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April 29, 1999


Mr. Chairman of the Juridical and Political Affairs Committee, distinguished Representatives, Mr. Chief of Staff of the Secretary General, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Executive Secretary of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen:

As the Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am pleased to submit to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council the Commission’s Annual Report for 1998, together with its special reports on the general situation of human rights in Mexico and Colombia, to be forwarded for the consideration of the General Assembly.

Before commencing with the presentation of the report, please allow me to introduce the members of the Commission who accompany me today: Dr. Helio Bicudo, First Vice-Chairman of the Commission, Dean Claudio Grossman, Second Vice-Chairman, and Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía and Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, members of the Commission. I am also joined by Ambassador Jorge Taiana, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, and by Dr. David Padilla and Dr. Hernando Valencia, the Assistant Executive Secretaries of the Commission.


The report the Commission presents today was adopted during its 102nd regular period of sessions, held in February and March of this year, and was prepared in accordance with the guidelines established by the General Assembly in Resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-0/78), as well as the terms of Article 63 of the Commission’s Regulations. I should note that this report reflects the Commission’s overall activities under the extremely able stewardship of its immediate past Chairman, Commission Member Carlos Ayala Corao.

Overview of the Annual Report for 1998

The report is divided into three volumes. The first two volumes are divided into eight chapters. The third contains the report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

As is customary, Chapter I provides a brief introduction to the origins and legal bases of the Commission, and also refers to its interaction in 1998 with other organs of the inter-American system, and with regional and global institutions of a similar nature. In this regard, I would particularly note the practice of the Commission and Inter-American Court to meet annually to discuss subjects of common concern, with a view to enhancing the functioning of the regional human rights system. The Commission and Court enjoy a relationship of cooperation which is of mutual benefit in the discharge of our respective mandates.

Chapter II provides an overview of the activities of the Commission during the period covered by the report. Principal references in this chapter are to the two regular and two special sessions held by the Commission, the three on-site visits it conducted, and to its submission of five new contentious cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. With respect to the sessions during 1998, I wish to again thank, on behalf of the Commission, the Government of Venezuela for its kind invitation to host the 99th special session of the Commission in Caracas. The support of the Venezuelan Government helped to make that meeting very fruitful.

During the period covered by this report, the Commission conducted a general on-site visit in Guatemala in August of 1998, and a similar visit in Peru in November of 1998. The Commission is presently preparing special country reports which will be based in significant part on information gathered during those visits. The Commission also conducted a more specialized visit to the state of California in the United States of America to observe immigration and asylum processes in that region. Such on-site visits provide the Commission with an important means of assessing the overall situation in a member state, exploring the observance of specific rights, and engaging more closely with actors from the state sector and from civil society. On behalf of the Commission, I wish to thank the member states whose collaboration made it possible to realize these objectives during last year’s visits. We look forward to similar cooperation with other member states in the visits planned for this year.

With respect to the cases most recently submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, I would note the growing diversity of subject matter. In contrast to earlier cases, which predominantly concerned the right to life, physical integrity and liberty, these recent cases present claims concerning freedom of expression, the right to property, the rights of members of indigenous communities and labor rights.

Chapter III contains decisions adopted on individual cases presented to and processed by the Commission in accordance with applicable rules. That this is by far the largest section of the report is consistent with the essential nature of human rights as individual rights. It also reflects the increasing importance the Commission attributes to the resolution of individual complaints. This year’s report contains a total of 72 such decisions.

The Commission takes great care in applying the rules of the case system, as evidenced in the 35 reports admitting cases, and the 10 reports determining that complaints had not met the applicable admissibility requirements. These reports, and the 25 reports containing decisions on the merits, also reflect an expanding diversity in the rights at issue. A report on the merits of an individual case provides a form of redress for the victim of a human rights violation who was unable to obtain justice at the national level.

The individual petition process also provides opportunities for the Commission to facilitate constructive negotiations aimed at the amicable resolution of disputes by the parties. In the present report, we are pleased to publish the results of such negotiations in two cases concerning Colombia. The Commission is currently facilitating friendly settlement negotiations in dozens of other cases. The willingness of the parties to engage in dialogue and to pursue creative solutions continues to be a highly promising development in the system.

Chapter III also provides information on Commission action concerning provisional measures and contentious cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. As I noted, five new contentious cases were submitted against States Parties to the American Convention during the period covered by this report. The Commission wishes to recognize the majority of the member states that have freely accepted the obligatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, thereby demonstrating these states’ commitment to addressing and resolving disputes concerning the rights of individuals.

In its 1996 Annual Report, the Commission articulated several criteria to identify those member states whose practices in the field of human rights merited special attention and, hence, inclusion in a chapter of its annual report. In this regard, Chapter IV of this year’s report analyzes the human rights situation in Cuba, Haiti and Paraguay.

Cuba has been included primarily because it is ruled by a Government not freely elected in accordance with internationally accepted standards, which violates the right to political participation embodied in Article XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The reports on Haiti and Paraguay were elaborated as a result of situations of serious institutional crisis in both countries that have affected the enjoyment of the free exercise of various rights guaranteed in the American Convention. I am pleased to report that the Commission has been in touch with the Government of Haiti to arrange the dates for a forthcoming on-site visit to that country. Lastly, I should mention that the Commission has made explicit this year that it will not include in this chapter reports on those states on which it is either preparing or has approved during the period in question special reports on the situation of human rights pursuant to Article 62 of its Regulations.

