September 18, 2020

Conflict Between OAS and IAHCR Involves Upward Feedback by Ombuds

Two years ago, the Organization of American States hired an outsider, Neida Perez as the Organizational Ombudsperson for all of its personnel. (Her predecessors were former ambassadors and had been political appointees.) Last month, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro decided not to renew the appointment of Paulo Abrão as head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR is an autonomous commission of OAS and the region's most prominent human rights watchdog). Almagro rejected IACHR's unanimous support of Abrão apparently because of upward feedback by the Ombuds, Perez. Now, human rights organizations are accusing Perez of exceeding her authority to report mistreatment of OAS personnel.

On August 10, 2020, OAS Ombuds Perez produced a confidential summary of complaints about Abrão and IACHR that she had heard from OAS personnel over the prior year. Then, at OAS Secretary General Almagro's request, the Inspector General opened a formal probe. Five days later, Almagro announced that he was vetoing Abrão's reappointment to the IACHR, citing 61 complaints by OAS employees of favoritism, conflicts of interest, and sexual harassment. On August 24, OAS Ombuds Perez contacted several current and former OAS employees requesting permission to share their concerns anonymously with the Secretary General. One recipient told The Associated Press that they felt pressured by Perez's outreach and considered it inappropriate.

Human rights organizations, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, have condemned Almagro's decision as a threat to the IACHR’s independence and claim Perez was part of a plan. Perez responded to The Associated Press and denied that she is taking sides in the public dispute between Almagro and the AIHCR. She says she was contacted by employees who felt mistreated under Abrão’s management with the hopes of sharing their experiences publicly and anonymously. “I was asked by employees and agreed to give a voice to employees who felt invisible and then shared their testimonies with both Secretary Almagro and the commission,” Perez said.

Neida Perez remains the OAS Ombudsperson at present. (Buenos Aires Times; StatecraftHuman Rights Watch News; OAS Ombuds.)

Updated 9/19/20 with additional details about Perez's hiring.

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