SPEECH BY THE CHAIR

OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

DINAH SHELTON

 

PRESENTATION OF THE 2010 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 14, 2011 

 

Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs; distinguished representatives of the Organization’s member states and observer countries; representatives of civil society; ladies and gentlemen:

 

As Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am pleased to present the Commission’s 2010 Annual Report to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council. I am joined today by the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Santiago Canton, the Deputy Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, by the members of the Executive Secretariat’s staff, and by the Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero.

 

The report I am submitting to you today was adopted by the Inter-American Commission in February of 2011 and was prepared in accordance with the guidelines set by the General Assembly and in compliance with Article 58 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The report describes the general activities carried out by the IACHR, under the leadership of Commissioner Felipe González, who was Chair of the Commission during 2010.

 

Structure and summary of the 2010 Annual Report

 

The Report is divided into two parts: the first part describes the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; the second part contains the report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

 

Chapter I refers to the challenges that are faced by many persons in the region, especially human rights defenders, afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, women, migrant workers, children and LGBTI persons. Discrimination and social exclusion continue to be a central problem faced by these persons. Combating and eliminating such discrimination is one of the foremost responsibilities of Member States.

 

Activities of the Inter-American Commission in 2010

 

 Chapter II of the Annual Report contains a brief overview of the Commission’s origins and legal bases, together with a description of the most important activities it carried out during 2010. Those activities included three sessions, during which the Commission adopted 179 reports on individual cases, held 88 hearings and 47 working meetings.  The Commission also conducted a number of working and thematic visits and participated in hearings at the Inter-American Court. This reflects the great number and diversity of tasks carried out by Commission.

 

During 2010, the IACHR approved and/or published a total of 7 thematic and country reports. The topics addressed by the Commission in these reports include such problems as maternal health, citizen security and human rights and the Situation of the Guarani Indigenous People and Contemporary Forms of Slavery in the Bolivian Chaco.

  

Among the thematic and working visits carried out, The Rapporteur for Argentina visited that country on February 2010, and held meetings with senior authorities from the federal and provincial governments, as well as with representatives of civil society to encourage compliance with friendly settlement agreements and the IACHR’s recommendations

 

The Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty visited Ecuador in May 2010 and met with government authorities, agencies of the United Nations system, and civil society. It also visited the Women’s Social Rehabilitation Center in Quito and Litoral Penitentiary in Guayaquil. Likewise, the Rapporteur traveled to Argentina on June 2010, visited several detention facilities and met with senior government officials and representatives of civil society working on the conditions of persons deprived of liberty.

 

The IACHR visited Honduras on May 15 to 18, 2010, in order to follow up on its August 2009 on-site visit and its report Honduras: Human Rights and the Coup d’État. During its visit, the IACHR met with authorities from the three branches of government: the Minister Special Commissioner for Human Rights; the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights; the Vice Minister for Security and the Directorate of the National Police; the Supreme Court of Justice; the officers of the National Congress and the Congressional Human Rights Committee; the Minister of Defense and the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces; and the Interinstitutional Human Rights Commission. In addition, it held meetings with human rights defenders, media workers, representatives of civil society, and members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It also met with representatives of the United Nations system in Honduras and with ambassadors from the Stockholm Declaration Follow-up Group (G 16).

 

At the end of its visit, the Commission expressed extreme concern over the continuation of human rights violations in the context of the coup d’état of June 28, 2009. It was noted some progress with the restoration of democratic institutions. On June 3, 2010, the IACHR published its preliminary observations on its May 2010 visit.

 

The Rapporteur for Brazil made a working visit to the Federative Republic of Brazil on June 28 to July 2, 2010, during which it received up-to-date information on the general human rights situation in that country, particularly with regard to citizen security.

 

As Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples I visited Paraguay on September 2010, to observe the general situation of the country’s indigenous peoples as well as to visit indigenous communities with cases before the inter-American human rights system and to learn about the efforts of the national government in connection with them. The delegation visited the communities of Yakye Axa, Sawhoyamaxa, and Kelyenmagategma, and it met with government authorities and with indigenous leaders and authorities.

