The “Leyes Modelo” Framework of the Latin American and Caribbean Parliament (PARLATINO) and its role in the advancement of Human Rights in the Region
Author: Andrés Laguna Martino
Throughout the 20th Century, decolonization from former European powers had become a wide reality for most of Latin America and the Caribbean region. Though the former shackles of servitude and tribute had largely vanished from its side of the Atlantic, the impact to institutions and social interactions endured.
The ancient colonial systems sawed the ground for structural vulnerabilities that in the 1950s and 1960s turned Latin America into a fertile playground for the proxy games of the two great powers of the time. In 1963, the world experienced the grimmest and most potentially catastrophic episode of the Cold War during the Missile Crisis in Cuba. The United States had forced a new colonial enclave in the middle of the continent, the “Panama Canal Zone”, controlling one of Latin America’s largest geopolitical assets.
With several strategic odds against them, the so-called “nonaligned nations” of Latin America had little resources to leverage and maneuver among the tumultuous realpolitik of the international arena and the domestic political instability in many of their territories. Nevertheless, Latin America birthed many jurists responsible of some of the greatest contributions to the United Nations Bill of Human Rights.
The ideas and academic work of Latin American scholars left an important mark on the international system’s definition and understanding of the concept of human rights. The drafts sponsored by Latin America were useful sources for the Human Rights Commission because of their “compatibility with the broad range of cultures and philosophies represented in the United Nations (Glendon, 2014)”. The works of Panamanian jurist Ricardo J. Alfaro, for instance, introduced the notion that the individual is a subject on international law and that their liberties and rights must be protected and guaranteed internationally (Procuraduría de la Administración, 2022).
Throughout the 1940s, Latin America saw “a moment of idealistic optimism and democratic euphoria”, according to former vice president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Héctor Gross Espiell (Glendon, 2014).
With time, however, many of Latin America’s governments were led by dictatorial regimes. In 1956, Panama gathered all the Heads of State of the continent (including the United States) in its capital to commemorate de 130th anniversary of the “Congress of Panama”, summoned by the Liberator Simón Bolívar in 1826.
The presence of dictators was noteworthy. Anastasio Somoza, Alfredo Stroesnner, Carlos Castillo Aramas, Fulgencio Batista, José María Velasco Ibarra, Marcos Pérez Jímenez, Pedro Aramburu, Héctor Trujillo (brother of Rafael Trujillo), and more met in Panama that July (La Prensa, 2015). The human rights agenda, still in its inception, did not have its heyday during this decade.
Even so, the continent saw no shortage of efforts to follow the aspirations of the 1826 Congress of Latin American integration, with a renewed purpose, not just to organize the continent as a geopolitical bloc, but to legislate in accordance with the principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sixteen years after the adoption of the Declaration on December of 1964, the continent adopted the “Declaración de Lima”, creating—for the first time—an interparliamentary organization in Latin America (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, 2013), the “Parlamento Latinoamericano” (PARLATINO), “a democratic institution of permanent character, representative of all existing political leanings and legislative bodies, tasked with promoting, harmonizing, and channeling the movement toward integration (Congreso de la República del Perú, n.d.)”.
This milestone occurred 12 years before the coming into force of the International Bill of Human Rights.
PARLATINO Legal Basis and Structure
In 1987, 18 Member States convened again Lima to sign the Institutionalization Treaty of the Latin American Parliament. This constitutive charter outlined the “permanent and inalterable principles” of the PARLATINO, among them the “defense of democracy”, the “policy of Non-intervention”, “the self-determination of the countries, to give, in their internal affairs, the political, economic and social system, which they freely choose”, and “the peaceful, fair and negotiated solution of international conflicts (PARLATINO, 1987)”.
The term “human rights” is written once in the treaty. Article 3, pertaining to the “purposes” of the PARLATINO, states that “among others” the PARLATINO shall “be watchful for the strict respect of fundamental Human Rights, and for them not to be affected in any Latin American State in any way which demeans human dignity (PARLATINO, 1987).”
Today, PARLATINO gathers the national legislative institutions of 23 States, totaling over 4 thousand members of parliament, and almost 200 political parties (PARLATINO, 2017). According to the Bylaws of PARLATINO, “national delegations to the Assembly shall include up to twelve members with individual and nontransferable voting rights, which …shall proportionally include representatives of the political parties or parliamentarian groups (PARLATINO).”
