THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
DR. CLARE K. ROBERTS
PRESENTATION OF THE 2004 ANNUAL REPORT
OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS TO THE COMMITTEE ON
JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE
April 15, 2005
Mr. Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,
Distinguished representatives of member states and observers to the Organization,
Ladies and gentlemen,
As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ďCommissionĒ), I am pleased to present the Commissionís Annual Report for the year 2004 to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council. Joining me today are our Executive Secretary and professional Secretariat staff.
The report that we are submitting today to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs was approved by the Commission at its 122nd 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. The report reflects the general activities of the IACHR under the presidency of Dr. Jose Zalaquett. I will complement the presentation of this report with a powerpoint presentation including details about the individual petition system and the financial condition of the Commission.
Within a climate of achievements and challenges in human rights protection, the Commission continued to represent during 2004 an important forum for the defense of democracy and advancement of human rights in the hemisphere. During 2004, the Commission continued reflecting on ways to strengthen the Inter-American System as an effective mechanism to counter the increasing challenges and needs of the region in this area. The Commission recognizes that there are new challenges to confront, foremost among which, are the observance by the States of the rule of law and the effective protection of economic, social, and cultural rights.
Human rights situation in 2004
During 2004, there were positive advances in key areas for the protection of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law. Notable achievements include the launch of a comprehensive national program to address human rights concerns in Mexico at the public policy level; the adoption of constitutional reforms to eradicate impunity for human rights violations in Brazil; and the organization of a referendum in Venezuela, despite conditions of extreme political polarization.
Among the promising trends in 2004 were the continuing efforts to curb impunity for serious human rights violations committed in preceding decades. Major highlights were the prosecution of former dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile for the atrocities committed during the military dictatorship and the publication of an in-depth report that covers incidents of political imprisonment and torture during said dictatorship; the elimination of various legal obstacles that impeded the judicial prosecution in cases of ďdisappearancesĒ and other human rights violations in Argentina; the creation of a Truth Committee in Paraguay; acknowledgments of international responsibility for serious human rights violations by Guatemala and Peru in cases pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; and the signing of a comprehensive friendly settlement in cases of forced disappearance that occurred during the civil war in Honduras. A number of important legal developments also took place during 2004, such as the reaffirmation in the United States of the right to judicial review when citizens or persons classified as enemy combatants are arrested for terrorism charges and the possibility of reopening criminal investigations based on decisions of international organizations.
Nevertheless, these positive developments have taken place in a context where political, economic and social crises predominate in several countries, which threaten the rule of law and the process of strengthening democracy in the hemisphere. Deteriorating economic and social conditions in various countries have provoked mass popular demonstrations that have often been met with excessive use of force by the police, and in many cases, intensified the political instability. Haiti was involved in a grave institutional crisis amid rising political violence, as the prevailing economic conditions continued to deteriorate. In Ecuador, the removal and dismissal of a number of Supreme Court magistrates, judges of the Constitutional Tribunal and of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has raised deep concerns about the effective functioning of institutions that are key to the rule of law and the respect for the principle of separation and independence of powers. Corruption, still a region-wide phenomenon, continues to impede the construction of democratic and transparent societies. Further, the vast majority of the States have not addressed the causes and consequences produced by social exclusion and discrimination based on ethnicity, class, race, and gender. In the same vein, the Commission notes that high poverty rates and the extensive inequality prevailing in the region continue to limit the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, and negatively affects the observance of many civil and political rights.
Likewise, crime and citizen insecurity reached alarming proportions in various countries during 2004. In many countries, the insecurity generated by the high rates of crime and the growing inequality led both the governments and the general public to demonstrate a higher tolerance for repressive methods used by the police. In this context, torture and excessive use of force are tools commonly used by the security forces in many countries in the region.
Given this reality and context, it is necessary for the Commission to reflect on how to respond more effectively to the problems mentioned. This process of reflection was already initiated by the Commission, and continued during 2004, motored by an extraordinary period of sessions in Mexico that benefited from the presence of judges from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as important representatives from government agencies and civil society organizations across the region. The Commission wants to specially thank the government of Mexico for the invitation to hold this extraordinary period of sessions. The process has been driven by certain basic premises, among these, the need to build consensus around strengthening the Inter-American System of human rights protection through a participatory approach that includes each and every actor associated with the system and the strengthening of effective mechanisms within the Commission, such as the thematic rapporteurships. The Commission understands, furthermore, that this reflection process should include an analysis of its promotional and political role in the future and define how to respond to situations of serious human rights violations in a quick and effective fashion.
