Press contact: María Isabel Rivero

Tel. (202) 458-3796; mrivero@oas.org

 

PRESS RELEASE

Nº 37/06

  

IACHR OBSERVES PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES IN RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
IN THE AMERICAS

 

 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported on its activities during its 126th regular session, noting progress and persistent challenges in respect for human rights in the Americas.  During the two week session that concluded today, its intensive work schedule focused mainly on the study and review of petitions and cases concerning different States in the Hemisphere. The reports approved included 21 on admissibility, 11 on inadmissibility, 16 on the merits, two on friendly settlement, and four closed cases.  The Inter-American Commission held 48 hearings on pending individual cases and petitions, and on the general human rights situation in various States of the Hemisphere.  In addition, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza presented the “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas.”

 

The members of the IACHR are Evelio Fernández Arévalos, President; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, First Vice President; Florentín Meléndez, Second Vice President; and Commissioners Clare K. Roberts,[1] Freddy Gutiérrez, Paolo Carozza, and Víctor Abramovich.  The Executive Secretary of the IACHR is Santiago A. Canton.

 

Progress

 

The IACHR recently has observed important progress in human rights. With regard to political rights and democratic exercise, it points out that presidential elections have been held in 12 countries of the region in the past year, which is an important sign of stability. The IACHR hopes that progress will continue to be made in deepening democracy and strengthening the rule of law.

 

The Inter-American Commission expresses its satisfaction at the declarations of the President of Chile to the effect that the State will comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the inapplicability of the amnesty law to human rights violations committed under the military dictatorship.  The Commission likewise expresses its satisfaction with the ruling of the Supreme Court of Argentina for compliance with the provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which recognizes the critical situation in the penitentiary system in Mendoza province and may also be a positive step toward the effective implementation of those measures.  Bolivia ratified the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.   Brazil demonstrated considerable progress in bringing its domestic law in line with international human rights norms by enacting the Law on Domestic and Family Violence against Women, known as the “Maria da Penha Law,” which enhances protection mechanisms for victims.  The law was adopted pursuant to the IACHR’s recommendations in the case of that same name. Another important example of the application of international human rights standards to domestic law is the October 23, 2006, resolution of the Constitutional Court of Ecuador which declared unconstitutional the practice known as “detención en firme” (which extends pre-trial detention after the period allowed by the Constitution has expired) and recommended that the National Congress modify the Criminal Procedures Code on an urgent basis, in keeping with that ruling; the resolution included in its considerations the IACHR’s 1997 report on human rights in that country. The IACHR also points out that the opening of new prisons in the Dominican Republic has improved the situation of a significant number of individuals deprived of their liberty. 

 

Risks and challenges

 

The Inter-American Commission confirms persistent challenges in terms of observance and promotion of respect for basic human rights in the Hemisphere.  A complex issue that the Commission has followed with particular interest is the relationship between citizen security and human rights on the continent.  In effect, the region’s inhabitants continue to face threats to their security stemming from terrorism, drugs, trafficking in persons, gang violence, and common crime. In responding to these threats, States must implement public policies consistent with their obligation to respect and ensure human rights. The Commission reaffirmed its commitment to prepare a hemispheric study on the relationship between citizen security and human rights.  The subject has been discussed in numerous hearings at different sessions and has come to the attention of this organ through the system of individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and in loco working and investigative visits. 

 

The failures and deficiencies in respect for human rights on the continent have a particularly negative impact on members of the most vulnerable sectors. The lack of effective exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights exacerbates this worrisome panorama of persistently high malnutrition rates, limited and insufficient access to health and education, and inadequate standards of living. During this session, the Commission discussed a first draft of a proposal for progress indicators in the area of economic, social and cultural rights and entrusted Commissioner Victor Abramovich with the task of reviewing this document and following up on this process.

 

The Inter-American Commission is following closely the situation of respect for human rights in all member States, with particular attention to the situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela.

 

Colombia

 

The Commission received information on the extrajudicial executions of civilians perpetrated by members of the Public Force and on patterns of illegal detention, fraud, concealment of evidence, and impunity through the use of the military criminal justice system.  It also received the President of the Superior Council of the Judiciary [Consejo Superior de la Judicatura] who submitted information on the measures that legal entity has taken to address problems such as the jurisdictional clashes between the ordinary and military venues, and the implementation of the so-called “Justice and Peace Law,” among others. In both cases the Commission expressed its concern at the use of the military criminal justice system to investigate and try offenses perpetrated by members of the Public Force.   

