Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Year of Suspension

On July 5, 2009, the Organization of American States adopted a resolution suspending Honduras's right to participate in that body.

That resolution stated that "a coup d'etat against the constitutional government" had "produced an unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order." The OAS reaffirmed the principal of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states, but also noted that a suspended member of the OAS continues to be bound by the organization's charter and treaty obligations.

The resolution made reference to Articles 20 and 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter which urges the OAS member states to take diplomatic actions to restore the democratic order, and authorizes the suspension of the member state when those diplomatic actions fail.

Article 21 notes that although suspended, the suspended member "shall continue to fulfill all its obligations to the Organization, in particular, its human rights obligations." The same clauses require the active member states to maintain diplomatic initiatives to restore democracy in the suspended state.

Article 22 of the Charter covers reincorporation after suspension, "once the situation that led to the suspension has been resolved". This requires that two-thirds of the member countries agree it is resolved.

There was vigorous debate in June in the OAS meeting in Lima, Peru, between OAS members who believe the Honduran situation is resolved, and those who believe more needs to be done. The one thing that was clear at that meeting is that there is not currently the required two-thirds support for readmission.

Instead, the OAS voted to appoint a commission to deliver a report on the state of democracy and human rights in Honduras, with a report due July 30th. At the time, the OAS press release said
All Member States present in Lima agreed that "the situation in Honduras is a matter of concern for all," and that they "need more information on the current status of the political process in Honduras."

This commission should have been appointed several weeks ago according to statements Jose Miguel Insulza made at the time. It still has not been appointed or begun its work. It is not clear what such a commission can do that has not already been accomplished by the several reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and it seems very clear that there is little scope for the OAS to change the conditions that make many member states dubious about simply reintegrating Honduras, unrepentant about the coup d'Etat.

We've debated what the international community could do to make a real difference in Honduras, and rejected many ideas. Here's the little that survived that debate:

(1) Recognize the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular as a legitimate civil (not political) voice and respond to their initiatives as representatives of a civil organization, and as the opposition to the coup and its continued consequences. Stop treating the coup as a having been a confrontation between the traditional political parties in Honduras. Without involving the Frente, there can be no reconciliation.

(2) Stop treating President Zelaya's return as the sole or most important necessary step in reconciliation. His continued exile is a symptom of larger problems, including continued political persecution of coup opponents by the courts and public prosecutor. Recognize that many Hondurans have left the country for their own safety and security, and that Zelaya, while certainly a powerful symbol, is not the only one, nor is he the sole leader of the opposition.

(3) Fund the Honduran Human Rights Platform and its alternative truth commission. Its budget would be a tiny amount compared to what the international community gives to Honduras every year, and it has more of a chance of actually bringing some light onto the human rights issues in Honduras than the official truth and reconciliation commission, which can't even say the word "coup".

We would like to have said, demand that Porfirio Lobo Sosa formally acknowledge that there was a coup, demand that the Honduran Congress retract its vote illegally installing Roberto Micheletti as "president", but these are things that only Honduran leaders could do, if they had the will to do so.

What seems self-evident is that the international community entirely failed, throughout the months of the de facto regime, to communicate to Honduran political leaders the real seriousness of what they had done, and the fact that it could not be overlooked or easily put behind. The mixed messages sent by the US were especially destructive to any firm international rebuke to Honduras. The control of most news media in Honduras by coup supporters guarantees even today that Honduran press will spin every international statement until black is white, and a refusal to readmit the country to the OAS is a step toward readmission.

Maybe there is no hope of countering this propaganda. But if those behind the 2009 coup don't get the message that it really was unacceptable in the contemporary world, there will be no reason for them to ignore this weapon in future political conflicts.

1 comment:

boz said...

The one thing that was clear at that meeting is that there is not currently the required two-thirds support for readmission.

That's probably correct, but it's also worth noting that the OAS almost never passes anything without unanimity or near unanimity. It's not the rules, but it is the culture of the organization.

When the OAS finally votes to readmit (whether it's next month or several years from now), it's most likely we'll see a 28-0 or 30-0 vote with a few countries abstaining. Even though it would be technically legal, the OAS won't hold the vote if it's going to be 22-10 because it goes against the precedent of how things work at the organization.