Moreover, this reflection exercise must lead to overcoming one of the endemic and urgent problems that plagues the Commission: budgetary limitations. Over the years, the Inter-American Commission has responsibly assumed the various mandates assigned to it by the General Assembly and Summits of the Americas, which recognize and reaffirm its legitimacy and its important role for the States. There is an urgent need to identify measures that lead to increased funding and resources in order for the Commission to continue fulfilling its mandate and assigned tasks.
Lastly, the Commission considers that, in order to ensure effective and comprehensive completion of its functions and mandates, it must have complete independence and sufficient autonomy in administrative, financial and political matters, which is indispensable for an international organization.
Structure and Summary of the 2004 Annual Report
The Annual Report is divided into three volumes, the first two of which relate to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the third of which contains the report of the Commissionís Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2004 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. In the opening of my presentation, I highlighted several of the matters addressed by the Commission in Chapter I of its Annual Report.
Chapter II offers a brief introduction of the origins and legal foundations of the Commission and describes the main activities carried out by the Commission during the year. In this respect, the Chapter highlights the activities conducted during the Commissionís two regular sessions and one special session. As I mentioned before, during the period between the regular sessions of the Inter-American Commission, a joint session was held with judges representing the Inter-American Court and with personnel of its Secretariat, in Mexico City, during its 120th special session. On that occasion, a number of questions of interest to both bodies were addressed, referring in particular to consideration of ways to strengthen the Inter-American system of human rights, a reflection process that the Commission has continued involving the participation of other actors in the hemisphere.
Chapter II also describes the on-site and special visits and promotional and other activities undertaken by the Commission throughout the year and the Commissionís activities related to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and during the regular session of the OAS General Assembly in June 2004 in Quito, Ecuador.
Members of the Inter-American Commission and representatives of its thematic rapporteurships undertook a number of visits throughout the year. At the invitation of the member states concerned, the Commission undertook visits to Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua. The Inter-American Commission also visited Colombia at the invitation of the OAS Permanent Council to provide advisory services to the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS Mission). The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women visited Guatemala at the invitation of the government of President Oscar Berger, where it held meetings with high-level government authorities, civil society organizations and the academic sector to collect information on the situation of womenís rights and violence against women. The Rapporteurs on Children and on the Rights of Detained Persons and the United Nations Childrenís Fund undertook a joint visit to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras where they gathered information about the situation of boys, girls and adolescents involved with gangs and the living conditions of persons deprived of freedom. I would like to take this opportunity to express the Commissionís thanks to the governments of the corresponding states for their cooperation in achieving the objectives set out during the visits in 2004.
In connection with certain visits conducted prior to and during 2004, the Commission published several reports concerning the situation of human rights in particular member states. On March 18, 2004, the Commission released its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, which examines the issues of administration of justice, the role of the armed forces and the police, the state of freedom of expression and the consequences of political polarization in Venezuela following the coup díetat of April 11, 2002 and the reinstatement of President Hugo Chavez on April 14, 2002. On March 22, 2004, the Commission presented its report Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges Facing Democracy in Guatemala. The report analyzes the current state of administration of justice and the rule of law in Guatemala and makes recommendations to the Guatemalan State, covering issues such as access to justice, security for citizens, the current status of freedom of expression, and the status of human rights defenders, indigenous people, women and children. On December 29, 2004, the Commission published its Report on the Process of Demobilization in Colombia, as a follow-up to the visit of the Commissionís Rapporteur and the Executive Secretary at the invitation of the OAS Permanent Council, as described earlier.
Furthermore, throughout 2004, members of the Commission and the Secretariat participated in numerous international conferences, workshops and training sessions on the international protection of human rights and related topics. The Commissionís Rapporteur for Haiti visited and participated in seminars in St. Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to advise the Working Group of the OAS Permanent Council charged with preparing a draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and issued a recompilation of the publication Jurisprudence on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Inter-American System. The Special Rapporteurship on Children concluded its strengthening program, developed jointly with the Inter-American Development Bank, by conducting eleven workshops in various countries in the Hemisphere and the publication of a text entitled The Rights of the Child in the Inter-American System for Human Rights.
