PRESENTATION BY JUAN E. MÉNDEZ, PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, AT THE THIRD REGULAR SESSION OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMITTEE AGAINST TERRORISM (CICTE)
San Salvador, El Salvador, January 23, 2003
Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Executive Secretary, and Members of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism,
I am very pleased to have been invited to the Third Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism to speak on behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the role of human rights in the anti-terrorism campaign in the Americas.
Terrorism and the violence and fear it perpetuates have been a prevalent and distressing feature of the modern history of the Americas, and have presented the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with significant challenges since the Commission’s creation over forty years ago. The three terrorist attacks of unprecedented proportion perpetrated simultaneously in the United States on September 11, 2001 confirm that terrorism remains an on going and serious threat to the protection of human rights and to regional and international peace and security. In the face of this reality, the Commission has declared that the implications of these developments for the protection of human rights and democracy are extremely grave and have demanded immediate and thorough consideration by the international community, including the organs of the Organization of American States.
It is important to recognize in this regard that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism share a common challenge in ensuring that the population of this region is protected from the violence of terrorism as well as from disproportionate state responses to such violence. The responsibilities and efforts of both institutions in this respect may now be considered to be derived in part from the recently-adopted Inter-American Convention against Terrorism, which aims at strengthening cooperation among the states parties to the treaty to prevent, punish and eliminate terrorism. Of particular significance to the work of the Commission and the Committee against Terrorism, Article 15 of the Convention stipulates that the measures carried out by states parties under the Convention must take place with full respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Given that the Commission is the principal organ of the OAS responsible for promoting the observance and protection of human rights in the Hemisphere, and given that the Committee against Terrorism has been charged by the OAS General Assembly with developing cooperation among OAS member states to prevent, combat and eliminate terrorist acts and activities, the Commission’s deliberations concerning the interrelationship between human rights and terrorism may be considered to have particular pertinence to the Committee’s work. In this connection, the Commission recently released its comprehensive Report on Terrorism and Human Rights, which is intended to provide member states with guidance in adopting anti-terrorism laws and regulations that accord with international law. The Report is the result of twelve months of deliberations by the Commission, and drew in part upon the views of international experts on human rights and terrorism as well as written observations provided by OAS member states and pertinent non-governmental organizations on the topic.
Of particular pertinence to the issues being discussed during the course of the Committee’s session, the Commission included in Part I(B) of its report a discussion of terrorism in the context of international law, as well as an overview of the international law against terrorism under Part II(A). These portions of the report, which are intended to provide a context for the Commission’s analysis, include references to the work of the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism as well as other regional and international bodies dedicated to preventing, punishing and eradicating terrorism. The introductory portions of the report also recognize that to-date there has been no consensus on a comprehensive international legal definition of terrorism. At the same time, the Commission concludes that it is possible to identify several characteristics frequently associated with incidents of terrorism that provide sufficient parameters within which states’ international human rights and other legal obligations in responding to terrorism may be identified and evaluated. These characteristics include the nature and identity of the perpetrators of terrorism, the nature and identity of the victims of terrorism, the objectives of terrorism, and the means employed to perpetrate terror violence.
In analyzing the role of international human rights commitments in light of these characteristics of terrorism, the report emphasizes in no uncertain terms that governments of the Americas are obliged to take the measures necessary to prevent terrorism and other forms of violence and to guarantee the security of their populations. States also remain bound, however, by their international human rights obligations in all circumstances, subject only to suspensions or restrictions that are specifically permitted under international law when the life of the nation is threatened. The Commission also emphasizes that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, though unprecedented in their magnitude and horror, have not changed these fundamental precepts.
As part of its methodology, the report acknowledges that terrorist violence may occur in times of peace, in states of emergency, and in situations of war, and therefore considers states’ obligations under both international human rights and the law of armed conflict. The report considers standards of protection under these regimes of law in six main areas: the right to life, the right to humane treatment, the right to personal liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of expression, the rights to judicial protection and non-discrimination, and the protection of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and other non-nationals.
