IACHR CONCLUDES ITS 130TH REGULAR SESSIONS
Washington, October 19, 2007—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 130th period of sessions from October 8 to 19. During the sessions, the IACHR held hearings and working meetings, participated in a special meeting of the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, had a working luncheon with the Central American Council of Human Rights Prosecutors (CCPDH), and met with magistrates and public prosecutors in an event organized by the College of the Americas (COLAM), among other activities. The IACHR welcomes and appreciates the active participation of the States and civil society in its sessions, which strengthens the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.
Twenty-seven hearings were held during these sessions. The President of the Commission, Dr. Florentín Meléndez, wishes to recognize as a positive step the fact that representatives of the government of the United States said that they look forward to talking further with the IACHR about its possible visit to immigration detention facilities, and that they await more detailed information about which specific centers the Commission wants to visit. This was stated during the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of Migrant Workers, Refugee Children and other Vulnerable Groups in the United States.” The IACHR would also like to make special note of the hearing held on the “Situation of Descendants of Fugitive Slaves of the Colonial Period (“Quilombolas”) in Brazil, as an example of the Commission’s efforts to closely follow the situation of Afro-descendents in the region.
The Commission also held 28 working meetings. The IACHR President would like to express his satisfaction concerning the information provided by authorities of the state government of Oaxaca on the implementation of the recommendations he made during his visit to Mexico last August. The President also noted with satisfaction the willingness of the parties to move forward on friendly settlements in all the working meetings held on the following cases involving Mexico: Reyes Penagos Martínez, Cruza Avila Mondragón, Modesto Patolzin Moicen and Víctor Pineda Henestrosa. On another matter, a working meeting was held concerning the AMIA case, related to the investigations into the 1994 attack perpetrated on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina. Given that the State could not report concrete measures adopted in recent months or progress in the investigation process, the IACHR President deplored the deadlock encountered in the process of seeking a friendly settlement in this case and urged the State to redouble its efforts, especially with regard to investigating and bringing to light the facts about the attack.
The Inter-American Commission would like to call attention to the signing, during this period of sessions, of an agreement with the University of Quebec in Montreal for the creation of the “Brian Tittemore” Scholarship, which will enable an alumnus of that university to undertake legal efforts in support of the IACHR Executive Secretariat, with external funding. Brian Tittemore, a Canadian attorney, carried out an outstanding role as a principal specialist at the IACHR from February 1999 until his death in December 2006. At the signing of the agreement, the first beneficiary of the Brian Tittemore Scholarship was welcomed to the IACHR Executive Secretariat.
On December 31, 2007, the terms to which Commissioners Evelio Fernández Arévalos and Freddy Gutiérrez were elected come to an end. The President of the Commission thanks Commissioners Fernández Arévalos and Gutiérrez Trejo for their service to the IACHR during the 2004-2007 period. The Inter-American Commission would especially like to recognize and express appreciation for the efforts of Commissioner Fernández Arévalos, who served as President of the Commission in 2006.
The IACHR will hold its 131st period of sessions at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., from March 3 to 14. Under Article 62.2 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the deadline for presenting applications for hearings and working meetings for those regular sessions is January 13, 2008.
Note: Date modified according to Article 62.2 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR.
ANNEX TO PRESS RELEASE No. 54/07
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 130th regular period of sessions from October 8 to 19, 2007. The IACHR is made up of Florentín Meléndez, President; Paolo Carozza, First Vice President; Víctor Abramovich, Second Vice President; and Commissioners Clare K. Roberts, Freddy Gutiérrez, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro and Evelio Fernández Arévalos. The IACHR Executive Secretary is Dr. Santiago A. Canton.
At the opening of the 130th period of sessions, which was attended by representatives of the States and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, the IACHR President again urged the Member States that have not yet done so to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights and the rest of the treaties adopted by the system, and to recognize the contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court and the jurisdiction of the Commission for cases between States. Dr. Meléndez also urged all Member States to comply fully with the decisions of the Court and the Commission, which he said “are legally, politically and morally binding for the States.”
During these sessions, the IACHR approved 17 reports on individual cases and petitions. On October 10 and 12, the Commission held 27 hearings related to individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific situations pertaining to human rights. It also held 28 working meetings in which representatives of both parties participated, in the context of petitions and cases before the Commission. The participation, in hearings and working meetings, of representatives of the OAS Member States, as well as those who participated as victims or petitioners, constitutes an important contribution to the strengthening of efforts to protect the human rights of the people of the hemisphere. The Inter-American Commission welcomes and appreciates such assistance and participation. In that regard, the participation of high-level government authorities from various countries is worth noting, as a sign of their respective States’ willingness to engage in dialogue with the IACHR and with civil society.
On October 18, the IACHR participated in a special session of the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, which discussed the proposed reform of the IACHR Rules of Procedure. The Commission President urged the States to give their opinions on the reforms and announced the decision to extend the consultation period for an additional 30 days beyond the end of the 130th period of sessions.
A working lunch was also held on October 17 with the Central American Council of Human Rights Prosecutors (CCPDH), for the purpose of exchanging information and experiences about the situation in Central America. The CCPDH gave a presentation on its principal activities in the area of human rights and informed the Commission about efforts it will undertake in the near future with a view to helping strengthen the inter-American human rights system.
On October 10, the Commissioners met with magistrates, public prosecutors and those in charge of continuing education within the judiciary, in an event organized by the College of the Americas (COLAM) as part of its initiative to create an Inter-American Training Network in Governance and Human Rights, geared toward judges and others in the justice system. The COLAM is a program of the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education, whose principal goal is to promote cooperation among universities in the hemisphere through training and research networks.
Additionally, during the 130th period of sessions, the officers of the IACHR signed an agreement with the University of Québec in Montreal for the creation of the “Brian Tittemore” Scholarship. This will enable an alumnus of that university to advance legal efforts in support of the IACHR Executive Secretariat, with external funding. Brian Tittemore, a Canadian attorney, carried out an outstanding role as a principal specialist at the IACHR from February 1999 until his death in December 2006. At the signing of the agreement, the first beneficiary of the Brian Tittemore Scholarship was welcomed to the IACHR Executive Secretariat.
As has been the practice for several years, during its sessions the IACHR held a parallel training course on the inter-American and universal systems for human rights protections. The course was organized by the IACHR, the International Service for Human Rights and the Washington College of Law at American University.
On December 31, 2007, the terms to which Commissioners Evelio Fernández Arévalos and Freddy Gutiérrez were elected come to an end. The President of the Commission thanks Commissioners Fernández Arévalos and Gutiérrez Trejo for their service to the IACHR during the 2004-2007 period. The Inter-American Commission would especially like to recognize and express appreciation for the efforts of Commissioner Fernández Arévalos, who served as President of the Commission in 2006.
Drs. Luz Patricia Mejía and Felipe González, who were elected to the Commission during the 37th OAS General Assembly, held in Panama in June 2007, and who will assume their posts on January 1, 2008, participated as observers in some sessions and hearings during the 130th period of sessions. They also held informative meetings with Commissioners and personnel of the Executive Secretariat.