The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families continued to actively participate with the working group of the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs responsible for developing an Inter-American program for the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants. The Special Rapporteur on Detained Persons participated in numerous conferences including the Second World Congress against the Death Penalty in Montreal, Canada in September and visited a number of jails in several countries in our hemisphere.
I want to make special mention of the inter-disciplinary course on the Inter-American Human Rights System for government officials, in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Commission would like to take this opportunity to thank the Member States and the representatives who participated in this training exercise. We will continue with this effort with a follow-up course for Caribbean Member States. As you know, this initiative is building from our training workshops for members of the Permanent Missions, organized by our Secretariat in Washington, DC.
Throughout 2004, the Commission also continued its work relating to the situation of human rights defenders in the region. On the occasion of December 10, 2004, Human Rights Day, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peopleís Rights and the Executive Secretary of the Commission issued a statement commending the European Union for adopting its Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders as an important protection tool for activists who are promoting human rights at great personal risk and recognizing the main challenges to be resolved concerning the protection of defenders around the world. The Commission also participated in numerous exchanges with civil society and with the States and continued training the defendersí units of Member States. It recognizes the creation in Brazil of a working group to elaborate a national program to protect human rights defenders. The Commission is also working very closely with the defendersí unit of the African System.
In conclusion, the Commission has fulfilled all of the mandates assigned to it by the General Assembly and the Summit of Americas. However, many of these activities were undertaken by the Commission through voluntary contributions and outside sources of funding, due to continuing shortfalls in the Commissionís regular budget. In this respect, we once again wish to emphasize the need for Member States to fulfill their commitment to augment the Commissionís regular budget so that it may continue to meet its expanding responsibilities and mandates.
Chapter III, the longest in the Report, contains the Commissionís decisions on complaints of human rights violations in the member states of the Organization. The Chapter also includes pertinent statistics concerning the Commissionís work, summaries of precautionary measures adopted or extended by the Commission during 2004, and an overview of follow-up on the Commissionís recommendations in decisions published since 2001.
In the period under analysis, the Commission published a total of 65 reports, including 45 reports declaring petitions admissible, 9 reports declaring petitions inadmissible, 3 reports on friendly settlement, and 4 reports on merits. Over the same period, the Commission granted a total of 37 precautionary measures pursuant to Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, to prevent irreparable harm to persons. Also during 2004, the Commission received a total of 1,329 individual complaints and initiated the processing of 160 of those petitions, resulting in a total of 1021 individual cases and petitions being processed by the Commission in 2004. In addition, the Commission referred a total of 12 cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. All of this was accomplished as a result of the tireless efforts of a small number of Executive Secretary staff and the Commission members. These circumstances place considerable pressure on the Executive Secretariat, as it attempts to manage this increasing case load while at the same time handling the Commissionís growing mandates in other areas, with a budget that remains constant or even diminished in real terms.
The strength of the Inter-American human rights system depends on compliance with the Commissionís recommendations, the Courtís decisions, and urgent protective measures. As shown on the chart in part D of Chapter III, various states have complied with them fully or in part. At the same time, there are many outstanding cases in which the states concerned have yet to fully implement the recommendations issued. In this respect, it is important to reiterate the requirement that member states do their utmost to comply in good faith with the Commissionís recommendations.
Chapter IV of the 2004 Annual Report contains analyses of the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, and Haiti. As I indicated previously, the information in the Annual Report pertains only to events during calendar year 2004. Since December 2004, however, there have been new and important developments concerning the countries discussed in Chapter IV, some of which I will highlight in my comments today. In addition, in Chapter V the Commission evaluates the measures taken to comply with the recommendations put forward by the Commission in its reports Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges of Democracy in Gautemala and the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, both published on 2003.
Concerning Colombia, the Commission recognizes the efforts made by the State in order to put and end to the violence generated by the armed conflict as an objective of fundamental importance for peace, stability and governance, shared by the government and the civil society. However the Commission must reiterate its concern regarding the impact of the armed conflict upon the civilian population and, in particular, vulnerable groups, such as the indigenous, afro descendent and displaced communities as well as the attacks and threats against human rights defenders, social and labor union leaders.
In spite of the commitment of some Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia leaders to cease hostilities and the demobilization in various areas of the country, paramilitary violence against civilians continues. In this respect the Commission must underscore that for the time being, the demobilization process has moved forward without the support of a comprehensive legal framework that clarifies the conditions under which persons responsible for committing human rights violations are to demobilize, or their relationship with the peace process and recommends the adoption of a comprehensive legal framework that establishes clear conditions for the demobilization of illegal armed groups, in accordance with the Stateís international obligations. This legal framework should provide for the situation of those who have joined processes for individual and collective demobilization to clarify their situation. Moreover, genuine mechanisms of participation should be put in place, in secure conditions, for the victims of the conflict, so as to ensure access to truth, justice, and reparation.
