MIAMI (AP) – The head of the Organization of American States falsely defamed the reputation of a Brazilian lawyer he abruptly fired as the region’s chief human rights watchdog, according to a new administrative ruling that sheds sharp light on the internal dealings of the in-laws. Washington-based group.
Monday’s decision by the OAS’s top review panel comes from OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s widely condemned attempt in 2020 to remove the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
It is the second administrative ruling to question Almagro’s leadership in as many months and comes on the heels of allegations that the Uruguay-born diplomat violated the OAS code of ethics while maintaining a romantic relationship with a much younger co-worker.
In early 2020, commissioners unanimously approved the extension of Paulo Abrao’s four-year contract as head of the human rights watchdog, an independently managed body under the umbrella of the OAS tasked with investigating abuses by the region’s governments.
But their decision was blocked by Almagro, who nearly nine months later said he was appointing someone responsible for fostering a work environment marked by dozens of complaints of favoritism, conflicts of interest and impunity for employees accused of sexual harassment. could not approve.
“It is extremely serious to ignore these rights,” he said at the time, insisting that he had no interest in electing the committee’s leadership, but rather stood up for officials. “That is no longer passive complicity; it’s an active cover.”
The administrative tribunal, in its 81-page ruling, identified numerous cases of what it called “disturbing” violations of Abrao’s due process rights, driven by Almagro and OAS Ombudsman Neida Perez.
On August 10, 2020 – days before Abrao’s contract was due to expire – Perez sent Almagro, Abrao and the committee an undated report of complaints about the work environment. In the report, she recommended that urgent action be taken to address the lingering concerns, though she avoided pushing for disciplinary proceedings, as required by her role as an impartial arbitrator of workplace disputes.
But four days later, in an email only to Almagro, she advised against renewing Abrao’s contract — something the majority of the panel said raises suspicions and “a deplorable lack of transparency, fair treatment and orderly handling of official communications with senior OAS reflects officials.”
The judges said they also found evidence that the 61 complaints Almagro cited as the basis for Abrao’s removal may not have existed as described and may have consisted only of “visits” to the ombudsman’s office with objections to various employees, not only against Abraham. In both cases, a formal investigation was never launched and Abrao was not given a chance to defend his criminal record before being removed.
To compensate moral, professional and personal damages, the tribunal ordered the OAS to pay Abrao for 12 months. It also ordered Almagro to sign a letter stating that Abrao would not face disciplinary investigations when his contract expired.
“I was dramatically affected by these irregularities and the verdict does not satisfy me completely, neither materially nor legally,” Abrao said in a statement to The Associated Press. “But it reveals a lack of accountability on the part of the OAS that states – as financiers – and civil society should certainly look at diligently.”
The OAS press service did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the ruling is the second in as many months that Almagro’s handling of human resources has been called into question.
In August, the tribunal reprimanded the secretary general for firing an otherwise high-profile US veteran manager, Steven Griner, who was blamed by a Trump-appointed diplomat for allegedly orchestrating a rumored campaign of US policy toward Honduras. The tribunal reinstated Griner, accusing Almagro of going along with a discredited inspector general’s report on what it called a “glaring falsehood.”
The same inspector general who investigated Griner is now leading an internal investigation against Almagro over allegations that he had an intimate relationship with a staff member twenty years his junior who may have violated the organization’s code of ethics.
Almagro denies any wrongdoing, stating that he never supervised the woman’s work or participated in any employment-related decisions. However, in several online bios and in photos with Almagro in March, some of which were posted to the OAS’s social media accounts, the woman is described as an “advisor” or sometimes “chief advisor” to the secretary general.
Almagro was elected head of the OAS in 2015 with nearly unanimous support, after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s left-wing government.
Once installed in Washington, he made common cause with the US by opposing the socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela, once even mimicking President Donald J. Trump’s line that he would not rule out militarily to use force to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
He was re-elected in 2020 with the support of 23 of the 34 member states of the OAS.
Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman
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