No. 9/03



The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented its Annual Report yesterday to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States.  Marta Altolaguirre, President of the IACHR, presented a statement to member states of the Organization, summarizing the Commission's activities during 2002 and expressing certain considerations with respect to the human rights situation in the hemisphere.


During the session of the CAJP, permanent representatives of member states of the OAS addressed many comments, questions and considerations to Mrs. Altolaguirre relating to the Annual Report and the work of the Inter-American Commission.  The President of the IACHR responded to the questions that had been put to her and thanked representatives for their constructive and cooperative spirit.


Among other questions, the President declared the Commission's concern over the gradual deterioration of democratic institutions.  In particular, she noted that, despite regular elections in countries of the hemisphere, many democracies betray institutional weaknesses and have even been exposed to coups and attempts to overthrow the established constitutional order.  Fortunately, said Mrs. Altolaguirre, member states of the OAS are today unanimous in rejecting such attempts, by invoking instruments such as the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  Nevertheless, she said, the Commission is also concerned by the fact that domestically imposed legal limits on the use of government force are in some cases dismissed or ignored, thereby undermining the rule of law.


In her presentation, Mrs. Altolaguirre also alluded to the problems of corruption, poverty and exclusion, and social, economic, ethnic and gender divides that contribute to legal insecurity, and therefore to instability.  This situation, she noted, is made worse by the lack of effective access to justice, and it “not only serves to perpetuate the ineffectiveness and impunity that characterize the functioning of the hemisphere's judicial systems, but also tends to exclude citizens from participation in the administration of justice, whether as operators or as active subjects”.  When the justice system fails to afford protection for victims, the IACHR President pointed out, people lose confidence in it, and this is particularly true for the most vulnerable groups, when they suffer discrimination and have no ineffective remedy for determining their rights.  These factors, she said, coincide with people's growing feeling of insecurity in the face of rising violence and crime and the tendency of some to take justice into their own hands.


President Altolaguirre stressed how important it was for member states to guarantee the freedom of action and the personal safety of human rights defenders and others working for justice in the hemisphere.  On this point, she noted that numerous petitions and requests for precautionary measures were received during 2002 in reference to acts of harassment and attacks against human rights workers.  The IACHR, in accordance with its mandate, is continuing to devote special attention to this situation, through the work of the Unit for Human Rights Defenders.


With respect to the activities reflected in the Annual Report, the President highlighted ongoing work with especially vulnerable groups, through the special rapporteurships for the rights of children, women, indigenous people, and migrant workers.  She also noted that the IACHR has paid particular attention to the situation of people of African descent, through its promotional efforts as well as through its studies of the general human rights situation in member countries, and in individual cases and precautionary measures.  She mentioned as well the work performed during the year by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, whose report for 2002 is included as an annex to the IACHR Annual Report.


She referred as well to Chapter IV of the Annual Report, which contains updated information on the human rights situation in countries that have been the object of special attention by the Inter-American Commission.  That chapter contains analyses, together with observations, conclusions and recommendations, relating to the situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela. 


The Annual Report of the IACHR and the statement of its President are available at the Commission's web page,



Washington D.C., April 3, 2003