SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES,
JUNE 4, 2009
Mr. President, Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the countries of the region, Heads of Delegation, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen:
It is an honor for me to take part in this important and historical General Assembly in San Pedro Sula, one that is undoubtedly a milestone in the history of our Hemisphere and a moment that paves the way for a necessary process of growth and transformation of our inter-American system. This session of the General Assembly also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The conjunction of these two factors compels us to reflect deeply on our history and on what lies ahead for our peoples and on the methods, procedures, and mechanisms we have built and must continue to build in order to guarantee the full and free exercise of their human rights.
Today, our region is experiencing, more vigorously than ever before in the history of the Organization and of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, wide processes of democratic participation, of our peoples, in which those who have historically been excluded and silenced are making themselves heard and pressing their demands on an unprecedented scale. The peoples represented here are expressing themselves as never before, clamoring for and demanding effective actions to translate into real life and actions the letter of the charters, conventions, and other instruments that proclaim their protection.
In this context, we observe significant changes taking place in the Hemisphere, manifested in various forms of direct participation, constitutions with ample safeguards for human rights, and free electoral processes with extensive popular participation, all of which reflect the creative determination of peoples and the emancipatory power of human rights.
For the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, such changes are intertwined with more and more challenges and demands that force us to analyze our working methods, our potential, our achievements, and the obstacles we have not overcome yet to attain our objectives.
As we pointed out in our recent presentation of our Annual Report to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, unfortunately, social indicators for the region today reveal that neither the 60 years of the American Declaration nor the 50 years of existence of the Commission have sufficed to fully guarantee social justice, freedom, and the full enjoyment and exercise of human rights. On the contrary, we know that today America is one of the continents with the biggest gaps between rich and poor. Indeed, the feature that distinguishes the countries of the region from those in other parts of the world is still the inequity in the structure of opportunities. Our region as a whole has the worst income distribution in the world.
Therefore, analyzing these conditions and the human rights violations derived from them, is now more than ever before, a daily and challenging task incumbent upon the organizations that have been entrusted with the job of promoting and defending human rights in the region.
To illustrate the scale of the task, in 2008, the IACHR received 1,279 petitions, 62% of which were related to complaints of violation of the right to justice and judicial protection. Of that, 23% of the complaints or petitions had to do with due criminal law process, while 26% referred to matters directly or indirectly linked to the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights.
If to those percentages, we add the 13% that have to do with other matters, such as discrimination, personal integrity and health, and social security, then we can conclude, without any doubt, that the principal challenge facing the inter-American system for the protection of human rights is dealing with the direct repercussions of exclusion and poverty, where the hardest-hit are women, children, Afro descendants and the indigenous peoples of our America.
Protecting and defending human rights in this hemispheric scenario, bearing in mind the integral and interdependent nature of all human rights, has to be done today against a backdrop of a full-blown global economic crisis, of unforeseeable consequences for the inhabitants of our region and their impact on economic and social rights, with our peoples bearing the brunt of those disastrous consequences.
This reality calls upon the Commission and demands from it that it come up with more vigorous responses, more creative schemes for overcoming this challenge, greater participation by states, a higher democratization of the protection mechanisms, and the necessary correctives to complement actions already undertaken and to chart a new course for dealing with the circumstances we face.
Year after year, from one period of sessions to another, the Commission has clamored for greater commitment on the part of states, not just with regard to implementing its decisions and universalizing the system, but also with respect to institution-building needed to respond effectively not only to traditional challenges but also to the new challenges to be overcome.
This year, as we mark our 50th anniversary, we have submitted to the states our proposed reform of our Rules of Procedure, the ninth reform since 1980. With that we seek, not just to open up the debate to include the aspirations of our peoples regarding the mechanisms designed to protect their rights but also to act on the observations, concerns, and proposals of states that, in their commitment to defend human rights, also aspire to have transparent methods, procedures, rules and conditions conducive to improved defense and protection of their citizens’ human rights and to compliance with international obligations regarding the protection of human rights.
We believe that the dynamics of change in the region oblige us to revise the historical structures we have relied upon and, building on them, to create, transform, and revitalize those needed to respond to both the old and the new challenges. We are conscious that those challenges also include scrutiny of our own internal shortcomings, strengthening of the instruments that govern us, planning and execution of the remedies needed to address those situations that prevent or hinder the work of the Commission, and a review of our internal procedures.
We are convinced that the Commission must be an effective tool for ensuring the full exercise and strengthening of participatory democracy and social justice in the Hemisphere, as well as a tool for democratizing and universalizing access to the Commission for all those who still lack access to domestic justice systems and are unaware of the possibility of international justice.
As we have pointed out on other occasions, our great challenge, as we strive to satisfy human rights, is to change as our peoples change, so that the peoples of the Americas can see themselves mirrored in action and realize that our decisions and activities are geared to achieving peace, social justice, solidarity, stronger states and free and sovereign peoples, in short: the full exercise of human rights.
We need to emphasize greater participation by our peoples. We also need to broaden our mechanisms for promoting rights and disseminating information about them. We need to strengthen the channels through which petitions reach the Commission, not just from those who have traditionally enjoyed access to us but also those whose voices we have not been able to hear.
It is up to us now to harvest the fruits of these past 50 years to address in depth the concerns and criticisms, however harsh, as well as the satisfaction of those whose life and personal integrity, as well as that of their loved ones, have been protected by our endeavors.
The amendment of our Rules of Procedure affords an opportunity for participation, discussion, and dialogue among all the actors involved and an historic moment to take on the new role required of us by the inter-American human rights system, not only in order to improve access to international justice, but also to ensure that our decisions are taken after clear, certain, and transparent procedures that guarantee both states and petitioners reliability, legal security, and protection of the rights we are called upon to defend and protect.
We have the conviction and commitment needed to broaden mechanisms for participation and dialogue with states, with the peoples who call upon us, and with social organizations, because progress toward achieving these objectives requires the broadest possible democratic participation. That will provide the framework needed to ensure that, as we celebrate these 50 years of existence of the Commission, the necessary foundations are laid to overcome unmet challenges and those still to come, along with a robust, transparent, independent, inclusive, and pervasive system capable of forging, with the peoples and governments of America, a future characterized by social justice, equity, liberty, and the full enjoyment of human rights.
Thank you very much.