Earlier this year, the Trump administration cut funding to the Organization for American States for protecting reproductive rights.
While America’s attention has turned to the restrictive abortion bans across numerous states, the Trump administration has continued its relentless attacks on women’s bodies and the very foundations of women’s rights abroad. Under the guise of foreign policy, the White House is exporting censorship — ultimately threatening US allied relations, the human rights system and women’s health.
These actions should raise red flags around the world about the United States’ damaging influence on human rights systems abroad, and its potential to cause increasing harm in the future.
In March, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new changes to enforce and implement the Trump administration’s draconian policies on sexual and reproductive rights in foreign assistance. In the first part of Pompeo’s announcement, the administration expanded the scope of the Mexico City Policy (also known as the Global Gag Rule) to prohibit foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive US global health assistance funds from financing any other foreign NGOs that carry out banned operations, including performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning.
As PAI, a research and advocacy organization, has noted, this new interpretation is yet another signal of how this “administration will stop at nothing in its quest to blacklist organizations who provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services and starve them of funding—from any source.”
The second part of Pompeo’s announcement — that the Trump administration would be fully enforcing the Siljander amendment — has received less attention in the media. Pompeo stated that the US would enforce Siljander by cutting funding to the Organization of American States (OAS) as punishment for one of its organs allegedly “advancing the pro-abortion cause.” The Siljander amendment restricts “lobbying for or against abortion.” The activities of the OAS are not lobbying, and thus do not violate the amendment.
The Organization of American States is a regional group — with members representing all 35 states in North, Central and South America — that works to ensure the fundamental human rights of women and girls living in the Americas. As part of the OAS, the inter-American human rights system consists of autonomous bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The court hears cases brought before it that involve alleged human rights violations.
The commission undertakes a broad multitude of activities and functions, including conducting investigations of alleged human rights violations, carrying out in-country visits to analyze the human rights situation, and making recommendations to member states on efforts they should make to protect human rights.
Threatening these institutions’ ability to independently carry out their mandate by withholding funds is reprehensible. As the largest donor to the OAS — providing 44% of the organization’s total budget in 2017 — the power of Washington’s purse is substantial. This decision is another dangerous step in this administration’s efforts to oppose women’s health, rights and autonomy.
Overstep by the Trump Administration
This is not the first time alarm bells have been raised on this topic. Nearly seven years ago, the Global Justice Center, a New York-based human rights organization, raised concerns about the application of the Siljander amendment to censor abortion law reform processes in Kenya and Malawi. It noted the irony of Washington’s support of programs that promote democracy in other countries, while undemocratically silencing one-half of a women’s rights debate.
This latest blow by the Trump administration is an overstep and incorrect application of the Siljander amendment. The decision will likely have systematic implications on human rights bodies’ abilities to make independent recommendations to enforce human rights standards. Human rights bodies have often been at the forefront of progressive issues, including LGBTQ rights, gender equality and freedom from torture. This move sets a dangerous precedent to expand to other human rights bodies that are pushing forward on issues that the administration does not agree with.
The US has already demonstrated its willingness to withdraw from human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council, in retaliation for actions and viewpoints that it opposes. It is likely that the US is using the funding cuts to the Organization of American States as a model for future actions against international organizations that do not fall in line with current US priorities.
This effort at stifling human rights development is yet another indication of how, as the Global Justice Center noted in 2012, “without an uninhibited conversation about abortion rights, there is no uninhibited democracy, democracy development, or safe medical care for women.” Now in 2019, we will not stand by as attempts are made yet again to silence the conversation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.