By SIR RONALD SANDERS
TWO events at the Organisation of American States (OAS) in recent months have underscored the soundness of the system by which the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is financed.
It is a tribute to Caribbean creativity and innovation that the CCJ is one of the few courts in the world that does not depend on government contributions to function. The example that the CCJ represents should be replicated elsewhere, and the people of the 14-nation Caribbean Community countries should take pride in the inventiveness of Caribbean minds in structuring the funding of the court.
The two events at the OAS that highlighted the reliability of the mechanism for funding the CCJ are related to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. Both organisations declared that they are strapped for cash and desperately need contributions from the 34-member states of the OAS to continue their functions.
The two bodies are important. They are dedicated to the protection of human rights within the Inter-American system. Eminent Caribbean jurists have served on the commissionwhere they have advanced causes to combat scourges such as racism and discrimination.
But, the commission - set up by the OAS in 1959 — released a statement earlier this week in which it said things are so bad that mass layoffs and cancelled visits are imminent and inevitable, unless member countries provide emergency donations.
Remarkably, it was donors from European countries, not Latin American and Caribbean nations, that have been keeping the commissionalive through donations. The President of the commission, James Cavallaro, said the crisis was sparked by these European donors cutting back because of the influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
According to Mr Cavallaro, the withdrawal of European money has exposed the reluctance of Latin American and Caribbean governments to come up with the cash that the commission needs. In a caustic but frank comment, he said, “Some countries feel uncomfortable when the commission highlights the challenges the region faces in human rights. They strangle us financially, perhaps in order to stop us fulfilling our mandate.”
At a meeting of the Permanent Council of the OAS on May 25, only Panama, Costa Rica and Antigua and Barbuda offered to make immediate donations to the commission. In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, I explained that Antigua and Barbuda greatly values the work of the commission. I recalled the contribution made by my colleague, Sir Clare Roberts, when he served as a commissioner, in ensuring that the rights of black people were specifically accepted as part of the commission’s mandate as well as the obligation to tackle racism.
I made the point that the reason that the Antigua and Barbuda government could not be more generous to the commission is that, as a small state, we are marginalized by bigger and more powerful nations that deny us access to concessional financing for development; unfairly attack our financial services sector; treat us in world trade on the same terms as large countries such as the US, Canada, India and South Africa; and refuse to provide us adequate and affordable financing to combat the effects of Climate Change of which we are an innocent victim. Despite our own struggling circumstances, we made a voluntary contribution to the commission as an example to other larger and richer countries of the importance of upholding and protecting human rights.
But, some Latin American governments dislike both the commissionand the court, accusing them of being “political”. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, for instance, has dismissed criticism of his government’s legal pursuit of opposition leaders and general human rights record. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has also accused the body of “exceeding its authority” in its criticism of harassment of critical journalists who have criticised his regime.
In the last two decades, the commission has made ongoing efforts with the OAS Member States to secure a budget that would enable it to work effectively to fulfil its mandate. As a result of these efforts, the OAS General Assembly has approved a number of resolutions expressing a commitment to address the situation; however, these have not been reflected in a significant increase in resources. This situation is not surprising given the financial state of the OAS itself. Two of its largest member states are severely in arrears in their contributions to the Organisation and they vigorously resist any attempt to impose sanctions for non-payment. Indeed, the OAS is operating on a fictional budget that cannot realistically meet its costs of operation.
In political organisations, a financial crisis, while not sustainable, is bearable for a time. Not so with courts and commissions that are charged with upholding human rights and protecting minorities and the vulnerable. Thousands of victims of human rights violations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean would be left unprotected.
That is why the CCJ model should be adopted by the OAS in relation to both the court and the commission. The CCJ is funded through an independent Trust Fund which was established with US $100m from initial contributions of the member states through loans from the Caribbean Development Bank. Since its establishment in 2001, the court’s expenditures have been met by the Fund, allowing it to function without having to go cap in hand to governments, and maintaining its flow of work in delivering justice.
It is clear that some member governments of the OAS do not want an independent and functioning court and commission. It is up to others who believe in human rights and the rule of law to keep them from withering. The member states of the OAS that believe in democracy could do no better than to advance the adoption of the CCJ model for the Inter-American Court and the Inter-American Commission. In this, CARICOM has led the way – at least on sustainable funding.
• Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com. The full text of Sir Ronald Sanders’ speech in St Lucia, on May 19, 2016, entitled “Storm Clouds gathering over CARICOM: Where is the Umbrella?”
The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organisation of American States. The views expressed are his own.