“Radically Different” – OAS 45th Regular General Assembly

United and Strong’s Adaryl Williams reports on the 2015 General Assembly of the Organisation of American States

My trip to DC began with a rocky start as there was bad weather flying in. This resulted in me landing in DC at 2:00AM on the Tuesday morning as opposed to the Monday night 10pm as was scheduled. Never the less I settled into the Capitol Skyline Hotel, had a few hours rest to begin what would deem a very hectic OAS experience for 2015.

LGBTTI Coalition 1 week Training
The LGBTTI Coalition, made up of the Latin American Countries, Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Caribbean had a week of training in preparation for this year’s General Assembly. The first day of training reflected on country success within the past year before coming to this year’s GA. I was able to provide information on U&S dialoguing with various government entities, mainly Health, Tourism and Foreign Affairs Ministries. I gave information on the PM’s attempt to engage persons in the diaspora on the issue of same sex marriage, amongst other things.  The meeting went on until 7pm that evening.
On June 10th, day 2, Stefano and Marcello provided feedback on the arrangement of the 2015 GA. We were told right off the bat that this year there was not going to be any resolutions brought before the Assembly, however the focus would be on the present and future of the OAS with special attention on the convention on the rights of elderly persons and that of youth.

In previous years, civil society organizations would get the opportunity to meet and engage in conversations with the Secretary General of the OAS, however this year, there was a change in procedures. There was going to be a plenary meeting comprising, CSO, Fundamentalist, Trade Unionists and Youth. There would be 4 caucuses where a rapporteur and a spokesperson will be selected by the four groups to present recommendations to the OAS based on the theme “The Present and Future of the OAS’.

The five days training was spent strategising on how to overcome the issue of fundamentalist advocating at the OAS. We also had sessions aimed at creating a work plan for 2015-2016. On various days we had visits from the legal framework of the OAS containing LGBT lawyers working within the IACHR.

There have been many signed and ratified conventions on LGBT rights at the OAS and so the Coalition’s aim now is to engage in many spaces so that their voices can be heard. The main obstacle in many of the member countries is that of fundamental or religious groups. These were some of the discussions held with members of the Inter American Convention on Human Rights.

In the Caribbean and Suriname we have the same issues as the religious groups and political influences resort to saying that we are adopting cultures from the US, UK and other metropolitan countries. They are convinced that we are putting the agendas of countries that use their financial powers to corrupt the smaller territories.

The coalition this year placed focus on new thematic ideas as opposed to LGBTTI issues as a form of diversifying the strategies. A lot has been achieved however we are focusing on new ideas because of the previous resolutions having to close the doors. The conversation would center on engaging more Caribbean Territories. With this idea came the need to strengthen partnership and mainstream LGBT issues across the hemisphere. We explored the idea of reaching out to members of the Coalition that are silent. Those that do not participate in OAS functions or engage in the Coalition’s framework.
There was a brief discussion on the inclusion of ILGA North America as part of the Coalition. There were widespread discussions for and against the subject. One thing that was mention was that from Ecuador where it was mentioned that ILGA tends to take recognition for persons work. Many shared the opinion where there should be an approach to accept ILGA as an ally and think of ways to work together. Stefano spoke on observing that idea of whether this venture for ILGA would be temporary or is it based on the idea of the current head of ILGA.

Participation at the OAS General Assembly
Day one at the OAS main event was chaotic with the four different groups. In my opinion and the sentiments were shared by other Caribbean partners, that language barrier seem to be a recurring problem at the OAS. English speaking participants were left hanging in many cases. Thanks to the few bilingual persons within the Coalition who tried hard to translate whenever possible. I have observed throughout the years that a lot of effort is placed on the Latin American countries and this only resulted in the feeling of not belonging.

Meeting with Heads of Delegates
The first observation was the apparent empty seats from the delegates from most of the Caribbean islands, namely Suriname, Guyana, Grenada, St.Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Kitts.

As per the treaty which governs the OAS, member countries are ratified by the treaty and so it is important to hold our Caribbean Heads of Delegates accountable for failure to address the issues of CSOs at the space provided.

The event went on as planned with the acknowledgment of CSO presenting the recommendations to the OAS General Secretary and Heads of Delegates. One notable point is the outright wrong doing from the presenter on Human Rights who just happened to rewrite the recommendations made by the group and so he pushed his own agenda based on his fundamental beliefs. This resulted in an uproar as outraged social actors showed their disgust by the disrespect shown. The very group which represented the recommendations that affected the Coalition as a body. We were very worried that the fundamentalists, like at the OAS Summit had infiltrated the OAS GA on the quest to destroy CSOs. With this new development the Coalition met again in an evening Caucus to regroup and discuss a new strategy.

At the following meeting at the General Assembly CSO had the opportunity to interact directly with the Secretary General of the OAS. Unfortunately there was not a chance given to English speakers. Despite many attempts with signs, the attempt was futile. Continue into the proceedings Argentina spoke honorably and defended proactive protections for LGBTI people across the hemisphere. The delegate went on to invite member states to adopt initiatives held by LGBT persons to ensure that there are human rights for all.
It is evident that the Coalition has created a level of success that resulted in heightened appearance by fundamentalist at the OAS. We observed the increase in Guatemala, Paraguay and now in Washington DC. The presence of these groups was prevalent in the caucus held with CSOs where they were strategically placed throughout the meeting room in an effort to “distract the gay movement”.

In 2015, the OAS General assembly resulted in Civil Society recommendations prepared on topics such as Democracy, Human Rights, Multidimensional Security and Integral Development, under the framework of the theme “Present and Future of the OAS”.
There were interventions of Government representatives who defended advances in LGBT rights and in the fight against discrimination in the region.  This of course, did not go well with anti-rights activists who often interrupted presentations.

With the denial of visas to fellow activists from Latin America,  to the inadequate provisions made to accommodate English speaking CSO members I can report that this year was radically different at the OAS. Hopefully with the appointment of a new Secretary General and that of new country Rapporteurs and Judges into the Inter American Convention on Human Rights, we will see progress next year and the years to follow.

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