The IACHR will hold its 131st regular period of sessions at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., from March 3 to 14, 2008. Under Article 62.2 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the deadline for presenting applications for hearings and working meetings for those regular sessions is January 13, 2008.
I. REPORTS ON INDIVIDUAL PETITIONS AND CASES
The IACHR continued to examine numerous individual petitions and cases which allege violations of human rights protected under the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, and other inter-American instruments.
The reports approved by the IACHR reflect some of the structural problems in the area of human rights that persist in the region. They refer to respect for the rights to life and personal integrity; guarantees to due process and judicial protection; the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights; and the rights of children, indigenous peoples, women and persons deprived of liberty, among other matters.
The Commission approved 8 reports on admissibility, 2 on inadmissibility, 2 on merits and 1 on a friendly settlement, and decided to publish 4 merit reports. Once the parties have been notified, the Inter-American Commission will publish the list of cases in which the decision is of a public nature, and will post these on its Web site.
On October 10 and 12, the Commission held 27 hearings related to individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures and general and specific human rights situations. The hearings on individual cases and petitions had to do with issues of admissibility, merits and follow-up.
Individuals who appear to offer testimony or information during the hearings should enjoy all necessary guarantees. In a June 8, 1990, resolution, the OAS General Assembly recommends to governments “that they grant the necessary guarantees and facilities to enable nongovernmental human rights organizations to continue contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights, and that they respect the freedom and safety of the members of such organizations.” Furthermore, Article 61 of the IACHR Rules of Procedures indicates: “The State in question shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission. That State may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.”
The hearings held in Room A were transmitted live via the Internet. Videos of these hearings and audio recordings of all the public hearings held during these sessions are available to anyone who is interested, on the IACHR Web site. The Commission thanks Primestream for making it possible for the live transmission of hearings to reach a broader audience at a higher level of quality. External Web sites are authorized to include links to these audio and video recordings as long as credit is given to the OAS. The same conditions are in effect for the publication of high-resolution photographs of the hearings, which are also available on-line.
A. General Human Rights Situation in the OAS Member States
With respect to Haiti, the Commission received information concerning the general human rights situation in the country from the Comission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix (JILAP), including information on acts of violence in Port-au-Prince and the lack of accountability for crimes and human rights abuses.
JILAP representatives presented results from a study conducted on violence in Port-au-Prince, which documented 2,552 victims of armed violence during the 2002-2007 period. They noted that during the country’s political crisis in early 2004 and again in November 2005, there was an increase in the use of firearms that resulted in the death of approximately 1,600 people. Along the same lines, the petitioners reported that cases of sexual violence against women increased sharply over the last five years, from 85 recorded cases of rape in 2002 to 725 cases recorded in 2006. The petitioners criticized the State’s failure to punish these crimes and emphasized the importance of reinforcing and reforming the justice system in Haiti. In particular, they noted a number of weaknesses in the justice system leading to impunity in the country, among them the lack of independence of the judiciary, the incompetence of certain judges, the lack of application of laws or the outdated nature of the legal codes, the faulty administration of the courts, the poor remuneration for judges, and the absence of sufficient resources and equipment for the judiciary. Finally, the petitioners stressed the importance of analyzing the various sources of violence in Haiti and developing a comprehensive response that includes improving social justice and providing economic opportunities for the population.
In response, the State indicated that the public security situation has improved during the past year; nevertheless, it recognized that there was still work to be done to strengthen the justice system in Haiti. Finally, the State emphasized the importance of the international community’s support role in helping the State meets its objectives.
B. Other General and Thematic Hearings
Peace Process in El Salvador
At the request of the State of El Salvador, a hearing was held in which a government delegation presented the IACHR with information about the Peace Accords signed in that country in 1992, following a civil war that lasted approximately 12 years. The delegation was composed of the Ambassador of El Salvador to the OAS and two former negotiators of the Peace Accords who were then on opposing sides. During the hearing, the government representatives explained that the Peace Accord negotiators—those on the side of the government at that time as well as those representing the guerrillas (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional)—acted on the understanding that to end the violence, it was accepted that those responsible for human rights violations perpetrated during the civil war would not be tried, an understanding which subsequently led to the amnesty laws. They asserted that if that had not been the case, El Salvador would not have been able to bring about the peace that led to the reestablishment of democracy. The delegation asked that when examining petitions and cases related to El Salvador, the IACHR take into account that it was the “national will” that the Peace Accords lead to an amnesty that would become the basis for achieving a solid, lasting peace. They also indicated that the amnesty laws were the product of consensus and agreement among all the political forces in El Salvador. The government representatives stated that by following the Truth Commission’s recommendation to publish the names of those responsible for the principal crimes, the parties that signed the Peace Accords already had gone beyond their original intention to forget what had happened. They cautioned that to go back and bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations would jeopardize the peace that has been achieved, and said the country has opted to look toward the future.
Follow-up to Reports of Extrajudicial Executions in Colombia
The civil society organizations in Colombia that requested this hearing presented a report prepared by the International Observation Mission on “Extrajudicial Executions and Impunity in Colombia,” which establishes that during the first four years of implementing the policy of “democratic security,” there was a 92% increase in extrajudicial executions, presumably carried out by public security forces. They indicated that the pressure on members of the military forces to obtain results in the context of the democratic security policy was having a significant influence on extrajudicial executions. They pointed out that in the period studied (July 2002 to June 2007), 1,348 civilian deaths were recorded, including 119 disappearances, and noted that there are patterns of impunity. The petitioners expressed concern about the fact that some measures adopted by the State could lead to an increase in the practice of extrajudicial executions conducted with impunity. Such measures include reforms to the Military Criminal Code and the proposal to incorporate military criminal justice within the regular judicial branch, which would allow military criminal judges to investigate human rights violations. The organizations asked that the IACHR provide protection to relatives of the disappeared, who are stigmatized; that it recommend to the State that all cases under military jurisdiction be transferred to regular jurisdiction; that military justice personnel refrain from initiating investigations or claiming jurisdiction; that evidence be collected by judiciary officials; that United Nations manuals be used; and that the Public Prosecutor’s Office be the one to initiate investigations related to military operations and refrain from surrendering jurisdiction to the military courts. They also asked that military jurisdiction be used only for crimes committed in the line of duty; that the State provide the Commission with information related to the cases discussed in this hearing and the October 2006 hearing, in terms of the jurisdiction under which the investigation is taking place and the status of that investigation; and that the IACHR prepare a report on extrajudicial executions in Colombia with recommendations to the State, after conducting an on-site visit to that country.