Each of these areas is afforded extensive analysis in separate chapters of the report. With respect to the right to humane treatment, for example, the report emphasizes that detainees must never be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, through conditions of detention, methods of interrogation or otherwise, and that the treatment of detainees must be subjected to appropriate oversight mechanisms as prescribed under applicable regimes of international law, in times of peace and in times of war. With regard to the right to a fair trial, the report also stresses that persons charged with and tried for terrorist-related offenses must, in all situations, be afforded fundamental due process protections, including the right of a defendant to prompt notification in detail of the charges against them, the right to be assisted by counsel without delay, and the right to a public trial. The report also acknowledges that identifying and obstructing financial and other resources of terrorist groups is widely recognized as an important strategy in impeding the operations of such groups, but emphasizes that strategies of this nature must take into account the fact that the use and enjoyment of property is protected as a fundamental human right under inter-American human rights instruments. The report concludes with a series of specific recommendations for OAS member states to give effect to the Commission’s conclusions.
The Commission encourages member states as well as other organs and institutions of the OAS, including the Inter-American Committee against Terrorism, to incorporate the Commission recommendations into their anti-terrorism deliberation and initiatives.
In conclusion, I would like to express the Commission’s strong interest in future opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with the Committee against Terrorism in our common struggle against terrorist violence in the Americas.
STATEMENT BY DR. JUAN E. MÉNDEZ,
February 18, 2003
Mr. President of the Permanent Council of the OAS,
Mr. Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs,
Distinguished Representatives of member States of the Organization and Observers, Esteemed Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have the honor of addressing you in my capacity as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at this inaugural ceremony for the 117th regular session. I am pleased that we have present with us today my colleagues Marta Altolaguirre, First-Vice President of the IACHR, José Zalaquett, Second Vice-President, Commissioners Robert K. Goldman, Julio Prado Vallejo, Clare K. Roberts, and Susanne Villarán. We are also joined by Dr. Santiago Canton, the Executive Secretary, and professional staff of the Executive Secretariat.
The IACHR has an intensive program of activities ahead of it for the regular meetings beginning today. As in previous sessions, we shall devote the bulk of our work to examining and considering reports on petitions and individual cases relating to different countries of the hemisphere, at various stages of processing: admissibility, friendly settlement, consideration on merits, or pending decision to submit them to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Finally, we shall consider approval of our annual report and the special reports on human rights situations in various countries of the region.
We shall also have the opportunity to strengthen our working relations with the United Nations. On this occasion we shall receive a visit from the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture, and on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. These are two of the priority issues for the IACHR, and the presence of these rapporteurs will help us explore joint strategies to give greater ineffectiveness to our common effort to establish a hemisphere that is free of torture and racial discrimination.
During the second of its three weeks of sessions, the Commission will be holding more than 50 hearings on cases and petitions. There will also be hearings on the situation of human rights in the hemisphere, either as a general issue or with respect to some specific right or issue that falls within the Commission's competence. In these hearings the Commission will not only attempt to address the most severe human rights problems in the region, but will also examine issues that raise new challenges such as developments in jurisprudence relating to economic, social or cultural rights or the situation of persons infected with HIV/AIDS.
We shall also have with us senior representatives of the governments of member States, including Ministers, Secretaries of State, Supreme Court Presidents and Attorneys General. The IACHR is enormously appreciative of all the State delegations who will attend these hearings. For the Commission, dialogue with the States of the region is crucial to securing mutual understanding of our viewpoints in the shared task of protecting human rights.
On Saturday, March 1, in order to enrich the dialogue and explore more constructive strategies, we shall hold a working session on full implementation of international human rights standards in domestic law, consistent with the mandates from the last Summit of the Americas and the work conducted by the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. We shall have experts from several countries in the region to speak to us about progress, problems and challenges in this field. The inter-American system for the protection of human rights is by its very nature subsidiary and complementary to national systems, and therefore the role that the various State organs must play in enforcing international human rights obligations is fundamental for the effective observance of human rights.
