By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The leading human rights organization in the Americas said on Wednesday it will cut staff and operations drastically unless it gets added funding in the next six weeks, a move that rights advocates say would undermine justice and protection for victims of abuses.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) faces a "severe financial crisis," said James Cavallaro, its president.
"We will have to lay off nearly half of our staff, 30 people, unless we get a cash injection by July," Cavallaro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We are working very hard to stave off this crisis," he said. The group needs additional funding by July 31 at the latest, he said.
The Syrian refugee crisis has meant less funding coming from Europe, particularly from Nordic countries that have been big donors to the IACHR, he said.
The IACHR, part of the 35-member Organization of American States (OAS), has an annual budget of $10 million to $12 million, getting roughly half its money from OAS and the remainder from voluntary donations.
In late May, the IACHR said it was suspending sessions it holds to discuss cases of rights violations brought by citizens and rights groups, as well as country visits, planned for this year.
Each year, dozens of rights groups bring complaints of abuses before the Washington, D.C.-based commission, where they have an opportunity to call governments to account in public hearings.
"Without the necessary funds to continue advancing and monitoring this serious work that the Inter-American Human Rights System is responsible for, the hemisphere as a whole stands to lose the ground gained in protecting the human rights of its residents," said Viviana Krsticevic, head of the Center for Justice and International Law which brings cases before the IACHR.
Since its founding in 1959, the IACHR has focused on human rights abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean, such as violations against women, indigenous people and LGBT people, including those committed by state security forces.
"The IACHR has long been the last hope of victims in the region who have struggled for years to see their rights upheld in domestic judicial systems," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, earlier this month.
"If OAS member countries don't address this financial crisis, it will cast serious doubts on their commitment to human rights and raise suspicions that they want to do away with the commission's scrutiny," he said.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)