ADDRESS BY THE CHAIRMAN OF

THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

PAOLO CAROZZA

 

PRESENTATION OF THE 2007 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS TO THE COMMITTEE ON JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES

 

Washington, D.C.

April 3, 2008

 

 

Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,

 

Distinguished representatives of member states and observers to the Organization,

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

As Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am pleased to present the Commissionís Annual Report for the year 2007 to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council.   Joining me today are our Executive Secretary and Secretariat staff.  

 

The report I present to you today was approved by the Inter-American Commission, having been prepared in accordance with the guidelines established by the General Assembly and pursuant to Article 57 of the Commissionís Rules of Procedure. The report reflects the general activities of the IACHR primarily under the presidency of Commissioner FlorentŪn Melťndez.

 

Structure and Summary of the Annual report for 2007

 

The Report is divided into three volumes: the first two refer to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the third contains the report from the Commissionís Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

 

The Role of the Commission and the Vitality of the System

 

While Chapter I of our report has been dedicated in recent years to a brief assessment of the human rights situation in the Hemisphere, this yearís introduction departs from that practice in order to reflect on the role of the Commission within the inter-American human rights system.  The inter-American human rights system represents a vital mechanism to further the establishment of justice and the rule of law in the countries of this Hemisphere.  The system supports Member States in making crucial advances in law, policy and practice at the national level.  We see more and more frequently, in fact, that national institutions employ international human rights standards and the jurisprudence of the regional system in their decision-making, using those norms as a baseline against which to assess and revise their own practice at the domestic level. 

 

          That domestic effectiveness reflects the high credibility of the systemís organs.  As the legitimacy of the system continues to increase, it faces demands which grow in both number and complexity.  Individuals present an ever-increasing number of petitions before the Commission; civil society and states request more hearings covering more diverse issues; the Commission carries out expanded thematic initiatives; and it receives additional mandates from the General Assembly. 

 

Although these expanded expectations and responsibilities constitute a strong sign of the indispensable role that the Commission plays in protecting and promoting human rights in the Hemisphere, they also create an enormous challenge for the entire system, because the activities and mandates of the Commission cannot be carried out without adequate financial and human resources.  Those resources have not increased in proportion to the Commissionís growing importance and role in the region; indeed, the regular budget allocated to the Commission by the Member States has remained constant or even decreased in real terms since at least 1999.  As a result, there is now a very large and expanding gap between the resources necessary to maintain a healthy human rights system and the reality of the Commissionís activities.  This has forced the Commission to spread its resources thinly, and creates a situation of internal competition for resources among the various activities of the Commission Ė for example, this situation pits the Commissionís expeditious resolution of contentious cases in tension with our visiting, monitoring and reporting on general conditions in Member States or on thematic issues throughout the region, as both parts of the Commissionís work vie for the same limited pool of funds. 

 

One additional consequence of this situation is that the Commission has had to seek and rely upon special, ad hoc contributions to its budget from generous states and private organizations.  In 2007 more than half of its operating budget came from such donations.  Although the Commission is of course very grateful for that support, we also are acutely aware that it places the Commissionís work in a very precarious and uncertain state, because there is no stability or long-term assurance of the availability of those funds.  In 2007, the regular funds of the Commission were only sufficient to fully cover one out of our four periods of sessions.  Moreover, the continued reliance on special contributions could in the long run raise concerns about the complete independence and autonomy of the Commission in establishing its own priorities and activities in defense of human rights.

 

In short, the regional human rights system cannot continue to respond to the growing demands placed upon it without decisive action by the Member States to address the critical shortage of resources.

 

Activities of the Inter-American Commission during 2007

 

Chapter II of the Annual Report provides a brief introduction to the origins and legal bases of the Commission and describes the primary activities carried out during 2007.  This review of activities Ė which include four periods of sessions, the approval of 74 reports on individual cases, 94 hearings and 80 working meetings, a series of working and thematic visits, and hearings before the Inter-American Court Ė reflects the breadth and diversity of demands placed upon the Commission, and the multi-faceted manner in which it contributes to the promotion and protection of human rights in the region.  

          In addition to the three periods of sessions the Commission held at its headquarters, the Commission held a special session in Asuncion, Paraguay, from September 5 Ė 7, 2007, at the invitation of the Government of Paraguay.  The delegation held four public hearings, carried out promotional activities, visited the Center for Documentation and Archives for the Defense of Human Rights, also known as the ďTerror Files,Ē from the era of the dictatorship.  On behalf of the Commission, I wish to reiterate our gratitude to the Government of Paraguay for its openness and support, including the financial support that made the extraordinary period of sessions possible, as well as to civil society for the warm welcome and collaboration we received.

