IACHR CONCLUDES ITS 131ST PERIOD OF SESSIONS
Washington, March 14, 2008 — As it concludes its 131st period of sessions today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hails the peaceful resolution of tensions that had arisen in the Andean region in the last two weeks, recalling that peace is essential and necessary for the enjoyment of human rights.
The IACHR would like to express its concern about the possible application of the death penalty in Guatemala, following the approval of the new Pardons Law. The IACHR recalls that the Commission and the Inter-American Court have already gone on record to say that the State of Guatemala should adopt adequate remedies to impede the implementation of the death penalty in the situations prohibited by the American Convention. The Commission also expresses its concern, in view of information received during the hearings held during these sessions, about grave situations involving human rights violations in the region. The continued worsening of citizen insecurity; the discrimination suffered by Afro-descendents and indigenous peoples, as well as by poor people and women; the deterioration of economic, social, and cultural rights; grave obstacles to access to justice; difficulties in exercising freedom of expression; the persistent use of military justice for crimes that should be handled by civilian courts; and the impact the region’s growing environmental deterioration has on human rights are just a few of the many problems on which the Commission received troubling information.
The Inter-American Commission would also like to express its satisfaction over the spirit of cooperation demonstrated by the States, petitioners, and civil society organizations in the course of the hearings and working meetings held during these sessions. This positive disposition made it possible to hold 36 important hearings with full participation, during which several States invited the IACHR to conduct visits, including Argentina, Bolivia, and Panama. In addition, the Commission held 33 working meetings on pending petitions and cases, and many of these produced significant advances. For example, a memorandum of commitment was signed concerning the situation of captive communities in Bolivia, and progress was made toward reaching a friendly settlement in cases in Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico. The Commission expresses its satisfaction over the signing of these agreements and notes that it will follow up on their compliance, in accordance with the provisions established in the American Convention of Human Rights.
Finally, the IACHR announces its schedule of sessions for the coming months. The 132nd regular period of sessions will take place July 17-25, 2008, at IACHR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and will focus solely on internal Commission issues; that is, no hearings or working meetings will be held. The 133rd regular period of sessions will take place October 16-31, 2008, and the deadline for requesting hearings and working meetings is August 27, 2008. The 134th regular period of sessions will take place March 16-27, 2009, and the deadline for requesting hearings and working meetings is January 25, 2009.
ANNEX TO PRESS
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 131st regular period of sessions from March 3-14, 2008. The IACHR is composed of Paolo Carozza, Chairman; Luz Patricia Mejía, First Vice-Chair; Felipe González, Second Vice-Chair; and Commissioners Víctor Abramovich, Sir Clare K. Roberts, Florentín Meléndez, and Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. The IACHR Executive Secretary is Dr. Santiago A. Canton.
At the opening of the 131st period of sessions, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, congratulated Commissioner Carozza for his election as IACHR Chairman and welcomed the new Commissioners, Felipe González and Luz Patricia Mejía. The OAS Secretary General underscored the “growing legitimacy and relevance” of the inter-American human rights system and noted that the increase in the number of petitions presented to the IACHR—which has tripled in the last ten years—is a result of that legitimacy. “That relevance in the Commission’s work in the hemisphere creates a series of expectations. The more its legitimacy increases, and as long as national justice systems continue to face challenges, more and more people will turn to the Inter-American Commission for answers to their demands for human rights protection. This will lead to an increase in the number of issues pending before the Commission, without there having been a corresponding increase in the Commission’s administrative and financial capacity to respond effectively,” the Secretary General said. He added that he believed that to respond to the growing number of cases the IACHR receives, it will be necessary to count on “the commitment and support of the Member States,” and added that such support should “materialize without putting at risk the independence of the decisions of the bodies that make up the system.” Insulza reaffirmed the Commission’s autonomy, indicating that “its decisions should be taken free of all pressures, direct or indirect, from the Member States or from the OAS political bodies. In that way we will preserve and strengthen the system’s credibility and legitimacy.”
For his part, in his opening remarks the Chairman of the IACHR, Dr. Paolo Carozza, talked about the close relationship between human rights and democracy. In that regard, he emphasized that the Inter-American Commission has consistently affirmed that democracy and the rule of law are fundamental requisites for the observation of human rights and for their respect in the societies of the Americas. “As the Inter-American Democratic Charter reminds us, the essential elements of representative democracy include respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including in particular those such as freedom of expression and the press, freedom of association, political participation, and access to justice,” he said. “The effective administration of justice, and access to effective judicial guarantees of human rights, remain always among the most pervasive obstacles to the realization of human rights in the Americas.” Dr. Carozza expressed his confidence that the OAS Member States will continue to work toward becoming full participants in the inter-American human rights system through ratification of the American Convention of Human Rights and other basic human rights instruments of the region, and that they will take seriously their responsibility to give effect to the recommendations, judgments, and other decisions of the system’s supervisory bodies.
Dr. Carozza also urged the member countries to ensure that the Commission has the necessary human and financial resources to be able to carry out its critical tasks. “The mandates of the Commission are broad and numerous, and are expanded regularly at the initiative of the General Assembly and other organs of the OAS,” he explained. “The resources available have not, unfortunately, grown proportionately. The Commission cannot effectively fulfill its responsibility to process cases in a timely manner, monitor human rights throughout the hemisphere, and engage in its other essential functions without firm commitments on the part of the Member States to secure the Commission’s financial condition,” he said. Dr. Carozza thanked the States that have helped finance the Commission’s work through special contributions, but added, “At the same time, it is troubling that more than 50 percent of the Commission’s budget in 2007 came from such contributions rather than from the general funds of the OAS. It the long run, it could place the Commission in a potentially vulnerable and precarious position. We would therefore urge that the general funds allocated through the OAS budget be adequate to the Commission’s work.”
During these sessions, the IACHR approved reports on individual cases and petitions. On March 7, 10, and 12, 36 it held hearings on individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific human rights situations. In addition, 33 working meetings were held on petitions and cases before the Commission, in which representatives of both parties participated. The participation in hearings and working meetings by representatives of the OAS Member States, as well as by those who appeared as victims or petitioners, constitutes an important contribution toward strengthening the work of protecting the human rights of the people of the hemisphere. The Inter-American Commission values and appreciates such assistance and participation. In that respect, the participation of high-level government authorities of several countries should be noted as a sign of their respective States’ willingness to engage in dialogue with the IACHR and with civil society.
In addition, various meetings and activities were held with other international agencies and nongovernmental organizations. On March 4, the Commission held a working luncheon with the Committee against Torture (CAT), the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT), and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), for the purpose of strengthening mechanisms of mutual cooperation. During the meeting, emphasis was placed on the importance that all OAS Member States ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was adopted on December 18, 2002, by the United Nations General Assembly. The Protocol, which entered into effect on June 22, 2006, creates a system of prevention and protection against torture through periodic visits by national and international independent bodies to places where there are people deprived of their liberty. By ratifying this protocol, the States strengthen their commitment to maintain their detention centers free of torture and other cruel treatment, and agree to create specific mechanisms to reach this objective. The Commission recognizes the nine countries in the Americas that have ratified the Optional Protocol: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. It also encourages Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, which have signed the instrument, to complete the process; and urges the remaining Member States to ratify the Optional Protocol so that it can become an effective instrument to eliminate torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in the region.
On another matter, a meeting was held on March 6 with Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the Right to Health, in which discussions focused on such issues of common interest as the impact of the environment on health and the right to sexual and reproductive health. On March 13, meanwhile, the Commission received the Coalition of NGOs, a meeting in which both parties emphasized the critical importance of preserving and defending the independence of the inter-American human rights system. A working luncheon was also held with representatives of the Ombudsmen Network of the Americas, for the purpose of exchanging ideas on the role of national human rights institutions—particularly national ombudsmen—within the framework of the OAS. On that same day, the full Commission also met for the first time with members of the board of directors of the Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA), as part of an ongoing dialogue between these organizations on issues of common interest.