The IACHR will continue during the session to examine the new challenges that terrorism poses to States of the region. In this respect, the Commission hopes that its report on terrorism and human rights will help member States and other interested players in the inter-American system to prepare and apply anti-terrorist initiatives that are fully consistent with fundamental rights and freedoms. On this point, I would like to reiterate my appreciation of the comments received from governments on that report, and the chance we had to present the report to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, and at a recent meeting in El Salvador. Our jurisprudence and that of the Inter-American Court are categorical in declaring that personal safety is one of the fundamental rights that the State must guarantee for every human being. At the same time, our region's history shows that effective and stable security depends on full respect for human rights with no discrimination of any kind. From this perspective, there is not only no contradiction but indeed complete compatibility and interdependence between human rights and the struggle against terrorism within the rule of law. It is precisely the prevalence of fundamental rights and democratic institutions that those terrorists are seeking to undermine and eventually destroy.
Terrorist threats and suicide attacks are not the only challenge facing our region. In particular, I want to refer to the exclusion of great majorities of the hemisphere’s population from the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. The Inter-American Democratic Charter proclaims "the importance of maintaining macroeconomic equilibria and the obligation to strengthen social cohesion and democracy". In most of the countries that make up the Organization of American States, exclusion from the benefits of progress and the lack of access to basic necessities continues to place broad social sectors in a situation of particular vulnerability to structural adjustment and to economic dislocations. In this respect, economic and social crises not only undermine living standards in many of our countries, but in some cases they impact negatively on the functioning of State institutions. These economic crises have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups such as women, indigenous peoples, communities of African descent, children and the disabled, exacerbating the economic and social inequities and inequalities that affect our region.
The Commission frequently hears from various sources that economic, social and cultural rights are not enforced in our countries because of the lack of resources, and that this in turn is the result of low levels of economic development. On the contrary, the IACHR believes, in company with distinguished economists and our colleagues in the African Commission on Human Rights and the Rights of Peoples, that the cause and effect relationship works the other way, i.e., it is the failure to observe economic, social and cultural rights that keeps our societies underdeveloped. In reality, as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Amartya Sen, has said, full respect for all human rights -- civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural -- is a necessary condition for any successful development policy.
Associated with the difficult social and economic conditions that we observe, the hemisphere continues to suffer from high crime rates. Public safety involves protection against crime just as surely as the guarantee of public freedoms. Unfortunately, the institutional response to public insecurity is frequently to resort to repression and heavy-handed policies without the proper attention to proposals for restoring social harmony and exerting community control over the police. This situation leads to regrettable backsliding that recalls the time in the not-too-distant past when the authorities responded to social protests and rising crime rates with violence, repression and systematic violations of human rights. The Commission welcomes and applauds the invitation of the Commission on Hemisphere Security for the IACHR to present its opinion on the concept of public safety.
The Inter-American Commission has repeatedly expressed its concern over the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela, and the failure to give effective enforcement to the recommendations contained in its general reports on those countries. In Colombia, severe violations of fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law, in the context of the domestic armed conflict, continue to affect the civilian population, and those responsible continue to go unpunished. In Haiti, the IACHR again expresses its profound concern over the weakness of the rule of law in that country, the lack of independence of the judiciary, impunity, the climate of insecurity for citizens, the rampaging of armed groups and the threats that have been made against journalists. This situation is affected by the extreme poverty in which most of the people live. In Venezuela, it is essential to maintain public debate within the channels of the country's democratic institutions, and for that reason the Commission is closely following the negotiations headed by our Secretary General, with the participation of the UNDP and the Carter Center, and the contribution of the Group of Friends. The IACHR is particularly interested in re-establishing dialogue with entities of State control, and especially with the judiciary, with respect to strengthening their independence, impartiality and effectiveness. Although President Hugo Chavez has invited us to come back as many times as necessary, and we have been in constant contact with the Venezuelan authorities, at this time no date has been set for our next visit. The IACHR considers it important to have a presence in Venezuela during this time of upheaval, because we firmly believe that we can contribute significantly to the guarantee of fundamental rights for all inhabitants of that country. I must say that the Commission awaits the result of the request from the Government of President Chavez to hold a meeting with us during the session that we are inaugurating today. For the Commission, that meeting represents a unique opportunity to engage in a sincere, frank and direct dialogue with the Government of Venezuela, to seek better ways of fostering full respect for human rights in a manner consistent with the country's democratic institutions.
