2004 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE IACHR
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented its Annual Report on Friday, April 15, 2005 to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States. Clare Kamau Roberts, President of the IACHR, presented a statement to member states of the Organization, summarizing the Commission's activities during 2004 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 Mr. Roberts 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 him and thanked representatives for their constructive and cooperative spirit.
The President highlighted that, during 2004, there were positive advances in key areas for the protection of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law throughout the Hemisphere. Notable achievements include the launch of a comprehensive national program to address human rights concerns in Mexico at the public policy level; the adoption of constitutional reforms to eradicate impunity for human rights violations in Brazil; and the organization of a referendum in Venezuela, despite conditions of extreme political polarization.
Among the promising trends in 2004 were the continuing efforts to curb impunity for serious human rights violations committed in preceding decades. Major events were the prosecution of former dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile for the atrocities committed during the military dictatorship and the publication of an in-depth report that covers incidents of political imprisonment and torture during that dictatorship; the elimination of various legal obstacles that impeded the judicial prosecution in cases of “disappearances” and other human rights violations in Argentina; the creation of a Truth Commission in Paraguay; acknowledgments of international responsibility for serious human rights violations by Guatemala and Peru in cases pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; and the signing of a comprehensive friendly settlement in cases of forced disappearance that occurred during the civil war in Honduras. A number of important legal developments also took place during 2004, such as the reaffirmation in the United States of the right to judicial review when citizens or persons classified as enemy combatants are arrested for terrorism charges, and the possibility of reopening criminal investigations based on decisions of international organizations.
The President declared that these positive developments have taken place in a context where political, economic and social crises predominate in a number of countries, which threaten the rule of law and the process of strengthening democracy in the Hemisphere. Deteriorating economic and social conditions in various countries have provoked mass popular demonstrations that have often been met with excessive use of force by the police, in many cases, intensifying the political instability. Haiti was involved in a grave institutional crisis amid rising political violence, as the prevailing economic conditions continued to deteriorate. In Ecuador, the removal and dismissal of a number of Supreme Court magistrates, judges of the Constitutional Tribunal and of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal have raised deep concerns about the effective functioning of institutions that are key to the rule of law and respect for the principle of separation and independence of powers. Corruption, still a region-wide phenomenon, continues to impede the construction of democratic and transparent societies. Further, the vast majority of States have not addressed the causes and consequences produced by social exclusion and discrimination based on ethnicity, class, race, and gender. In the same vein, the Commission notes that high poverty rates and the extensive inequality prevailing in the region continue to limit the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, and negatively affect the observance of many civil and political rights.
Likewise, crime and citizen insecurity reached alarming proportions in various countries during 2004. In many countries, the insecurity generated by the high rates of crime and growing inequality led both the governments and the general public to demonstrate a higher tolerance for repressive methods used by the police. In this context, torture and excessive use of force are tools commonly used by the security forces in many countries in the region.
President Roberts also stressed the importance of guaranteeing freedom of action and personal safety for human rights defenders and others working for justice in the Hemisphere. On this point, he noted that the Commission expresses its deepest concern regarding the situation of risk and stigmatization suffered by human rights defenders, as well as the climate of hostility faced by organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights in some countries of the hemisphere. 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 through the special rapporteurships for the rights of children, women, indigenous people, prison conditions, freedom of expression, on the rights of persons of African descent and racial discrimination, and migrant workers.
He 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, and Haiti. Reference was also made to Chapter V of the Report, which contains follow-up reports on the last two country reports issued by the Commission regarding the situation in Guatemala and Venezuela, respectively.
The Annual Report of the IACHR and the statement of its President are available at the Commission's web page, www.cidh.org.
Washington D.C., April 19, 2005