Nº 20/02





          In his presentation of the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the OAS Permanent Council’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, IACHR Chairman Dr. Juan E. Méndez stressed that the organization’s member states are facing new challenges. “The September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, DC have spurred lively discussion on what measures need to be taken to combat this scourge and what means are most appropriate for the investigation, prosecution and punishment of those who commit such international crimes,” Dr. Mendez said. It was within this context that Dr. Méndez underscored that “The American Convention on Human Rights and other such instruments lay out procedures for the implementation of urgent measures needed to respond to any serious threat to public order within a framework of the rule of law. Such measures must be put in place in such a way as to guarantee full respect for the basic, inalienable rights recognized under international law.” He reported that the IACHR is currently preparing a report on terrorism and human rights in order to help members states find ways to respond to the threats posed by international terrorism within the framework of international human rights and humanitarian law.


          Commenting on the human rights situation in the region, The IACHR Chairman noted that progress has been made in strengthening democracy and human rights. He cited, among other factors, the holding of regular elections, the establishment of freer and more open societies and the participation of civil society in matters of public interest. He noted, however, that “There are still serious problems that threaten democratic stability in the region.” As examples, he pointed to the inadequate development of certain institutions, such as the judiciary, the lack of a strong link between respect for human rights and public security, and the sharp economic, social and cultural inequality facing vast sectors of society.


          The report publishes the decisions taken on individual cases of purported human rights violations.  It also has a chapter devoted to member states whose human rights situation merits special attention. In this regard the IACHR once again points out that Cuba, while making progress in the realm of economic, social and cultural rights, continues to systematically violate the basic rights of individuals due to the absence of the rule of law and of any tolerance for diversity of thought and opinion. As for Colombia, the report makes an extended reference to the IACHR press release published following a visit to the country in December 2001, citing the Commission’s grave concern for the impact of the armed conflict on the population and for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Dr. Méndez went on to point out that that the IACHR is paying close heed to the precarious state of institutional stability in Haiti. He announced that the Special Rapporteur for Haiti, Dr. Clare Kamau Roberts, and the IACHR Executive Secretary will visit Haiti in the coming weeks. Chairman Méndez also confirmed that the IACHR will visit the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela next week. He reiterated his pleasure in seeing that country’s constitutional order restored and stated that the IACHR will “Continue to closely observe developments in the human rights situation.”


          The report provides an update on the work of the Commission’s Special Rapporteurs. In regard to the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, Dr. Méndez noted that “Regional standards oblige states to exercise due diligence to prevent gender-based discrimination and violence, to punish those guilty of it and to take measure to eradicate it once and for all.” Going on to the situation of indigenous peoples, the IACHR Chairman pointed out that they are frequently the victims of extreme poverty and that their basic rights are often violated both within and outside of their communities. He once again called on member states to take steps toward the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “Members of communities with roots in Africa,” Dr. Méndez went on to point out, “Suffer from marginalization, discrimination and violence. Moreover, they often face the consequences of not being titleholders of the land they live on.” Chapter VI of the Annual Report contains a progress report on the situation of migrant workers and the Chairman called on member states to foster respect for and protection of the basic rights of migrant workers and members of their families in accordance with international standards.


          Chairman Méndez recalled that the IACHR’s Human Rights Defenders Functional Unit is preparing a study on the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas. He stated that the Commission continues to be very concerned about the extreme vulnerability that marks the work of these defenders, manifested in 2001 by “Acts of intimidation, disappearance, assault and murder perpetrated against persons and organizations engaged in the defense of human rights.”



          The 114th regular session of the Commission appointed Dr. Eduardo Bertoni to the post of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Dr. Bertoni will take over the post in May 2002.  The annual report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur summarizes the activities carried out under Dr. Santiago Canton, outlining achievements and challenges in the field of freedom of expression in the region. Among the successes noted are the enactment of laws on access to information in several countries and moves by the governments of Costa Rica and Chile to repeal “desacato” laws. The Special Rapporteur expressed the hope that such progress will continue and that other laws that unnecessarily restrict freedom of expression will also be repealed or brought up-to-date.


          The report points out that freedom of expression continues under fire in various countries of the Americas. Last year (2001) 9 journalists were murdered in the region. To elucidate the situation in many countries, the Rapporteur cites cases of physical and psychological threats and aggression, harassment and intimidation of journalists and media groups, and legal actions undertaken by authorities with the goal of silencing the media. In clear violation of the jurisprudence of the Inter-American System, laws of “desacato” still exist in some 16 countries of the region. Chapter III contains the “Report on Action with Respect to Habeas Data and the Right of Access to Information in the Hemisphere.” That report recommends that member states institute policies to disseminate information on and promote respect for these individual and collective rights as legal instruments that will help create transparency in actions of the state. Chapter IV is dedicated to media ethics. In the section “Final Consideration and Recommendations,” the Office of the Special Rapporteur stresses that OAS member states must make a firm commitment to promote and safeguard freedom of expression as a cornerstone of the consolidation of democracy.




Washington, DC.,  May 1, 2002