Reproductive Rights of Women in the Americas
The IACHR held a thematic hearing on the reproductive rights of women in the Americas, requested by the Center for Reproductive Rights, CEJIL and Human Rights Watch. During the hearing, the petitioners indicated that maternal mortality rates for women in the Americas are very high, with approximately 22,000 maternal deaths each year in the region. They said the problem particularly affects women who are poor or from rural areas, Afro-descendent or indigenous women, and adolescents and women under the age of 25. They emphasized that in many countries of the region, the rate of maternal mortality exceeds that of homicides of women, in some cases by a factor of 10. They also noted that any comprehensive approach on how to reduce maternal mortality should include provisions to ensure that women can fully exercise their rights. The petitioners also reported on the high incidence of sexual violence against girls and adolescents in public schools in the Americas, emphasizing that sexual harassment stems from a series of discriminatory norms, practices and customs that persist across the Americas and that have very high negative repercussions in terms of their performance in school and their development. They also reported on the situation experienced by specific groups of women when they try to access reproductive health services in the United States, indicating that they are victims of multiple forms of discrimination as a result of their sex, race and poverty status. The organizations also presented information on the recent repeal of the legal concept of therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua. The petitioners noted that not permitting abortion even to save the lives of pregnant women represents a step backward in the area of protecting women’s rights. They also expressed their concern regarding the negative impact of such a legal reform, which they argue has led doctors to be fearful about treating any type of pregnancy complication and has caused women to be afraid of seeking help from health-care establishments for pregnancy-related complications. They also said they are awaiting the decision of the Nicaraguan Supreme Court of Justice regarding the filing of a motion in January of this year seeking to have that law declared unconstitutional.
Independence of the Judiciary in Bolivia
The hearing was requested by the National College of Lawyers and included the participation of representatives of the Bolivian State. Representatives of the National College of Lawyers, as well as the College of Lawyers of Santa Cruz, reported on developments that in their estimation constitute an attack on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in Bolivia. These include: the reduction of salaries of magistrates and ministers of the high courts; certain acts of violence committed in the headquarters of the Constitutional Court; public statements by authorities of the executive branch against the judiciary; and especially, alleged procedural shortcomings in the current “responsibility trials” against four magistrates of the aforementioned Court. The Colleges of Lawyers requested that the Commission undertake an investigation of the reported events, that it conduct an on-site visit to that end, and that it listen to the magistrates of the Constitutional Court in an open hearing. For their part, the State representatives asserted that the responsibility trials in question have been carried out in strict compliance with the procedures established in Law 2623, adopted in 2003, which regulates these types of processes. They also indicated that the reduction in salaries had to do with an austerity program necessary for the process of change being implemented by the current government, and that the opinions about the judiciary expressed by some executive branch authorities constitute normal criticisms in a democratic system. The Commission took note of the information presented and underscored the relevance of continuing to receive information in order to carry out an adequate follow-up to the recently published report on Access to Justice and Social Inclusion: The Road Toward Strengthening Democracy in Bolivia.
Situation of the Descendents of Fugitive Slaves of the Colonial Period (“Quilombolas”) in Brazil
The IACHR received information about the situation of the descendents of fugitive slaves (“Quilombolas”) of Brazil’s colonial period, during a hearing requested by the Justice and Human Rights Social Network, the Federation of Organizations for Social and Educational Assistance (FASE) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). The hearing also included the participation of the representative of the National Coordination Committee of “Quilombolas” Rural Black Communities, as well as representatives of the State. Those requesting the hearing indicated as principal problems the lack of official identification and registration by the State of all the Quilombola communities; delays and inefficiencies in the established procedures to grant title of Quilombola lands to their members, and the lack of efficient and comprehensive public policies designed to promote the development of those communities and the fundamental rights of their members. The petitioners emphasized as well that it is the obligation of the State to implement the provisions of the 1988 Constitution, which recognizes the right of the Quilombola communities to their territories, and to modify the land registration process in order to avoid long delays. The State of Brazil was represented by members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Agrarian Development, the Special Secretariat for Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic, and the Special Secretariat for Racial Equality Promotion Policies. The State indicated that it has recognized the rights of the Quilombolas in its legislation, and that this issue constitutes a priority for the Brazilian government. It also emphasized the creation and implementation of the Brazil Quilombola Program and other general public policies that favor those communities, as well as the progress made in the last four years in the number of communities that have been identified and have benefited from the concession of land ownership titles.
Situation of Women in Cité Soleil, Haiti
During the hearing, the IACHR received information from CONOCS (Collectif des Notables de Cité Soleil) regarding acts of violence against women and girls and the public security situation in the neighborhoods most affected by armed violence. CONOCS presented preliminary findings from a study on violence against women in Cité Soleil, which according to the petitioners reveals a pattern of acts of sexual and domestic violence. The petitioners also noted the lack of access to medical assistance for women and girls in Cité Soleil, and a high rate of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection. The petitioners added that none of the victims interviewed in the study had filed complaints with the police or pursued legal remedies, due to the inaccessibility of the courts and the fear of reprisal attacks by the perpetrators. In this regard, the petitioners expressed dissatisfaction with the State’s inability to adequately prevent violent crime in the city center, the lack of a state presence in Cité Soleil in the form of a permanent police presence and the lack of social services designed to assist victims of sexual and domestic violence. In response, the State acknowledged the existence of gender-based discrimination and related violence in Haitian society and recognized that greater efforts are needed to protect and promote women’s rights and to adopt principles of nondiscrimination.
Indigenous Child Malnutrition in the Americas
In a hearing requested motu propio by the Commission, information was received on the impact of malnutrition that affects indigenous children and adolescents in the Americas. Representatives of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) referred to the PAHO Regional Strategy and Plan of Action on Nutrition in Health and Development, which underscores the social dimension of the pillars of sustainable development, with a focus on human rights. It emphasizes that nutritional insecurity hampers the possibility of improving human beings’ quality of life. The PAHO experts stated that, in general, the quality of life of indigenous peoples is well below those of the rest of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean, as a result of their income levels, their human development indicators (education, health, nutrition) and their state of exclusion on many levels. Specifically in terms of nutrition, they explained that the information available suggests that a greater proportion of indigenous boys and girls suffer growth retardation than non-indigenous children. They also noted that it has been shown that in countries with nutritional data broken down geographically, the state of nutrition is much direr in territories populated mainly by indigenous populations. Such differentials are associated with political, socio-cultural and economic factors that determine and perpetuate the situation of exclusion experienced by indigenous populations of the region.
In the framework of the agreement between the OAS and PAHO (signed on Mary 23, 1950), the PAHO representatives asked the Commission to promote the development of inter-American standards on the right to health and to adequate food. One first step could be the formulation of a recommendation on nutrition and food security. They also talked about the need for on-site visits to include the evaluation of public institutions in charge of health and nutrition, and underscored the need to act jointly with the various agencies created in the United Nations whose mandate has to do directly with the promotion and protection of the right to health and nutrition in the Americas.
