and the coca-growing Andean countries.
The OAS also sees corruption as a serious threat to democracy. In 1996, the United States adopted the world’s first convention against corruption. In 2002, the countries that ratified the Convention introduced an evaluation mechanism, similar to that for the work against drugs. The purpose is not to punish, but to give advice and to increase cooperation between the countries.
According to homosociety, the OAS states also co-operate on a number of other issues, such as equality, minority issues, public health, telecommunications, science and culture.
The external cooperation
Both the OAS and the UN are international bodies working for peace and security. The UN Charter recognizes the importance of regional organizations in resolving regional conflicts, and normally the regional organization intervenes first. If no results are achieved, the UN can come to the rescue – as happened in Haiti in 1991 and 2004. In several areas, however, the work of the two organizations overlaps, for example in the fight against poverty and in health issues. The organizations have developed significant co-operation, and although there are sometimes shortcomings in co-ordination, conflicts rarely arise.
OAS also collaborates with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB, see Framväxten), which finances regional development projects.
More than 60 countries, including Sweden, and the EU are permanent observers in OAS and have the right to participate in the organization’s meetings and activities, without being allowed to vote. Some countries with observer status provide financial contributions to OAS projects.
Cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has long been limited and lacks formal channels. Recently, however, OAS has tried to open up more to such contacts. In 1999, new guidelines were adopted for cooperation with non-governmental organizations. Among other things, they are invited to participate in OAS summits and seminars and in various ways share their knowledge and opinions. About 170 non-governmental organizations are registered to participate in OAS activities.
Although OAS has been significantly strengthened, some problems remain within the organization. The economic crisis is tying back the business and making it difficult to plan the work in the long term. The organisation’s room for maneuver is also limited by the fact that the member states did not want to transfer national decision-making power to any superior OAS body. The fact that all important decisions are made by consensus leads to long, sometimes fruitless decision-making processes. Crass can be said that the decision-making process goes through pressure. The Caribbean organization Caricom, which consists of 15 small countries that most often act united, weighs relatively heavily within OAS, which has a total of 34 active members.