 

The Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty visited El Salvador in October 2010. During this visit, the Rapporteur visited several detention centers and met with senior government officials.

 

The Rapporteur on the rights of women also visited El Salvador in November 2010, at the invitation of the Salvadorian government. The main aim of the visit was to gather information on forms of discrimination faced by women in the exercise of their economic, social, and cultural rights, in relation to the hemispheric report that the IACHR is preparing on that topic.

 

On December 2010, in my capacity as Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, I made a working visit to Panama, in order to gather evidence for the adoption of decisions on the merits on several cases regarding indigenous communities in that country. During the visit, I met with officials of the national government, and traveled to the communities involved in the cases.

 

Many other states in the region also invited the Commission to conduct visits during 2010, which it has as yet been unable to do. The Commission would like to extend its thanks to those member states that have invited the Commission to visit them and to those that have kept those invitations open, because such visits play a key role in its work of promoting and protecting human rights in the Hemisphere. The Commission’s freedom to conduct visits and observe human rights situations has historically been a fundamental mechanism for ensuring the effectiveness of the Inter-American human rights system, even during the worst of the repressive periods endured by some of the region’s countries.

 

During 2010, the IACHR’s various rapporteurships continued with their activities in support of a series of thematic initiatives and the system of individual petitions and cases.

 

The Rapporteurship on Indigenous Peoples conducted two working visits and organized and participated in several training seminars for lawyers, leaders, and defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples. In June, in conjunction with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, the Rapporteurship conducted a training seminar on the inter-American and international systems for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. Held in Washington, the seminar was attended by over a dozen indigenous leaders and lawyers representing peoples and organizations from the United States and Canada. In 2010, the Rapporteurship also concluded the editing and updating of the IACHR’s thematic report on indigenous peoples’ rights over their ancestral territories and natural resources.

 

The Rapporteurship on the rights of women published a follow-up report on the recommendations made in the report Violence and Discrimination Against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia, published on October 18, 2006. Likewise, and as a part of its initiative on women’s reproductive rights, on August 2, 2010, the IACHR published its report Access to Maternal Health Services from a Human Rights Perspective, which identifies the human rights obligations of OAS member States in guaranteeing all women effective and discrimination-free access to maternal health services. The Rapporteurship also organized two expert meetings in Washington, D.C. on October, which were focused on identifying progress and challenges in the discrimination-free protection of the economic, social, and cultural rights of women in the areas of employment, education, and access to and control of resources in the Americas. Finally, the Rapporteurship made a working visit to El Salvador on November 17 to 19, 2010, to gather information at the national level on the main progress made and challenges faced by women in exercising their economic, social, and cultural rights without discrimination.

 

The Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child prepared the conceptual framework, methodology, questionnaire, surveys, and guidelines for a Report on the Situation of Institutionalized Children and Adolescents in the Americas, which will be prepared during 2011. The Rapporteur for the Rights of the Child attended several outreach events in the Americas related to the Report on Corporal Punishment and Human Rights of Children and Adolescents. These included events on citizen security and violence against children organized by the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF in El Salvador and in Panama City.

 

The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty made three working visits to countries of the region during 2010 which included visits to detention centers and participated in several seminars and workshops on detention conditions.

 

The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination continued to provide technical assistance to the Working Group of the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs charged with preparing a Draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. The rapporteurship also participated in several promotional activities throughout the year.

 

The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families attended the “7th Regional Course on International Refugee Law in Latin America,” which was hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and took place in Panama City on September. The Rapporteur also gave a special message at the “Meeting on Transnational Organized Crime and Migrant Security,” held in Mexico City on October and attended the “Regional Humanitarian Conference on the Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons,” held in Quito, Ecuador, in November, among other activities.

