SPEECH BY PRESIDENT OF
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN THE HEMISPHERE
TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE OAS
Panama City, June 5, 2007
Mr. President, Heads of Delegation, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to address you to present the annual report of the Inter-American Commission for 2006. I will now refer to the human rights situation in the Hemisphere, the most important activities of the Commission, and the accomplishments and challenges pending in the region.
General human rights situation in 2006
The Commission found gains in human rights in the region. For example, I could cite the commitment expressed by the President of Chile to comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordering that the Amnesty Law not be applied to violations committed during the military dictatorship; the approval of the Law on Domestic and Family Violence against Women in Brazil, adopted heeding the Commission’s recommendations; the ratification of human rights treaties of the inter-American system by Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela; and the application of inter-American case law by the courts in several countries, including the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina, and the Constitutional Courts of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, among other major gains.
Nonetheless, during that period grave human rights violations persisted that came to our attention, and which were mainly expressed in citizen insecurity and the lack of protection for victims; the fragility of the judicial systems and lack of effective access to justice; the lack of independence and impartiality of the courts; impunity; inequity and social exclusion; and the slow process of consolidation of democracy and the rule of law. The IACHR received information on cases of torture; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; violence and overcrowding in prisons; the excessive and disproportionate use of government forces; discrimination on ethnic and racial grounds; and inequality in access to economic and social rights, the hardest hit being women and children, indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants, migrants, and persons with disabilities.
Activities of the Inter-American Commission
In 2006 the Commission held three sessions, two at headquarters, and the third in Guatemala City, at the invitation of the Guatemalan Government.
The Commission provided technical cooperation to the States. For example, it continued supporting the process of preparing drafts of the Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, it concluded the regional consultation for preparing the draft “Declaration of Principles on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas”; and it participated in several regional events against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and prisons, among other activities involving advisory services and cooperation.
It prepared and published the following reports: “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas”; “Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges ahead for Haiti and the International Community”; and the report “Women and Discrimination Against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia”.
The Commission approved some reforms to the working procedures in order to attain greater efficiency, transparency, and publicity of their activities. In effect, it adopted a Directive for the selection of the thematic rapporteurs; and for the first time in its history, the hearings were transmitted by Internet at the OAS’s web page. In addition, and taking into account the experiences of the last six years, since the 2001 amendments to the Rules of Procedure, the Commission made certain adjustments to those Rules of Procedure so as to make them more expeditious in processing those cases which by their nature so require, always respecting the principle of equality of arms, while at the same time seeing to it that its procedures are more widely disseminated and more transparent, and guaranteeing, as a general principle, public hearings. The Commission will always be receptive to the opinions and recommendations of the states and civil society when it comes to improving its procedures and activities.
In addition, I wish to emphasize that thanks to external cooperation, the IACHR has put in place an internal mechanism to resolve the delays in the processing of petitions.
The Commission also made working visits to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, thus we are grateful for the invitations from the governments and for the cooperation provided during those visits. In this context, I take this opportunity to ask you, in the context of this General Assembly, to express the political will of your illustrious governments to allow the Commission to visit your countries; therefore, I ask that you make an open and permanent invitation to the Inter-American Commission to be able to make visits without conditions, be it through the thematic rapporteurs or country rapporteurs, or through on-site visits of the Commission, as have been allowed, to date, by Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Guatemala, whose governments we thank for their open invitation and for their cooperation.
Decisions of the Inter-American Commission
In 2006, the Commission received 1,325 individual complaints; it approved 148 reports on individual petitions; it heard and decided on the first interstate petition, applying the procedures in effect; it facilitated many efforts that culminated in friendly settlements; it granted 37 precautionary measures and requested nine provisional measures; and it referred 14 applications to and continued its international litigation before the Inter-American Court. I with to recall that the strength of the inter-American system depends on the effective enforcement of the Commission’s recommendations, the judgments of the Court, and the urgent measures of protection, which are legally, politically, and morally binding. It should be noted that several States have carried out the recommendations of the Commission in full or in part, but there are many recommendations that have not been carried out, constituting a priority challenge in the region that would be overcome if the States, creatively and with political will, adopt legal mechanisms or procedures that facilitate compliance with the recommendations and judgments of the inter-American system, whether having to do with the enforcement of justice, reparation for victims, or respect for measures to ensure the non-repetition of human rights violations.
Status of ratification of human rights treaties
Attaining universal ratification of the human rights treaties is a pending challenge. At the end of 2006, there had been 119 acts of ratification, of 245 that full universalization would entail, which means that 126 acts of ratification are still pending, equivalent to 51%. Several States have not implemented any of the human rights treaties, which is worrisome as it indicates that after decades, they have not been able to or have not wanted to remove the obstacles that may exist to make it feasible to bring them into force. As of 2006, only five States had ratified 100% of the treaties (Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay); whereas eight States had ratified six of the seven treaties (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela). I state here our recognition of these States for their contribution to the process of universal ratification.
