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“Christians should not face discrimination”

  • Human rights advocates call for fair treatment of candidates to the post of Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Christian candidate faces “manifest prejudice” by self-appointed panel attempting to influence the election

WASHINGTON DC  (14 June 2021) – Are people of faith barred from being elected to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights? A coalition of human rights experts and religious freedom advocates voiced their concern this week. The coalition published an open letter to member states of the Organization of American States calling for a fair election process for Commissioners. It expressed concerns over the “loaded and pejorative manner” in which a self-appointed election monitoring group questioned a candidate over his religious beliefs.

“No one should be discriminated against because of their faith. Christian candidates to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights should not face discrimination. The questioning of the self-appointed ‘Panel for Election Monitoring in the Inter-American Human Rights System’ regarding Carlos Bernal’s religious views was undoubtedly biased and exhibited a clear prejudice against Christians. The Organization of American States should not condone attempts to discriminate against people of faith. Failure to condemn such attempts will undermine the credibility and confidence in the Inter-American human rights system, ”said Tomás Henríquez, Director of Advocacy, Latin America and the Caribbean for ADF International.

Concern over biased questions in the election process

Since 2015, a group of NGOs spearheaded by the Open Society Initiative set up what they claim to be an independent expert panel for monitoring the election of Commissioners. They purport to assess the candidates and give their recommendation to states on whether they believe the candidate ought to be elected. In the case of Carlos Bernal Pulido, regarding the upcoming November election, the panel reached out to interview him. After he sent the initial information they requested, he received additional questions that cast doubt on his integrity and his ability to perform as Commissioner due to this Christian faith.

The coalition highlighted the “loaded and pejorative manner” of the self-appointed panel’s line of inquiry. The panel had emailed Bernal a questionnaire and asked, whether if elected Commissioner he “will apply his religious beliefs or biblical interpretations to cases before him, rather than the sources of law that happen to be applicable.” It also asked, “whether he considered his religious beliefs to be contrary to any human rights source, standard or interpretation; or whether his Christian faith entails him having ‘preconceived ideas regarding… their role that women and LGBTI persons should occupy in society’ ”(sic).

Other candidates were treated differently

In the open letter, the coalition points out that “other candidates have never been asked whether they would apply their religious (or other) beliefs to replace the sources of law that govern the system, much less whether they have pre-conceived ideas about social groups, such as religious communities. “

The coalition maintains that “the evaluation to decide whether Bernal will serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights cannot and should not be based on bad faith questioning of his religious convictions, but rather on his extensive judicial and academic career, with respect to which the panel had no objections. “

Elections set for November

The election of the new Commissioners and Judges for the Inter-American Commission and Court will be held during the 2021 General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Guatemala. Originally slated to occur in June, it was pushed back to November of this year. Candidates to the open positions are currently campaigning to secure the support of member states.

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