 

The Human Rights Defenders Unit continued to work on preparing the follow-up report on the Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, approved on March 7, 2006. For this purpose, the Unit sent out questionnaires to gather updated information from the member states and civil society in late 2010. In addition, the Defenders Unit attended the “3rd Meeting of Protection Mechanisms for Human Rights Defenders,” held in Warsaw, Poland, on December, 2010.

 

Chapter III contains the Commission’s decisions on allegations of human rights violations in the Organization’s member states. This chapter also includes statistics on the IACHR’s different tasks, summaries of the precautionary measures adopted or expanded by the Commission during 2010, and an overview of follow-up on the recommendations handed down by the Commission in the decisions it has published since the year 2000.

 

During 2010, the IACHR received 1,598 new individual petitions and transmitted 275 petitions to the member States, that is approximately 16%. It received 375 precautionary measures requests, and granted 68, that is, the Commission granted approximately one in every five requests. Finally, it submitted 16 cases to the Inter-American Court.

 

One of the Commission’s main tasks is its individual petitions system. The duties performed in the context of that system have ensured redress for many serious human rights violations, the correction of systemic deficiencies in public policies and legislation, and brought about of significant changes in the Hemisphere’s understanding of the content and scope of human rights.

 

Partly as a consequence of these achievements, it should come as no surprise that currently, and with a trend that continues to rise, the Commission receives more than 1,500 new petitions and several hundred requests for precautionary measures every year.  As such, it carries out an increasing number of activities in performing its task of protecting and promoting human rights in the region. This is also enlarged due to the growing number of mandates handed down by the OAS General Assembly, covering topics from the situation of migrant workers to terrorism and human rights, and including the situations of women, children, senior citizens, economic, social, and cultural rights, and many others. In addition, the number of the IACHR’s working visits continues to increase, as does its participation in academic activities and at meetings of the OAS’s political bodies. We are also consciously expanding our contacts with the Member States.  Another area of the Commission’s work that has seen notable growth is its publication of thematic reports containing recommendations for the member states. While in previous decades there were very few reports of that kind, in recent years the Commission has published more than 17 thematic reports, which have been welcomed by the Hemisphere’s states and civil society.

 

These increases in its workload have not been reflected in a corresponding increase in the resources allocated to the IACHR, as was discussed at the special meeting convened in Ottawa in March 2011.  The Commission has continued to adopt and implement measures to maximize its resources in order to comply in an effective way with the mandates conferred upon it. As part of its initiatives to have a more sustainable financing that would allow the IACHR to implement a comprehensive program, we designed a strategic plan 2011- 2015, which has been circulated to the Member States and civil society.

  

The IACHR remains concerned with increasing its effectiveness through its system of contentious cases.  This requires the cooperation of the member states in implementing the recommendations issued by the Commission. This Annual Report indicates that some states have made significant efforts in that regard, but that the general level of compliance remains low. There are many cases in which the respondent states have not yet fully implemented the recommendations issued, and the Commission will therefore continue to monitor those cases closely and to report on developments.

 

Chapter IV of the 2010 Annual Report contains a specific analysis of the human rights situation in those OAS member states identified by the Commission as warranting particular attention. Thus, this chapter describes the situation of human rights in Colombia, Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela.  The identification of the states was made by the Commission in application of the standards it adopted in 1997. 

 

The report on the situation in Colombia recognizes the complex situation facing the state after five decades of violence, which has had devastating impact on the civilian population, as well as the effect of drug trafficking and the State's endeavors to combat the problem. The IACHR pays particular attention to the advances and challenges in investigating crimes committed during the conflict, including the participation of the paramilitary leaders who have applied for the benefits granted by the Justice and Peace Law and who are present in Colombia, and those who have been extradited to the United States, in proceedings under the said Law.  The report points to persistent patterns of violations of the rights to life and to personal integrity, the situation of ethnic groups, and the activities of the intelligence services against human rights defenders, social leaders and judicial officers.

