BY DEAN CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, PRESIDENT OF THE
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, AT THE OPENING MEETING OF THE 113TH
REGULAR SESSION OF THE IACHR
D.C., October 10, 2001
At the opening of the 113th regular session, I would
like to begin by expressing the strong solidarity of the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights with the people and government of the United
States in the wake of the criminal terrorist attack it has suffered.
It will be very difficult to erase from our memory the images of
the destruction of thousands of lives of citizens of many OAS member
states and other nations. We
would like to reiterate to the people and government of the United States
that this attack was an attack against all of us.
We welcome the Resolution against the Terrorist Threat in the
Americas, which was adopted at the Twenty-Fourth Consultative Meeting of
Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Hemisphere.
With the perspective we have gained from our experience in
protecting human rights, we would also like to state once again that there
is no just cause for acts of terrorism.
Human rights and humanitarian law both reflect in fact the concept
that the end does not justify the means.
CONSIDERATIONS ON THE SYSTEM
On behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I would
like to share with you some thoughts regarding the inter-American human
rights system and the challenges to it.
This is especially meaningful to me, since it will be eight years
now since I became a member of the Commission, which I have also twice
served as President.
ADVANCES AND CHALLENGES
In analyzing the inter-American system, we should begin by noting
the important advances achieved: elections
in 34 out of 35 countries, all of the countries in the region except Cuba;
and, more open, free societies, with a multiplicity of private players and
organizations interacting both within countries and internationally,
thereby reinforcing the legitimacy of democracy and human rights.
Yet serious problem remain as well:
insufficiently developed institutions, such as the judiciary in
many countries; poorly trained police forces, which have not succeeded in
adequately ensuring the inherent relationship between respect for human
rights and security, a legitimate aspiration of the citizens of our
hemisphere; and, vulnerable groups, women, indigenous persons, ethnic
minorities, children, and the disabled, who have not yet achieved de
facto equality to develop fully and freely, and in some countries have not even achieved de jure equality. In
the context of the most unequal continent in the world, demands for food,
shelter, and clothing also take on a special meaning, and are expressed in
the aspiration that economic, social, and cultural rights will be
recognized. To rise to the
challenge presented by these serious problems, states have, among other
things, created the inter-American system for protection of human rights,
comprising a series of substantive legal instruments, such as the American
Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José) and the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in addition to the
Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights,
to oversee compliance with these instruments.
The political organs of the OAS and the states play the role of
collective guarantors, to ensure that the decisions made by the oversight
bodies will be implemented.
FUNCTIONS OF THE SYSTEM
The system performs critically important functions.
In the first place, it brings justice to bear in individual cases.
This further strengthens the values of the constitutional state for
victims or their families, who feel that their problems were ignored,
because they were not resolved internally, within the country.
In the second place, the system plays an “early warning role,”
since when a society begins to resort to torture, summary executions, or
the imprisonment of journalists, to mention just a few violations, the
community of nations in this hemisphere learns of these acts through the
inter-American system and can take the steps required to prevent those
states from sliding downward into increasingly dangerous situations that
could culminate in the total destruction of the constitutional state.
In the third place, the system makes it possible to continuously
expand protection of human rights and democracy, by enhancing national
laws and institutions with a regional perspective, thereby guaranteeing
access to ways of constantly improving protection for the values of human
dignity. One of the
characteristics of democracy is that it is perfectible, and so from this
standpoint, by establishing a common hemispheric position on subjects such
as due process, emergency situations, equality before the law, and
prohibition of discrimination, greater space is created within countries
for support of expanded democracy. The
system has various tools available to it to perform its role.
The first one is on-site visits, which enable it to evaluate human
rights conditions in a country, or to verify the status of certain rights,
or to promote the value of human rights in general.
A second method used by the system involves individual cases, a
process whereby petitions by individuals who believe that their rights
have been violated are considered, in accordance with the values and
principles of the legal tradition. This
process results in a decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights; if this decision is not carried out, the case may be referred to
the Court or made public. In the third place, rapporteurs may be
designated within the system, to take up human rights problems on the
hemispheric agenda; their work can lead to declarations or draft treaties.
VITALITY OF THE SYSTEM. ROLE OF ITS ORGANS
The system has proven its vitality in the action taken by its
organs, which, working within their fields of competence, have
demonstrated a capacity for adaptation and leadership in coping with the
various situations facing them. For
instance, the situations of massive, systematic violations of human rights
which occurred in the past required priority to be given to on-site
visits. Today, with the
improved environment created by elected governments, it is possible to
focus on individual cases. I
have had the privilege of witnessing the evolution of the inter-American
human rights system in this direction. When I was President of the Commission in 1996, I reported
that we had adopted 8 decisions in individual cases. In the last report I made to the General Assembly in 2001, I
indicated that we had published 153 decisions, including 35 decisions on
admissibility, 23 on the merits, and 13 reports on friendly settlements,
in addition to 21 inadmissibility decisions and 61 decisions on cases
closed. We have seen the
growing usefulness and importance of friendly settlements in the case
system. Five years ago there
was only one, whereas we have now published 13, and there are 91
additional cases in which a friendly settlement is being sought, affecting
the lives and rights of thousands of inhabitants in the hemisphere.
