ADDRESS BY MARTA
PRESIDENT OF THE
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
PRESENTING THE IACHR ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2002 TO THE COMMITTEE ON JURIDICAL
AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE OAS.
D.C., April 2, 2003
Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political
Distinguished Representatives of member states and
observers of the Organization,
Ladies and gentlemen:
As President of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights I am pleased to present the Commission's Annual
Report for the Year 2002 to the Committee on Juridical and Political
Affairs of the Permanent Council. I
have with me today Dr. Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary, the Special
Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and members of the professional
staff of the secretariat.
report that we are submitting today to the Committee on Juridical and
Political Affairs was approved by the IACHR at its 117th regular session
held during February and March of this year.
The report was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of
Resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-O/78) of the General Assembly, and in
observance of Article 57 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure.
This report reflects the general activities of the Commission under
the presidency of Dr. Juan Méndez.
the year, the Commission paid particular attention to acts of
international terrorism. In
the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been
much collective thinking about legitimate means for preventing and solving
such crimes and for prosecuting those responsible for them, and also about
the scope of strategies designed for preventing them. The legitimacy of these efforts at prevention and prosecution
is necessarily linked to the proposition of the democratic state itself,
and it precisely is for this reason that such steps must be taken in full
respect for established limits, consistent with the principles of a
constitutional state and the tenets of international law.
Anti-terrorist initiatives, however exceptional the circumstances
justifying their adoption and their magnitude, must be addressed in full
respect for international law and for international human rights law.
This is an area where member states of the OAS must take care to
preserve the balance between their duty to protect the civilian population
and democratic institutions and their obligation not to disregard the
security of their citizens and their obligation to administer justice with
all due guarantees and without arbitrary measures.
December 2002, the Commission published its Report on Terrorism and Human
Rights, in which it examined the prevalence and the respect for
fundamental rights in the face of anti-terrorist initiatives legitimately
adopted by member states, in light of the standards of international law,
and more than four decades of experience.
In its report, the Commission articulated a number of fundamental
principles concerning the necessary relationship between combating
terrorism and protecting human rights in national emergencies.
My predecessor, Commissioner Juan Méndez, gave you a comprehensive
statement on this matter.
anxiety that has been generated by the threat of terrorist violence, and
concerns about the prospects for stopping it, as well as the war now
underway in Iraq, have tended to distract the attention of the authorities
and of at least a portion of public opinion from many of the endemic
problems of an economic, social and cultural nature that affect the
societies of our hemisphere, and in particular their most vulnerable
sectors. Yet as these
problems persist and become worse, they are eroding citizen participation
in the democratic process, undermining the concept of democracy, and
weakening its effectiveness as an instrument of government and social
harmony. Moreover, they continue to exacerbate the prospects of
violence and of more terrorist deeds.
IACHR views with concern the continuing deterioration of democratic
institutions. Despite the
periodic elections that take place in countries of our hemisphere, many of
the region's democracies betray institutional weaknesses and have even
been exposed to coups and attempts to overthrow the established
constitutional order. Fortunately,
member states of the OAS are today unanimous in rejecting such attempts,
by invoking instruments such as Resolution 1080 and the Inter-American
Democratic Charter. The
Commission is also concerned by the fact that the domestically imposed
legal limits on the use of government force are in some cases dismissed or
ignored, thereby undermining the rule of law and weakening institutional
poverty and exclusion, and social, economic, ethnic and gender
inequalities, contribute to legal insecurity, and therefore to
instability. This situation,
which is made worse by the lack of effective access to justice, not only
serves to perpetuate the ineffectiveness and impunity that characterize
the functioning of the hemisphere's judicial systems, but also tend to
exclude citizens from participation in the administration of justice,
whether as operators or as active subjects.
When the justice system fails to afford protection for victims,
people lose confidence in it, and this is particularly true for the most
vulnerable groups, when they suffer discrimination and have no effective
remedy for determining their rights.
These factors coincide with people's growing feeling of insecurity
in the face of rising violence and crime and the tendency of some to take
justice into their own hands.
this hemispheric context, which in fact reflects realities of a global
order, the mechanisms for protecting human rights must continue to play a
fundamental role. In this respect, the efforts of human rights defenders and
justice workers with respect to promotion, prevention, control,
denunciation and representation continue to be essential for enforcing the
fundamental rights of our countries' inhabitants.