The Commissioners who were elected during the 37th OAS General Assembly, held in Panama in June 2007—Dr. Luz Patricia Mejía and Dr. Felipe González—assumed their posts on January 1, 2008, for the four-year term established in the regulations; thus the current period of sessions was the first in which they participated fully. Both Commissioners had participated as observers in some sessions and hearings held during the Commission’s 130th period of sessions, in October 2007. The Commission and the Executive Secretariat extends a warm welcome to them.
The IACHR planned its work for 2008 and scheduled the periods of session that will be held in the coming year. The 132nd regular period of sessions will take place July 17-25 at IACHR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and will be devoted exclusively to internal sessions of the Commission; that is, no hearings or working meetings will be held. The 133rd regular period of sessions will take place October 16-31, 2008. The deadline for requesting hearings for the 133rd period of sessions is August 27, 2008, in accordance with Articles 62.2 and 64.1 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure. The Commission has also decided to apply the same deadline to receive requests for working meetings for the 133rd period of sessions. The 134th regular period of sessions will take place March 16-27, 2009. The deadline for requesting hearings and working meetings for the 134th period of sessions is January 25, 2009.
I. REPORTS ON INDIVIDUAL PETITIONS AND CASES
The IACHR evaluated numerous individual petitions and cases alleging violations of human rights protected by 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 human rights problems 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 their liberty, among other matters.
On March 7, 10, and 12, the Commission held 36 hearings on 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 are available to anyone who is interested, under Videos on Demand on the OAS Web site. In addition, audio recordings of all the public hearings (held in Rooms A and B) are available on the IACHR Web site, under Public Hearings; this Web page also includes links to videos and high-resolution photographs taken during the hearings. External Web sites are authorized to include links to these audio and video recordings as long as credit is given to the OAS. The IACHR thanks Primestream Corporation and its president, Claudio Lisman, for providing the bandwidth needed for high-quality transmission to a wide audience. His generous contribution has made it possible to increase the number of computers that can connect to the transmission at any given time, thus responding to the increased interest in following the hearings from all countries of the region.
A. General and Thematic Hearings
During this period of sessions, hearings were held on the general human rights situation in OAS Member States and on other general issues at the national and regional level. Two of the hearings were private, at the request of the organizations that had asked for them: “Situation of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Guarantees in Venezuela” and “Application of the 2004 Migration Law in the Dominican Republic.” The remaining hearings are summarized as follows, with links to available audio and video recordings.
Situation of Discrimination of Afro-descendents in the Americas in Labor, Education, and Access to Justice
In this hearing, the Commission received information from the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, in collaboration with Afro-descendent activists from across the region, about the situation of discrimination against persons of African descent in the areas of labor, education, and access to justice. Petitioners highlighted the disproportionate impact of discrimination in these areas on Afro-descendents and on Afro-descendent women in particular. In the labor sector, Afro-descendents are reported to receive lower salaries in comparison to others with similar skills, and they are often assigned the most subordinate positions. In the criminal justice system of Brazil, for example, the petitioners report that blacks constitute the majority of the prison population and tend to serve longer prison sentences than members of other groups. In the area of education, beyond the fact that many Afro-descendents in the Americas do not have access to education, petitioners report that the curriculums in public schools do not reflect the history and culture of Afro-descendent communities, which contributes to social exclusion and feelings of shame about people’s socio-cultural history and origins. Afro-descendent women are reported to suffer multiple layers of discrimination on the grounds of their race and sex, and therefore are even more susceptible to the abuse of their rights and more likely to encounter additional obstacles to access legal remedies for harm suffered. In this regard, the petitioners forwarded a number of requests to the Commission, including a request that the Commission continue to participate in the development of a draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance; that it enhance its role in monitoring the progress made by States in the region with respect to the Durban Plan of Action (World Conference on Racism, 2001), and more specifically, the Santiago Declaration; and that it publish the regional report on affirmative action, a task that was mandated by the OAS General Assembly. The petitioners stressed the need for States to develop specialized programs and public policies in favor of Afro-descendents in the region, especially in the education and labor sectors, and claimed that a regional report prepared by the IACHR on affirmative action will serve as a key reference document for States in developing such programs.
Prevention of Torture in Latin America
The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) requested this hearing to provide the IACHR with information about the status of implementation of the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in the States Parties. They focused in particular on the National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) established by the OPCAT and the current challenges to preventing torture in the treaty’s States Parties in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. According to the APT, to date only two of the nine OPCAT States Parties in the region have designated NPMs: Costa Rica (Defensoría de los Habitantes) and Mexico (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos). The petitioners contended that the legal framework used for making the designations was not adequate and that in practice, these two cases do not incorporate all the prerogatives that should characterize the NPMs. The APT also emphasized that the other seven States Parties—Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay—have not complied with their international obligation to designate NPMs, and indicated that the degree of progress in terms of consultation, debate, and designation of NPMs varies in each State.
General Human Rights Situation in Venezuela
In the hearing requested by the Venezuelan State on the general human rights situation in that country, representatives of the State highlighted the progress achieved by the current government, with emphasis on the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights through its missions. In particular, the State underscored its achievement of literacy for the majority of society, the reduction in poverty, health-care coverage for the most vulnerable sectors, the reduction in unemployment, improvements in nutrition programs for students, the reduction in infant mortality rates, and the increase in Venezuelans’ access to basic public services. Statistics were also presented demonstrating confidence in the state of democratic institutions in Venezuela. The Commission presented its concerns regarding the guarantee of the right to freedom of expression, violence in detention centers, and the concept of provisional judiciary officials, among other issues. In its response, the State affirmed that Venezuela is a guarantor of freedom of expression. It recognized the existence of problems in the prison infrastructure, noting the construction of new prisons, and indicated that the election of judiciary officials is held through a competitive process, which has contributed to an increase in the number of judges holding permanent positions.
Human Rights violations in prisons in Panama
The petitioners—representatives of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Panama and of the Center of Democratic Initiatives, accompanied by the Director of the Human Rights Program of the Harvard Law School and two of his students—requested the hearing to discuss the general situation of the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty in Panama. They presented a 150-page report summarizing the investigation they carried out over a period of 18 months, which included visits to seven detention centers in Panama between March and October, 2007. These seven centers house more than 75 percent of the penal population. The petitioners focused on the problems in detention centers of overcrowding, hygiene, and the lack of separation of those who had been convicted from those who were in preventive detention. They presented information on abuse of prisoners (beatings and tear gas), rehabilitation facilities for a small percentage of prisoners, and unequal treatment, with better treatment afforded to foreign prisoners. The government, for its part, presented a report on the efforts it has undertaken to improve the situation. It also emphasized its openness to this investigation and its willingness to cooperate with the Commission and in particular with Florentin Melendez, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, to improve the situation of detainees in Panama.
Women’s Access to Justice Administration Systems in the Americas
The thematic hearing on women’s access to justice administration systems in the Americas was requested by the Articulación Regional Feminista de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Género (Regional Feminist Coalition for Human Rights and Gender Justice), made up of the following organizations: Corporación Humanas (Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador); ELA (Argentina); Coordinadora Política de la Mujer (Bolivia); and Estudio para la Defensa y los Derechos de la Mujer, DEMUS (Peru). The petitioners presented an exploratory study that identifies general trends in women’s access to justice administration systems in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. They indicated that the trends identified show that the percentage of women occupying high-level posts in justice systems is far below the percentage of the female population. They added that while the number of women in the justice administration system has increased, this does not guarantee that women end up filling high-level posts, nor does it point to parity in the system. They emphasized that the selection and appointment mechanisms designed to gain access and ascend to higher posts within the judiciary or the public ministry appear to be neutral, but that gender stereotypes persist among actors in the justice system and reinforce cultural preconceptions that assign certain characteristics to men and women, thus contributing to a division of labor by sex. They also underscored the lack of awareness about the American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention of Belém do Pará among those interviewed as part of the survey. In terms of recommendations, they emphasized the need to reconcile women’s family and work life, and to draw a clear connection in the relationship between human rights and democracy to bring about a true exercise of rights that goes beyond mere words.
