Interview with Tania Reneaum Panszi
Executive Secretary of the IACHR
By Sur Journal
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as the main and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), with a mandate under the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights to promote the observance of human rights in the region, plays a leading role in the promotion of democracy on the continent.
For the IACHR, however, fulfilling its mandate has been a challenging journey, especially in recent years, as it has had to monitor state action regarding human rights violations, in contexts of social unrest, political instability, and generally evident democratic fragility in the region.
In an interview with Sur Journal, Tania Reneaum Panszi, who took over the Commission’s Executive Secretariat on June 1, 2021 (for a 4-year term), talks about the challenges that the IACHR and her mandate face in a context that includes, the health and economic effects of the pandemic, the impacts of misinformation on historically discriminated populations, and, in general, a global political crisis that ends up affecting the region.
The Executive Secretary highlights, among her agendas, the strengthening of the institutional autonomy of the IACHR, the implementation of strategic plans for the advancement of human rights, and the work towards procedural celerity. On the other hand, she reaffirms the responsibility of States to stand by international human rights standards, as well as the need for an evolving interpretation of these standards.
Tania Reneaum Panszi is a Mexican national, PhD in Law from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. She holds an International Master in Criminal Law and Comparative Social Problems from the University of Barcelona and a second Master in Legal Sciences from Pompeu Fabra University. According to an OAS press release on the occasion of her election, “Tania is the second woman to be elected Executive Secretary in the 62-year history of the IACHR.”11. “Tania Reneaum Panszi assume como Secretaria Executiva da CIDH”, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, June 3, 2021, accessed January 24, 2023, https://www.oas.org/pt/cidh/jsForm/?File=/pt/cidh/prensa/notas/2021/142.asp.
Sur Journal • You have been the Executive Secretary at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) since June of 2021. Tell us a bit more about your priorities in terms of agenda and your expectations for this term in office.
Tania Reneaum Panszi • Since I became Executive Secretary, I have worked on the priority tasks to finish implementing the 2017-202122. “Plan Estratégico 2017-2021,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, March 2017, accessed December 31, 2022, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/mandato/PlanEstrategico2017/docs/PlanEstrategico-2017-2021.pdf. Strategic Plan and to pursue this route with the new Strategic Plan for 2023-2027,33. “Plan Estratégico 2023-2027,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2022, accessed December 31, 2022, https://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/mandato/planestrategico/2023/default.asp. in order to provide answers to the challenges the region is still facing when it comes to human rights.
Up until now, among the priority axes that have been present in the exercise of my attributions, I would emphasize the strengthening of the autonomy of the IACHR and the work to protect and defend human rights. When preparing the Strategic Plan for 2023-2027, we created a diagnosis and carried out an extensively participative, open, and transparent process to deal with the new regional realities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of the evolving nature of human rights. Regarding institutional strengthening, since I started at my role, we have worked to build a goal-based organizational culture and management approach that enables the improvement of the performance of the technical teams that make up the executive office of the Inter-American Commission.
Thus, the priority topics that we have dealt with in fulfilling the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan are democratic institutionality; the independence of the judiciary branch and the prosecution offices, as well as the access to justice; the institutional strength of human rights; safety and violence; development and human rights; and gender equality and diversity. In this regard, it is worth noting that the achievements of the last plan include overcoming the procedural delay at the initial study stage of the system of claims and cases. For the first time in decades, the Commission managed to have all claims examined upon receipt.
I am convinced that, in the coming years, we will continue to have major progress regarding the strengthening of the Commission and in our mission to secure and protect human rights in the region.
Sur • What are the main challenges that the IACHR is facing in a “post-pandemic” reality?
T.R.P. • I wish I could believe we are in a post-pandemic reality, but we often hear of new variants of the virus and their consequences. Regardless, the IACHR prioritizes its mission to defend and protect human rights in a regional context in which situations of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion have been exacerbated; as well as in a global context of severe economic recession, war, lack of resources, with persisting discrimination affecting millions of people. Violence, the immigration crisis, climate change, arms dealing, militarization, these are multiple subjects faced worldwide and in the region in particular, which shows us that there is still urgency in having the executive branches of government seeing people and their human rights as a core axis.
The new Strategic Plan for 2023-2027 of the IACHR includes the effects of COVID-19 both in its diagnosis of the regional context and in its course of action for the five subsequent years, seeking to help each person in the region to have better living conditions. This includes the vision that the beacon that guides the IACHR is always people.
Sur • One of the purposes of the 32nd issue of Sur Journal is to understand the current geopolitical scenario and its impacts in the promotion and defense of human rights. In this regard: how do you believe that new power dynamics worldwide affect the American continent concerning human rights?
T.R.P. • Throughout 2021 and until now, the IACHR has monitored, with some concern, certain trends connected to the weakening of democratic institutionality at the regional level. As documented in the 2021 Annual Report,44. “Informe anual 2021,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, May 26, 2022, accessed December 31, 2022, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/docs/anual/2021/capitulos/IA2021-Intro-es.pdf. this hemisphere has seen a weakening of national human rights institutions, the closure of democratic spaces, and violence against rights defenders and journalists, including murder, harassment, intimidation, and criminalization.
