Authors including Margaret Atwood and Ariel Dorfman have joined members of PEN International in calling for urgent financial support for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) before it is forced to axe 40% of its staff this summer.
The authors, along with Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International and Gloria Guardia, vice president of PEN International, have written an open letter to member states and observer states, including the UK, calling for funding to be delivered by 15th June.
The IACHR promotes and protect human rights in the American hemisphere and has been “essential” in supporting the freedom of expression and victims who have been punished for speaking or writing openly.
The body announced last month that it was facing a “severe financial crisis” which will have “serious consequences on its ability to fulfil its mandate and carry out its basic functions” after a significant drop in financial support from member states, including Argentina, Canada, Chile and the US, which all reduced its payments over 2013-15. It has also not had enough financial support from its “observer” states around the world, including the UK. Of its 13 observer states, 10 are yet to make payments to the organisation in 2016, including the UK, France, Ireland, Greece, Netherlands and the European Union.
The human rights organisation said unless it received urgent funds by 15th June, it would not be able to renew 40% of its employee contracts, which expire on 31st July 2016 – affecting 31 out of 78 people. It has also been forced to suspend the visits it had planned for this year, as well as its 159th and 160th sessions, which had been scheduled for July and October.
In a statement, the body said: “The IACHR is alarmed by the fact that this situation will result in the dismantling of areas essential to its mandate. The IACHR is also distressed for the victims, petitioners, and civil society organisations that had planned to participate in hearings, working meetings, and other forums scheduled for the October session… Moreover, it is disturbing that thousands of victims of human rights violations will be left unprotected.”
The IACHR added that there was a “deep discrepancy” between the mandate it has been given by the member states and the financial resources they have allocated to it.
The regular budget of the IACHR this year is less than $5m, which amounts to $0.005 per person in the hemisphere per year.
The authors and PEN International said: “PEN International and the undersigned writers and organisations are dismayed by the serious financial crisis facing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the human rights body of the Organisation of American States (OAS), and the devastating impact this could have on respect for rights in the Americas, including freedom of expression. We call on all member and observer states of the OAS, as well as other donors, to make additional financial support available to the IACHR as a matter of urgency.”