Trafficking of Children and Violence against Women in the Border Region of Haiti
The Commission received information from petitioners representing the Regroupement des Citoyens pour la Protection des Droits Humains (RECIPRODH) about the situation of trafficking of children and violence against women in the Haitian-Dominican border region, and the alleged negligence of the State in ensuring protection for women and children from trafficking and violence. RECIPRODH, a civil society organization providing support to victims in the border town of Ouanaminthe, said that trafficking and abuse of children is especially prevalent in this town given that it is a major trading center of goods and services between the two countries. The petitioners informed the Commission that the absence of security forces in this region leads to the ongoing illegal practices of traffickers engaged in smuggling children and adolescents who are used for domestic labor, sexual exploitation, and other degrading activities. A weak presence of the State in Ouanaminthe has contributed to an atmosphere in which perpetrators—often through force, influence, and collusion with local authorities—act freely and unchallenged, creating conditions of widespread fear and intimidation among the population. The petitioners seek the Commission’s more vigilant monitoring and reporting of this situation. In response, the State acknowledged the problem of trafficking between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and the lack of adequate security measures and protection mechanisms. The State related its efforts to build up the Haitian National Police force across the country and confirmed the particular need to provide enhanced security in the border region. Given the limited resources available to secure Haiti’s border, the State indicated its efforts to work with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to meet its obligations. While the State confirmed Haiti’s recent ratification of an international treaty on organized crime, it acknowledged the absence of domestic legislation governing the issue of trafficking in persons, and indicated its efforts to ensure that adequate legislation is swiftly adopted. Finally, the State encouraged the Commission to conduct on-the-ground investigations on this issue, in order to assist the State in understanding the problem, its causes, consequences, and impact on the human rights situation of Haitians.
Use of Deadly Force by Police in Jamaica
The Commission received information from the petitioners—Jamaicans for Justice, and the George Washington University International Human Rights Clinic—about an alleged upsurge in fatal police shootings in Jamaica and the lack of judicial response by the State to these incidents. The petitioners presented the findings of a 2004-2007 report documenting the use of deadly force by police forces in Jamaica, alleging that the problem has reached alarming levels. The petitioners reported that since 2004, over 700 people have been killed by Jamaican police forces. In 2007, petitioners reported, over 270 people died violently at the hands of the police, figures that make this a record for the third year in a row. They alleged that extrajudicial killings of civilians follow a pattern of similar practice in which officers target victims—usually unarmed young men or boys—from lower socio-economic strata. They also underscored that despite allegations of “shoot-outs” against armed individuals, the police officers implicated are rarely injured or killed. The petitioners reported that prosecutions of State agents for these cases remain rare and convictions are almost non-existent, indicating that only one police officer has been convicted since 2006. Out of 3,400 incidents of police violence since 1999, which resulted in 1,500 deaths, only 134 have reportedly been presented to the criminal courts. The petitioners emphasized the alarming situation of the widespread use of deadly and arbitrary force against civilians, and the lack of an effective judicial response, which they allege perpetuates a climate of impunity for these crimes. Petitioners concluded with a request to the Commission to conduct a country visit to investigate this issue and to propose recommendations to the State.
Situation of Prisons in the Americas
The organization CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants) requested this hearing to inform the IACHR about the situation of prisons in the 35 States of the Americas, through the presentation of a report on the countries’ prison systems. According to the petitioners, the main problems in the region include overcrowding, a large number of prisoners who have not been sentenced, inhumane conditions, violence and crime inside prisons, and social pressures favoring “strong hand” policies. The petitioners also presented a series of recommendations on each of the main problems cited and other issues of particular importance, such as: investing in rehabilitation programs to develop useful labor skills for the job market; improving the efficiency of justice systems to confront the problem of excessive use of preventive detention; expanding alternatives to prison as a way to ease overcrowding; eliminating all forms of torture and cruel or inhuman punishment, as well as the death penalty; supporting independent agencies that oversee prisons and jails; and promoting a culture of mutual respect between inmates and prison staff.
Obstacles in Argentina to Compliance with the Reports, Decisions, and Recommendations of the Bodies for the Protection of Human Rights in the Inter-American System
The hearing was requested by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), whose representatives informed the IACHR about problems in the State of Argentina’s compliance with the decisions of the inter-American human rights system. They pointed to coordination problems among government ministries; a lack of continuity in State representation; a lack of participation by the legislative branch in the approval of legal reforms; inefficiency in the judiciary in the investigation and resolution of cases; and a failure by provincial governments to respect international decisions, among other problems. The petitioners also asked for the creation of a federal law that would implement an internal national mechanism for compliance with international decisions and that would clearly establish coordination channels among agencies, the duties of officials designed to represent the State, and the responsibilities of the national or provincial State in each case. For their part, the representatives of the State agreed on the need to create an internal mechanism to regulate procedures, both for presenting claims before international bodies for human rights protection as well as for carrying out decisions issued by these bodies. In this regard, they proposed the implementation of such a mechanism through executive decree and subsequently through a federal law. In response to this proposal, the petitioners insisted on the need to implement the mechanism directly through a federal law.
Situation of Human Rights Defenders of the Mapuche People of Chile
The Observatory of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (Observatorio de Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas) in Chile reported during this hearing that legislation in Chile regarding indigenous peoples falls far below international standards. It contended that public policies put forth in the last decade regarding indigenous peoples have been insufficient and contradictory. It also underscored the slow pace in the process of demarcating indigenous ancestral lands, principally those of the Mapuche People, while at the same time investment projects in extractive industries and infrastructure are being promoted and executed inside indigenous territories. The speakers presented information on the judicial persecution of the Mapuche and their defenders that began in the 1990s, using the State Domestic Security Law and the Anti-Terrorist Law, based on which ten human rights defenders have been convicted to sentences ranging from five to ten years. They reported that between 2001 and 2003, more than 200 cases were filed for actions linked to the reclamation of ancestral lands. They also argued that there is an excessive and disproportionate use of public forces, particularly with respect to women, children, and the elderly, especially traditional authorities. In this regard, they underscored that the crimes committed by individuals or by the police against the defenders have gone unpunished, and only rarely has the executive branch or the Public Ministry become a party to these cases. They also indicated that the crimes committed by State police agents are heard by military tribunals under current legislation and remain unpunished in the vast majority of cases. The State, for its part, said measures have been adopted to improve this situation, although it recognized that a deficit exists and that many aspects must be improved. The State offered assurances that there is no policy in Chile designed to exercise force against the Mapuche; indicated that in 2005 it ceased the practice of applying anti-terrorism legislation in judicial cases against members of the Mapuche People; and reported that draft legislation exists to restrict the application of the Military Criminal Tribunals. It further indicated that the Indigenous Criminal Defender’s Office was created in Chile in 2001 and that many of the Mapuche who were prosecuted had public defenders. In terms of the WLO Covenant 169, the State indicated that it was recently approved by the Senate and that the current government is willing to ratify it.
Investigation, Trial, and Punishment of Those Responsible for Serious Human Rights Violations in the Past and Present in Guatemala
The petitioners stated that a pattern of systematic impunity persists in Guatemala with respect to the grave human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict (1962-1996). They also talked about profound deficiencies in steps taken by the Public Ministry in cases in which crimes against human rights defenders are being investigated. For its part, the State noted that some progress has been made in recent years, particularly in terms of indemnification. However, it recognized that with regard to victims of the internal armed conflict, justice has been one of the historic debts. The State ratified the new government’s commitment to international commitments in the area of human rights.
Protected Areas in Indigenous Territories in Guatemala
The petitioners contended that when it comes to protected areas in indigenous territories, initiatives in this area—both public and private—fail to consider the collective rights of indigenous peoples and have an adverse effect on the rights to self-government, the collective ownership of land and natural resources, and the right to free determination of indigenous peoples. In particular, they referred to the designation of the so-called Sierra de Santa Cruz protected area, which would affect 43 communities of the Maya-Q’eqchi People. The leader of the 43 communities demanded in his native language that the way of life of the Maya-Q’eqchi be respected, adding that they had been protecting their natural resources from the time of their ancestors and did not need anyone to tell them how to do so. The State, for its part, proposed analyzing the problem through roundtable discussions and working meetings with the petitioner associations and with all representatives of indigenous peoples who consider themselves affected by the issue of this hearing.