 

          The Commission attributes great importance to the work of other agencies and entities working to promote regional and international human rights.  During various sessions, the Commission had the opportunity to strengthen relations with delegations from the African Commission on Human Rights, the Central American Council of Human Rights, a number of rapporteurs from the United Nations system and the legal secretariat that serves the UN rapporteurs and treaty bodies, among others. 

 

          During its last session of the year, in October of 2007, the Commission signed an agreement with the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada, to establish the Brian Tittemore Scholarship, enabling a graduate of that university to learn about the regional system through a working fellowship at Commission headquarters.  The scholarship was established in commemoration of Brian Tittemore, an outstanding Canadian attorney who worked in our Secretariat until his death in December of 2006.

 

          In terms of thematic and working visits, the Commission carried out a number of visits to Colombia during 2007.  In January, a delegation visited BogotŠ and Medellin in connection with monitoring the demobilization of illegal armed groups.  Another delegation was present in April, and the Rapporteur for Afrodescendents visited Colombia in May of 2007.  Also during 2007, in the framework of the advisory services that the Commission provides to the Support Mission to the Peace Process and follow-up on the demobilization process in Colombia, a delegation of the Executive Secretariat visited 8 different departments of the country.  The Commission has also closely monitored the peace and justice process through the observance of hearings and other activities.

 

          The Rapporteur for Haiti carried out a visit to that country in April of 2007, focusing on the administration of justice and the rights of women.  The Rapporteur for persons Deprived of Liberty carried out a visit to Haiti in June of 2007 in order to assess conditions in a number of detention facilities. 

 

          The Commissionís Rapporteur for Mexico, visited that country in April of 2007 to meet with authorities and address the general human rights situation, and returned in August of 2007 in order to assess the situation of human rights in Oaxaca. 

 

          The Rapporteur for the Rights of Children organized two working meetings in Sao Paulo, Brazil in August of 2007, as part of the preparation of a report on juvenile justice in the Americas. 

 

          In September, in conjunction with the Commissionís special period of sessions in Paraguay, the Rapporteur for Paraguay and for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  carried out a series of meetings with government officials, civil society organizations and indigenous communities, and held working meetings on pending petitions and cases. 

 

          The Rapporteur on Womenís Rights carried out a visit to Chile in September of 2007 for the purpose of gathering information on discrimination in the family sphere, the workplace and in political life, in preparation for an upcoming report.  

 

Many other states of the region also extended invitations to the Commission to visit in 2007, which we were unable to accept.  The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to all the Member States that invited the Commission to visit, since such visits can play an important role in enabling the Commission to monitor human rights in the Hemisphere.  Such freedom of the Commission to visit and observe human rights conditions has historically been one of the most critical tools for ensuring the effectiveness of the Inter-American human rights norms, even in the Hemisphereís darkest periods of repression.

 

In this regard, the Commission remains very concerned about the difficulties it has encountered in seeking to carry out a visit to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, which has over a period of years repeatedly failed to accept any date for such a visit.  The inability to visit a Member State due to the absence of government consent constitutes a serious obstacle to the implementation of the Commissionís mandate.  Accordingly, in its 2007 Annual Report, the Commission reiterates its interest in conducting an on-site visit to the country in the near future in order to participate in the development and strengthening of human rights in Venezuela, as it does regularly with other Member States.

 

The Commission also sought permission during 2007 to carry out an on-site visit to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to monitor conditions of detention there for the  hundreds of nationals of various countries who have been held there for extended periods.  While representatives of the US Government did indicate that the Commission could visit the base at Guantanamo, they informed the Commission that it would not be permitted to freely interview detainees. The Commission declined to conduct a visit under such limitations.  At the invitation of the US Government, the Commission has been negotiating the details of a visit to several migrant detention facilities.

 

During 2007, the various IACHR Rapporteurships continued their activities in support of a range of thematic initiatives and the system of individual cases. 

 

The Rapporteurship for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to advise the Chairman of the working group charged with preparing the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Commission wishes to emphasize the importance of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007.  The Commission encourages the OAS member states to maximize their efforts to adopt a regional declaration, and to consider the UN Declaration as an important reference point for moving forward with their discussions.

 

In March 2007, the Commission issued a report prepared by the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, entitled Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas.  The report analyzes the main obstacles women face when trying to gain access to legal resources, guarantees and protection against acts of violence, and offers a series of recommendations to assist states in implementing timely and effective legal measures to combat such violence.  In April 2007, in BogotŠ, Colombia, the Rapporteurship presented its report on Violence and Discrimination against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia.  The Rapporteurship has conducted follow-up activities on both reports to promote the implementation of their recommendations.

 

          The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Children continued to give priority attention in 2007 to juvenile justice, to the situation of children in conflict with the law, as well as to the specific issue of juvenile participation in gangs. 