Human Rights Situation of Migrant Workers, Refugee Children and Other Vulnerable Groups in the United States
Several organizations requested a hearing to discuss the impact of U.S. immigration detention policies on migrant and refugee children and other vulnerable populations. The hearing was well attended, both by those requesting it and by representatives of various U.S. government agencies involved in the immigration issue, along with the State Department. The groups requesting the hearing indicated that conditions in immigrant detention facilities are poor and that children are submitted inappropriately to an immigration and refugee system designed for adults. The government of the United States argued that the detention facilities are safe and clean and provide necessary services, including education for children, and that adequate accommodations are made for minors within the system. Both parties encouraged the Commission to visit the specific detention centers in question and view them firsthand.
The Rights of the Child and Adoption Procedures in Guatemala
The IACHR held a hearing on the general situation concerning the rights of the child and adoption procedures in Guatemala, at the request of Casa Alianza, CEJIL and Covenant House, with the participation of the State of Guatemala. Those requesting the hearing indicated that the adoption of Guatemalan boys and girls has increased disproportionately in recent years relative to the size of the population, and has turned into a lucrative business, to the detriment of thousands of boys and girls, without the State taking action to correct the situation. They stated that in 2006, around 5,000 adoptions took place, in which more than 90% were of an international nature and were authorized only by a notary, whose actions in this area fall under the supervision of the Prosecutor General of the Republic. They added that the adoption system in Guatemala does not meet the minimum requirements established under international law, and thousands of boys and girls are thus commercialized every year. They asked the Commission to become involved in ensuring that measures are passed to guarantee the rights of Guatemalan children. For its part, the government of Guatemala indicated that it recognized there were serious problems in the adoption process and shared the concerns expressed by the petitioners. It noted that these irregularities are promoted by lawyers and also by international organizations motivated by profit. The State also reported that on October 4, 2007, the Congress of the Republic had, in a third round of debate, unanimously approved the Adoptions Law, with the approval of each article and the consideration of more than 60 modifications to the draft legislation still pending.
Human Rights Situation in Venezuela
The hearing on the human rights situation in Venezuela was held in response to various requests by different Venezuelan civil society organizations that wanted to inform the IACHR about a range of issues. At the request of the hearing applicants, the audience was held behind closed doors. During the first part, the organizations CEJIL, COFAVIC, Public Forum, the Human Rights Vicariate of Caracas and Reporters Without Borders, along with Héctor Faúndez, updated the Commission on the situation faced by human rights defenders and on the right to freedom of expression. They also presented the concerns of some sectors of civil society regarding proposed constitutional reforms and the potential effects these could have on some rights protected under the Convention, particularly political rights. During the second part of the hearing, the civil society association Active Citizenry presented a report on incidences and common patterns of political discrimination in Venezuela.
Government Program for the Protection of Victims, Witnesses and Others Involved in Judicial Procedures (Venezuela)
During the hearing requested by the Venezuelan government regarding the “Law for the Protection of Victims, Witnesses and Others Involved in Judicial Procedures,” representatives of the government explained the law’s scope and relevance with regard to protections for individuals who, because of their ties to a current or potential criminal process, could experience a situation that jeopardizes their life or personal integrity. The director of Offices of Attorney Generals (Fiscalías Superiores), Lesbia Morales Castillo, indicated that the new law is the mechanism through which protection measures issued by the bodies of the inter-American system are channeled. In concluding this presentation, the government agent for human rights, Germán Saltrón, reiterated the position of the Venezuelan State with regard to the Commission’s lack of authority under the Convention to issue precautionary measures, and again asked the Commission to “recognize the error committed by its predecessors following the coup d’etat of April 2002.” He also said, “We understand that you, Mr. Commissioner, would like to visit Veenzuela. We have nothing to hide with respect to what the Venezuelan government is doing on human rights, but the only thing we ask and reiterate is that you [Commissioners] recognize your improper conduct during the coup d’etat of April 11.” As a result of these statements, the Commission decided to suspend the hearing.
Allegations concerning the Criminalization of Social Protest in Peru
Representatives of Peruvian civil society requested the hearing for the purpose of sharing with the Commission their concerns about what they called the growing tendency to criminalize social protest. The petitioners referred to a series of recent legislative decrees adopted by the Peruvian State, which are intended to criminalize social protest; establish impunity for members of the security forces who cause injuries or death in “the fulfillment of their duties and through the use of their weapons in accordance with regulations”; and expand certain definitions of crimes to include acts that constitute normal practices in social uprisings, etc. They also denounced what they consider an excessive use of force on the part of public security forces in the repression of popular protests. The State, for its part, noted that the legislative decrees have been the result of discussions among the Ministry of Justice, the executive branch and a group of experienced judges and prosecutors. It added that the provisions of those laws are necessary in order to effectively combat crime and protect democracy. Specifically, the State emphasized that the aforementioned norms had been incorporated into the Peruvian legal system in order to fulfill the obligations it had assumed through the ratification of different international treaties, including the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the United Nations Convention against Illegal Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism.
Criminal Justice Reforms in Mexico
The IACHR received information from the Mexican human rights organizations Red Fundar, the “Miguel Agustín” Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights, and Attorneys for Justice and Human Rights concerning the debate underway in Mexico on constitutional reforms in criminal matters. They first expressed their concern that this reform is being discussed in a regional context in which, they argued, security measures tend to be implemented at the cost of respect for human rights. The organizations indicated that they are concerned that the reforms elevate to a constitutional level the procedure of prohibiting a person from leaving the country, which would allow the Office of the Public Prosecutor to hold a person in detention, which becomes a form of preventive custody. They also cited as a negative factor the reform’s expansions of the Office of the Public Prosecutor’s powers, to the detriment of the strengthening of judicial authority, allowing it, for example, to conduct domestic searches without prior warrants. They added that the reforms would limit the right to a defense in cases categorized as organized crime, since information and witnesses could be kept secret and the accused would be unable to contradict the evidence against him. They also expressed concern about the suppression of the process when it comes to confessions, given that in such cases due process guarantees are not respected, but rather the supremacy of the confession is reestablished as incriminatory proof. According to those requesting the hearing, these aspects have not been questioned during the discussion of the reforms in the legislative arena. The organizations asked the IACHR to request that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issue a consultative decision on States’ authority to restrict due process guarantees and to seek information from the State of Mexico concerning how these constitutional reforms would guarantee the respect for and protection of human rights. They mentioned particularly the rights to due process, to property, to personal liberty and judicial protections, among other rights established in the American Convention on Human Rights.
C. Hearings on Individual Cases and Petitions
During this period of sessions, there were hearings on the following cases and petitions:
Case 12.476 – Oscar Elías Biscet, et al., v. Cuba
The hearing took place at the request of the IACHR, with the assistance of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, in its capacity as petitioner, and Mrs. Yamile Llanes, wife of the prisoner of conscience José Luis García Paneque. Information was presented concerning the serious state of health suffered by political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Cuba. The information presented indicates that 16 of the 75 political prisoners have been freed due to their critical health problems, several of whom have left Cuba as political refugees. During the hearing, testimony was heard from the wife of García Paneque, who has been deprived of liberty since 2003 in the Primavera Negra Prison in the city of Tunas. According to her testimony, her husband’s state of health is grave, as he suffers from anemia, pneumonia and a reduced absorption syndrome. Mrs. Llanes indicated that she has sought to have him released on health-related grounds and that she has not obtained any response from the State.