Each of the Member States is represented in the Board (Junta Directiva, in Spanish) of PARLATINO (PARLATINO, 2016). This is the top authority of the parliament whenever the Assembly is not in session. The Board chooses a Directive Table (Mesa Directiva, in Spanish), integrated by a president, an alternate president, a secretary general, a secretary of commissions, an alternate secretary of commissions, a secretary for interparliamentary relations, and a secretary for interinstitutional relations (PARLATINO, 2016).
In 2007, the PARLATINO and the Republic of Panama signed an agreement to move the permanent headquarters of the institution from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Panama City, where it currently operates since its inauguration in 2013 (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, 2013).
The “Leyes Modelo” Framework
The legislation enacted by PARLATINO does not have a binding effect on its Member States. However, PARLATINO authorities have acknowledged their process as one of “dynamic and mixed character”, whose larger purpose is to harmonize the legislation of the 23 States, to advance the integration process of the region (PARLATINO, 2003).
To that end, in 2003 the Parliament published a methodology for the realization of studies of legislative harmonization that includes comparative analysis on domestic legislations, the definition of larger principles, and relative (and absolute) proposals of legislative harmonization (PARLATINO, 2003).
PARLATINO, then, employs a system of “Leyes Modelo” (Model Laws) as the basis of its legislative function. The “Procedure for the Elaboration, Discussion, and Approval of Model Laws”, states that these laws
are not in themselves proposals to achieve a uniform legislation, but must be considered, rather, as a framework with recommendations of legislative character to advance solutions to social, economic, cultural, and human development issues of the countries in the region (Asamblea General del PARLATINO, 2017).
The 13 Commissions of PARLATINO, three of which focus on issues relating to human rights, equality, and minority protections (the Commission on Human Rights, Justice, and Prison Policy; the Commission on Gender Equality, Childhood, and Youth; and the Commission on Indigenous Peoples and Ethnicities) (PARLATINO, 2017), start each year with proposals for bills on new Model Laws (Asamblea General del PARLATINO, 2017).
The Secretary decides the Commissions that will adopt certain bills for a drafting process in accordance with internal formalities and style. If the bill for a Model Law passes the Commission level, it is elevated to the 23 Member Board of PARLATINO, which according to Article 9 of its internal procedure has the right to reject it, return it to permanent commissions, approve it, or submit it to consideration of the next Assembly (Asamblea General del PARLATINO, 2017).
If the bill is approved, the Board submits it for the Assembly’s consideration (Asamblea General del PARLATINO, 2017). A positive outcome entails sending the approved “Ley Modelo” to the 23 National Parliaments for the treatment they deem appropriate (Asamblea General del PARLATINO, 2017).
Recently Approved “Leyes Modelo”
Since 1994, the Latin American and Caribbean Parliament has approved 109 “Leyes Modelo” (PARLATINO, 2022). 18% of the approved Model Laws (20 “Leyes Modelo”) entail protection of human rights, minorities, women, and children. Initially, the small number gives a disappointing indication of the level of priority the parliamentary bodies of Latin America place on the human rights agenda.
However, it is worth noting that 65% (13) of the 20 Model Laws of the period above were approved by PARLATINO in the last 10 years. Of those 13 Model Laws, 84% (11) were approved after the launch in 2015 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Contrary to what the macro data suggests, the Latin American and Caribbean region seem to advance at an accelerated pace in the formulation of human rights legislation on an international, interparliamentary level.
PARLATINO has, indeed, introduced groundbreaking human rights legislation, particularly on the fields of women rights and gender equality. The “Model Law for Parity Democracy as a Goal of the States” is a sui generis reference document that highlights the pressing challenges to attaining full gender equality in Latin America and the Caribbean (PARLATINO, 2015).
In August 2022, PARLATINO President, Argentinian Senator Silvia Giacoppo, presented the legislation at the Strategic Alliances: Latin America Meeting Africa (SALMA) Dialogue on Gender Mainstreaming in Tunis, Tunisia. Senator Giacoppo underscored that the goal of the legislation is to “achieve equality to eradicate the structural exclusion of women and to evolve from a numeric parity to a substantive parity (Giacoppo, 2022).”
