In June, the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly will appoint three out of seven members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). One of the candidates has stood out—for the wrong reasons.
Carlos de Casas, an Argentine criminal lawyer, has scant experience in the field of human rights. And when he has commented on issues ranging from free speech to women’s rights, he has been anything but a rights champion. On the contrary, he has expressed views that oppose fundamental principles the IACHR has worked for years to develop and advance.
De Casas has criticized a 1993 Argentine law that, in response to an IACHR decision, repealed the crime of “contempt,” which had been used to criminalize speech critical of public officials. The IACHR has held that such crimes are inconsistent with freedom of expression and has said that countries should eliminate them from the books.
Similarly, de Casas appears to support the criminalization of abortion, having described abortion as an “attack on a defenseless life” and compared it with armed robbery. But since 1981, the IACHR has held that abortion does not violate the right to life and has repeatedly noted that restrictions on abortion seriously undermine women’s rights to health and life.
De Casas’ record is no better on the rights of LGBT people. While Argentina has made significant progress on LGBT rights, including by legalizing same-sex marriage and granting people over the age of 18 the right to choose their gender identity, de Casas’ seem to be downright retrograde. He has spoken in favor of a 1991 Supreme Court decision that denied legal status to LGBT groups on grounds that they were inconsistent with the country’s “common good.”
Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are undoubtedly free to hold and express diverse personal or religious beliefs, but such convictions should not interfere with their mandate to objectively interpret and apply international human rights law. On some issues, it appears that de Casas, who has said that “God is the ultimate basis for the law,” would subordinate established human rights standards to his own beliefs. If so, he could contribute to rolling back key standards that have taken the commission years to develop.
The IACHR has played a critical role in developing international human rights standards on an array of issues, upholding such principles as judicial independence and press freedoms, and documenting gross human rights abuses. It has also contributed to the protection of basic rights by stepping in when domestic institutions are unable or unwilling to do so—a frequent problem in the Americas. Experienced members with a real commitment to international human rights law are needed for such crucial tasks.
Unfortunately, under OAS rules, it is too late to replace de Casas as Argentina’s candidate. The Macri administration should withdraw its candidacy. Failing to do so would undermine the administration’s commitment with a strong IACHR that is able to address the important challenges human rights currently face in the continent.