Human Rights Consequences of the Grave Environmental Violations Caused by Mining Activity in Honduras
The Honduran nongovernmental organization Civic Alliance for Democracy (Alianza Cívica para la Democracia, ACD) in this hearing denounced the purported negative effects of mining activity on the environment and on health. They argued that the situation could eventually lead to human rights violations due to the damages inflicted on communities near places where mining activities are being carried out and due to governmental indifference to the situation. They also suggested proposals and alternatives to contain the alleged damages, without seeking a complete halt to mining activities. For its part, the government of Honduras rejected the petitioners’ contentions that mining activity was causing pollution and health problems, and denied that there had been no appropriate State intervention. The government presented information on the measures that have been taken to coordinate among various State institutions a plan to regulate and supervise mining activity, and underscored its efforts to protect the least fortunate communities. Finally, the Honduran government urged the petitioners at the hearing to exhaust their internal legal remedies and to continue engaging in dialogue on this issue in Honduras.
Indirect Restrictions of Freedom of Expression in Brazil
The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the organization Article 19 requested this hearing, to which they were accompanied by a representative of the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI). They talked about legal provisions and judicial practices they said are taking place in Brazil to the detriment of freedom of expression. They indicated as a critical problem the abusive use of legal actions that result in civil sanctions against journalists and human rights defenders, which they argued have a restrictive, intimidating, and negative effect on freedom of expression. They emphasized that a high percentage of these legal actions are initiated by public officials. They also indicated as problematic the lack of adequate criteria in these legal actions to determine the damage caused as well as the amounts that should be paid as indemnification, noting that these had quadrupled between 2003 and 2007. They also discussed judicial decisions preventing the publication of certain information to avert an offense against a person’s honor, which could constitute prior censorship. For its part, the State indicated that case law established by appeals courts in these legal actions taken against journalists in Brazil has evolved toward verifying actual malice on the part of the accused. They added that for the State of Brazil it would be unconstitutional to have a table of values specifying the amount to be paid in indemnity before any damage occurs. They noted that the amounts involved to date are in line with precedents established by the Inter-American Court.
Human Rights Situation of Captive Communities in Bolivia
The public hearing on the human rights situation of the captive Guaraní communities of Bolivia’s department of Chuquisaca was attended by various civil society organizations and representatives of the Bolivian State. Petitioners were the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Center for Juridical Studies and Social Investigation (CEJIS) and the Captains Council of Chuquisaca, who made presentations on the human rights violations generated by the implementation of the Law on Extension of the Agrarian Reform. This law establishes procedures for the restoration of lands in cases involving servitude. The petitioners explained that as a way to evade the law’s enforcement, landholders and estate owners or latifundistas have expelled several captive families from the haciendas with no recognition of their rights and with the result that they are unable to recover their ancestral lands. In the view of the petitioners, this situation seriously threatens the continuity of the legal process; thus they requested that the IACHR require the State to adopt measures to protect these families and that the Commission conduct a visit to Bolivia to verify and follow up on the situation being denounced. For its part, the State of Bolivia offered an overview of the measures adopted by the current government to eliminate the situation of servitude and forced labor, and recognized the gravity of the situation explained by the petitioners, indicating that some municipal and regional authorities have even been linked to the expulsion of Guaraní families from the haciendas and are creating obstacles to the process of restoring land ownership. Both parties concurred in expressing concern about the threats to life and personal integrity made by the latifundistas and regional officials against the leaders of the captive communities and State officials responsible for implementing the recovery and expropriation of lands. The State agreed to an eventual visit so that the Commission can help resolve this problematic situation.
As a result of this hearing, on March 11, 2008, the parties signed a memorandum of commitment in which they agreed that the State would adopt protection measures to ensure the integrity of captive families and their leaders and advisers; periodically provide information to the IACHR on the measures adopted and progress made; and adopt any necessary measures to ensure that the National Agrarian Tribunal will expeditiously resolve any actions related to the Guaraní process.
Media Consolidation and Freedom of Expression in Mexico
The hearing on media consolidation and freedom of expression in Mexico was requested by the Asociación Mexicana de Derecho a la Información (Mexican Right-to-Information Association) and the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) and attended as well by representatives of the State of Mexico. The organizations argued that violence against members of the media continues and said it is important that the Office of the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression conduct a visit to the country. They noted that since the decision of the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice declaring some articles of the Federal Radio and Television Law unconstitutional, no progress has been made in approving a new law. They also proposed a discussion on to what extent corporate freedom could affect the right to information, offering as an example the case of journalist Carmen Aristegui. For their part, the representatives of the State said they were awaiting a response to be able to organize a visit by the Office of the Rapporteur in May. They noted legislative progress with the decriminalization at the federal level of the crime of defamation and slander, and argued that violence against journalists is linked to organized crime. They indicated that the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice and its recommendations to modify the Federal Radio and Television Law requires a process of debate, which has already begun in the Mexican Congress but that will take time. The petitioners asked that the IACHR to issue criteria on the boundaries between corporate freedom and society’s right to information and that it follow up on legislative modifications on the licensing of radioelectric frequencies. They also requested that the State seek to facilitate discussions to approve this law.
Human Rights of Migrant Workers in Transit in Mexico
Participants in the hearing included the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, and the Chiapas House of the Migrant (Casa del Migrante de Chiapas). During the hearing, two reports were presented: Estados Unidos-México: Muros, Abusos y Muertos en las Fronteras, Violaciones flagrantes de los derechos de los migrantes indocumentados en camino a Estados Unidos (“United States-Mexico: Walls, Abuses and the Dead on the Borders, Flagrant violations of the rights of undocumented migrants en route to the United States”) and La Crisis de Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur de México (“The human rights crisis on Mexico’s southern border”). The organizations alleged that migrants who pass through Mexico in transit to the United States suffer abuses and violations of their rights. They indicated that these abuses are perpetrated by agents of immigration services, police forces, and criminal gangs that are increasingly more organized and violent. They also indicated that these acts, which are known to authorities, are not investigated and remain unpunished. For its part, the State presented information on the institutions that are available to provide assistance to migrants and train immigration officials. The State also indicated that it is in the process of reforming the legal framework, which is considered obsolete.
Human Rights Situation of Women in Chiapas, Mexico
The thematic hearing requested by the organizations Colectivo Feminista Mercedes Olvera (COFEMO) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) addressed the human rights situation of women in Chiapas in a context they describe as characterized by violence against women, particularly indigenous women—a situation aggravated by the growing presence of the military in the area. They indicated, for example, that in Chiapas a woman is killed every day, and that most of these murders go unpunished. They noted that women, especially indigenous and rural women, are denied access to land and to health-care services, education, and justice, added to which is the growing criminalization of actions by organizations and individuals that defend women’s rights. The organizations asked the IACHR that the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women visit Chiapas to verify the violation of women’s human rights and issue recommendations.
The Organic Law for Military and Police Justice in Peru
The petitioners contended that the recent enactment of the Law of Organization and Duties of Military Police Courts had taken place in a context of regressive human rights laws and argued that it goes against the Constitutional Tribunal’s jurisprudence in this matter. They held that under this law, the military justice in effect in Peru does not adequately ensure that a competent, independent, and impartial judge will be guaranteed, since it authorizes active-duty officials to carry out the duties of judges or military police prosecutors and establishes that the appointment of military judges falls under the responsibility of the executive branch and not the autonomous constitutional entity authorized for that purpose. In that regard, the petitioners asked the Commission to recommend that the State reform the law and to prepare a thematic report on this issue. For its part, the State argued that the law does not imply a failure to comply with the decisions of the Inter-American Court or the Constitutional Tribunal. The State further said that the referenced legislation did not imply a violation of the guarantee of a competent, independent, and impartial judge, given that the law establishes that military judges are not dependent on or subordinate to their superiors in rank; that there is a guarantee of non-reassignment and adequate regulation governing promotions; and that military judges may not prosecute civilians.