Case 12.632 – Ana María Careaga, et al., v. Argentina
The IACHR held a hearing requested by CELS and CEJIL, which was attended by two of the alleged victims, Ana María Careaga and Adriana Gallo, both judges from San Luis Province. During the hearing, the judges said that the province’s justice system was the target of various attacks on its independence through different means, such as the reduction of salaries, campaigns to discredit the judicial branch and the approval of various laws that allowed for numerous officials to be dismissed. In this context, judges Ana María Careaga and Adriana Gallo stated that, after they had resisted pressures to resign, various criminal and disciplinary cases were brought against them. They also indicated that they had been dismissed from their judgeships after associating themselves with a communiqué issued by the Villa Mercedes College of Lawyers, which criticized the interference of the local executive branch in the judiciary system of San Luis Province. The petitioners alleged that in processing cases against the alleged victims, laws were applied retroactively. The State, for its part, expressed its willingness to begin a friendly settlement process, and the petitioners indicated their interest in seeking such a solution, provided the provincial government of San Luis is involved in the process. The parties agreed to hold a working meeting in Buenos Aires in December for the purpose of beginning a dialogue.
Case 12.658 – Inmates of Urso Branco Prison, Brazil
The hearing was requested by the organizations Global Justice and the Justice and Peace Commission of the Porto Velho Archdiocese—petitioners in the case—with the purpose of presenting additional arguments on the merits of Case 12.658, concerning inmates of Urso Branco Prison, located in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. The petitioners asked the IACHR to declare the State of Brazil responsible for violations to the right to life, to personal integrity and to the judicial protections and guarantees established in the American Convention on Human Rights. The petitioners also stated that from 2000 through mid-2006, approximately 100 persons had died inside the prison in situations of extreme violence generated by, inter alia, the lack of enough prison guards to guarantee the security of prisoners in an overpopulated environment. The petitioners indicated that toward the end of 2006 the State had used torture as an instrument to maintain order, and they characterized as grave the slow pace of police investigations into the events that took place in Urso Branco and of the process of bringing to justice those responsible. Representing the State of Brazil at the hearing were the Director of Prison Policies of the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor of the state of Rondônia, among other authorities. The representatives of the State of Brazil referred to the structure of the prison system in terms of state and federal responsibilities related to the inspection and oversight of such institutions. Finally, the State underscored the improvements made in the Urso Branco Prison in recent months. The IACHR requested that, in the context of the current case, the State forward the official list of persons who have died in Urso Branco Prison from November 3, 2000, to the present.
Petition 177/04 and Precautionary Measures 26/04 – Warren Summerlin, et al., v. United States
The petitioners and the government of the United States presented arguments on the admissibility of a petition concerning the situation of approximately 100 prisoners on death row in the United States, and provided updates regarding the situation of individuals covered by previously granted precautionary measures, in a hearing requested by the petitioners. The parties agreed that these persons were sentenced by judges and that none of them will benefit from the retroactive application of a rule set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case called Ring, which states that the important aspects of sentencing must be performed by juries. The petitioners alleged that this situation constitutes an arbitrary denial of rights, for which there is no effective domestic remedy, and asked that the petition be found admissible. The State argued that the petitioners are asking the Commission to act as a court of fourth instance and have not exhausted domestic remedies, and asked that the petition be found inadmissible. With regard to the precautionary measures, the petitioners and the State informed the Commission that at this time, one person named in the petition has an execution warrant issued in his case, although a temporary stay has been granted.
Case 12.590 – José Miguel Gudiel Alvarez et al. (Military Diary), Guatemala (Witness Statement)
The IACHR held a hearing requested by the Myrna Mack Foundation, representing the petitioners, with the purpose of presenting two witnesses and an expert in the case of José Miguel Gudiel Alvarez et al., also known as the Military Diary Case. Participants in the hearings included representatives of the State of Guatemala. The case has to do with the arbitrary and illegal detention, torture and disappearance or execution of 27 persons, and the arbitrary and illegal detention and sexual violation of a minor, all of which occurred during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. During the hearing, the petitioners stated that at the time the reported acts took place (between 1983 and 1985), there was a State policy designed to eliminate persons considered enemies of the State. The petitioners reported on the principal obstacles faced by the victims’ family members, especially concerning access to justice, which has impeded their ability to get information about efforts to clarify events and to find and punish those responsible. The State, for its part, expressed its commitment to accept the admissibility of the case, reaffirming its commitment to address the human rights issue through its various institutions, and offered assurances that it did not intend to challenge the validity of witnesses’ testimony or the document known as the Military Diary. The State also reiterated its position with regard to the issue of the right to truth and the right to recognize responsibility for acts that have occurred. It said it will provide information to the Commission, through the Office of the Public Prosecutor, concerning efforts undertaken to bring to light the reported acts.
Case 12.500 – Omar Maldonado et al., Chile
This hearing was convened at the request of the petitioners, the Corporation for the Promotion and Defense of the People’s Rights (CODEPU) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). The case had to do with persons who were arrested and tortured by the Chilean military dictatorship in 1973, as a result of their institutional position of defending the government of Salvador Allende. The petitioners state that once democracy had been reestablished in Chile, they attempted to obtain justice, but that the Supreme Court of Justice issued a ruling upholding the actions taken by the government of General Pinochet. For their part, the representatives of the government of Chile asked for recognition of all the progress that has taken place under the country’s successive democratic governments and the positive evolution of the judiciary system. They said that they would not make statements on the merits of the case, since they were interested in reaching a friendly settlement. The IACHR then put itself at the disposal of the parties to move forward in that regard and suggested the possibility of a working meeting during the next ordinary sessions.
Caso 12.587 – Alicia Barbani, María del Huerto et al. (Group of Depositors of the Bank of Montevideo), Uruguay
The petitioners and the State of Uruguay presented arguments on the merits of a case involving an important group of depositors of the Bank of Montevideo who lost their life savings. The Bank of Montevideo collapsed and was intervened by the Central Bank in 2002. It was alleged that the owners perpetrated a fraud within the bank, prejudicing the group represented by the petitioners, and that the mechanism established to assist depositors arbitrarily discriminated against them. For its part, the State argued that it acted in accordance with Uruguayan law.