With regard to Cuba, the Commission notes in 2004 positive developments reported by specialized international human rights bodies, such as the high quality of the sanitation system, which has played a decisive role in reducing infant mortality and in increasing the life expectancy of the population, low illiteracy rates and the high percentage of women employed in the public sector. The Commission, however, continued to receive information about the serious human rights situation in the country, including the dire conditions of those detained, and the disrespect of key human rights such as those related to labor, freedom of association and expression, women, movement and residence, justice and due process protections.
According to information received by the Commission during its 119th regular session, people deprived of their liberty in Cuba are subjected to abusive conditions and are generally confined in overpopulated cells. On the other hand, the Commission received information during 2004 of 19 cases where the rights of workers and labor leaders had been breached, ranging from aggressive acts carried out by the National Revolutionary Police to the firing of leaders protected by the legally independent status of trade unions. The Commission was also informed of repression and human rights violations against women considered dissidents or government opponents. The Commission also notes that the Cuban State continues to refuse to recognize the right of its citizens to leave and return to the country and to disseminate all types of information and ideas.
In this annual report, the Commission reiterates its serious concern for the situation of human rights in Haiti. The year 2004 witnessed dramatic changes in the political landscape of Haiti, which included the departure of former President Jean Bertrand-Aristide at the end of February following a violent uprising, the installation of a transitional government in March, and the arrival of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in June. The Commissionís activities in Haiti in 2004 were necessarily influenced by these major developments, including a visit by the Commissionís Rapporteur for Haiti in September to meet with members of the transitional government and evaluate the human rights situation. Based upon its activities relating to Haiti this year, the Commission is still very concerned at the lack of protection and guarantees to the basic human rights of the population, exacerbated by the alarming security situation, the absence of a sufficiently trained and staffed national police force, impunity against past human rights abuses, and systemic violations of the rights of vulnerable groups, including women, children, human rights defenders, and journalists, and politically motivated violence. Formidable barriers to the protection of human rights in Haiti are the fundamental social problems that have consistently plagued the country such as extreme poverty, high illiteracy and malnutrition.
During its September visit, the Commission was encouraged by indications on the part of officials from the transitional government that human rights played a central role in their work. However, since that time the Commission has witnessed a further deterioration of the conditions in Haiti, owning mainly to an increase in violence by armed groups and gangs coupled with the failure of the government, with international assistance, to ensure the security of the population throughout the country. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation in Haiti and to offer its assistance to the government and its people in the coming year. The Commission also encourages the international community to continue supporting Haiti in the many challenges it faces, particularly in the context of the coming elections at the end of 2005.
Concerning Guatemala, in 2003 the Commission prepared its report entitled Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges of Democracy in Guatemala following its on-site visit to that State in March of that same year. In its report, the Commission sets forth its observations, conclusions, and recommendations on the human rights situation in Guatemala, particularly regarding the administration of justice and citizen security, as well as the situation of human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, women, children, and freedom of expression. In 2004, the Commission has noted and commends a number of gestures from the government of Guatemala as clear examples of the willingness to implement an effective human rights agenda. These efforts include President Oscar Bergerís statements at the anniversary of the presentation of the Report of the Committee for Historical Clarification on February 25, 2004, when he apologized, on behalf of the Guatemalan State, to victims of the domestic armed conflict, as well as acknowledging international responsibility in the cases of the Pan de Sanchez Massacre, the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and the execution of Jorge Capio Nicolle, among others.
With regard to progress made in the fulfillment of recommendations issued to the State in the 2003 report, it is important to highlight the efforts of the State and the Judiciary in the modernization and training efforts to combat impunity for present and past human rights abuses; in designing a national plan to combat violence and to improve the coordination of national security organs; the creation of a Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism against the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala; steps to improve the legal and institutional framework to overcome historic forms of discrimination and violence against women; and the improvement in the conditions for the exercise of freedom of expression, among others. At the same time, the Commission notes that some areas have not shown notable progress, such as the lack of personnel resources, infrastructure and equipment needed to carry out the National Civil Policeís task of preventing and investigating crime; the lack of progress in judicial investigations of the human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples during the armed conflict; the failure to investigate, try and punish those responsible for violence against women, despite the alarming growth in the number of murders; and continued assaults on journalists and a de facto monopoly in television, among other areas of concern.