Over the years, the Commission has consolidated its practice of following up a special report on the situation of human rights in a particular member state, prepared in conformity with Article 62 of its Regulations, with a report intended to update the situation and evaluate compliance by that member state with the recommendations previously formulated by the Commission. This year, the Commission has decided to refine this practice by including these follow-up reports in a separate chapter of its Annual Report. Accordingly, Chapter V is devoted exclusively to detailing compliance by Ecuador with the recommendations made to that state by the Commission in its 1997 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador.

Chapter VI contains reports from several of the Commission’s Special Rapporteurs: namely, the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Situation of Migrant Workers and their Families, and the Rights of Women, as well as an introductory report concerning the recently created Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child. I would note that, apart from the naming of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression last year, to which I will turn shortly, each of the rapporteurships established in recent years focuses on the situation of individuals whose voices have yet to be fully represented in our societies. As the hemisphere learns to celebrate its diversity and member states seek new ways to be more inclusive, these rapporteurships enable the Commission to identify where urgent steps are required to protect individuals within these groups, and to report on creative measures being adopted to bring about more diverse representation in national life. The Commission has established voluntary funds to help support these important initiatives, and wishes to sincerely thank those member and observer states who have provided generous contributions.

In Chapter VII, the Commission presents 22 recommendations to the members states for the purpose of enhancing the full observance of the fundamental rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights. Mr. Chairman and Representatives, I would like to refer to five of these recommendations specifically.

First and foremost, the Commission encourages the adoption of measures to improve the administration of justice at the national level. The judiciary serves as the first line of defense of the rule of law and individual rights in a democratic system. In this connection, the norms of the American Declaration and Convention concerning judicial protection and guarantees must be observed as minimum standards at all times. It is also imperative that judicial personnel be able to fulfill their functions independently and transparently. It is equally crucial that individuals have access to effective judicial remedies to protect their rights, and that violations be met with prompt and effective investigation, prosecution, punishment and measures of reparation. Respect for the rule of law cannot coexist with the impunity which results when human rights violations go unpunished.

Second, the Commission recommends that the member states take all necessary measures to protect the freedom of expression and physical integrity of human rights defenders. We have been profoundly disturbed by attacks and threats against many of these persons during the past year, including those who have collaborated with the Commission. Individuals who participate in the promotion and protection of human rights play a crucial role in scrutinizing democratic institutions and upholding the principles of transparency and accountability.

Third, the Commission reiterates its recommendation that the member states take the steps necessary to adopt the proposed "Inter-American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" The Commission shall continue working with the member states and with the Permanent Council in advancing the process of approval.

Fourth, the Commission recommends that the member states adopt the legislative and other measures necessary to invoke and exercise universal jurisdiction over individuals in the prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanities and war crimes, and that those member states that have not done so ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court approved by the Diplomatic Conference in Rome this past July.

Finally, the Commission reiterates the importance of ratification of the inter-American human rights treaties. In this context, the Commission wishes to recognize with satisfaction the recent acceptance of the obligatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court by Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico, thereby demonstrating these state’s commitment to addressing and resolving disputes concerning the rights of individuals. 21 States Parties to the American Convention have now done so. This is a noteworthy advance for those states and for the system as a whole.

At the same time, the Commission must note the unprecedented denunciation of the American Convention by Trinidad and Tobago, which is scheduled to go into effect at the end of May of this year. The Commission considers this singular rejection of the treaty to be profoundly regrettable and calls on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to reconsider its decision.

On a more positive note, the Commission salutes the 29 member states that have ratified the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, distinguishing it as the most widely ratified of the regional human rights treaties. The Commission encourages the few states that have not done so to redouble their efforts to ratify this treaty.

Volume II of the report concludes with the customary annexes reporting the status of the Conventions and Protocols of the regional human rights system, as well as press communiques and selected speeches issued by the IACHR during the past year.

The Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my general remarks concerning the first two volumes of the Commission’s Annual Report for 1998. With your permission, I will turn briefly to the third volume. The Commission has studied and approved the report of its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and decided during its last period of sessions to include it in its Annual Report. In accordance with its functions and powers set forth in Article 41 of the American Convention and Article 18 of its Statute, the Commission has charged the Special Rapporteur to assist it in monitoring, promoting and protecting freedom of expression in the Americas. As the Commission indicated at the time of Mr. Santiago Canton’s appointment to the position last year, one of the Rapporteur’s duties is the preparation of an annual report to the Commission for submission to the General Assembly of the Organization. The Commission values the support the Heads of State and Government of the Americas expressed in the Declaration of Santiago for the appointment of this Special Rapporteur, and the regional reaffirmation of the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression, information and opinion.


Mr. Chairman, distinguished Representatives, the hemispheric quest to consolidate systems of participatory democracy creates new opportunities for the engagement of member states with the organs of the human rights system. The Commission and Court are, as the member states intended them to be, resources to aid in the development of a "system based on personal liberty and social justice," which is the ultimate objective set forth in the preamble of the American Convention. Accordingly, the Commission is fully committed to working with the member states in the discharge of its mandate to defend human dignity through the protection and promotion of basic human rights. On behalf of the Commission, I wish to express our gratitude for the support which the member states have extended to the Commission in its pursuit of this, our shared commitment to all persons in our hemisphere.