An Abdication on Human Rights

- Updated

Last Tuesday, the Trump administration borrowed from the despot playbook by boycotting hearings in Washington before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Participants heard from critics of the administration’s executive orders on immigration policy. Another session dealt with the plight of Japanese immigrants in Latin America who were forcibly taken to an American internment camp during World War II. A third featured experts who raised concerns about challenges to people seeking asylum in the United States.

Some of this obviously displeased an administration that has already been widely criticized for its insensitivity to human rights concerns. Its boycott marked the first time the American government has refused to show up at a hearing convened by the commission, which is part of the Organization of American States, a hemispheric diplomatic body.

In a statement, the State Department justified its decision by arguing that “it is not appropriate for the United States to participate in these hearings while litigation on these matters is ongoing in U.S. court.”

No government enjoys being the subject of a hearing before the commission. But for years, the commission’s sessions have served as a crucial forum for critics of government policy to air their grievances in a prominent, neutral forum. The government of Colombia, for instance, recently dispatched a senior representative to respond to concerns about a spate of attacks targeting human rights defenders. The government of El Salvador did the same when the subject was the threats and stigmatization faced by that country’s gay and transgender communities.

The American government’s misguided decision will make it easier for neighboring governments to disregard principles and commitments enshrined in the O.A.S. charter, which holds that citizens of the Americas are entitled to be governed by democratic governments that uphold human rights. This risk could have been easily avoided by merely showing up.

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