Case 12.579 – Inés Fernández Ortega, Mexico
During this hearing, the IACHR received the testimony of Inés Fernández Ortega, an indigenous Tlapaneca woman from the state of Guerrero, who told about being raped by alleged members of the Army. She emphasized that the Prosecutor General’s Office lost the sperm sample taken the day following the events, which was the key piece of evidence for identifying those responsible. She also reported on death threats that she and her husband had received since she began to pursue legal actions to bring about justice. The petitioners also said the IACHR has granted precautionary measures for the protection of both of them, following death threats in which they were warned not to testify at IACHR hearings. The petitioners in the case argue that the State has not conducted an adequate investigation to learn the whereabouts of the perpetrators of the rape. For its part, the State reported that the expert who took the sample was punished over its loss, and noted that the injured party has been summoned three times to give testimony but has not appeared. The government announced that as its next steps it will seek to obtain a psychological evaluation of the victim, depose the victim so she can provide additional information to help construct a profile of the perpetrator, and have her review the military photographic album to identify those who may be responsible. The government representatives offered assurances that these steps will be carried out in a place of the victim’s choosing, and that the Office of the Prosecutor General will designate female personnel for all actions related to the investigation, assign a psychologist to accompany the victim to all the procedures, and have female police and staff available.
Case 12.579 – Valentina Rosendo Cantú, Mexico
During this hearing, the IACHR received testimony from Valentina Rosendo Cantú, a Talpaneca indigenous woman from the state of Guerrero, who told about being raped by alleged members of the Army and explained the difficulties she faced in getting access to medical care. She also reported that as the result of the violation she suffered, she acquired the human papiloma virus. The petitioners indicated that the acts that occurred constitute torture; that they took place in a context of militarization of the zone and vulnerability of indigenous communities in the region; and that the victim has suffered abandonment by her spouse and forced exile along with her five-year-old daughter, due to the stigma she suffered following the rape. For their part, the government representatives provided information on the investigation of the case, which is currently under military jurisdiction, and indicated that the State of Guerrero Office of the Public Prosecutor had requested that the National Defense Secretariat turn over its files in order to continue investigating the events under civilian jurisdiction. The State announced measures it will take in this case, including proceedings in a place to be determined by the victim and the appointment of a female psychologist and female personnel for such proceedings.
Case 11.481 – Monsignor Romero, El Salvador (Follow-up to recommendations)
At the request of the petitioners, the Guardianship Office of the San Salvador Archbishopric (OTLA) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a hearing was held to follow up on the recommendations issued by the IACHR in its 2000 report on the merits of this case. These included recommendations to: 1) carry out a complete, impartial and effective judicial investigation, in an expeditious manner, in order to identify, bring to trial and punish all material and intellectual authors of the violations established in the report, without prejudice in terms of the declared amnesty; 2) provide reparations for all consequences of the stated violations, including the payment of a just indemnification; and 3) adapt its internal legislation to the American Convention, in order to leave the General Amnesty Law without legal effect. The petitioners alleged that the government has not complied with these recommendations, argued that this lack of compliance is an indication of the impunity that prevails in El Salvador, and asked the Commission take official action in light of this situation. For its part, the government delegation stated that the government does not recognize its responsibility in the death of Monsignor Romero and that a direct dialogue exists between the government and the Archbishopric of San Salvador concerning an eventual agreement in this case, though that the dialogue has encountered difficulties due to alleged communication deficiencies between the petitioners in the case and the Archbishopric. The petitioners asserted that the dialogue that has been established between the State and the Office of the Archbishop of San Salvador has no effect on the need to comply with the Commission’s recommendations.
Petition 1166/05 – Massacre and displaced persons of Tibú, Colombia
At the request of the Minga Association, a hearing was held in which the petitioners presented the IACHR with allegations concerning the admissibility of Petition 1166/05, “Massacre and displaced persons of Tibú” and recounted the events surrounding three massacres that took place on May 29, July 17 and August 21, 1999, which were committed by paramilitary groups in the Department of Norte de Santander. It was explained that these massacres had also brought about the massive displacement of the population to other areas in the department and toward Venezuela. The State, for its part, presented its allegations concerning the inadmissibility of the case and informed the IACHR that reparations had already been made to 260 victims of displacement.
Case 11.227 – Unión Patriótica, Colombia (Witness testimony)
At the request of the Colombian Commission of Jurists and the Corporación Reiniciar, the IACHR heard testimony from Aida Avella, a former Councilwoman of the Republic of Colombia and former President (March 1990 to May 1996) of the Unión Patriótica political party, as part of Case 11.227 “Unión Patriótica.” The case refers to the alleged responsibility of the Colombian State for actions or omissions in connection with acts of violence committed against thousands of members of Unión Patriótica, as the result of their affiliation with that political party. The witness, who has been in exile since 1996 as the result of an attack against her, recounted how she and other members of the party were subject to political persecution, harassment and attempts against their life. The State, for its part, questioned the witness as to the objective of her testimony.
D. Hearings on Precautionary Measures
Situation of Indigenous Peoples Living in Voluntary Isolation in Peru – Precautionary Measure 262/05 (Mascho Piro, Yora and Arahuaca) and Requests for Information 102/07 (Kugpakori Nahua Nanti et al.) and 129/07 (Tagaeri, Taromenane et al.)
The hearing was requested to explain the situation of the Maschol Piro, Yora and Arahuaca indigenous peoples, beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR, as well as of other peoples living in voluntary isolation and in initial contact for whose protection two precautionary measures were sought this year (Kugpakori Nahua Nanti et al.; Tagaeri, Taromenane et al.). The IACHR has requested additional information from the parties to analyze whether it will grant precautionary measures with regard to the two applications presented this year. The petitioners indicated that the objective of the hearing was to inform the IACHR about the lack of implementation of effective, ideal and timely measures on the part of the State to protect indigenous peoples who are living in a situation of voluntary isolation and in initial contact. In the first place, they indicated that Peruvian laws would fall short in terms of protecting these indigenous peoples. As an example, they argued that Law No. 28.736 has a declaratory but not a constitutive nature in terms of recognizing the rights of peoples living in isolation. They also indicated that the protection of the inviolability of the territory established in the aforementioned law would be limited since it would be watered down in cases in which exploitable natural resources are found in the territory. Secondly, it was stated that the legislative protection measures would not be implemented effectively by State authorities. Thirdly, it was noted that contacts have become more extensive in recent times due to the State’s promotion of extractive activities, as well as illicit activities being carried out in the territory by third parties, all of which implies a situation of risk for indigenous peoples living in isolation. For its part, the State indicated that the government includes among its objectives the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, and affirmed that it has a comprehensive policy in that regard that includes a contact protocol and a plan for the protection and defense of these peoples. The State indicated that it follows, at all times, the provisions of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization as well as Law No. 28.736 and its regulations. The State also reported that when, in the course of developing an energy project, information is received about the sighting of a possible indigenous community, domestic laws demand the immediate preparation of a contingency plan and special monitoring in the field, including an anthropological plan. Finally, both parties asked the Commission to conduct a field visit to verify firsthand the purpose of the precautionary measures discussed in this hearing.
III. WORKING MEETINGS
During the 130th regular period of sessions, 28 working meetings were held on petitions, cases and precautionary measures involving Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru. In several of the meetings, progress was made in the friendly settlement phase. The Commission welcomes the willingness demonstrated by the parties in several of the cases to continue making progress toward a friendly settlement agreement and encourages a continuation of those efforts in order to bring positions closer together and reach consensus.