The situation in these countries shows how the collapse of the rule of law inevitably affects respect for human rights. The Commission has noted with concern the gradual deterioration of democratic institutions in several countries of the region. While there are regular elections in our hemisphere, many democracies betray institutional weaknesses and attempts at coups or at overthrowing the constitutional order have not entirely disappeared. Fortunately, and in contrast to what has happened in the past, the OAS is responding collectively and is denouncing coups. The forward steps represented by Resolution 1080, and especially with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, are clear indicators that coups are not permissible in our region.
Democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions for enforcing the respect of human rights in any society, as the Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes. The inter-American system for the protection of human rights is an additional tool that States have created to address the challenge posed by the weaknesses of democratic institutions. In this respect, it is essential for States to support the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. The support has to do essentially with recognizing the system as a contribution and as an ally of States in the defense of human dignity and the consolidation of the rule of law, rather than as an obstacle or an adversary to the pursuit of the common goals that unite us. The Commission's conclusions and recommendations in individual cases, in the reports issued following its on-site visits, and in the documents prepared by its rapporteurs are essentially contributions to the deepening of democracy and the rule of law. The Commission believes that the publication of its conclusions and recommendations and the discussion that they give rise to can help States in their observance of human rights.
This last observation brings me to reiterate once again that the IACHR is at all times ready for dialogue with member States, both bilaterally and multilaterally. For that reason I welcome the many invitations that we receive from various bodies of the OAS to make presentations on different aspects of our work. The IACHR welcomes comments, observations and criticisms on our thematic and country reports, not only because they help to improve our work and force us to refine our daily tasks, but also because we are convinced that dialogue is an indispensable component of any efficient system for protecting human rights. Debate, including sharp criticism, is an essential value of democracy. Your reactions to our reports, including those where we differ in our positions on points of fact or law, are mutually enriching. Therefore I not only welcome such possibilities but I respectfully ask that you continue and deepen your dialogue with us, and in particular that you send us your written or oral comments on our presentations and reports.
The need to address these considerations about the difficult situation facing several countries of the region, within the short time available to us here, prevents me at this time from pursuing other issues, but before concluding I would like to offer some final thoughts.
Every year, in our presentations, we point to the budgetary situation that we are facing. Consequently I do not want to miss the opportunity today to express appreciation for the budget increase we have received through additional funding. That increase will help us to maintain our level of activities and to respond to the growing demands that you are placing on us, as well as to respond more efficiently to the complexity of the situation in the region. On my own behalf and on that of my colleagues, I say again, thank you.
This funding increase will allow us, among other things, to reinforce the work of our thematic rapporteurs. In recent years we have been trying out new ways to make the special reports more effective and give them more impact. We have stepped up the number of country visits, we have established different channels of dialogue with member States, and with organizations of civil society. This new approach places additional demands on my fellow Commissioners and on our Executive Secretariat, but we believe this effort is justified, because it allows us to open new and more fertile areas of dialogue with States and with civil society, precisely because they are detailed in the specific topics of our thematic reports.
Since this is my last statement as president, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Commission for all the support they have given me this past year, and for their work and dedication to this common undertaking. I also want to thank our Executive Secretary and all the staff of the IACHR secretariat. Our professional and administrative staff not only work tirelessly and show unflagging commitment to the cause of human rights, but they also represent the multifaceted diversity of our region. In the IACHR we are serious about pursuing gender equality in our secretariat. In fact, four of our five senior administrative lawyers are women.
But we are not resting on our laurels, and we are continuing to work to increase our diversity. One of the tools that we have at our disposal is our program of fellowships for young lawyers in training. This year, four of our six fellows are women, and two of the six are of African descent. But we want to continue to make progress in this area. That is why I am very pleased to announce publicly today that the secretariat of the IACHR has decided to institute an internship for a lawyer from the Caribbean to join our program each year. We hope that this and other initiatives will help us not only to maintain and increase this diversity, but will also strengthen our relations with the Caribbean States.