On December 29, 2003, the Commission approved the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela. In that report, the Commission focused on issues relating to the administration of justice and human rights, civil society, state security, the right to life and to humane treatment, the freedom of expression and thought, and trade union freedoms. The Commission issued a series of recommendations intended to assist the Venezuelan State in its obligation to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights and freedoms protected by the American Convention on Human Rights for persons subjected to its jurisdiction. The analysis of compliance with the recommendations issued by the Inter-American Commission in its report on Venezuela reveals that the climate of violence and of political and social tension diminished during 2004. The Inter-American Commission recognizes the efforts made by both the State and by civil society to seek channels of dialogue within a framework of respect for the rule of law and for human rights. In addition, the Inter-American Commission welcomes the information provided by the State on initiatives taken to design and implement a public safety program that respects the parameters for guaranteeing and protecting human rights.
Nevertheless, the Commission remains concerned over the position adopted by the State with respect to the recommendations of the Commission, and its tendency to reject any questions on the grounds that they infringe on national sovereignty. Moreover, among the main aspects limiting the effective enjoyment of human rights are the continuing doubts about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; the impunity that results from the lack of serious and effective investigation of human rights violations, and the consequent failure to punish those responsible and to compensate the victims; the persistence of parapolice operating in various states of the country; and the approval of laws or judicial rulings that contravene the parameters of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. The Commission also expresses its deepest concern with the high percentage of provisional judges and prosecutors that have been appointed, a situation that seriously affects the right to an adequate justice system. The Commission also reiterates its concern regarding the situation of risk and stigmatization suffered by human rights defenders in Venezuela, as well as the climate of hostility faced by organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights.
The follow-up report consequently notes that many of the recommendations have unfortunately not been fulfilled and reminds the State of its obligations to comply in good faith with its international human rights obligations. The Commission offers its cooperation and assistance to the Venezuelan State, within the scope of its competence, to enhance compliance efforts.
Chapter V of the Commissionís 2004 Annual Report contains the Sixth Progress Report of the Commissionís Rapporteur on Migrant Workers and their Families, which outlines the main activities in this area in 2004. It reviews the case law of the inter-American system as well as policies and practices relating to the human rights of migrant workers and their families.
As with past annual reports, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared a 2004 report on the matter, which constitutes Volume III of the Annual Report. According to the mandate of the Commission, the report covers themes and activities that were priorities for the Rapporteurship during the year, including the evaluation of the status of the freedom of expression in the hemisphere, summary of the caselaw on freedom of expression of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and domestic caselaw of Member States, a report on access to information in the hemisphere, a report on the impact of the concentration of media ownership, a report on hate speech and the American Convention on Human Rights, and the issue of ďDesacato Laws and Criminal DefamationĒ. Also during 2004, the Office of the Special Rapporteur published a range of materials and books to promote freedom of expression in the Americas, including the book Access to Information in the Americas, under the auspices of PRODECA and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
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 2004, and speeches delivered on behalf of the Commission.
Mr. Chair, representatives, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, I would like to emphasize that the support of the Member States and their collaboration in the Commissionís work are crucial to ensuring the genuine effectiveness of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. In 2004, as in previous years, the Commission has submitted a comprehensive and detailed report concerning the situation of human rights in our Hemisphere. The pages of this report are of no consequence, however, without a commitment on the part of member states and the political organs of our Organization to address the problems and challenges identified by the Commission. As the Commission has emphasized on numerous occasions, and as member states themselves have recognized, the inter-American human rights system is in dire need of additional resources. The absence of adequate funding for the mandates given to the Commission and to the Inter-American Court places the entire system in jeopardy, and it is therefore imperative that governments take concrete measures to ensure that the necessary resources are made available for both organs so that they may perform their duties effectively and independently. On this occasion, I would like to thank all countries that, by their contributions, made the Commissionís work possible in 2004: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico, Finland, the European Commission, France, Denmark, Spain, and Sweden.
Finally, 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 extremely difficult circumstances and within the full extent of its capabilities, and give it our wholehearted support.
The Commission also today 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.
To conclude, let me now show you some slides that shed light on some of the topics presented today.