The work of human rights defenders and the organizations to which
they belong serves to provide information and to publicize the situation
of vulnerable groups and individuals who are the victims of violence,
poverty, exclusion and discrimination, as well as excesses committed in
situations of emergency, and thus ensures that complaints will find a
response. Because of such
efforts, human rights workers and organizations at the national, regional
and universal level are often the target of violence, and member states
have begun, through the political bodies of the Organization and the
IACHR, to examine their responsibilities for guaranteeing the safety of
these workers and their freedom to conduct their activities.
must reiterate that the integrity and effectiveness of the protection that
the system offers to the hemisphere's inhabitants will depend primarily on
the efforts of member states to adopt the domestic legislative provisions
required by the system and to achieve universality for that system by
ratifying the American Convention and other human rights instruments, as
well as accepting the jurisdiction of the Court.
The system’s effectiveness indeed depends on fulfilling the duty
of states to adapt their domestic legislation to their international
obligations, and to have that legislation duly interpreted and enforced by
organs of the state, in particular the judiciary; and finally, on
compliance with international commitments and the recommendations and
decisions of the Commission and the Court.
the past year the IACHR continued to address these hemispheric challenges,
among others, in pursuit of its mandate to promote and protect human
rights. The Commission
continued its work on the situation of especially vulnerable groups,
through its Special Rapporteurs for rights of the child, women, indigenous
people, and migrant workers, which are reflected in Chapter VI of this
Annual Report. The IACHR has
paid particular attention to the situation of people of African descent,
through its promotional efforts as well as through its studies of the
general human rights situation in member countries, and in individual
cases and precautionary measures. The
Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has also
continued its important work of promotion and advice, as reflected in the
study for the year 2002.
in the previous decade, the issue of migrations occupied a prominent place
on the political agenda of many countries of the Americas in 2002,
reflecting the growing flow of migrants that the hemisphere has for
various reasons experienced. In addition to the region's long-standing traditional
migration flows, political and economic crises in various places have
increased migration pressures throughout the Americas.
Such pressures, together with security concerns following the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have led to a considerable
increase in controls and, in many cases, to harsher treatment of migrant
workers and their families, who are singled out for special administrative
treatment in many countries.
to its mandate from the IACHR, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for
Migrant Workers and Their Families undertook a series of activities during
the past year, including three thematic visits to member countries of the
OAS, Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
It also participated in a number of promotional efforts: among
other things, it drew up a program for Promotion and Protection of the
Human Rights of Migrants in the Americas, it conducted workshops and
discussion groups on the inter-American system for the protection of human
rights, it participated in conferences and forums on migration issues, and
it established and strengthened institutional links with intergovernmental
agencies and entities of civil society working on behalf of migrant
workers in the region.
respect to the Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights, this report includes
the conclusions of the IACHR from the first thematic visit by the Special
Rapporteur. This took place
in February, at the invitation of the Government of President Vicente Fox,
to examine the situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez,
its work plan for the present year, the office of the Special Rapporteur
will focus primarily on the issue of women's access to justice, with
particular emphasis on the causes of violence against women and the
difficulties in overcoming them.
examining the situation of women's rights in the region, the Special
Rapporteur has reported that initiatives at the local, national and
regional level to deal with human rights violations where the cause or
consequence is gender-related have succeeded in establishing some basic
norms that are key to the issue of discrimination and violence against
women. The principal
challenge now facing us is the continuing gap between those norms and the
everyday experience of women in the Americas.
On this point, the Special Rapporteur has stressed the problem of
impunity, which tends to perpetuate gender-related violations of human
rights. Impunity in such
cases undermines the very system of guarantees and creates a climate that
promotes repeated violations, to the detriment of human dignity and the
most fundamental rights. The
Special Rapporteur urges member states to redouble their efforts at
ensuring due diligence in investigating, prosecuting and punishing acts of
discrimination and violence against women, pursuant to the Convention of
Belém do Pará, which has been ratified by nearly all member states, and
the other instruments of the system.
With respect to this obligation, it is essential that states should
afford victims prompt access to effective justice.
you will be aware, the Inter-American Development Bank and the OAS signed
a Technical Cooperation Agreement in 2001 for strengthening the IACHR's
Office of the Special Rapporteur for Rights of the Child, and this has
been operating successfully. The project has produced a compilation of international and
regional instruments relating to the human rights of children, and a
systematization of inter-American doctrine and case law entitled
"Children and Their Rights in the Inter-American System for
Protection of Human Rights".
well, a number of promotional visits and workshops are being conducted on
the human rights of children and on the mechanisms that the inter-American
system of human rights provides for their protection. Several
such workshops were held in 2002, and more are planned for 2003 in
Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Mexico.
