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OAS reaffirms autonomy of human rights body

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Organization of American States reaffirmed the financial autonomy of Latin America's premier human rights body late Friday, rejecting attempts by Venezuela and its allies to block US-financed programs.

But in a resolution adopted by consensus, OAS foreign ministers allowed continued debate on reforming the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The decision was seen as a bow to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), which includes Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and several Caribbean nations.

The final resolution, adopted after a marathon session of the group, allowed outside financial contributions for the IACHR. It it also said the "dialogue of the fundamental aspects of the commission's functioning will continue."

The special OAS meeting was held to finalize a two-year process to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

"For more than five decades, the commission has served as the hemisphere's moral conscience," US Undersecretary of State William Burns said during the special session.

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman delivered a passionate defense of the body.

"The people of the region remember, and those people know that it's better to have an Inter-American Commission than not have one, because today we are going through a period of democracy -- but when we need it to fight a dictatorship, if we don't protect the commission today, it won't be there to help us," he said.

However, the leftist bloc of Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia is wary about ways of financing the IACHR. It presented a surprise draft resolution calling to extend discussions on reforms at least until June.

Those countries see the OAS as a group that favors US interests, and the rights commission as a way for Washington and its supporters to interfere in their internal affairs.

Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said more debate was needed on issues such as moving the commission out of Washington, defining its authority to demand that governments take "cautionary measures" in human rights cases, and the role of its special investigators.

One demand was for the commission to be banned from accepting donations from outside the region, where a full third of its budget comes from.

In particular, the commission's special rapporteur on freedom of expression depends exclusively on donations, half of them from European countries.

This special rapporteur has angered Ecuador and Venezuela by repeatedly accusing their governments of harassing the media.

However IACHR chairman Jose de Jesus Orozco said the funds were necessary for them to do their job properly.

The United States, which along with Mexico and Canada called for an immediate end to discussions, announced a special $1 million contribution to the Commission, whose annual budget is $9.5 million.

"A stronger and more capable Commission is in all our interests," Burns said.

Mexico announced $300,000 in aid, while Chile provided unspecified "additional" contributions. Argentina has previously pledged $400,000.

Last year, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that his country would withdraw from the IACHR.

Caracas has been on the Commission's black list since 2002, and since that year Venezuela has refused to allow IACHR staff to visit the country.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130323/oas-reaffirms-autonomy-human-rights-body