According to Article 3 of the 1987 constitutive treaty of PARLATINO, it is the duty of the parliamentary authorities to “maintain relations with Parliaments of all geographical regions, as well as with international organizations, and to spread the legislative activity of its members (PARLATINO, 1987)”.
SALMA provides PARLATINO with a platform to comply with its mandated functions and engage Members of Parliament of the European Union, the African Union, and the League of Arab States to exchange best practices and present the region’s legislative work. PARLATINO, therefore, reaffirms the Latin American tradition that distinguished the region during the early days of the universal human rights framework.
Effectiveness of PARLATINO and Recommendations
Beyond the data on approved “Leyes Modelo”, the real barometer of the effectiveness of PARLATINO—and its integration process through the harmonization of laws—is to track the number of Model Laws adopted by national parliaments and measure their degree of divergence from the wording and the spirit of the “Leyes Modelo” approved by the Assembly. However, this monitoring tool does not currently exist within PARLATINO.
Put differently, the PARLATINO does not have the data or the means to measure its own effectiveness. It is, therefore, of paramount importance for the authorities of PARLATINO to establish a multidisciplinary team of experts in political intelligence, parliamentary diplomacy, international and municipal law (and technical teams of statisticians, data analysts, and software developers) to build instruments and dynamics to gather the necessary data and measure the level of implementation of the Leyes Modelo throughout the Parliament’s history.
This tool would work as a feedback mechanism for the Parliament, academics, and civil society to monitor the progress of human rights advancement in the region. The data would be especially useful to provide insights to the ongoing debate on whether to make PARLATINO the official legislative body of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) (PARLATINO, 2011).
The existence of PARLATINO is a testament to the evolution of the integration process of Latin America. First, the Parliament has widened the scope of this process beyond Bolivar’s original intention of a strictly Latin American confederacy, to a union that includes Caribbean States, former colonies of not-Spanish European powers.
This is consistent with the subsequent creation of other integration mechanisms, like CELAC, which also include the Caribbean. Second, the integration process has reaffirmed the classic Latin American tradition (and strategic asset) of human rights defenders and articulators in the larger community of nations.
PARLATINO must become the key human rights forum of Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights and other OAS related mechanisms tend to dominate the human rights conversation in the Americas.
Though a cornerstone institution of the continent’s multilateralist agenda, the OAS is not an exclusively Latin American/Caribbean institution. It is still subject to the insights and interests of Canada and the United States, which—at times—are not necessarily aligned with Latin America and the Caribbean’s human rights advancement and development.
Empowering the PARLATINO to continue accelerating its approval of human rights Model Laws, without prejudice to its obligation of fostering parliamentary relations of other blocs, is an indispensable necessity for the integration project.
Within its purposes, the PARLATINO is tasked with suppressing “any form of colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, or any other form of discrimination in Latin America (PARLATINO, 1987)”. At its core, the PARLIAMENT of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean understands human rights from an emancipatory perspective. The conquests of rights of development, of women, of minorities is inextricably related to the fight against colonial vestiges.
Hence, PARLATINO is, and should continue to be a political forum for the discussion of the causes of Latin America. In February 2022, the Parliament celebrated an open discussion on Las Malvinas, where the Panamanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Erika Mouynes, reaffirmed the old principle (and struggle) of all Latinos: “The Canal belongs to Panama and the Malvinas belong to Argentina (Embajada de Argentina en Panamá, 2022).”
History has proved that Latin America and the Caribbean thrive the most when the region is at the forefront, with its unique perspective, of the discussions of human rights and development of peoples everywhere. The continent must still strive for expanding rights and protecting the existing human rights of peoples in situations of vulnerability.
Women, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and some indigenous populations are still subject to structural violations of rights. The PARLATINO is the optimal space for Latin America to, like it did in the 1940s, brings its very own—but widely applicable—perspective of human rights in the international system.
 Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, The Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Venezuela
 The current official name of PARLATINO is “Parlamento Latinoamericano y Caribeño”, Latin American and Caribbean Parliament. Among the 23 Member States, there are four anglophone Caribbean countries: Suriname, Aruba, Sint Marteen, and Curaçao.