Follow-up on Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru
The petitioners presented follow-up information on reparations, prosecution of cases, and institutional reforms. In terms of individual and collective reparations, the petitioners expressed several concerns, particularly regarding the process of prioritizing affected communities, the scant participation of the State in symbolic reparations, and the need for the Council on Reparations to have an adequate budget, among other concerns. They indicated that there are insufficient resources for investigations and judicial proceedings; that the military courts refuse to provide information; and that there are human rights cases being handled by the military justice system. The petitioners further indicated that it is necessary to implement a system of protection for human rights defenders, victims and witnesses; reform legislation to broaden the concept of sexual violence; adopt a national plan for forensic anthropological investigation; adapt legislation on the state of exception to bring it in line with international standards; and regulate the use of the armed forces in situations involving internal order, among other steps. For its part, the State indicated that important advances had been made in the area of reparations, especially in terms of the creation and composition of the National Reparations Council, which was provided with funding.
Right to Education of Members of Afro-Descendent and Indigenous Communities in the Americas
The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the University of Virginia Law School, and Cornell University Law School presented the findings and conclusions of a report on the right to education for indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent communities, especially in Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. The report addresses States’ obligations to fulfill the right to education without discrimination and employs the Commission’s Guidelines for the Preparation of Progress Indicators in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The study finds that 33.4 percent of Colombia’s indigenous population and 31.3 percent of its Afro-Colombian population are illiterate. Specific information about the situation in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic was also presented.
General Human Rights Situation in Colombia
At the request of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, the Interdisciplinary Human Rights Group (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Derechos Humanos), and Corporación REINICIAR, a hearing was held, without the participation of the State, in which the petitioners informed the IACHR about the situation of human rights defenders; the situation of victims who participate in procedures related to Law 975-05 (Justice and Peace Law); the situation regarding paramilitaries; and kidnappings, extrajudicial executions, and the right to life. The petitioners asked the IACHR to conduct a visit to the country in order to prepare a report on the human rights situation that includes recommendations to the State on overcoming circumstances that limit the full exercise of the rights and freedoms recognized in the American Convention.
Human Rights Situation of Displaced Afro-Colombians
At the request of the organizations Displaced Afro-Colombians (Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES) and Global Rights, and with the participation of the Colombian State, a hearing was held in which the IACHR was given information about the human rights situation of displaced Afro-Colombian communities. The petitioners presented a report prepared by AFRODES with technical support from Global Rights, in order to provide information that would complement the visit to Colombia conducted in May 2007 by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendents and against Racial Discrimination. The report presents recommendations to the Colombian State and the international community designed to overcome the exclusion of Afro-Colombians. The petitioners asked the IACHR to require the State to design a plan of action to promote and protect human rights and prevent infractions of international humanitarian law; to effectively guarantee the right of Afro-descendent communities to be consulted; to ensure sufficient resources to carry out the National Development Plan 2006-2010; to complete the process of developing Law 70 regulations; and to enact a law on discrimination that establishes criminal and disciplinary sanctions. The State underscored the efforts made by petitioners in the preparation of the report and talked about efforts the government of Colombia had made as part of the National Development Plan, the draft law on discrimination, and the National Action Plan.
Murder of Women in El Salvador
The IACHR received information about murders of women in El Salvador, during a hearing requested by the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace (Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz, ORMUSA), the Women’s Association for Dignity and Life (Asociación de Mujeres por la Dignidad y la Vida, Las Dignas), the Mélida Anaya Women’s Movement (Movimiento de Mujeres Mélida Anaya Montes, Las Mélidas), and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), with the presence of representatives of the State. Those requesting the hearing presented the results of investigations that indicate that the number of murders of women has increased in recent years, and that the State’s response to these incidents has been insufficient. They indicated that the State authorities downplay these cases and minimize the problem of violence against women, therefore creating a climate of impunity. They also emphasized that violence against women cannot continue to be framed within the context of the existing violence in El Salvador, and that the legislation related to domestic violence is insufficient to address this problem. They noted some of the gaps in the law against domestic violence, such as the lack of integrated care for women victims of gender violence; the lack of protection of women; the impunity of the aggressors; and the lack of prevention policies in this matter. The State indicated that there is a national policy on women in El Salvador which is based on major international human rights instruments. The State made mention of the Salvadoran Institute for Women’s Development (Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo de la Mujer, ISDEMU), which has programs to promote women in society and to help eradicate domestic violence. Finally, they took note of the questions posed by the Commissioners and pledged to provide written responses within three weeks.
Administration of Justice in El Salvador
Several Salvadoran human rights organizations argued that the impunity that prevails with respect to the grave human rights violations committed during the armed conflict that took place in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992 continues to adversely affect and inflict suffering on hundreds of families. They contended that the failure to comply with the stipulations of the Truth Commission and the Peace Accords is directly linked to the high levels of violence today. They argued that citizens do not find their judiciary to be an independent and trustworthy actor that responds to denounced claims about events that occurred during the armed conflict. For its part, the State argued that the amnesty law allowed for the reestablishment of democracy and that subsequent institutional reforms have brought about a steadfast and lasting peace. The State said it has undertaken penal reforms and reforms of the judicial system, including the training of justice system actors in the application of the American Convention in handing down their decisions, and the adoption of concrete measures to comply with the judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Administration of Justice in Nicaragua
The petitioners said that Nicaragua’s system of administration of justice does not guarantee respect for citizens’ human rights and that the deterioration of the judiciary has worsened due to trafficking in influence, political favoritism, and traditional corruption. They explained that the highest-level judicial authorities are chosen for their political affiliation and not by virtue of their merits or suitability. They added that the justice system is employed to protect those who are in power and to persecute human rights defenders and political adversaries. The State shared some of the concerns expressed by the petitioners; however, it emphasized that membership in a political party should not be seen as a factor that excludes participation in the country’s institutions, and insisted that the executive branch does not interfere in the decisions of the judiciary.
B. Hearings on Individual Petitions and Cases
This period of sessions included hearings on cases and petitions, which are detailed as follows in the order in which they were held. Links are included to audio recordings and videos in the case of those that were filmed.
Petition 478/05 – Victims of Anti-Immigrant Activities and Vigilante Violence in Southern Arizona, United States of America
The IACHR held a hearing on the admissibility of the aforementioned petition at the request of the petitioners, the Border Action Network and the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program of the University of Arizona, Rogers College of Law. During the hearing, the parties presented their arguments regarding the admissibility of the petition. This petition refers to incidents of alleged “immigrant abuse” related to violent or intimidating criminal action in southern Cochise County, Arizona, where numerous quasi-paramilitary forces have allegedly patrolled the border with firearms, dressed in camouflage fatigues or other clothing bearing law enforcement insignia. The petitioners argued that there is overall negligence in preventing anti-immigrant abuse in southern Arizona and subsequent failure to prosecute, resulting in the denial of access to remedies under domestic law, as well as ineffectiveness of the domestic remedies. Therefore, the petitioners argued that the petition presents an exception to the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies. In response, the State argued that the petition is inadmissible due to failure to exhaust domestic remedies and, alternatively, because the facts do not tend to establish violations of the American Declaration. The State asserted that the domestic judicial system is effective, and provides several avenues for redress to prevent and provide accountability for human rights violations. The State added that criminal prosecutions and civil litigation concerning this kind of activities on the border are ongoing.
