Last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights announced that it had selected Paulo Abrao to be its next Executive Secretary, the tenth since the establishment of the Commission. Reportedly, the Commission received over 90 applications for the post which, pursuant to Article 11 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, shall be filled by a “person of independence and high moral standing with experience and recognized expertise in the field of human rights.” Of the five finalists, Abrao (41), was one of the more inexperienced in numerical terms, with 15 years of work experience. He will also be the youngest Executive Secretary in the Commission’s history. The post is for four years, from August 2016-August 2020, renewable once. If he serves two terms he will leave office still under the age of 50.
The Due Process of Law Foundation organized a letter signed by the major human rights organizations in the hemisphere to promote greater transparency in the process of the selection of an Executive Secretary. Among the issues that they proposed the most interesting was that the Commission give the reasons for selecting the successful candidate. Unfortunately, this did not happen and one can only guess at the reasons. What did happen and what was totally unique was that the five candidates were invited to participate in a public panel organized by the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Due Process of Law Foundation and the Center for Justice and International Law to present themselves and answer some general questions previously posed by the participants at the event. Only four of the candidates participated; Lisa Shoman was unavailable. No one present at the session was permitted to ask a question directly of the panel, all questions had to be submitted at the time of registration for the event. The two and a half hour session can be viewed online.
Paulo Abrao is currently the Executive Secretary of the Institute for Public Policies on Human Rights of MERCOSUR and Chairman of Brazil’s Amnesty Commission, in charge of the policies on reparations and memory for the victims of the dictatorship. In the past, he was Brazil’s Secretary of Justice, Chair of the National Committee for Refugees, and Chair of the National Committee against Human Trafficking. In spite of these impressive positions at the national level, he was seeking the post of Executive Secretary, at a time when the OAS and the Commission are experiencing their greatest crisis, because:
“In recent decades, the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have had an essential impact in the incorporation of human rights treaties by national juridical systems, in the insertion of our countries in the international systems of human rights, in the application of the international juridical standards by States and in the development of public policies with a focus on human rights. It is a permanent challenge to deepen this work, to continue in the advance of the capacity to build dialogue and cooperation networks among the Inter-American Human Rights System, the States and civil society.” (Excerpted from the cover letter to his application).
Now that the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court has annulled Salvador’s Amnesty Law, Brazil is the only country that continues to refuse to implement an order of the Inter-American Court to render without effect its Amnesty Law. Perhaps the designation of a Brazilian Executive Secretary can precipitate a turnaround on this issue. Also, the fact that the Brazilian Supreme Court holds its deliberations in public, this would be a wonderful model of transparency for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to follow, given that the Commission is holding more and more of its sessions in secret.
Paulo Abrao will assume a very difficult job at a very difficult time. We can only wish him the best of luck and success.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone.