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IACHR presents its 2006 annual report
Washington, DC, March 29th. 2007 – The lack of safety in the streets, social inequality, the lack of access to justice and the slow process of democratic consolidation are the human rights issues that require greater attention in the Americas according to the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) presented today before the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Organization of the American States (OAS) by the Commission’s President, Dr. Florentin Melendez.
The Report recognizes that one of the most significant challenges faced by the OAS Member States in guaranteeing human rights is the fragility that characterizes the Judiciary in the majority of countries in the region, and, in some cases, the attacks on the independence and impartiality of this branch of Government. According to the Report, “this results in problems of equal access to justice, slow judicial processes, impunity in serious cases of violations of fundamental rights and violations of due process.”
The Report also indicates that marginalization and social exclusion persist in the region and inhibit the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights of broad sectors of the population. “Even though in recent years the economy has recovered, and in some countries the indicators of poverty and indigence were reduced, there are still millions of persons who confront structural unemployment problems, social marginalization, and the inaccessibility of basic social services. Also, there has been no change in the de facto and de jure inequality that affects women and other groups that have been traditionally discriminated against, such as indigenous peoples, afro descendents and homosexuals”, the Report asserts. It also points out that these groups are the ones most susceptible to experiencing torture, violent deaths, prison overcrowding, arbitrary detention, beatings and police executions.
The Annual Report also includes special sections on the situation of human rights in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela, countries which, in 2006, the IACHR considered merited special attention.
In the section on Colombia, the IACHR applauds the efforts of the State to guarantee the effectiveness of human rights in a complex context, but expresses concern about the impact of the violence, generated by the armed conflict, on the civilian population and, in particular, on the vulnerable groups of society, such as the indigenous peoples, people of African descent and the displaced peoples, as well as the “increasing number of complaints concerning the participation of State agents.” The report also underlines the IACHR´s concern about attacks perpetrated by armed groups, operating outside the law, against human rights defenders and social leaders. Additionally, the Report states that the attempts to administer justice have not been effective in terms of providing reparations for victims and in the removal of the perpetrators of the violence. It also emphasizes that in 2006, the demobilization stage of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (commonly known as the “AUC”) was completed and the country is now facing the challenges of “showing tangible results from dismantling the armed structures of the paramilitary groups and implementing the legal framework adopted in order to judge the crimes perpetrated by the AUC”, especially in the face of complaints that the illegal armed groups are rearming.
The Report reiterates that the respect for the rights to truth and justice and complete reparation for the victims of the armed conflict is crucial for achieving long lasting peace, for strengthening the administration of justice in Colombia, and for guaranteeing the non-repetition of the serious human rights violations that had been committed.
In the section dedicated to the human rights situation in Cuba, the Commission’s Annual Report analyzes, in particular, the information received concerning violations of freedom of expression; the conditions of detention of persons deprived of their liberty because they are political dissidents; the systematic attacks on political opponents; the violation of labor and labor-union rights; and the imposition of the death penalty without guarantees of due process. The Report emphasizes that restrictions on political rights, on freedom of expression and thought have continued over a period of decades and have risen to a systematic violation of fundamental rights of Cuban citizens, a situation that is particularly aggravated by the lack of independence of the Judiciary. The Report also notes that the lack of free and fair elections, based on universal, secret suffrage, as an expression of the sovereignty of its people, violates the right to political participation enshrined in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
The Report also restates that the economic, commercial and financial embargo weighing upon Cuba for more than 40 years, has had a serious impact on the economic and social rights of the Cuban population and must be terminated.
The Annual Report analyzes the situation of human rights in Haiti and places it “among the most worrying situations in the hemisphere.” In its report, the Commission expresses its serious concern regarding the lack of effective control over the security situation in the country during 2006. While the Report notes that the level of violence decreased during the electoral period leading to President Rene Preval’s election, it points out that since mid-2006, the incidence of violence acutely increased. This has provoked an unprecedented rise in the number of murders, kidnappings and acts of violence against the civilian population, particularly against women and children. This situation is further aggravated by the absence of effective measures to prevent crime and by the State’s incapacity to effectively prosecute and punish the perpetrators.
The IACHR finds that the repeated periods of political, social and economic crisis have caused State institutions to remain extremely weak, thus preventing the State from effectively tackling longstanding problems in the area of social, economic, civil and political rights. The Report notes that “[T]hese matters, which continue to prevent the country from making significant progress in terms of development, cannot be fully resolved with short-term solutions, but will require long-term institutional reforms and sustained international assistance. The Report also points out that measures should be taken to include the disarmament of all groups in possession of illegal weapons; the implementation of a constructive conciliatory dialogue among different sectors to promote social and political consensus; the adoption of concrete steps to end impunity for human rights abuses and crimes; and strong support for the national economy in order to generate more employment opportunities and self-sufficiency for the people of Haiti.
In the section on Venezuela, the IACHR´s Annual Report analyzes aspects regarding the administration of justice; the impunity that shrouds reports of alleged extrajudicial executions reportedly at the hands of State agents; the precarious situation of persons who are deprived of liberty; and the political pressure on civil society, in particular, those sectors critical of the current government.
The Report expresses the IACHR´s concern for the deaths and serious injuries suffered by hundreds of persons deprived of liberty and notes among the causes, the lack of effective controls to prevent the entry of weapons into prisons; the shortage of properly trained custodial staff; procedural delays, and substandard prison conditions. At the same time, the Report documents information received during 2006 about harassment and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders as well as against individuals and groups of persons critical of governmental policies. The Report also expresses the IACHR´s concern about the possible implications of the draft International Cooperation Bill on the exercise of the right to freedom of association in general, and, in particular, on the work of human rights defenders,’ who receive external financing for their activities. The Report further states that during 2006, the IACHR received continuous reports on situations affecting the normal exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
The Commission emphasizes that since its last on-site visit to Venezuela in May 2002, the Commission has repeatedly sought verbal and written consent of the State to visit the country during 2006 but the attempts was frustrated due to the difficulties in scheduling a date for the visit. “The lack of consent of the Government prevents the IACHR from exercising the powers and attributes granted to it by the States under the Charter of the OAS, the Commission’s Statute, and the American Convention on Human Rights”, the Report notes.
The entire 2006 Annual Report of the IACHR will be available on its web page as of April 2, 2007 at: (www.cidh.org).