One could add to that the impacts of the post-pandemic economy, inflation, rising unemployment, as well as a war that, though it appears distant, affects the countries in our region. It necessarily affects the access of millions of people to their rights, which is why we must think of urgent solutions in terms of government measures and public policies.
We also have gender violence against women, which continues to occur at alarming rates. According to data available until 2021, 14 out of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide worldwide are located in Latin America and the Caribbean. Likewise, 34% out of all women aged 15 to 19 have suffered physical or sexual violence at one point in their lives. Worldwide, 31% of women have been the victims of violence, so we are not dealing with isolated data, but rather with structural conditions, societal rules, and cultural patterns that legitimate and reproduce this violence.
Sur • How has the IACHR responded to some movements and articulations that use the grammar of human rights to attack rights, particularly those of minority groups in the region?
T.R.P. • State governments have a crucial role in guaranteeing human rights and in the enforcement of the international obligations they have adopted. These obligations include not reproducing discrimination and stereotypes that lead to exclusion. In short, States must employ an evolving interpretation of human rights and favor their interdependent natures.
. The measures, laws, and public policies of States must be based on international human rights standards. It is in this aspect that the IACHR has had an important role in its attempts to protect and defend human rights through its different mechanisms, such as thematic reports or cases submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which encompass subjects related to rights that could be at risk due to a narrative of a few collectives that may permeate the executive branch of government, including discrimination, hate speech, misinformation, and prejudice. These mechanisms I mentioned result in recommendations by the IACHR and sentences awarded by the Inter-American Court so that States have the opportunity to adopt measures that transform scenarios of attacks against rights into concrete actions for reparation whenever necessary, as well as respect and protection to all people without any kind of discrimination and/or violence.
Sur • How has the IACHR dealt with the subject of misinformation and its negative impacts on human rights?
T.R.P. • Misinformation has a direct impact on the exercise of freedom of expression when it comes to the right to information and also affects other rights, as we have recently seen during the pandemic regarding the access to health and vaccines. Misinformation prevents people from making free and informed decisions; particularly in the digital age, in which misinformation is reproduced at unlimited speed and with an enormous reach.
Furthermore, prejudice-based misinformation helps sustain historic discriminations and drives hate speech against, for instance, women, LGBTI folk, indigenous peoples, people of African descent or immigrants, among others.
At the IACHR, we have approached the topic in a systematic and integral manner in press releases, good practices guides, public hearings during session periods, and reports with concrete recommendations. In this regard, the practical guide55. “Guía Práctica 03: ¿Cómo promover el acceso universal a internet durante la pandemia de COVID-19?,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2021, accessed December 31, 2022, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/sacroi_covid19/documentos/03_guias_practicas_internet_esp.pdf. on the universal access to the Internet establishes a few guidelines to be observed, such as the need for States to fight misinformation with accurate, scientifically sound information, ensuring access to quality digital education that enables the development of digital literacy and of the understanding of the contents spread through the medium.
It is important to recall one of the standards on the right to access to information, as included in the report on the Internet: States are obligated to ensure that all people may search, receive, and issue opinions and information from equitable conditions.
Sur • How is the IACHR, particularly the Executive Office, committed to the diversity of voices and the promotion of greater participation of civil society in the Inter-American Human Rights System?
T.R.P. • The Executive Office of the IACHR is committed to the plurality of voices and the promotion of greater participation of civil society in the Inter-American System through constant dialogue and exchanges with the civil society of the Americas and the Caribbean. The Commission has managed to hold periodic meetings with civil society representatives during the session periods throughout the year, and at these meetings we received important information on the regional status of human rights. The public hearings of the session periods are also crucial spaces for the participation of civil society, and in them we have worked on a thematic diversity and broad diffusion that help increase participation.
Recent experiences of the IACHR when going out to the field in crisis situations are a very concrete example of our relationship with civil society. In June of 2021, when we went to Colombia amidst the social protests,66. “CIDH culmina visita de trabajo a Colombia y presenta sus observaciones y recomendaciones,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, July 7, 2021, accessed December 31, 2022, https://www.oas.org/es/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2021/167.asp#:~:text=Washington%2C%20D.C.%20%2D%20La%20Comisión%20Interamericana,para%20la%20superación%20de%20la. we spoke with civil society; now that Peru is under a social conflict crisis, we went to those territories in order to listen to victims and human rights defenders.77. “La CIDH condena el incremento de violencia en el Perú y programa visitas técnicas y de trabajo,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, December 16, 2022, accessed December 31, 2022, https://www.oas.org/pt/CIDH/jsForm/?File=/es/cidh/prensa/comunicados/2022/280.asp. Their voices and experiences at the frontlines are crucial so that the technical staff of the Executive Office and people who are part of the IACHR may understand complex realities.
Recently, the 2023-2027 Strategic Plan resulted from a transparent consultative process that employed an open online consultation, 10 panel discussions with State governments and civil societies, 12 consultations on priority topics and populations, 5 internal workshops with members of the IACHR technical staff and a consultation with entities under the OAS. 2,663 people, 40 States and 585 civil society organizations were part of this process. The commitment of the IACHR and its Executive Office with diversity of voices and greater participation comes to life with our practice of listening and establishing dialogue.