22 June, Friday


Full US political participation should be recognized as fundamental right for Puerto Rico

Specialist view

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The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) has tasked its Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) with the promotion and defense of human rights in the Americas.
 
On Oct. 17, 2006, a petition on behalf of the U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico was submitted to the IACHR claiming and evidencing fundamental human rights violations, particularly the right to equality under the law (under Article II of the American Declaration), the right to vote (under Article XX), the right to participate in their government (Article XX), and of the right to hold public office at the national level (Article XXXIV), among other violations.
 
Yet, the IACHR has failed to address these current and most egregious violations in our hemisphere. Since the original petition was filed 11 years ago, slow and non-substantive progress has been made. The multiple violations to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the OAS Charter continue unabated, and arguably enhanced by recent events.
 
After continued and persistent prodding by the petitioners, only recently (on Jan. 22) did the commission take procedural steps to formally admit our case as valid, and offered to act as a promoter of a “friendly conversation” with the U.S. government to redress these complaints. The federal government rejected the offer.
 
Subsequently, the government of Puerto Rico, in order to further advance the process of evaluation of the substantial merits of the claims, invited the IACHR to carry out, at its earliest available opportunity, an on-site investigation in Puerto Rico. The formal invitation was made on behalf of the People of Puerto Rico by the four (4) highest elected officials of the government of Puerto Rico — the governor, the senate president, the speaker of the house, and Puerto Rico’s sole (non-voting) member in the U.S. Congress. Since then, after nearly monthly follow-ups by letter, the IACHR has failed to respond on four (4) separate occasions.
 
Interestingly, in a Jan. 18 press release, in response to the effects of the two recent devastating hurricanes that decimated the territory, leading to shortages in basic services, as well as ongoing economic and fiscal crises, the commission called to the attention of the U.S. government that “the State is duty-bound to adopt comprehensive measures to ensure Puerto Ricans are treated the same as other U.S. citizens.”
 
However, the commission failed to recognize that the fundamental root for the discriminatory treatment of U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico is the political inequality within the greater U.S. political framework that these citizens suffer.
 
Throughout this decade-long case before the commission, the petitioners have emphasized: “[T]he United States Congress’ unequal treatment of its fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the resulting economic and fiscal crises are only symptoms of the disease. The disease is the second-class nature of a U.S. citizenship that deprives these citizens of any right to vote at the federal level.”
 
A very important step in the promotion and defense of human rights in the American Hemisphere would be for this commission to recognize — and do so as soon as possible — strongly, unequivocally, and loudly — the fundamental human rights of the petitioners and of all those other millions of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to vote on an equal basis at the federal level in their own country.
 
This recognition is long overdue.

The Hill

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