 

The IACHR decided to include Cuba in this chapter of its annual report, after considering the situation of political rights; guarantees of due process and independence of the judicial branch; restrictions on the right of residence and movement; deprivation of liberty of political dissidents; restrictions on the freedom of expression; and the situation of human rights defenders. Consideration is also given to the economic and trade sanctions imposed on the Government of Cuba and the impact of such economic sanctions on the human rights of the Cuban population.  It has insisted that the embargo should be ended.

 

Special mention is made this year of the positive development that saw the release of dissidents, opposition figures, human rights activists, and independent journalists who were arrested in March 2003 for exercising their right to freedom of expression, most of them victims in case 12,476 approved by the IACHR in October 2006. The IACHR noted these releases and encouraged the Cuban State to release all political prisoners. 

 

Regarding Honduras, the IACHR has closely followed the human rights situation in Honduras against the backdrop of the coup d’état.  The Commission granted precautionary measures to protect the lives of hundreds of persons as a consequence of the coup d’état; it requested information on the risk posed to certain persons; it also asked for information, pursuant to Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article XIV of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons; it also turned to the Inter-American Court seeking adoption of provisional measures.  Having evaluated the on-going situation, the Commission decided to include Honduras in this chapter.

 

In the discussion of Honduras, the IACHR looks at specific issues, especially violations of the rights of human rights defenders; the harassment of judges and magistrates; freedom of expression in Honduras and the most marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the population. It also examines the status of implementation of the precautionary measures the Commission requested, the problem of impunity and its relationship to the February 2010 Amnesty Decree. The Commission also comments on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; identifies the progress made toward restoring the institutions of democratic government and the challenges yet to be overcome, and makes its recommendations.

 

Finally, the IACHR included Venezuela based on its analysis on information compiled during its hearings, information compiled through the mechanisms for protection, cases and precautionary measures, and information available from other public sources.  After the adoption of its report titled Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, in which it examined developments in the area of human rights in Venezuela and examined and expressed concern over certain human rights issues such as freedom of thought and expression, and the judicial branch’s lack of independence and autonomy from the political branches of government.  The Commission also commented on the serious obstacles that human rights defenders encounter in performing their mission and observed the disturbing situation of citizen insecurity.  The report comments that the State’s failure to demarcate ancestral indigenous lands has caused disputes over ownership of land, disputes that had taken casualties among the indigenous peoples. The Commission continued to monitor the alarming levels of violence in Venezuelan prisons.  The Commission has also highlighted the important headway made by the Venezuelan State in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, both with the recognition of education, health, housing and universal social security as constitutionally protected rights, and with implementation of policies and measures designed to correct the problems besetting vast sectors of the Venezuelan population.

 

In the section of chapter IV regarding Venezuela in its 2010 annual report, the Commission continues to analyze the issues raised in the report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela.

 

Chapter V of the Annual Report provides a follow-up on the recommendations made by the IACHR in its report The Right of Women in Haiti to be Free from Violence and Discrimination of March 10, 2009, in the Observations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights upon conclusion of its April 2007 visit to Haiti, published on March 2, 2008 and in Chapter IV of the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2009. Haiti has continued to receive particular attention from the Inter-American Commission during 2010.

 

Conclusion

 

Mr. Chairman, distinguished representatives and observers, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: on behalf of the Commission, I would like to thank the member states for the support they have given it in its constant efforts to duly discharge its mandate.

 

In particular, the IACHR would like to thank the governments of the following OAS member countries for their contributions this year: Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and the United States. It would also like to thank the observer countries that support the Commission’s activities: Spain, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The Commission also appreciates and thanks the contributions received from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the European Commission, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights, Save the Children/Sweden, and the University of Notre Dame.

  

In addition, I would like to note my thanks to the current Commissioners, who deposited their trust in me by electing me to serve as the Commission’s Chair, and I also would like to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights of our Executive Secretary and all the Secretariat’s staff.

 

The Commission hopes that the member states’ commitment toward improving the inter-American system and, in particular, toward the work of the Commission will be reflected in the allocation of additional resources for its operations, in the ratification of all the Inter-American human rights instruments, and, most particularly, in their compliance with the recommendations and decisions of the system’s organs.