Case 12.644 - José Medellín Rojas (PC 317/06), Rubén Ramírez Cárdenas (PC 328/06), and Humberto Leal García (PC 348/06), United States of America
The IACHR held a hearing on the admissibility and the merits of Case 12.644 at the request of the Center for International Human Rights. The alleged victims in this case are all Mexican nationals currently on death row in Texas, who were all also among the Mexican nationals named in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment Avena and Other Mexican Nationals (Mexico v. United States of America. Judgment of 31 March 2004). The petitioners focused their arguments on the merits of the case, especially due process violations which are related to the violations found by the ICJ of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and non-compliance with the Avena judgment, as well as the resulting poor legal representation granted to the alleged victims. Also, the petitioners questioned the compatibility of the clemency procedure in Texas with the due process guarantees enshrined in the American Declaration on Human Rights. For its part, the State focused its arguments on the admissibility requirements, arguing that the case is inadmissible. According to the State, this case presents two issues that are currently pending before the Supreme Court in the context of cases Medellin v. Texas and Baze v. Kentucky. Decisions are supposedly expected by mid-2008; therefore, the State stressed that domestic remedies with respect to the issues raised in the petition have not been exhausted.
Case 12.459—Lysias Fleury, Haiti
In this hearing, the Commission heard direct testimony from the alleged victim and one witness in connection with events that took place in 2002 in which Lysias Fleury, a Haitian human rights defender who was working with the Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix (National Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission), was allegedly subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, and acts of cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the Haitian National Police. Mr. Fleury sought a response from the State regarding the alleged lack of action on its part as to his demands to hold accountable the presumed perpetrators responsible for the alleged abuses against him, and the State’s alleged failure to take steps to protect his life and the lives of his family members. On February 26, 2004, the Commission declared the petition admissible through its Report Nº 20/04. The petition is currently in the merits phase.
Petition 1345/05—Professors of Chañaral, Chile
The violations alleged by the petitioners relate to the express refusal of the municipality of Chañaral to comply with a judicial decision ordering back payments of pension benefits owed to professors. The petitioners indicated that no remedy exists that would allow them to collect from the municipality. The State contended that the petitioners have not exhausted internal remedies in this case; that the municipality of Chañaral initiated an action against the Chilean treasury to address the payment of what is owed; that three partial payments have been made; and that in December 2007 an agreement was signed between the municipality of Chañaral and the professors in which the municipality pledged to pay 350 million pesos on March 15, 2008. The State further indicated that the nature of the aforementioned debt did not have to do with back payments of pension benefits, but with a difference in remuneration.
Case 12.542—Employees of “Fertilizantes de Centroamérica” (FERTICA, Fertilizers of Central America), Costa Rica
In August 2003, the IACHR received a petition related to a dismissal action against workers for the FERTICA company, including those affiliated with the union. On March 2, 2006, the IACHR issued Admissibility Report No. 21/06. During the hearing, held at the request of the Fundación para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Centroamérica, FUNDEHUCA (Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America), presentations were heard by both parties on the current state of cases inside Costa Rica. During the hearing, the government of that country proposed beginning a friendly settlement process within the IACHR, a proposal that was accepted by the petitioners. The Commission requested that the respective proposals be formulated, that a schedule be agreed on for conducting negotiations, and that the IACHR be kept informed about all formal aspects of the negotiation.
Case 12.405—Vicente Grijalva Bueno, Ecuador
This hearing was held to address issues related to the merits of the case. On October 10, 2002, the IACHR approved Admissibility Report No. 68/02 based on a possible breach of the rights to a fair trial and judicial protection, recognized in Articles 8 and 25 of the American Convention with regard to the obligation to respect rights and guarantees recognized in Article 1.1 of the same instrument.
Cases 12.597—Miguel Camba Campos et al. (Judges of the Constitutional Tribunal) and 12.600—Hugo Quintana Coello et al. (Judges of the Supreme Court), Ecuador
This hearing considered issues on the merits of the case involving the firing of the members of the Constitutional Tribunal by the National Congress on November 25, 2004—which was was done, according to the petitioners, without following the process established by the law—and the destitution of 31 judges of the Supreme Court of Ecuador on December 8, 2004, through Parliamentary Resolution No. 25-181. The petitioners indicate that according to Ecuador’s constitutional legislation, Supreme Court judges serve for unlimited terms. For its part, the State indicated that these were not lifetime posts under constitutional legislation but rather expired in 2003, and that what took place was a “cessation of functions.” The State also indicated that the Commission may not review countries’ internal decisions and thus may not hear these cases. The IACHR approved Admissibility Report No. 08/07 on the petition of Hugo Quintanilla Coello et al. on February 27, 2007.
Cases “Comuna 13”, 12.596—Luz Dary Ospina Bastidas; 12.595—Myriam Eugenia Rúa Figueroa; and 12.621—Teresa Yarce, Mery Naranjo and Socorro Mosquera, Colombia
At the request of the Interdisciplinary Human Rights Group (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Derechos Humanos), a hearing was held to receive the testimony of Mery del Socorro Naranjo, a witness in all three referenced cases. Mrs. Naranjo offered testimony on the facts regarding the context in which the alleged forced displacement of the surviving victims of these cases was carried out, and the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Ana Teresa Yarce. The cases refer to the alleged responsibility of the State of Colombia for purported human rights violations against female social leaders and leaders of women’s organizations that occurred in 2002 in Comuna 13, in the city of Medellín, department of Antioquia. The State, for its part, questioned the witness on the purpose of her testimony. The IACHR in 2007 approved Admissibility Reports No. 3/07, 4/07, and 46/07 regarding these three petitions.
III. WORKING MEETINGS
During the 131st period of sessions, 33 working meetings were held on petitions, cases, and precautionary measures from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
The Commission would like to emphasize the willingness shown by the parties in several of the cases to continue moving forward toward a friendly settlement agreement, and encourages continuing efforts to bring positions closer together and reach consensus. The Commission would especially like to express its satisfaction over two friendly settlement agreements signed on March 11.
During a working meeting, representatives of the State of Bolivia and representatives of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Women’s Legal Office of Cochabamba (Oficina Jurídica para la Mujer de Cochabamba), and the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM), as petitioning organizations, reached a friendly settlement in the M/Z Case, so named because of an agreement to maintain the confidentiality of the victim’s identity. The case involves the absence of judicial protection when it came to the acts of sexual violence suffered by the victim, in particular the application of discriminatory criteria on the part of judicial authorities who heard the case. The friendly settlement agreement includes a public recognition of responsibility on the part of the State, under the following terms: “The Bolivian State recognizes its international responsibility in relation to the M/Z Case, noting that the referenced case illustrates the situation faced by many women victims of sexual violence who have been discriminated against by the justice system.” Under this agreement, the State pledged to publicize the agreement through different media and to train State officials, within and outside the justice system, in the treatment of victims of sexual violence and in human rights with a gender perspective. The State also pledged to carry out technical and scientific studies to improve investigations in cases involving sexual violence and to adopt measures that will help avoid the revictimization of women subjected to these types of situations. The Commission expresses its satisfaction over the signing of the current agreement, which was pending the signature of the Foreign Minister of Bolivia, David Choquehuanca, who will sign it at the earliest opportunity. The Commission reiterated the right of all women to a life free of violence, as well as the obligation of States to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of sexual violence. The Commission will follow up on compliance with the friendly settlement agreement, in accordance with the provisions of its conventions.
In addition, an agreement was signed for a friendly settlement between the State of Chile and petitioners Juan Pablo Olmedo and Marcela Andrea Valdés, in Case 12.377. The case first came before the IACHR in 1999, through a complaint presented by the petitioners regarding the investigation and punishment of Mrs. Marcela Andrea Valdés—then a member of the Carabineros de Chile—that resulted in her dismissal from the national police force based on conflicts arising from situations involving domestic violence. In the agreement signed on March 11, 2008, the State pledged to carry out various reparation measures, including revising, updating, and strengthening laws and regulations on domestic violence, with emphasis on situations that affect police officials, and adopting preventive measures on such matters as sexual harassment; to offer special redress to Mrs. Valdés through the publication of a summarized version of the text of the agreement in the Official Register of the Republic of Chile and on the Web pages of the Ministry of Defense and the Carabineros de Chile; to make payment to the petitioner for material and immaterial damages caused; and to reimburse the petitioner for the legal expenses incurred, through the payment of a sum to the Pro Bono Foundation, a Chilean nongovernmental organization recognized by Marcela Valdés in the signing of this agreement for the support it offered as a result of the facts denounced before the IACHR. The Commission expresses its satisfaction over the signing of this agreement. It will follow up on compliance with the friendly settlement, in accordance with the provisions established in its conventions.