They are targeted at government officials and at defenders of
children's' rights. These
activities have achieved wide publicity for the system's various
mechanisms. During its 116th
regular session in Washington D.C., the IACHR held a public hearing
attended by representatives of UNICEF and various regional organizations
working for children's' rights.
its effort to strengthen, promote and systematize its work on the rights
of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Commission established a
Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1990.
Since 2000, thanks to contributions from the Danish government's
program for human rights in Central America (PRODECA), a project has been
underway for "strengthening the capacity of the Inter-American system
for the defense of human rights of communities, ethnic minorities and
other vulnerable groups affected by the conflicts in Central
America", under which the Commission has formed a specialized team,
consisting currently of a lawyer and a fellowship trainee, to support the
work of the Special Rapporteur. During
2001 an opening was created under the "Rómulo Gallegos"
fellowship, aimed specifically at young indigenous lawyers from Central
America interested in broadening their experience and knowledge of human
rights and indigenous law.
the reinforcement of its professional staff, the IACHR was able in 2002 to
make significant progress in processing petitions and cases submitted to
it, relating to indigenous peoples and individuals.
Indigenous peoples, their leaders and defenders also acquired a
better understanding of how to gain access to the inter-American system of
human rights, and this has resulted in a significant increase in the
number of complaints about violations of the human rights of indigenous
peoples relating to their ancestral lands, political rights,
discrimination etc. At the
same time, civil society has become more aware of the breadth and depth of
the inter-American jurisprudence on the rights of indigenous peoples.
The IACHR is currently processing more than 70 petitions or cases
relating to those rights.
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared a report on the
Status of Freedom of Expression in the Americas, which is part of the
Commission's Annual Report. During
the year 2000, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was
replaced for the first time: after evaluating candidates in a public
competition, the IACHR appointed Eduardo Bertoni to the post, which he
took up in May 2002. This is
the fifth Annual Report prepared by the Office of the Special Rapporteur
since its creation in 1997, and, as before, it is divided into six
I of the report considers the mandate and powers of the Special
Rapporteur, as well as activities conducted during 2002.
Chapter II contains a description of certain aspects of the status
of freedom of expression in countries of the hemisphere.
With a view to promoting comparative jurisprudence, Chapter III
summarizes inter-American case law and domestic case law of member states.
Chapter IV represents a first attempt to address the issue of
"freedom of expression and poverty", looking at the mechanisms
by which poor people can access public information, the legitimate use of
community-based communications media, and the exercise of the right of
legitimate expression and public assembly.
Chapter V, on "Laws on Desacato
(Insult) and Criminal Defamation", stresses the need to repeal
the crime of desacato, and
discusses the scant progress that countries of the hemisphere have
achieved in this area since the last reports on the issue in 1998 and
2000. Chapter VI makes recommendations to states in terms of
investigating assassinations, kidnappings, threats and intimidation
against social communicators, and prosecuting those responsible; repealing
desacato laws and laws on
criminal defamation and libel, and promulgating laws that guarantee broad
access to information.
the report notes that, in terms of freedom of expression and information
in the Americas, assassinations and attacks on journalists, human rights
defenders and people in general who make use of this right continue to
pose a severe problem. In an alarming number of cases such crimes go unpunished.
The report also points to the persistence of practices designed to
restrict the freedom of expression, whereby individuals who speak out
critically about matters of public interest are charged with the crimes of
desacato or libel.
These circumstances do little to generate an atmosphere in which
freedom of expression can flourish.
of the 2002 Annual Report
Annual Report is divided into three volumes, of which the first two relate
to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The third volume, as explained, contains the report of the IACHR
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2002 Annual Report is
devoted to an assessment of the human rights situation in the hemisphere,
and the major obstacles to the enjoyment of those rights.
Chapter II offers a brief introduction to the origins and legal
foundations of the Commission, and describes the main activities
accomplished by the IACHR during the year.
In this respect, it highlights the activities conducted during the
Commission's two regular sessions, and one special session.
It also reviews activities conducted with other organs of the
inter-American system, and with regional and universal institutions of a
similar nature. Among these
we may mention visits to Commission headquarters by the United Nations
Rapporteurs for Racial Discrimination, Torture and Indigenous Peoples. In particular, I would like to call attention to the practice
of holding annual meetings of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court for
dealing with issues of common interest, so as to improve the functioning
of the regional human rights system.