It is now nearly 55 years since the OAS initiated the international movement for human rights by adopting the first international document on the issue, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. That Declaration, and indeed the entire inter-American system of human rights, is still work in progress. The American Declaration recognized as a promise that "juridical and political institutions, which regulate life in human society, have as their principal aim the protection of the essential rights of man and the creation of circumstances that will permit him to achieve spiritual and material progress and attain happiness". There is no guarantee that that promise will ever be achieved. But we can be sure that promises will not be fulfilled by simply waiting for history to take its course. They will be fulfilled only through work, through sacrifice, and perseverance. For many people in our region, the American declaration is still only a promise. Like all of you, I want to see this promise become a reality. It may take a lifetime, or it may take as long as humanity survives. But we must persevere. And we must persevere while ensuring that our Organization is always in the lead in the struggle to achieve this great hope, that of the full respect of human rights for all.
Thank you very much
ADDRESS BY MARTA ALTOLAGUIRRE LARRAONDO,
PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
UPON PRESENTING THE IACHR ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2001 TO THE COMMITTEE ON JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE OAS
Washington D.C., April 2, 2003
Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,
Distinguished Representatives of Member States and Observers of the Organization,
Ladies and gentlemen:
As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights I am pleased to present the Commission's Annual Report for the Year 2002 to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council. I have with me today Dr. Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and members of the professional staff of the secretariat.
The report that we are submitting today to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs was approved by the IACHR at its 117th regular session held during February and March of this year. The report was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of Resolution AG/RES 331 (VIII-O/78) of the General Assembly, and in observance of Art. 57 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure. This report reflects the general activities of the Commission under the presidency of Dr. Juan Méndez.
During the year, the Commission paid particular attention to acts of international terrorism. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been much collective thinking about legitimate means for preventing and solving such crimes and for prosecuting those responsible for them, and also about the scope of strategies designed for preventing them. The legitimacy of these efforts at prevention and prosecution is necessarily linked to the proposition of the democratic state itself, and it precisely is for this reason that such steps must be taken in full respect for established limits, consistent with the principles of a constitutional state and the tenets of international law. Anti-terrorist initiatives, however exceptional the circumstances justifying their adoption and their magnitude, must be addressed in full respect for international law and for international human rights law. This is an area where member states of the OAS must take care to preserve the balance between their duty to protect the civilian population and democratic institutions and their obligation not to disregard the security of their citizens and their obligation to administer justice with all due guarantees and without arbitrary measures.
In December 2002, the Commission published its Report on Terrorism and Human Rights, in which it examined the prevalence and the respect for fundamental rights in the face of anti-terrorist initiatives legitimately adopted by member states, in light of the standards of international law, and more than four decades of experience. In its report, the Commission articulated a number of fundamental principles concerning the necessary relationship between combating terrorism and protecting human rights in national emergencies. My predecessor, Commissioner Juan Méndez, gave you a comprehensive statement on this matter.
The anxiety that has been generated by the threat of terrorist violence, and concerns about the prospects for stopping it, as well as the war now underway in Iraq, have tended to distract the attention of the authorities and of at least a portion of public opinion from many of the endemic problems of an economic, social and cultural nature that affect the societies of our hemisphere, and in particular their most vulnerable sectors. Yet as these problems persist and become worse, they are eroding citizen participation in the democratic process, undermining the concept of democracy, and weakening its effectiveness as an instrument of government and social harmony. Moreover, they continue to exacerbate the prospects of violence and of more terrorist deeds.
The IACHR views with concern the continuing deterioration of democratic institutions. Despite the periodic elections that take place in countries of our hemisphere, many of the region's democracies betray institutional weaknesses and have even been exposed to coups and attempts to overthrow the established constitutional order. Fortunately, member states of the OAS are today unanimous in rejecting such attempts, by invoking instruments such as Resolution 1080 and the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The Commission is also concerned by the fact that the domestically imposed legal limits on the use of government force are in some cases dismissed or ignored, thereby undermining the rule of law and weakening institutional legitimacy.