The IACHR President would like to express his satisfaction concerning the information provided in a working meeting by authorities of the state government of Oaxaca on the implementation of the recommendations he had made on the occasion of his visit to Mexico last August. The President also noted with satisfaction the willingness of the parties to move forward on friendly settlements in all the working meetings held to consider the following cases involving Mexico: Reyes Penagos Martínez, Cruza Avila Mondragón, Modesto Patolzin Moicen and Víctor Pineda Henestrosa.
On another matter, a working meeting was held on the AMIA case, related to the investigations into the attack perpetrated in 1994 on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina. Given that the State could not report concrete measures adopted in recent months or progress in the investigation process, the IACHR President deplored the deadlock encountered in the friendly settlement process of this case and urged the State to redouble its efforts, especially with regard to investigating and bringing to light the facts about the attack.
IV. RAPPORTEURSHIPS AND THEMATIC AREAS
This section contains a brief summary of some of the main activities carried out by the IACHR since its regular sessions in July, through its Special Rapporteurships and thematic areas.
A. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendents and against Racial Discrimination
Since the last period of sessions, the Rapporteurship was invited to participate in a conference on the situation of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, which took place on September 20, 2007, in Montreal, Canada. The Office of the Rapporteur made a presentation on the mandate of the Rapporteurship and the system’s jurisprudence on this issue. Additionally, in response to Resolution AG/RES. 2126, adopted in 2005 by the OAS General Assembly, the Office of the Rapporteur continues to advise the OAS Working Group charged with preparing an Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. The Inter-American Commission has also followed this issue closely through thematic hearings and through its system of individual petitions and cases.
B. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women
The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women conducted a working visit to Chile from September 11 to 14, 2007, to enhance its understanding of different forms of discrimination seen against women in the country. The delegation, led by Dr. Víctor Abramovich, met with Chilean government authorities and with representatives of civil society, academia and international organizations. The Office of the Rapporteur gathered information concerning discrimination against women, particularly in the family sphere, the political arena and the work environment. It also received information about possible links between discrimination in the private and public arenas. Based on the visit, the IACHR is preparing a report with recommendations for the State of Chile.
Additionally, as part of that visit, on September 12 the IACHR presented its report entitled Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas, at Diego Portales University. The event was organized by the Human Rights Center of the Diego Portales University School of Law and by the organization “Humanas Corporation–Regional Center for Human Rights and Gender Justice.” Dr. Abramovich headed the discussion panel, accompanied by the Minister of the Court of Appeals of San Miguel, Dr. Lya Cabello Abdala. Participating in the event were representatives of international entities, civil society organizations and the academic sector.
Finally, in recent months the Rapporteurship also continued to offer technical support to attorneys of the Executive Secretariat in processing petitions and precautionary measures.
C. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
During the second half of 2007, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, headed by Commissioner Paolo Carozza, continued its support activities, within the system of individual cases and precautionary measures, in terms of the petitions and applications that refer to the rights of indigenous peoples and/or their members. In this regard, the Rapporteurship has continued to receive information on the situation of indigenous peoples affected by the interests of third parties in their ancestral territories.
On September 3-4, 2007, Rapporteur Carozza visited the indigenous communities of Yamok Kasek and Yakye Axa, in the Paraguayan Chaco; met with Paraguayan government authorities in charge of policy related to indigenous peoples; and held working meetings on petitions and cases in which the alleged victims are indigenous communities. In addition, on September 7, 2007, Rapporteur Carozza and the President of the IACHR met with representatives of more than 300 indigenous communities of the Western and Eastern Regions of Paraguay. At the meeting, representatives of 14 indigenous associations described the critical and urgent situation faced by their communities. They described the meeting as historic, because for the first time they held “a direct dialogue, without intermediaries” with the IACHR.
In the framework of the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Rapporteurship has noted the importance of the recent approval of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He has invited the OAS Member States to view the instrument approved by the UN as a minimum standard in discussions of the draft inter-American declaration.
D. Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child
Since the 129th regular period of sessions, which ended on July 27, 2007, the Office of the Rapporteur has continued carrying out activities programmed for the 2007-2008 period. These include beginning a draft Thematic Report on Juvenile Justice in the Americas, which seeks to identify obstacles and opportunities in national systems specializing in juvenile justice. The goal is to prevent and eradicate different forms of violence perpetrated against children in violation of the law, in order to discover how weaknesses, deficiencies and gaps in juvenile justice systems affect different forms of violence to which boys and girls fall victim.
To that end, the Rapporteurship organized two working meetings to evaluate the contents of a questionnaire on juvenile justice, proposed for use as a methodological tool for the preparation of the aforesaid report. These meetings took place August 21-22 in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. The first day, a meeting was held with experts from the region and officials from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the issue of juvenile justice; the second day, the Rapporteur and his delegation met with representatives of civil society organizations that work in this area. During his activities in Brazil, the Rapporteur and his delegation had the support of UNICEF and Save the Children-Sweden. In the course of its activities in Brazil, the delegation was able to visit CEDECA Interlagos and ANCED (National Defense Association).
During the 129th special period of sessions held in Paraguay, working meetings were held in connection with cases involving child soldiers in Paraguay.
E. Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
The Rapporteur for this area is Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, so designated in July 2007. Since that date, the Rapporteurship has continued its efforts to provide support in examining petitions and applications for precautionary measures received by the Commission that have to do with migrant workers. It is likewise worth noting that the Rapporteur has been invited to participate in the VII Andean Regional Course on Human Rights, which will take place in November 2007 in Lima, Peru, focusing on “Human Rights of Migrant Men and Women in the Andean Region.”
F. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty
Since the 128th period of sessions of the IACHR, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, conducted an observation visit to Mexico, from August 6 to 11, 2007. The purpose of the visit was to follow up on the human rights situation in the state of Oaxaca and to verify the situation of persons deprived of liberty in several prisons in Mexico. In this regard, the Rapporteur visited the Reclusorio Preventivo Varonil Oriente, a men’s prison in Mexico City; the District Jail of Tlaxiaco, in the state of Oaxaca; and the Central Penitentiary of Ixcotel, in the city of Oaxaca. The Rapporteur also visited the “Santiaguito” Center for Social Readaptation, in order to interview nine persons connected to the events that took place in San Salvador de Atenco in May 2006. He also visited the “Altiplano” Center for Social Readaptation, for the specific purpose of interviewing the brothers Flavio and Horacio Sosa Villacencio, leaders of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). In the Federal District, Commissioner Meléndez gave the keynote address at a conference on the Inter-American Human Rights System and Persons Deprived of Liberty, which included the participation of government officials, members of parliament, officials of Human Rights Commissions and civil society representatives. During the visit to Oaxaca, Commissioner Meléndez spoke at a conference on the Inter-American Human Rights System at the “Benito Juárez” Autonomous University of Oaxaca, which was attended by dozens of people with ties to the university, local and national civil society organizations, and family members of victims of the conflict in Oaxaca.