The following were the working meetings held during this period of sessions, in the order in which they took place:
· Petition 304/06—Retirees of the Ministry of Education, Venezuela
· Petition 667/2002—Retirees of “Venezolana Internacional de Aviación” (VIASA), Venezuela
· Case 12.534—Andrea Mortlock, United States
· Precautionary Measure 219/06—Marta Cecilia Díaz and María Paz Mancilla, Colombia
· Precautionary Measure 199/06—Agricultural Workers Cooperative of Blanquicet (Cooperativa de Trabajadores Agropecuarios de Blanquicet, COTRAGROBLAN), Colombia
· Precautionary Measure 180/01—Embera Katío of Alto Sinú, Colombia
· Case 12.491—Gustavo Sastoque Alonso, Colombia
· Precautionary Measure 3/02—REINICIAR Corporation, Colombia
· Petition 161/02—Paulina Ramírez Jacinto, Mexico
· Follow-up of IACHR visit to Oaxaca, Mexico
· Case 12.287—Cruz Ávila Mondragón, Mexico
· Case 11.565—González Pérez Sisters, Mexico
· Case 12.627—MG, Mexico
· Case 10.488—Ignacio Ellacuría et al. (Jesuits), El Salvador
· Precautionary Measure 114/06—Tulam Tazu (sacred Maya site), Guatemala
· Petition 1139/04—Massacre in the Village of Los Josefinos, Guatemala
· Case 12.564—Alejandro Fiallos, Nicaragua
· Case 12.350—MZ, Bolivia
· Precautionary Measure 48/05—“Tacana” Indigenous Community of Miraflores and Members of the Center for Juridical Studies and Social Investigation, Bolivia
· Case 12.094—Lhaka Honhat Aboriginal Communities, Argentina
· Petition 828/01—Posadas et al., Argentina
· Case 11.670—Menéndez, Caride et al. (Argentina)
· Precautionary Measures 710/03 and 277/07— Patients of the Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Paraguay
· Case 12.330—Marcelino Gómez Paredes and Cristián Ariel Núñez, Paraguay
· Friendly settlement agreements with the State of Peru and unconfirmed judges, Peru
· Case 12.191—María Mamérita Mestanza, Peru
· Precautionary Measure 271/05— Community of La Oroya, Peru
· Case 12.041—MM, Peru
· Precautionary Measure 91/06—Tagaeri and Taromenani Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation, Ecuador
· Case 12.519—Leopoldo García Lucero, Chile
· Petition 490/03—TA, Chile
· Case 12.576—Pascual Pichún and Aniceto Norin Catriman and Case 12.611—Patricio Marileo Saravia et al., Chile
IV. RAPPORTEURSHIPS AND THEMATIC AREAS
This section contains a brief summary of some of the main activities carried out by the IACHR through its Special Rapporteurships and thematic areas since its regular sessions in October.
A. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendents and against Racial Discrimination
The Rapporteurship has continued 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 petitions and individual cases. In addition, the Rapporteurship has continued to collaborate in the evaluation of petitions and requests for precautionary measures received by the Commission that are related to the rights of Afro-descendents and to non-discrimination. During the 131st period of sessions, hearings were held on the state of discrimination against people of African descent in the Americas in the work and educational environment and in access to justice; on the human rights situation of displaced Afro-Colombians; and on the right to education of Afro-descendents and members of indigenous communities in the Americas. The Rapporteur will continue to be Commissioner Sir Clare K. Roberts.
B. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women
The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women has undertaken activities that address the problems of discrimination and violence against women as critical barriers standing in the way of the effective protection and guarantee of their rights. One of these activities is the preparation of specialized recommendations designed for the OAS Member States in the area of discrimination against women in the exercise of their civil, political, economic, and social rights. The Rapporteurship has also continued its follow-up of compliance with the recommendations contained in its thematic report on Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas and with precedents in the inter-American human rights system. This has been accomplished through working visits to countries such as Haiti and Chile, and the subsequent publication of reports. The Rapporteurship has also continued to offer technical support to the attorneys of the Executive Secretariat in processing individual petitions and precautionary measures that have to do with the rights of women.
During the 131st period of sessions, hearings were held on women’s access to systems for the administration of justice in the Americas; on the rights of women in Chiapas, Mexico; and on the murder of women in El Salvador. Beginning with these sessions, the Rapporteur is Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía.
C. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Rapporteurship has continued to advise the Chairman of the Working Group charged with preparing the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As part of the process of negotiations in the quest for consensus on this draft declaration, the Rapporteurship participated in the Working Group’s “session of reflection,” held November 26-28, 2007, at OAS headquarters. The Rapporteurship reiterates its recognition of efforts being undertaken by the OAS Member States and representatives of the hemisphere’s indigenous peoples in the process of negotiating the draft. Nevertheless, the Commission urges the OAS Member States to maximize their efforts to approve the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and again urges the States to consider the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the minimum standard in discussing and reflecting on the inter-American draft.
On February 4, 2008, the Rapporteurship participated in private hearings to follow up on compliance with the judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Case of the Yakye Axa Indigenous Community v. Paraguay and the Case of the Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous Community v. Paraguay, at the Court’s headquarters in San José, Costa Rica. In addition, as part of its promotion activities in the area of human rights and indigenous peoples, the Rapportership participated, along with indigenous women from around the hemisphere, in a workshop on “Research Benefiting the Rights of Indigenous Women in Latin America,” held November 21-23, 2007, in Panama City.
With the aim of strengthening the promotion and defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, on November 1, 2007, the IACHR published the announcement of a competition to contract a specialist in human rights and indigenous law to work in the Rapporteurship. Likewise, on December 10, 2007, it announced the implementation for the fifth time of a scholarship for indigenous attorneys to participate in a one-year professional practicum, which will begin on April 1, 2008, at IACHR headquarters.
The IACHR has continued to receive information on the situation of indigenous peoples adversely affected by third parties in their ancestral lands, as well as the situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. The Rapporteurship makes a special appeal to the OAS Member States to recognize and respect the right of indigenous peoples to their cultural identity, lands, territory, and natural resources, which is rooted in their close relationship with their ancestral territories—not simply because these are their principal means of subsistence, but also because they constitute an essential element of their worldview that is fundamental to their survival as a people.
The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to provide support, within the system of individual cases and precautionary measures, in terms of petitions and requests involving the rights of indigenous peoples or members of their communities. During the 131st period of sessions, reports referring to the rights of indigenous peoples were approved, working meetings were held with indigenous organizations and petitioners, and hearings were held on issues such as the situation of captive communities in Bolivia, the situation of human rights defenders of the Mapuche people in Chile, and the right to education for Afro-descendents and indigenous communities of the Americas. Beginning with these sessions, the Rapporteur is Commissioner Víctor Abramovich.
D. Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child
The Rapporteur is currently involved in preparing the Thematic Report on the Phenomenon of “Maras” (gangs) in Central America. To this end, it requested information from the States of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and from civil society organizations in these countries. By the deadline given for presenting the information, the IACHR had received a response only from the government of Honduras and from some civil society organizations. In addition, the Rapporteurship made a presentation as part of the working meeting organized by the OAS Committee on Hemispheric Security on the issue of gangs, which was held on January 18. The Rapporteurship team attended the presentation of the book Street Gangs in Central America on January 29.
The Rapporteurship has also continued its work of analyzing and evaluating petitions, cases, and requests for precautionary measures before the IACHR on this issue. As part of this effort, three reports on admissibility were prepared. These have to do with alleged human rights violations related to the following issues: illegal adoptions in Guatemala; the rights to identity in Costa Rica; and due process regarding infants’ right to life. The Rapporteurship evaluated and offered concrete proposals regarding the precautionary measures issued to protect Guatemalan boys and girls against illegal adoptions.
In order to continue moving forward in its analysis and evaluation of the situation of children in conflict with the law, the Rapporteurship has modified the questionnaire on juvenile criminal justice that it plans to send to the States for the purpose of gathering information to prepare a thematic report on juvenile criminal justice in the Americas.