The legitimacy of the system of petitions is demonstrated not only
by the increased number of cases, but also by the attitude of both
petitioners and governments. More
than ever, petitioners are turning to the case system as a way of
correcting injustices, and resorting to legal processes, thereby further
validating the rule of law. Moreover,
the governments took part in all stages of the processes leading to the
153 reports adopted by the Commission, thereby strengthening the
legitimacy of a system in which petitioners and states are both full
The ability of the human rights organs to fulfill their functions,
to adapt and to make creative contributions is also seen in the regulatory
reforms which I referred to during my presentation to the Permanent
Council and the General Assembly. These
reforms were based on the need to improve the legal security of the
parties and the transparency of procedures, to establish procedures in
relation to admissibility petitions, friendly settlements, and referral of
cases to the Court, and on the need to strengthen the position of
individuals as persons with legal rights.
With its new Rules of Procedure, the Inter-American Court has also
strengthened the position of individuals.
This was in response to a long-standing request by the Commission,
which regarded as inappropriate that it serve as the judge in the cases
presented to it and then as the plaintiff or petitioner in cases before
the Inter-American Court. The
change in its Rules of Procedure creates a real opportunity to make
progress in moving towards recognition of the legal capacity of
individuals in the international arena and is proof of the vitality of the
organs of the system.
SUPPORT BY STATES
In the face of these developments, it is crucial that states
increase their support for the system. Democratic states have created a
system that enables people to defend themselves, even vis-à-vis their own
states, whenever human rights problems cannot be solved internally.
Today we need to act to increase the support of states for the
system. This support has to
do first and foremost with recognition of the value of the system in
defending human dignity, and secondarily with the indivisibility of human
rights in the hemisphere. Torture
of a person in one country or domestic violence affect all of us, both
from an ethical standpoint and because of the fact that our lives are
linked together as never before. As
a result, the deterioration of human rights in one country has the
potential of creating serious problems in other states in the most diverse
areas, such as trade competition, investment, humanitarian disasters, and
forced migrations, just to mention a few.
The International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, all aware
of this fact, have repeatedly stated that human rights obligations are
obligations erga omnes, or in
other words, obligations that affect all of us. And this is not an invention of law, but something that
reflects living conditions in the twenty-first century.
These “erga omnes”
obligations can be observed in full only in the context of a state where
the rule of law prevails. Human
rights and democracy, both components of a constitutional state, are the
two “wings” of human dignity. The
recent adoption of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is a significant
step forward in ensuring the indissoluble link between democracy and human
rights. Both in its Preamble
as well as in many of its provisions, the Charter confirms that link:
Article 7, Chapter II, for instance, states as follows:
Democracy is indispensable for the effective exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights in their universality, indivisibility, and interdependence, embodied in the respective constitutions of states and in inter-American and international human rights instruments.
8 specifically establishes the following:
Member states reaffirm their intention to strengthen the
inter-American system for the protection of human rights for the
consolidation of democracy in the Hemisphere.
(Also see the Preamble and Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10).
Failure to carry out the decisions of the Court and the Commission
will undoubtedly be an important consideration in concluding that the
democratic order has been seriously altered and democracy is at risk,
setting into action the mechanisms contemplated in the Charter.
The support of political organs for the human rights system should
ensure compliance by states with the decisions of those organs.
In this context, we see for instance that failure by the Fujimori
government in Peru to comply with the decisions of the Court and the
recommendations of the Commission was not given adequate attention by the
political organs, which neglected to take into consideration the early
warning role of the Commission. It
is essential to depoliticize the system, so that when a decision is made,
it is carried out, and even communicated to all multilateral agencies.
Support for the system also has to do with allocation of economic
resources. The Commission’s total budget for this fiscal year accounts
for less than 3.4% of the Organization’s overall budget. Approximately two-thirds of this total go to the salaries and
benefits of the Commission’s staff.
The remainder barely covers the cost involved in preparing and
holding two regular sessions and one special session, plus publication of
the IACHR’s Annual Report. The
budget does not include adequate funds for conducting a single on-site
visit to a member state, litigation in the Court, or the work of the
special rapporteurs. We would
like to express our disappointment over the fact that the Costa Rican
Assembly failed to approve Costa Rica’s proposal for an increase in the
resources of the Commission and the Court over a five-year period.
In recent years, the Commission and the Court have taken
significant steps to strengthen the inter-American human rights system.
The political bodies have welcomed and participated in these steps.