In response to the mandate given to the Commission by the OAS General Assembly in its 2007 Resolution GA/RES. 2287 and previous resolutions, and also in response to the prison situation observed in various countries of the region, the Rapporteurship continued to compile regional and universal parameters on detention and prison policies in the Member States, through its draft “Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty.” These principles seek to promote the use of the best practices observed during the visits by the Office of the Rapporteur, and to systematize principles recognized in different international instruments designed for the protection of the rights of persons deprived of liberty. During this period of sessions, the Commission decided to submit the draft “Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty” for public consultation.
Finally, the Rapporteurship invited 19 States in the region to attend the Latin American Seminar on Best Prison Practices. The seminar, which will take place November 12-16, 2007, in Buenos Aires, is intended to increase understanding and the exchange of experiences on existing best practices and successful prison practices in place in different States of the region. The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty has also advanced in the logistical and substantive aspects of the seminar. Participants in the event will include prison officials from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.
G. Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Since the July 2007 period of sessions of the IACHR, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has worked on the promotion and defense of this right through workshops held for journalists and the communications media; public statements made in the event of violations of these rights; participation in seminars and academic activities; and daily monitoring of the status of freedom of expression in each country.
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Ignacio J. Alvarez, gave a class for journalists pursuing a master’s in human rights at Mexico’s Ibero-American University. In September 2007, a presentation was also held in that country on international standards in the area of assigning radioelectric frequencies, during a talk organized by a Commission of the Congress of Mexico and by nongovernmental organizations. In September 2007, the Rapporteur participated in the 129th special period of sessions of the IACHR, which took place in Paraguay, where he also held meetings with nongovernmental organizations and gave a talk at the National University on community radio broadcasting. On September 23, the Special Rapporteur participated in the seminar on “Press Freedom Monitoring and Advocacy in Latin America,” held in Austin, Texas, and organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
In August 2007, the Office of the Special Rapporteur published the “Special Study on the Right to Access to Information,” which analyzes the impact of the decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Claude Reyes et al., and the capacity of that case to serve as a reference point for the States in moving forward on this issue. The study reviews regional and international precedents in this area, lays out principles that should prevail in legal frameworks, and evaluates conditions that should be taken into account in establishing a system of restrictions to this right.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur held two workshops in El Salvador, between September 19 and 22, to train journalists, attorneys and members of nongovernmental organizations in the use of the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights, particularly the right to freedom of expression. The workshops, hosted by the Swedish International Cooperation Agency, took place in San Miguel and San Salvador.
On September 26 and 27, the Special Rapporteur conducted a working visit to Haiti, where it held interviews with representatives of the State and of journalism and media organizations, as well as with members of nongovernmental organizations, to gather information about the status of freedom of expression in that country. At the conclusion of its visit, the Office of the Special Rapporteur issued a press release with its conclusions and recommendations.
In terms of individual cases on which the Office of the Special Rapporteur has worked, on October 18 a public hearing was held in Colombia before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, on the Kimel v. Argentina case. In September, the IACHR also presented a case before the Inter-American Court against the State of Panama in the case of Santander Tristán Donoso.
In the coming months and with the upcoming 10th anniversary of the creation of the Office of the Special Rapporteur, the office’s team of attorneys and journalists will focus their efforts on completing a special report that seeks to reflect the trends, evolutions and changes in the area of freedom of expression that have taken place in each country over the past decade. The Office of the Special Rapporteur is also preparing a report that refers to the situation of impunity in cases involving journalists who have been killed for reasons linked to freedom of expression.
H. Unit for Human Rights Defenders
During this period of sessions, the Inter-American Commission met with representatives of different organizations in the Americas for the purpose of gleaning and compiling updated information on the situation of human rights defenders. The IACHR learned of continuing threats and acts of harassment against human rights defenders, as well as speeches discrediting the work carried out by the defenders. It also learned about the implementation of new standards that restrict or penalize the financing of nongovernmental organizations simply on the grounds of having received international cooperation funds to carry out their tasks.
In this regard, the IACHR reiterates the need to adopt the necessary measures so that State agencies are not used to harass those who are dedicated to the work of defending and promoting human rights. The Commission therefore urges the States to implement, in an effective manner, the recommendations contained in the “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas.”
Similarly, the Unit for Human Rights Defenders has continued its efforts, within the IACHR, to advance individual petitions and cases involving human rights defenders.
V. WORK RELATED TO THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT
During its sessions, the IACHR considered the general status of cases it is litigating before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and analyzed developments and advances in jurisprudence. Currently, 17 cases are before the Inter-American Court; in another 81 cases, decisions have been made and the cases are in the phase of monitoring compliance. Additionally, there are 47 active provisional measures in place.
Since the previous regular sessions, the IACHR has submitted four new cases to the Court’s contentious jurisdiction:
· Juan Carlos Bayarri v. Argentina. The application has to do with the illegal and arbitrary detention of Mr. Juan Carlos Bayarri on November 18, 1991, in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina; his torture by agents of the police; his preventive imprisonment for nearly 13 years based on a confession obtained under torture; and the failure to bring the facts to light and punish those responsible.
· Tiu Tojín v. Guatemala. The application presented on July 28, 2007, is related to the forced disappearance of María Tiu Tojín, a Maya indigenous woman from a Population in Resistance Community and the Runujel Junam Council of Ethnic Communities (CERJ), and of her one-month-old daughter Josefa Tiu Tojín, . It also concerns the failure to bring the facts to light and punish those responsible. The Inter-American Commission welcomes the positive attitude of the Guatemalan State in recognizing the veracity of the facts and admitting its international responsibility based on those facts. It also welcomes the State’s efforts to provide reparations for the human rights violations suffered by the victims. However, the Commission believes that the impunity surrounding the disappearance of María Tiu Tojín and her infant daughter, Josefa, contributes to prolonging the suffering caused by the violation of fundamental rights.
· Renato Ticona Estrada v. Bolivia. The application has to do with the forced disappearance of Renato Ticona Estrada as of July 22, 1980, when he was detained by an Army patrol in Orura, Bolivia; the lack of investigation and punishment of those responsible for the events that happened more than 27 years ago; and the lack of adequate reparations for the violations suffered.
· Santander Tristán Donoso v. Panama. The application has to do with the responsibility of the State in disclosing a telephone conversation of attorney Tristán Donoso; the subsequent opening of a criminal process for crimes against honor, in reprisal for claims made by Mr. Tristán Donoso about this incident; the lack of investigation and punishment of those responsible for such acts; and the lack of adequate reparations for the violations suffered.
VI. FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS
The IACHR emphasizes and reiterates its appreciation for the significant financial support made by the governments of the following OAS member countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela. It also would like to thank the observer countries that support the Commission’s activities: Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Spain and Sweden. The Commission also welcomes and appreciates the contributions received from the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission and the Open Society Foundation. These contributions contribute in a concrete way to the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system in the Americas.
Press contact: María Isabel Rivero
Tel. (202) 458-3867
Commission’s Website: www.iachr.org