Budget of the IACHR
In order for the Commission to respond effectively to its mandate, it is urgent that its regular budget be increased such that the amounts allocated correspond to the real needs of the Commission. The legitimacy of the system and the recognition of its important role translate into an increased number of complaints, mandates, and functions. Nonetheless, the capacity of the Commission to carry out its obligations requires an equivalent commitment by the States to guarantee, among other things, an increase in the staff of the Executive Secretariat, and a greater presence of the Commissioners at headquarters and on the ground. Until now the Commission has responded to the growing demand thanks to the cooperation of international agencies and several governments from Europe and the region, to whom we are deeply grateful. Nonetheless, we consider that the OAS should cover the regular costs of the Commission, not external cooperation.
Human Rights Developments
The Commission decided to include in its Annual Report a chapter on the human rights situation in those Member States that have been the subject of special attention in 2006. It decided to include Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela in that chapter.
Colombia. The Commission, aware of the complex situation that faces Colombia and the consequences of the armed conflict for the civilian population, recognized the efforts of the State and society to achieve peace and diminish the number of human rights violations. Nonetheless, it observed obstacles in the process of demobilizing the armed actors and in applying its legal framework. The Commission stated its concern over the failure to clear up the facts in most of the massacres, disappearances, and threats to human rights defenders and social leaders. The year 2006 marks the culmination of the phase of demobilizing the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and the challenge is being faced of achieving specific results in dismantling paramilitarism, and in bringing to trial the perpetrators of the crimes. The Commission highlighted the need to use effective negotiating mechanisms to end the violence, and recalled that respect for the rights to the truth, justice, and full reparation for the victims is crucial for attaining a lasting peace.
Cuba. The Commission received information on the precarious conditions of persons deprived of liberty for being government dissidents, and on acts to repudiate political opponents, situations that were aggravated by the lack of judicial independence. The restrictions on political rights and the freedom of expression have for decades constituted a situation of systematic violation of fundamental freedoms. The IACHR reiterated that the lack of free, democratic, and pluralistic elections, based on universal suffrage and secret ballot, undercuts democratic political participation. At the same time, it noted once again the negative impact on the economic sanctions imposed on the population; it reiterated the need to put an immediate an end to the economic, trade, and financial embargo that has been imposed on Cuba for more than 40 years; and it recognized that despite these serious limitations, there were major gains in the areas of human development, universal primary education, gender equality, and health for the population.
Haiti. The Commission recognized the efforts of the State to create a favorable climate in the elections held in early 2006. At the same time, the IACHR lamented, in its report, the lack of protection and fundamental guarantees for the population observed during the year, which had an especially negative impact on women, children, human rights defenders, and journalists. It expressed its concern over the deterioration of the security situation and the high levels of violence, aggravated since mid-2006 by the proliferation of organized armed bands in several parts of the territory, together with the incapacity of the police forces to respond to this phenomenon, and the climate of impunity that prevails in the country. The Commission reiterated that attaining a lasting peace requires that the State, in conjunction with the population and with the backing of the international community, foster a constructive dialogue to reach a national consensus; adopt firm and effective measures for disarmament and to put an end to impunity; and strengthen, accordingly, the institutions that investigate crime and administer justice. The Commission values the initiatives that the current authorities are taking to seek solutions to the existing problems.
Venezuela. In 2006, the Commission noted the significant and peaceful participation of the Venezuelan citizenry in the presidential elections in 2006. Likewise, it expressed its concern over the repeated refusal of the Government of Venezuela to allow visits from the Commission to carry out its functions and its mandate. In addition, it continued to be concerned about citizen insecurity; the lack of judicial independence; the precarious situation of persons deprived of liberty; and the high levels of violence in the prisons. The Commission was informed of incidents that affected the freedom of expression, which included murders, assaults, the increased number of criminal proceedings against journalists, and actions that could constitute indirect restrictions on the freedom of expression, according to which governmental authorities announced the review of the concessions of media outlets for reasons that may include their editorial line.
To conclude, I wish to emphasize that the cooperation and compliance of the States is crucial for ensuring the legitimacy and effectiveness of the inter-American system, thus we consider it necessary to deepen the dialogue with the States, but also with civil society, so as to enable us, together, to strengthen the system, and with it, democracy and the rule of law. I therefore wish to express our gratitude for the cooperation of the States and the non-governmental organizations, and the trust they deposited in us, in 2006; and I take this opportunity to vehemently call on the States to make every possible effort to faithfully carry out the commitments and obligations to respect human rights that they have taken on in the framework of the Organization; to strengthen the constructive dialogue with the Commission and to ensure the participation of civil society in its activities.
Finally, I wish to thank the Executive Secretariat staff for their valuable work; and Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, for recognizing the Commission’s autonomy and independence; for asking the States to carry out our recommendations; and for supporting the initiative to secure a budgetary increase. All of this is necessary to carry out our mandate effectively, a mandate that clearly favors victims who have turned to the Commission seeking international justice for violations of their rights. This is the raison d’etre of the inter-American human rights system, to provide protection to those who have not found justice in their own countries. For this reason, we are committed and willing to work together with the States and civil society to ensure full respect for human dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms, and to attain justice in the Americas.
Thank you very much.