The Commission and the Court maintain a mutually beneficial
relationship of cooperation in pursuit of their respective mandates.
the period covered by this report, the Commission conducted two on-site
visits to Haiti and one to Venezuela.
It also made a working visit to Argentina, which is mistakenly
referred to as an "on-site visit" in the copies of the report
that you have received. The
final printed version, and the version that will appear at our web page,
will show this correctly as a working visit. In addition, the Commission concluded its visit to Guatemala
last week. Our thematic and
country rapporteurs also conducted promotional and working visits
throughout the year. The
IACHR is processing information received before, during and after those
visits for preparing its report on the human rights situation in those
countries. On behalf of the
Commission, I want to express special thanks to governments for their
cooperation in achieving the objectives set out during the visits in 2002.
III is undoubtedly the keystone of the IACHR's work, since it contains the
Commission’s analyses and decisions on complaints of violations that
affect people's fundamental human rights.
This Chapter, the longest in the report, contains decisions adopted
on petitions and individual cases presented to the Commission and
processed in accordance with the rules of procedure.
I would also stress the growing importance that the Commission is
giving to achieving friendly settlement of petitions and individual cases:
this year's report includes four decisions of this kind.
At the same time, the IACHR is pursuing negotiations for friendly
settlement of dozens of cases in various countries.
The disposition of the parties to enter into dialogue and seek
creative solutions constitutes a promising portent for the system’s
the period under analysis, a total of 58 reports were published, including
38 cases declared admissible; six reports on petitions declared
inadmissible, three reports on friendly settlement; and 11 reports on
merits. In these reports, the
Commission has continued to deal with structural issues in the hemisphere
such as violations of due process, extrajudicial executions, abuse of
military jurisdiction, and impunity.
The IACHR has also ruled on issues that are coming to our attention
with increasing frequency, such as the rights of women, the freedom of
expression, and the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
These cases reflect the growing juridical complexity of cases that
the Commission is called upon to decide, as well as the Commission's
efforts to improve and strengthen its arguments and justifications.
Thus, the Commission seeks not only to resolve cases and petitions
in a juridically sound manner, but also to engage in promotion through
juridical determination of the scope of the obligations assumed
voluntarily by member states of the Organization.
Finally, in its reports, the Commission has continued to clarify a
number of procedural questions, particularly on the issue of the
admissibility of petitions, such as legitimate standing for initiating
complaints, the temporal validity of the American Convention, and
exceptions to the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies, among others.
The Commission hopes in this way to contribute to legal security in
our system, by setting rules and standards that the Commission faithfully
observes. The IACHR points out that the approval for publication of a
report on the merits of an individual case serves to some extent to offer
compensation to the victim of a violation of human rights, where justice
could not be obtained through the organs of domestic jurisdiction.
would like to call your attention to some significant figures concerning
the system of individual petitions. In
2002, the IACHR received 4,656 individual complaints.
Of this total, 3,635 related to the rights of persons affected by
the banking measures (the "corralito”)
imposed in Argentina. It
should be noted that the annual average was 609 petitions between 1997 and
2001, and so the year 2002 represented an increase of more than 700
percent in the number of complaints received.
Even if we leave aside those complaints relating to the so-called corralito,
the IACHR received 1,021 complaints in 2002, or 40 percent more than the
average of the previous five years. These
circumstances have exerted tremendous pressure on our executive
secretariat, which has responded to the situation quite efficiently and
has managed to keep the number of petitions in processing within historic
section also includes 91 precautionary measures granted or extended by the
IACHR, for which there was activity during this period.
The Commission has continued its practice of reporting on
precautionary measures requested of member states, through its own
initiative or at the petition of a party, pursuant to Article 25 of its
Rules of Procedure, in cases where this is necessary to avoid irreparable
harm to individuals. The Commission has also engaged in greater direct
communication with petitioners and the authorities.
III has a section on the status of compliance with IACHR recommendations
in individual cases. The OAS
General Assembly, in resolution AG/RES. 1890 (XXXII-O/02) on the
Evaluation of the Workings of the Inter-American System for the Protection
and Promotion of Human Rights with a View to Its Improvement and
Strengthening, urged member states to make their best efforts to follow up
on the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(operative point 3.c), to continue to take appropriate action in
connection with the Annual Reports of the Court and the Commission, in the
framework of the Permanent Council and the General Assembly of the
Organization, and to study possible means to address the state of
compliance with the judgments of the Court and the observance of the
recommendations of the Commission by
the member states of the Organization (operative point 3.d). Both the
Convention (Article 41) and the Statute of the Commission (Article 18)
give the IACHR explicit power to request information from member states
and to produce such reports and recommendations as it deems appropriate.