 

The Commission also received information on the demobilization of illegal armed groups, implementation of the regulatory framework for this process, and the rearming, regrouping, or reemergence under a new name of members of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia [Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC)] following their demobilization. As the IACHR has pointed out, the process undertaken to deactivate the actors in the armed conflict in Colombia must include measures to ensure the non-recurrence of crimes perpetrated against the civilian population in violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. This includes clarifying and making reparations for the consequences of the violence through appropriate mechanisms to establish the truth of what occurred, administer justice, and make integral reparations to the victims, in light of the country’s international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the OAS Charter.

 

Cuba

 

During the hearings, the Commission received information on the situation of boys and girls in Cuba and on the health status of certain dissidents who have been deprived of their liberty since 2003. As stated on numerous occasions, the Commission considers that the lack of free and fair elections featuring universal suffrage and a secret ballot as an expression of the sovereign will of the people violates the right to political participation enshrined in Article XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.  Also during this session, the Commission approved two reports that will be published shortly: one on Case 12.476 (Oscar Elías Biscet et al.) which involves the violation of fundamental rights to the detriment of 75 political dissidents who have been deprived of their liberty since 2003, and the other on Case 12.477 (Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo et al) concerning the trial of three people and the application of the death penalty without due process guarantees.

 

The Commission also reiterates that the trade embargo imposed on Cuba for more than 40 years must be ended, as this economic sanction has had a serious impact on the enjoyment of economic and social rights and there is no question that the most vulnerable sectors of the Cuban population have been the ones to suffer its consequences.

 

Haiti

 

The Commission underscored the urgent need for the State to guarantee the security of the Haitian people in general and that of human rights defenders and other vulnerable groups such as women and children in particular.  During the session, human rights defenders from Haiti expressed their concern over the wave of violence that continues to sweep the country due in large part to armed bands that circulate with impunity in Port-au-Prince.  They also described deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and the lack of access to legal services and effective legal remedies, as well as to adequate medical services, on the part of victims of violence, all of which has exacerbated an already precarious situation. The Commission also received information concerning the high percentage of detainees held for prolonged periods in pretrial detention, the miserable prison conditions in the city of Gonaive, prevailing impunity for human rights violations, and acts of intimidation against human rights defender Evel Fanfan. 

 

The Commission expresses its satisfaction at the recent establishment of a national commission mandated to implement a plan to disarm armed groups and hopes that it will undertake this task in accordance with international human rights principles. Representatives of the State invited the Commission to visit the country to dialogue about its assistance needs in the area of judicial reform and strengthening democracy.

 

Venezuela

 

At the hearings, the Commission received information that human rights defenders who attend hearings before the Commission are subject to defamation campaigns instigated by State officials upon their return to the country. In this regard, the Commission reiterates emphatically that no human rights defender should be harassed for reasons relating to his or her work, much less for using the tools and entities available through the Inter-American system.  In this sense, the Commission calls on the authorities of the Venezuelan State to comply with the provisions of Article 61 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure to ensure that people who participate in procedures before the organs of the Inter-American System do not become victims of harassment and intimidation for this reason.

 

The Commission was informed about the constitutional process of Public Consultation convened by the Permanent Committee on Foreign Policy of the National Assembly with respect to the International Cooperation Bill.  Generally, the Commission takes a positive view of the opening up of such participatory processes in a democratic State; nonetheless, it notes with concern that this consultation includes references that can be interpreted as resistance to the participation of organizations that have expressed criticism about the contents of the bill.  Therefore, the Commission requests that the IACHR’s recommendations regarding this bill be taken into account and that the effective participation of civil society be ensured. 

 

Finally, the Commission received information from the State and from various human rights organizations concerning the prison situation. The State submitted information on government policies to control crowding and violence in the prisons, while civil society groups reported on increases in the numbers of dead and wounded in the prisons thus far in 2006. In this regard, the Commission calls on the State to make every possible effort to guarantee the life and personal integrity of individuals deprived of their liberty in Venezuela and, at the same time, to implement effective policies to control violence inside the prisons, in keeping with respect for human rights.

 

Upcoming sessions

 

Beginning this year, the Inter-American Commission has modified the format for its sessions. Rather than two three-week sessions annually, the Commission has decided that from now on it will hold three annual sessions of two weeks each. The Commission also plans to hold a special session in the territory of a Member State.  The next regular session will be held from February 26 to March 9, 2007, at the headquarters in Washington, D.C.

 

 

Washington, D.C., October 27, 2006


 


[1] Commissioner Clare K. Roberts was unable to participate in this session for reasons beyond her control, according to the notice delivered to the President in advance of the session.