Human Rights Honcho Gets The Boot

By Joan Dark

In what can be termed his reckless disregard of the human rights of American citizens, Dr. Paulo Abrao attempted to protect the US government from widespread public knowledge and accountability for its multiple and systemic crimes against targeted populations within her borders.

Paulo Abrao functioned as Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States, from 2016-2020. The OAS chose recently not to renew his contract, citing numerous internal complaints from those working under him, including favoritism and other intra-office problems.

Whatever behavioral concerns the OAS delineated in its decision to terminate Abrao, his repeated attempts to uphold unacceptable and widely deployed practices by the US government did not seem to factor into the decision.

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In 2019, Abrao, either in concert with his seven Commissioners or acting on his sole authority, granted zero requests for precautionary measures coming in from the US. In that year, the IACHR received 61 requests for precautionary measures from the US. It has been noted on numerous occasions that Abrao dismissed these requests without the consult of the Commissioners.

The function of the issuance of precautionary measures is to acknowledge that an individual or group is in danger and to ensure that measures are put into place to protect their lives and their rights under law.

One of the requests dismissed by former IACHR head Abrao, and apparently without any input from his Commissioners, was the request for precautionary measures filed by Debra Ashby for her father, an endangered elder named Leon Bridges. Bridges was put under an adult guardianship in Los Angeles Superior Court by Judge David Cowan. Following receiving testimony from his own probate investigator that Leon’s grandson, Brandon Bridges, had already stolen at least $80,000 from his grandfather, Cowan immediately appointed Brandon as guardian for Leon. Brandon has hidden Leon away from the oversight of family and friends and has allegedly been using Leon’s funds for buying himself cars and other items.  Leon’s daughter, Debra Ashby, has repeatedly contacted local law enforcement for their help in determining whether or not her father is even alive at this juncture. Law enforcement has declined to assist with this.

There are two legal mechanisms used by the IACHR, precautionary measures and petitions. Petitions vary from precautionary measures. The website for the IACHR states that:

By filing a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, victims of human rights violations can obtain help. The Commission investigates the situation and can make recommendations to the State responsible to restore the enjoyment of rights whenever possible, to prevent a recurrence of similar events, to investigate the facts and to make reparations.

In 2019, Abrao’s IACHR received 119 petitions from Americans. Sixteen resulted in a decision to process. The others were apparently trashcanned. In 2018, the IACHR received 91 petitions from Americans. Six of these resulted in a decision to process. Zero resulted in “friendly settlements” and zero were sent on to the Inter-American court, which is lodged in San Jose, Costa Rica. As the US does not honor the jurisdiction of the Inter-American court, the numbers of petitions sent on to the court reflect that fact.

In an earlier article, journalist Janet Phelan’s request for precautionary measures and its denial by Abrao were discussed in some detail.  The article also notes financial activity of concern by the sole American lawyer sitting on the Commission at that juncture, Stanford professor James Cavallaro, activity which appears to be indicative of Cavallaro receiving bribes. Numerous requests were sent to Paulo Abrao and also to the IACHR directly, asking for Abrao’s financial statements. None of the requests were acknowledged or replied to.

It should be noted that Paulo Abrao was contacted for comment on Cavallaro’s finances and had only this to say:

Mr. James Cavallaro has no professional ties to the Inter-American Commission.
His term of office with the body was finalized on December 31, 2017.

Multiple human rights organizations, also noted for their “tilt” in the favor of US policies, rushed to the defense of Abrao. “This intervention is suggestive of an unprecedented political maneuver by the OAS’ secretary general,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director for Human Rights Watch. Speaking back in August on the OAS’s efforts to remove Abrao, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachalat said, “This is a very damaging situation which risks undermining the independence and proven effectiveness of the IACHR.”

The IACHR is now accepting applications for a new Executive Secretary. In a delicately worded rejection of Abrao, the OAS’s press release states,  “The IACHR wishes to express its appreciation to Paulo Abrao, whose leadership has been fundamental to the process of institutional transformation that was entrusted to him at the time of his appointment.”

Whatever institutional transformation the OAS is alluding to did not involve any effort to confront increasingly disruptive elements in the US legal system, which is one of the few nations that does not have a national human rights office.

Given the IACHR’s focus on Abrao’s office demeanor, it is unlikely that his successor will break rank and try to tackle concerns about human rights violations ongoing in the US. The moral of this story appears to be this: “If you are going to act as a proxy for an oppressive regime, please be nice to your co-workers.”

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