 SALMA Dialogue is sponsored by the ADELAS program of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation
 Islas Malvinas, or “Falkland Islands”
List of References
Asamblea General del PARLATINO. (2017, November). PROCEDIMIENTO PARA LA ELABORACIÓN, DISCUSIÓN Y APROBACIÓN DE PROYECTOS DE LEYES MODELO. PROCEDIMIENTO PARA LA ELABORACIÓN, DISCUSIÓN Y APROBACIÓN DE PROYECTOS DE LEYES MODELO. Panama City, Panama: PARLATINO.
Congreso de la República del Perú. (n.d.). Historia y Objetivos . Retrieved from Congreso de la República del Perú: https://www.congreso.gob.pe/Docs/sites/eventos/parlamento_latinoamericano/historia.html
Embajada de Argentina en Panamá. (2022, February 15). FUERTE RESPALDO DEL GOBIERNO DE PANAMA Y PARLAMENTARIOS LATINOAMERICANOS Y CARIBEÑOS A LA CAUSA MALVINAS . Retrieved from Embajada de Argentina: https://epnma.cancilleria.gob.ar/es/fuerte-respaldo-del-gobierno-de-panama-y-parlamentarios-latinoamericanos-y-caribe%C3%B1os-la-causa
Giacoppo, S. (2022, August). Intervention on the Panel: Public action for gender mainstreaming and the transposition of parity policies in the decision-making sphere. Tunis, Tunisia: SALMA Dialogue, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
Glendon, M. A. (2014). The Forgotten Crucible: The Latin American Influence on the Universal Human Rights Idea. Harvard Human Rights Journal.
La Prensa. (2015, April 5). Así fue la Cumbre de 1956 . La Prensa.
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores. (2013, October 18). INAUGURAN SEDE DEL PARLAMENTO LATINOAMERICANO . Retrieved from Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores: https://mire.gob.pa/inauguran-sede-del-parlamento-latinoamericano/
PARLATINO. (1987). Institutionalization treaty of the Latin American Parliament. Lima: Parlamento Latinoamericano.
PARLATINO. (2003, November). Lineamientos Metodológicos Para la Realización de Estudios de Armonización Legislativa. Lineamientos Metodológicos Para la Realización de Estudios de Armonización Legislativa. Sao Paulo, Brazil: Parlamento Latinoamericano.
PARLATINO. (2011, August 24). Gestiones para que Parlatino se convierta en Asamblea de la Celac . Retrieved from https://parlatino.org/gestiones-para-que-parlatino-se-convierta-en-asamblea-de-la-celac/
PARLATINO. (2015, November 27). Norma Marco para Consolidar la Democracia Paritaria. Panama City, Panama: Parlamento Latinoamericano.
PARLATINO. (2016, October 17). REGLAMENTO DEL PARLAMENTO LATINOAMERICANO Y CARIBEÑO. Quito, Ecuador: Parlamento Latinoamericano.
PARLATINO. (2017). Más de 5 Décadas de Historia y Proyección Latinoamericana y Caribeña. Panama City: Parlamento Latinoamericano.
PARLATINO. (2022). Leyes Modelo aprobadas por el PARLATINO . Retrieved from PARLATINO: https://parlatino.org/leyes-modelo-aprobadas-por-el-parlatino/
PARLATINO. (n.d.). BYLAWS OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN PARLIAMENT. BYLAWS OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN PARLIAMENT. Panama City.
Procuraduría de la Administración. (2022). Ricardo J. Alfaro: La Carta de Naciones Unidas, los Derechos Humanos y el Derecho Internacional. Panama City.
Author Short Bio
Andrés Laguna Martino was the Political Affairs Advisor of Erika Mouynes, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Panama. He oversaw the political intelligence unit, briefings, macropolitical monitoring and trends within the Office of the Minister.
Prior to this role, Laguna was a political analyst for a major broadcasting network in Panama, served as an advisor in the Ministry of the Presidency, and as a consultant for international organizations, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Laguna has also worked in political campaigns, including Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run, and in the Public Affairs Department of the United States Embassy in Panama City.
He is a Summa Cum Laude Syracuse University graduate with a B.A. in International Relations by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and a B.S. in Communication and Rhetorical Studies. Laguna spent a season in the Tsinghua University Campus in Beijing, China. He also holds a master’s degree in Political and Corporate Communication from the University of Navarra, Spain.