On another matter, it is worth noting that on February 26, Rapporteur Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro visited Jamaica, at the invitation of that country’s parliament, to make a presentation to the Jamaican legislature on the rights of boys and girls. Meanwhile, a delegation of the Executive Secretariat attended the Subregional Conference on the Culture of Peace and Prevention of Juvenile Violence, sponsored by the OAS and held November 15-16 in the city of San José, Costa Rica. A delegation of the Executive Secretariat participated in the XII Annual Meeting of the Ibero-American Federation of Ombudspersons (FIO), held November 20-21in Lima, Peru. In December and January, a delegation of the Executive Secretariat participated in working meetings organized by the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs on the Draft Inter-American Program for a Universal Civil Registry and “The Right to Identity.”
During this period, the Rapporteurship was also involved in working on the content and design of its Internet site.
On December 17, a Cooperation Agreement was signed between the IACHR and the nongovernmental organization Save the Children Sweden, which aims to strengthen the Rapporteurship’s activities in defending children in the hemisphere.
E. Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, the then-Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, participated as a speaker in the VII Andean Regional Human Rights Course, held in November 2007 in Lima, Peru, on the subject of “The Human Rights of Migrant Men and Women in the Andean Region.” Beginning with the 131st period of sessions, the Rapporteur is Commissioner Felipe González.
Within the Executive Secretariat, the Rapporteurship supported the installation of the Special Committee on Migration Issues created by the OAS Permanent Council, to which it has also provided guidance. It has also continued its efforts to collaborate in the evaluation of petitions and requests for precautionary measures received in the Commission involving migrant workers. During the 131st period of sessions, hearings were held on a petition that refers to victims of anti-immigrant violence in southern Arizona, in the United States; on the application of the 2004 Migration Law in the Dominican Republic; and on the human rights of migrant workers in transit in Mexico.
F. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty
As a follow-up to the Institutional Cooperation Agreement signed with the Minister of Justice and Human Rights and with the General Defender of the Public Defense Ministry of the Republic of Argentina, a Latin American seminar on “Best Prison Practices” was held November 12-16, 2007, in the city of Buenos Aires. Participants included government officials from the prison systems of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as representatives of local and international NGOs, universities, experts, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations. The Rapporteurship is currently working on the publication of a report on this seminar.
During the 131st period of sessions, hearings were held on violations of human rights in Panamanian prisons; on the situation of prisons in the Americas; and on a case involving persons sentenced to death in the United States. The Rapporteur is Commissioner Florentín Meléndez.
G. Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
The Office of the Special Rapporteur has continued its efforts to promote and defend the right to free thought and expression through visits to countries, workshops for journalists and members of the media, public statements on cases involving violations of these rights, participation in seminars and academic activities, daily monitoring of the status of freedom of expression in each country, and the preparation of draft reports on admissibility and merits in individual cases in which it is alleged that the State has violated the right to freedom of expression. It has also supported the IACHR in cases involving freedom of expression that have been presented to the Inter-American Court.
From November 29-30, 2007, specialist Alejandra Gonza of the Office of the Rapporteur participated in and made a presentation at the international seminar on “Alert Systems and Methodology for Documenting and Following Up on Aggressions against Journalists and the Communications Media in Mexico,” held in Mexico City and organized by various groups.
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Ignacio J. Alvarez, and specialist Alejandra Gonza attended a meeting to prepare the 2007 Joint Declaration of the Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression, organized by Article 19, the Institute for Information Law of the University of Amsterdam, and the Global Campaign for Free Expression. At that time, the Special Rapporteur and the Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression of the United Nations, Europe, and Africa signed a joint declaration on the need to promote diversity in access to the communications media, particularly with regard to electronic media such as radio and television.
From February 11-14, 2008, the Special Rapporteur conducted a working visit to Honduras, where he met with representatives of the State, journalist organizations and media outlets, as well as with members of nongovernmental organizations, to learn about the state of freedom of expression in that country. At the conclusion of the visit, the Office of the Special Rapporteur issued a press release with its conclusions and recommendations. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also held a workshop in Honduras on February 14, 2008, to train journalists, attorneys, and members of nongovernmental organizations on the use of the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights, in particular for the defense of the right to freedom of expression. The course, sponsored by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, took place in Tegucigalpa.
In addition, the Office of the Rapporteur was one of the organizers of the Special Meeting on the Right to Freedom of Thought and Expression, held by the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs on February 28-29, 2008.
During the 131st period of sessions, the Office of the Special Rapporteur presented a special study on the status of investigations into cases in which journalists have been killed for reasons that may be related to freedom of expression. It also presented to the IACHR draft reports as part of a study on the state of freedom of expression in the region in the last decade; this includes 35 reports on the status of this right in each of the OAS Member States. Hearings were also held during these sessions on indirect restrictions to freedom of expression in Brazil and on the media consolidation and freedom of expression in Mexico.
In light of the expiration, at the end of March 2008, of the second year of Dr. Alvarez’s mandate, the IACHR announced a public competition to elect his successor. During the period in which the Office of the Rapporteur will be vacant, from April 1 until a new Special Rapporteur is selected, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression will be under the responsibility of the Chairman of the Commission.
H. Unit for Human Rights Defenders
The Unit for Human Rights Defenders has continued its efforts to advance individual petitions, cases, and precautionary measures involving human rights defenders in the Americas. In this regard, it has been able to corroborate the persistence of threats and harassment of human rights defenders, such as attempts on their lives and personal integrity, arbitrary detentions, and cases in which they have been followed and watched, among other incidents. The Commission thus urges the States to effectively implement the recommendations contained in the “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas.”
V. WORK RELATED TO THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT
During its sessions, the IACHR considered the general status of cases and provisional measures it is litigating before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and analyzed developments in the Court’s jurisprudence. The Inter-American Commission has submitted 115 contentious cases to the Court. Of those, 11 are pending public hearings; 7 are pending decisions; 85 are in the phase of compliance with judgments, and 12 cases are closed. Additionally, there are 44 active provisional measures in place.
Since the previous regular sessions, the IACHR has submitted five new cases to the Court’s contentious jurisdiction:
Since October of last year, the Commission also participated in the LXXVII and LXXVIII regular periods of sessions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, held at the Court’s headquarters in San José, Costa Rica, and in the Court’s XXXI special period of sessions, held in Bogotá, Colombia. During these sessions, the Commission participated in hearings convened by the Inter-American Court on contentious cases, provisional measures, and compliance with judgments, specified as follows:
Hearings on contentious cases: Kimel (Argentina), Salvador Chiriboga (Ecuador), Heliodoro Portugal (Panama), Yvon Neptune (Haiti), Ruggeri et al. (Venezuela), Valle Jaramillo et al. (Colombia), and Castañeda Gutman (Mexico).
Hearings on provisional measures: Kankuamo Indigenous Community (Colombia), Caballero Delgado and Santana (Colombia), Álvarez et al. (Colombia), Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (Colombia), Pilar Noriega et al. (Mexico), and Jiguamiandó Community Council, and Families of Curbaradó (Colombia).
Hearings on compliance with judgments: Garrido and Baigorria (Argentina), Blake (Guatemala), Case of the “White Van” (Guatemala), Cantoral Benavides (Peru), Loayza Tamayo (Peru), Caballero Delgado and Santana (Colombia), Ricardo Canese (Paraguay), Juvenile Reeducation Institute (Paraguay), Yakye Axa Indigenous Community (Paraguay), and Sawhoyamaxa Indigenous Community (Paraguay).
VI. FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS
The IACHR would especially like to express its appreciation for the significant financial support made by countries within and outside the region, as well as by foundations and other entities. These donations make it possible for the IACHR to carry out a great many of its activities related to the mandates issued by the OAS political bodies.
In particular, the IACHR appreciates the contributions made by the governments of the following OAS member countries: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, 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, the University of Notre Dame, and the Save the Children Sweden foundation. These donations contribute in a concrete way to the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system in the Americas.
Press contact: María Isabel
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