Specifically, the IACHR Rules of Procedure that came into force on
May 1, 2001, provide (Article 46) that the Commission “may adopt the
follow-up measures it deems appropriate, such as requesting information
from the parties and holding hearings in order to verify compliance with
friendly settlement agreements and its recommendations”.
As well, the General Assembly approved Resolution AG/RES 1894
(XXXII-O/02), Observations and Recommendations on the Annual Report of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and invited the Commission
“to consider the possibility of continuing to include in its Annual
Reports information on the follow-up of its recommendations by the states
[and] to review, with a view to their improvement, the criteria and
indicators on that subject in the report for this year”.
with its powers under the Convention and its Statute, and in light of the
resolutions quoted, as well as Article 46 of its Rules of Procedure, the
IACHR requested information from states about their compliance with
recommendations made in the reports published on individual cases included
in the Commission's Annual Reports for the years 2000 and 2001.
The table presented by the Commission shows the status of
compliance with IACHR recommendations on cases decided and published in
the last two years. The IACHR
notes that some of its recommendations involve successive stages of
compliance, and that some of them will require a considerable time in
order to be fully implemented. The
table therefore shows the current status of compliance, which the
Commission recognizes is a dynamic process that may evolve continuously.
From this perspective, the Commission assesses whether
recommendations have been fulfilled or not, rather than whether a start
has been made at fulfilling them. The IACHR has attempted to reflect observations made by
representatives of different member states during presentation of the 2001
an effort to make the system more transparent, the Commission has decided
to include on its web page all responses to our reports from states that
have expressly requested their publication.
We believe that this mechanism will strengthen dialogue between
states and the IACHR, and that it will foster greater public control over
the inter-American system of human rights.
I am pleased to note that, in contrast to last year, we have been
able in this Annual Report to report almost full compliance with the
Commission's recommendations on several cases.
Yet there are many outstanding cases that are still awaiting full
or partial compliance. In
this respect, member states should make their best efforts to comply with
the Commission's recommendations in good faith. We also have confidence that the Permanent Council and the
Committee on Juridical Affairs will be able to establish a regular
oversight mechanism on compliance with decisions of the Commission and the
Court, so as to give effect to the principle of collective guarantees that
underlies the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.
III also provides information on the Commission's actions before the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
This section describes the provisional measures ordered by the
Court at the request of the Commission in situations of extreme gravity
and urgency, pursuant to Article 63(2) of the American Convention on Human
Rights, and summarizes decisions of the Court and actions of the
Commission in several contentious cases.
Commission has also followed the criteria set forth in its 1998 Annual
Report for identifying member states whose human rights practices deserve
special attention and the inclusion of a special chapter in the Annual
Report. In this respect,
Chapter IV of this year's report contains an analysis of the human rights
situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.
Chapter V continues the practice of examining progress in carrying
out previous recommendations of the Commission, in exercise of its role as
the principal OAS organ for human rights.
This year, that chapter contains a follow-up report on Guatemala
and with the recommendations in IACHR reports on the human rights
situation in those countries. I
want to thank member states at this time for their response to the IACHR's
request for information.
II of the report concludes with the usual annexes reporting on the status
of the regional conventions and protocols on human rights, as well as
press releases and selected statements that the IACHR has published during
the past year.
Chairman, representatives, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:
concluding, I want to express the Commission's gratitude for the increased
funding that the Organization has recently approved.
Every year we come before you to explain the IACHR's financial
needs. The additional funding that we have received will allow us to
pursue and reinforce the fulfillment of our mandates under the Convention
and our Statute, and those received from the Summits of the Americas.
We hope that member states will continue to approve this additional
funding in the future, and that this will apply to the IACHR as a whole.
We are also particularly grateful for the voluntary contributions
of member states and permanent observers.
constant search for mechanisms to strengthen participatory democracy
creates new opportunities for member states to commit themselves to the
organs of the inter-American system of human rights.
The Commission and the Court are, as member states would have them
be, instruments for supporting development of "a system of personal
liberty and social justice", which is the ultimate objective
enshrined in the preamble of the American Convention on Human Rights. Accordingly, the Commission renews its commitment to work
with member states in fulfilling its mandate to defend human dignity
through the protection and promotion of human rights.
On behalf of the Commission, I want to thank member states for the
support they have given the Commission in its continuing effort to honor
that common commitment to oversee the exercise of human rights for every
person in our hemisphere.
you very much.