 

          In November 2007, the Rapporteurship on Persons deprived of Liberty, working with the Argentine Ministry of Justice and the Argentine Office of the Public Defender, organized the Latin American Seminar on Best Prison Practices.  The seminar was held in Buenos Aires, and attended by government and prison officials, as well as experts and representatives of governmental and nongovernmental organizations.  

 

          As part of its work, the Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendents and against Racial Discrimination continued to provide technical support to the working group of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council of the OAS that is preparing a Draft American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination. 

 

          Among its functions, the Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers has provided support in the process of establishing the Special Committee on Migratory Affairs created by the Permanent Council of the OAS.

 

The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared his 2007 report on the subject, and it forms part of this Annual Report.  As mandated by the Commission, the report covers the subjects and activities that were given priority by the Rapporteurship during the year, including the evaluation of the status of freedom of expression in the Hemisphere.

 

          During 2007, the Commission continued to benefit from the support of its Unit for Human Rights Defenders.  The Commission moved forward with other studies and activities, including its Initiative on Public Safety and Human Rights in the Americas, designed to assist states in meeting the challenge of maintaining citizen security with due respect for individual rights and freedoms. 

 

In December, the Commission published the report entitled Access to Justice as a Guarantee of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: A Review of the Standards Adopted by the Inter-American System of Human Rights.  The Commission understands that access to justice is an essential component to realize economic, social and cultural rights.  Accordingly, the report explains the obligations of the States with respect to four core issues: 1) the obligation to remove economic obstacles to ensure access to the courts; 2) the components of due process of law in administrative proceedings concerning social rights; 3) the components of due process of law in judicial proceedings concerning social rights; and 4) the components of effective judicial protection of individual and collective social rights.  The report also provides a conceptual framework for the preparation of progress indicators on this issue. 

 

Decisions of the Inter-American Commission with Respect to Petitions, Cases, and Precautionary Measures

 

Chapter III contains the Commissionís decisions on complaints of human rights violations in the member states of the Organization. This Chapter also includes pertinent statistics concerning the Commissionís work, summaries of precautionary measures adopted or extended by the Commission during 2007, and an overview of follow-up on the Commissionís recommendations in decisions published since 2000.

 

During 2007, the Commission approved 51 reports on admissibility, 14 reports on inadmissibility, 5 reports on friendly settlement, and 13 preliminary reports on the merits.  During this year, the Commission published 4 final reports on the merits, and submitted a total of 14 cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  Over this period, the Commission issued a total of 40 requests that Member States take urgent precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to persons.

 

The statistics concerning the case system demonstrate that more and more individuals are coming to the Commission seeking an efficient and effective response.  The number of petitions received by the Commission has increased in every year since 1999, and during 2007, the Commission received a record number of complaints, totaling 1,456.  The Commission accepted 126 petitions as satisfying the minimum requirements for opening a case, raising the total number of individual petitions and cases currently being processed to 1,251.

 

In responding to the challenge of its large and increasing backlog of cases, the Commission, with the support of external funding, is currently implementing the first stage of a comprehensive process designed to bring the processing of individual petitions up to date.  Iím pleased to report that this first stage, which focuses on the initial evaluation of older petitions, is meeting the benchmarks established at the outset of the project.  The Commission is now implementing changes to bring the subsequent stages of the petition system to a more timely resolution as well. 

 

The effectiveness of the Commissionís contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights in the region through its system of contentious cases depends, of course, on cooperation from the Member States in implementing the Commissionís recommendations.  This Annual Report indicates that some states have done so to an important degree, but that the level of compliance overall remains unacceptably low.  There are many cases in which the states concerned have yet to fully implement the recommendations issued, and the Commission will continue to follow-up and report on those cases. 
 

Development of Human Rights in the Region: The Situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela

 

Chapter IV of the 2007 Annual Report contains the Commissionís synthesis of the human rights situation in those OAS Member States where the Commission has concluded that human rights conditions call for special attention. Accordingly, this Chapter reports on the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.

 

          In its report on the situation in Colombia, the Commission highlights that the achievement of a lasting peace requires that measures be put in place to guarantee the non-repetition of human rights violations and gross violations of international humanitarian law.  To that end, past violations must be investigated and reparations made for the consequences of the violence, using mechanisms that establish the truth about what happened, administer justice and compensate the victims of the conflict.  The particular challenge in 2007 has been to achieve concrete results through the dismantling the armed paramilitary structures and to implement the framework of laws to prosecute the crimes committed by the AUC.  The IACHR continues to be concerned by the fact that some groups are taking up arms again and new groups are forming.  The Commission urges the Colombian Government to implement effective mechanisms to ensure that the structures of the AUC are dismantled and criminal gangs broken up.

