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Washington, D.C., February 22, 2000


Mr. Chairman of the Permanent Council, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, Permanent Representatives, Observers, Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Executive Secretary of the Commission and other members of its Secretariat, ladies and gentlemen:

It is with great pleasure that I address you, on behalf of my colleagues, on the opening of the Commission’s one hundred and sixth regular session. I am accompanied today by the Commission’s first Vice-Chairman, Helio Bicudo, and the Second Vice-Chairman, Claudio Grossman.

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce and at the same time extend the most cordial welcome to our new members. Peter Laurie, of Barbados, as you will recall, was elected by the Permanent Council on November 17, 1999 to fill the vacancy created by Sir Henry Forde’s resignation. Marta Altolaguirre of Guatemala, Juan Mendez of Argentina and Julio Prado Vallejo of Ecuador were elected by the General Assembly this past June and commenced their terms on January 1 of this year. Dr. Bicudo, Dean Grossman and I very much look forward to working with our new colleagues.

I would like also to express on behalf of the Commission our deep gratitude and sincere thanks to Carlos Ayala Corao, Jean Joseph Exumé and Alvaro Tirado Mejia whose terms on the Commission ended on December 31, 1999. Each of these distinguished jurists made substantial and diverse contributions to the Commission’s work on behalf of human rights in the hemisphere. My colleagues join me in wishing them well in their present endeavors.

During this session, the Commission shall hold 41 hearings on such subjects as individual cases and petitions, friendly settlements, follow-up of its recommendations, as well as the human rights situation in various member states. It will also take decisions on individual cases and petitions, including reports on admissibility, inadmissibility, the merits of disputes; the possible referral of new cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; the work of its thematic rapporteurs; and projected on site visits. The Commission will also adopt decisions on several country reports, as well as study and approve materials for inclusion in its 1999 Annual Report. Reform to selected parts of the Commission’s Regulations also figure prominently on this session’s agenda.

At its last regular session, which concluded on October 8, 1999, the Commission decided to hold a special session on November 19 in San Jose, Costa Rica on the eve of its annual meeting with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. During that session, the Commission took decisions on a variety of cases and discussed several draft country reports.

The joint meeting between the Commission and the Court, which took place at the Court’s headquarters on November 20, was extremely fruitful and timely in terms of the topics and issues discussed. For example, the members of both supervisory organs explored ways to avoid duplication of work. In this regard, considerable discussion focused on the taking of evidence by the Commission and its presentation to the Court in contentious cases. The Court indicated that it would submit in writing its views on this subject to the Commission.

In the course of the meeting, the Commission expressed to the Court its concern over the lack of locus standi of victims in the preliminary and merits phases of contentious proceedings before the Court. The Commission emphasized that while it must retain its authority to decide whether a case will be submitted to the Court, once it decides to do so, the victims, if they so desire, should have independent standing in these crucial stages of the Court’s proceedings.

As you may know, the Court in 1997 modified its regulations to permit independent representation of the victims in the reparations phase of its proceedings. The Commission wishes to point out that the granting of independent standing to victims in other phases of litigation before the Court does not require opening the American Convention on Human Rights or an additional protocol thereto. Rather, it can be readily achieved through appropriate changes to the Court’s and the Commission’s regulations.

While in Costa Rica, members of the Commission also participated on November 23, and 24 in the Seminar organized by the Court on "The Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights on the Threshold of the Twenty-first Century", and attended several events organized by the Government of Costa Rica to mark the respective anniversaries of the Commission, the Court and the American Convention.

As you know, the Government of Costa Rica, in conjunction with these festivities, also hosted in San Jose on November 22 a dialogue of Foreign Ministers and Heads of Delegations to discuss strengthening the region’s human rights system. As a result of that meeting, an Ad Hoc Working Group was created for the purpose of elaborating an action plan to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights system for consideration by the Foreign Ministers.

The first meeting of this Ad Hoc Group, which the Commission was invited to address, was held in San Jose, Costa Rica on February 10 and 11 of this year. At the meeting, the Commission’s First Vice-Chairman, Helio Bicudo, delivered a speech which set forth the Commission’s views on a variety of issues it believes should be taken into account by the Working Group in its consideration of ways and means to strengthen the region’s human rights system. The Commission’s Secretariat will shortly forward to the Permanent Missions copies of Dr. Bicudo’s remarks.

Let me indicate that the Commission is pleased with the outcome of this initial meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group. The recommendations formulated by the Group are relevant, realistic and achievable. If ultimately accepted and implemented, they could significantly contribute to strengthening the respective functions of the system’s supervisory organs and enhance both at the national and international levels, the human rights protection of our region’s peoples.

Mr. President: The Commission is keenly aware that it must do its part in connection with the various ongoing processes of reflection designed to strengthen our human rights system. Together with the Court, we are examining in an unprecedented fashion ways to streamline procedures and avoid needless duplication of work. Let me reiterate that the Commission is committed to reforming in a responsive and responsible way a variety of its practices and procedures. Such reforms are a priority for this Commission. Let me also take this opportunity to restate the Commission’s pledge to fully cooperate with the process initiated in the Committee on Political and Juridical Affairs of the Permanent Council regarding the Inter-American Human Rights system. I should like to note that Ambassador Claude Heller has maintained an ongoing and positive dialogue with the Commission concerning this process, and we look forward to future opportunities to participate in its work.

Finally, my colleagues on the Commission join me in expressing our thanks and deep gratitude to Ambassador Jorge Taiana, our Executive Secretary, and the Commission’s staff for their splendid and extraordinarily dedicated work in promoting and protecting human rights throughout the region.


Thank You