March 2, 2020 - Pulling from his work titled, “The Politicization of Human Rights: Within the Inter-American System and Beyond,” University of Connecticut School of Law professor Ángel Oquendo spoke about conflict surrounding pervading the Inter-American Human Rights System engendered by opposition from countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
These nations are pushing back against the Inter-American Human Rights System, which is composed of a court and commission, as they believe these entities have overextended their authority.
“With all the technicalities involved in this discussion, the question is very basic: what are human rights? I think that this controversy that erupted in the Inter-American system is very useful to reflect upon this question,” Oquendo said.
Oquendo’s work addresses the politicization of human rights; i.e., the definition and advancement of human rights through branches of government other than the judiciary.
“The idea is to recognize that, indeed, human rights have a political, policy component, but then on the other hand, also say that the structure is generally normative, so we’re talking about principles,” he said.
Strong proponents of the politicization of human rights dismiss the judiciary as superstructure and ultimately view economic and political forces as defining human rights, but Oquendo argues that there remains an important role for courts.
“Here you have a different position that says, ‘Human rights are important, they have to be respected, they should play a crucial role in the achievement of social justice.
Oquendo intimated that even in a world where human rights are largely politicized, the judiciary should still maintain a role. “This claim is about politicizing human rights and saying, ‘Human rights are politics and the political realms of government play a leading role in the vindication of human rights, and the judiciary and other institutions have to support the government in their quest,’” he said.
Oquendo predicts that people will continue to grapple with the intersection of politics and human rights matters into the future.
“I think that this discussion will probably still have relevance because this discussion will not end, will not end the questions, will not end the controversy” he said. “I think we will continue struggling about the role of politics in human rights.”