 

          In its report, the Commission manifests its concern for the toll the violence takes on the civilian population in Colombia, particularly the most vulnerable sectors such as indigenous peoples, the Afro-Colombian communities, and the displaced.  It draws the Stateís attention to the increasing number of complaints alleging the involvement of police or military in violations of human rights.  The Commission also remains concerned about the precarious situation of human rights defenders and social leaders who often face reprisals in connection with their work. 

 

          With respect to Cuba, the Commission continued to receive information regarding the human rights situation from international agencies, civil society, and the Cuban Government through the official web page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba. During the period of this report, the Commission held hearings in which it received information about the conditions facing prison inmates, on the situation of imprisoned union members, and on compliance with the recommendations issued in merits report in the case of Oscar ElŪas Biscet and others (Case 12.476).

 

          The Commissionís assessment highlights concerns with respect to due process and the independence of the judiciary; the detention conditions in which political dissidents are held and the harassment of dissidents; restrictions on freedom of expression and harassment targeting independent journalists; and the situation faced by human rights defenders and trade union leaders. Although the economic and commercial sanctions imposed on the Government of Cuba do not constitute any justification for the Government of Cubaís restrictions on these human rights, the Commission does believe that the sanctions are obstacles to the effective realization of economic, social, and cultural rights by the Cuban people, and should be lifted.

 

          In reporting on Haiti, the Commission observed a notable improvement in comparison with previous years, specifically with regard to the reduction in deadly violence and kidnappings of civilians.  The Commissionís report recognizes a series of initiatives by the State to address key challenges to achieving sustainable peace and security. In particular, the Commission notes a concerted effort by the State, with support of the international community, to strengthen institutions in the administration of justice, including the introduction of a specialized response to the problem of prolonged pretrial detention, legislative measures in the area of judicial independence and the reinforcement of the national police force.

 

The Commission emphasizes, however, that the situation in Haiti remains precarious.  State institutions remain weak, deficient and in need of structural reforms and assistance. Further, Haitiís social and economic situation remains extremely fragile. The Commission remains very concerned about deficiencies in the administration of justice and citizen security, and the Stateís capacity to guarantee access to basic social services for the population.  Given the essential role of the justice system in ensuring respect for fundamental rights as well as the full realization of democracy and the rule of law, the Commission emphasizes the need for the State to further develop its capacity to administer justice effectively and promptly with due judicial guarantees in order to ensure respect for human rights in Haiti.

 

Finally, with regard to the situation in Venezuela, the principal concerns that the Commission identified as affecting the full enjoyment of human rights during 2007 include the transparency and independence of the administration of justice; the existence of direct and indirect limitations on freedom of expression, including the criminalization of social protest; the systematic discrediting of nongovernmental organizations critical of the government and of human rights defenders; growing problems with citizen security; and inhuman conditions for persons deprived of liberty, as well as the failure to investigate and resolve the deaths of inmates due to violence in Venezuelan prisons. 

 

          Ratification Status of the Human Rights Treaties of the Inter-American     System

 

Lastly, the annexes to the Annual Report contain information concerning the current state of the human rights conventions and protocols on human rights adopted within the inter-American system, as well as copies of press releases issued by the Commission during 2007, and speeches delivered on behalf of the Commission.

 

The Commission has continued to emphasize how important it is for the system to progress towards universal acceptance and application of its norms through ratification of the various regional human rights instruments, especially the American Convention on Human Rights.  The Commission therefore notes with satisfaction that in 2007 Mexico ratified the Protocol to the American Convention to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Dominican Republic deposited its instrument of ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against persons with Disabilities. 

 

The Commission also recognizes in particular the seven states that have already ratified all of the regional human rights treaties:, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Panama and Venezuela.  We invite and encourage other member states to join them.

 

Conclusion

 

Mr. President, Representatives, Observers, Esteemed Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

          On behalf of the Commission, I want to thank the Member States for all the support they have given the Commission in its continuing efforts to fulfill faithfully its mandate.

 

In a special way, the Commission thanks the governments of the following OAS member countries for their financial contributions to the Commission in 2007: Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and the United States. I would also like to thank those observer countries that have supported the Commissionís activities:  Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Spain, and Sweden. The Commission 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 very concrete way to the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system.

 

          I would like to express appreciation for the sense of professionalism and dedication of our Executive Secretary and the professional and administrative Secretariat staff for their tireless work in support of human rights.  The Commissioners are proud of the professional work done by the Executive Secretariat, under the leadership of Dr. Canton, in very demanding circumstances, and give it our wholehearted support. 

 

The Commission has always placed a high priority on maintaining an open and sincere dialogue with the Member States and with civil society regarding the best ways to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights in the Hemisphere.  We look forward to continuing that discussion now and in the future, in furtherance of our common duty to defend the human dignity of every person in our Hemisphere.