However, the human rights system has still not been granted the
fundamental human and financial resources it needs to sustain this
Time is growing short! What the organs are advocating are the
supremacy of the rule of law, the indivisibility of democracy and human
rights, a confirmation throughout the hemisphere of the values of due
process and nondiscrimination, the need for judicial resources to ensure
effective and speedy remedies in the event of human rights violations, a
close relationship between security of citizens and human rights, the
value of freedom of expression, and the whole set of freely recognized
rights. This is a worthwhile
We have closely followed reports and studies on people
disillusioned with democracy. A
recent study carried out by the Chilean organization EQUIS points to the
growing disappointment in the region “over a democracy that does not
solve its people’s problems.” The path to follow is observance of human rights and a
strengthening of the democratic revolution which has occurred in the
hemisphere. This is also the
only possible path to follow, the one that reflects the loftiest
aspirations of the men and women in our countries.
WORDS OF APPRECIATION
and gentlemen, a few months ago, on the heels of an extensive competition
and process, during which ten candidates were interviewed, the
Inter-American Commission decided to elect as its new Executive Secretary
Dr. Santiago A. Canton, who had been serving as the IACHR’s Rapporteur
for Freedom of Expression.
Canton is a prestigious Argentine attorney who performed graduate work in
the United States. He was
director of the OAS Department
Information in 1998.
From 1994 to 1998, he served as Director for Latin America and the
Caribbean in the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).
Commission is certain that Dr. Canton will perform his work with the
professional competence, commitment to human rights, and personal
dedication that he showed as Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Among the new challenges facing our Executive Secretary is the need
for the Commission to increase efforts to publicize its work.
This includes keeping our web page up to date, greater use of press
releases, and a better strategy for periodic publications.
This is an institutional mandate of the IACHR, and as President, I
give my personal and enthusiastic support to all the initiatives taken by
the Executive Secretary to fulfill it.
would also like to reiterate the Commission’s special appreciation to
the Secretary General, Dr. César Gaviria, for his constant support for
its work and its efforts to strengthen the inter-American system of human
rights. Under his leadership,
the number of attorneys in the Commission and its resources have been
increased. The Secretary
General has also maintained a position of principle in respect for the
independence of the human rights organs.
He has never failed to set aside the time needed to hear the IACHR
and has always cooperated with us in our efforts to perform our functions.
I would also like to thank all the member states for their
cooperation, and especially those states with which I have had the
opportunity to work more closely. I
would express my appreciation to the Chilean government, which has twice
proposed my name for membership in the IACHR.
During these eight years, the Chilean government has always shown
complete respect for my independence.
I would also like to express my thanks to our attorneys, for their
tireless daily work, to the fellows and interns, and to our administrator
and our secretaries, whose commitment to their jobs is most certainly a
model for this Organization. My
gratitude goes to our former Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E.
Taiana, and to the former Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David
Padilla, for their invaluable contributions to the IACHR.
I would also like to extend my greetings and
public welcome to our new Executive Secretary, Dr. Santiago A.
Canton. Finally, my thanks
goes to my colleagues, the IACHR commissioners, both the present ones,
Juan Méndez, Marta Altolaguirre, Hélio Bicudo, Robert Goldman, Peter
Laurie, and Julio Prado Vallejo, and those who have shared this honorable
mission in the past, Michael Reisman, Patrick Robinson, Alvaro Tirado Mejía,
John Donaldson, and Henry Forde. Each and every one of them has
demonstrated his or her profound loyalty to our institution and an
unswerving commitment to the cause of human rights.
It has been an honor for me to work with them.
Ladies and gentlemen, ours is a hemisphere of great creativity,
from the North to the South. This
is where the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the
countries of the region created the right to self-determination and
sovereignty of the people. One
need only look at our literature. Neruda,
for instance, speaks of men of “mud and clay” who looked with surprise
at the arrival of the Europeans in our hemisphere and gives us an
incomparable feeling for that moment.
Gabriel García Márquez in the South and Faulkner in the North
invented mythical cities where individual destinies are enmeshed with the
collective fate of nations, illuminating basic aspects of life.
Jurists from our hemisphere have worked hard for recognition of
human dignity, and their efforts led to adoption of the first American
Declaration and later the Universal Declaration, which proclaimed that all
human beings have the right to develop in freedom.
Until those Declarations were adopted, men and women were black,
white, yellow, Muslim, Christian, or Jewish.
Now they are all regarded as human beings.
In our hemisphere, technological forces were invented and developed
that changed the world. But
our hemisphere has also seen perverse tendencies.
Suffice it to say that it was on this continent that the term
“disappeared persons” became popularized, thereby saying that they are
not here, that they have been taken away, that they do not exist, and that
we are not responsible. In response to this situation, innumerable men and women
posted photos of each disappeared person, they demanded acknowledgement of
this fact and of their fate, acts that contributed to the cause of
democracy and human rights. The
greatest chapter of our history has been our creative and humanistic
tendencies. I would like to
share my deepest and most optimistic conviction that this history, a key
part of which is the globalization of human dignity and the inter-American
system of human rights, will prevail.