ADDRESS BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION

ON HUMAN RIGHTS, PAOLO G. CAROZZA, AT THE PRESENTATION OF

THE 2007 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE IACHR TO THE

GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES

 

Medellin, June 3, 2008

 


Mr. Chairman of the General Assembly, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

 

As Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am pleased to present to you the Commissionís Annual Report for the year 2007. 

 

Chapter I of our report reflects on the vital role of the Commission and the inter-American human rights system generally in furthering of justice and the rule of law in the countries of our hemisphere.  The system supports Member States in making crucial advances in law, policy and practice at the national level. 

 

Chapter II of the Annual Report describes the primary activities carried out during 2007.  These activities together reflect 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.   The Commission held four periods of sessions last year, including a special session in Asuncion, Paraguay, for which we are grateful to Government of Paraguay for its invitation and support.  In 2007 the Commission also approved 74 reports on individual cases, held 94 hearings and 80 working meetings, and participated in hearings before the Inter-American Court.  Its thematic Rapporteurships issued three reports, conducted seminars, and provided support in the drafting of new regional human rights instruments. The annual report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression forms part of this Annual Report of the Commission.  

 

In the course of 2007, the Commission also conducted a series of working and thematic visits to various countries of the region, including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, and Paraguay.  Many other states of the region also extended invitations to the Commission to visit in 2007, and a significant number have confirmed in writing their permanent, open invitations for the Commission to visit.  The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to all the Member States that have manifested this openness, since such visits play an indispensable role in enabling the Commission to fulfill its mandate to protect and promote human rights throughout the hemisphere.  We urge all of the Member States to provide the Commission with open access to their territories.

 

Chapter III of the Annual Report contains the Commissionís decisions on complaints of human rights violations in the member states of the Organization, and on precautionary measures requested in 2007.  The statistics concerning the case system demonstrate that more and more individuals are coming to the Commission seeking an efficient and effective response.  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 being processed to 1,251 as of the end of 2007.

 

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.  It draws the Stateís attention to the increasing number of complaints alleging the involvement of police or military in violations of human rights, and to the precarious situation of human rights defenders and social leaders who often face reprisals in connection with their work. 

 

With respect to Cuba, 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.

 

In reporting on Haiti, the Commission observed certain notable improvements in the human rights situation in comparison with previous years.  The Commission emphasizes, however, that the situation in Haiti remains precarious.  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. 

 

Finally, with regard to the situation in Venezuela, the principal factors that the Commission identified as affecting the full enjoyment of human rights during 2007 include the lack of transparency and independence of the administration of justice; the existence of direct and indirect limitations on freedom of expression; the systematic discrediting of human rights defenders and of nongovernmental organizations critical of the government; growing problems with citizen security; and inhuman conditions for persons deprived of liberty. 

 

          As the annual report demonstrates, the credibility and effectiveness of the Inter-American human rights system generates demands on the Commission, 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 each year 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, 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, and the budgetary allocations of the OAS do not accurately reflect the Member Statesí stated commitment to human rights as one of the central aims of the Organization.  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, as different aspects 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, and the regular funds of the Commission were only sufficient to fully cover one out of our four periods of sessions.  This places the Commissionís work in a precarious and uncertain state, because there is no stability or long-term assurance of the availability of those funds. 

 

In short, it cannot be stated too strongly that the long-term health and sustainability of the regional human rights system is at stake.  The Commission simply 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. 

 

          Of course, the Commission always bears its own share of the responsibility to act decisively to ensure the continued strength and credibility of the system.  Thus, in responding to the challenge of its large and increasing backlog of cases, the Commission, with the support of external funding, is currently implementing a comprehensive strategy designed to make the processing of individual petitions more efficient.  The first stage, aimed at bringing the initial evaluation of older petitions up to date, is almost complete.  Currently, the Commissionís Executive Secretariat is undergoing a comprehensive restructuring of its internal organization and working methods, in order to maximize the efficiency of its handling of cases.  In addition, with technical and financial assistance from the Secretary Generalís office, the Commission is in the process of digitalizing all of its records and documents, which will also contribute significantly to the Secretariatís ability to process cases more quickly.  Finally, the Commission is currently seeking funding for an ambitious proposal to create a special unit designed to promote greater friendly settlement of contentions cases between petitioners and the Member States. 

 

          The need of the Inter-American human rights system as a whole to respond to the shifting challenges before it have also led the Commission, in conjunction with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to undertake a critical reevaluation of the interrelationship of our two organs in the litigation of contentious cases.  Responding to the evolution of the case system, especially since 2001, and to the need for greater unity and efficiency in the processing of cases, members of the Commission and Court have engaged in a series of discussions that have led to a broad agreement on the basic principles that should animate a reform of our respective rules of procedure.  We have agreed upon a concrete timetable for the elaboration of the details of such reforms, that includes ample opportunity for a full and transparent consultation with the Member States as well as civil society.  It is our hope and expectation that the Commission and Court together can bring this process of procedural reform to a successful conclusion before the end of this calendar year. 

 

In conclusion, on behalf of the Commission, I would like to thank the Member States for all the support, both political and material, they have given the Commission in its continuing efforts to fulfill faithfully its mandate.  In a special way, the Commission thanks the governments of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, and the United States for their special financial contributions to the Commission in 2007, as well as those observer countries that have supported the Commissionís activities:  Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Spain, and Sweden. These donations contribute in a very concrete way to the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system.

 

We are grateful also to Secretary General Insulza for his active support of the Commission and its central role as one of the constitutive organs of the OAS.  In collaboration with the community of nations, the other organs of the OAS, and civil society, the Commission will continue to work tirelessly to protect and promote human rights in our Hemisphere in 2008 and beyond.