Corruption, poverty and exclusion, and social, economic, ethnic and gender inequalities, contribute to legal insecurity, and therefore to instability. This situation, which is made worse by the lack of effective access to justice, not only serves to perpetuate the ineffectiveness and impunity that characterize the functioning of the hemisphere's judicial systems, but also tend to exclude citizens from participation in the administration of justice, whether as operators or as active subjects. When the justice system fails to afford protection for victims, people lose confidence in it, and this is particularly true for the most vulnerable groups, when they suffer discrimination and have no ineffective remedy for determining their rights. These factors coincide with people's growing feeling of insecurity in the face of rising violence and crime and the tendency of some to take justice into their own hands.
In this hemispheric context, which in fact reflects realities of a global order, the mechanisms for protecting human rights must continue to play a fundamental role. In this respect, the efforts of human rights defenders and justice workers with respect to promotion, prevention, control, denunciation and representation continue to be essential for enforcing the fundamental rights of our countries' inhabitants. The work of human rights defenders and the organizations to which they belong serves to provide information and to publicize the situation of vulnerable groups and individuals who are the victims of violence, poverty, exclusion and discrimination, as well as excesses committed in situations of emergency, and thus ensures that complaints will find a response. Because of such efforts, human rights workers and organizations at the national, regional and universal level are often the target of violence, and member states have begun, through the political bodies of the Organization and the IACHR, to examine their responsibilities for guaranteeing the safety of these workers and their freedom to conduct their activities.
I must reiterate that the integrity and effectiveness of the protection that the system offers to the hemisphere's inhabitants will depend primarily on the efforts of member states to adopt the domestic legislative provisions required by the system and to achieve universality for that system by ratifying the American Convention and other human rights instruments, as well as accepting the jurisdiction of the Court. The system’s effectiveness indeed depends on fulfilling the duty of states to adapt their domestic legislation to their international obligations, and to have that legislation duly interpreted and enforced by organs of the state, in particular the judiciary; and finally, on compliance with international commitments and the recommendations and decisions of the Commission and the Court.
During the past year the IACHR continued to address these hemispheric challenges, among others, in pursuit of its mandate to promote and protect human rights. The Commission continued its work on the situation of especially vulnerable groups, through its Special Rapporteurs for rights of the child, women, indigenous people, and migrant workers, which are reflected in Chapter VI of this Annual Report. The IACHR has paid particular attention to the situation of people of African descent, through its promotional efforts as well as through its studies of the general human rights situation in member countries, and in individual cases and precautionary measures. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has also continued its important work of promotion and advice, as reflected in the study for the year 2002.
As in the previous decade, the issue of migrations occupied a prominent place on the political agenda of many countries of the Americas in 2002, reflecting the growing flow of migrants that the hemisphere has for various reasons experienced. In addition to the region's long-standing traditional migration flows, political and economic crises in various places have increased migration pressures throughout the Americas. Such pressures, together with security concerns following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have led to a considerable increase in controls and, in many cases, to harsher treatment of migrant workers and their families, who are singled out for special administrative treatment in many countries.
Pursuant to its mandate from the IACHR, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Migrant Workers and Their Families undertook a series of activities during the past year, including three thematic visits to member countries of the OAS, Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala. It also participated in a number of promotional efforts: among other things, it drew up a program for Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in the Americas, it conducted workshops and discussion groups on the Inter-American system for the protection of human rights, it participated in conferences and forums on migration issues, and it established and strengthened institutional links with intergovernmental agencies and entities of civil society working on behalf of migrant workers in the region.
With respect to the Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights, this report includes the conclusions of the IACHR from the first thematic visit by the Special Rapporteur. This took place in February, at the invitation of the Government of President Vicente Fox, to examine the situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
In its work plan for the present year, the office of the Special Rapporteur will focus primarily on the issue of women's access to justice, with particular emphasis on the causes of violence against women and the difficulties in overcoming them.
In examining the situation of women's rights in the region, the Special Rapporteur has reported that initiatives at the local, national and regional level to deal with human rights violations where the cause or consequence is gender-related have succeeded in establishing some basic norms that are key to the issue of discrimination and violence against women. The principal challenge now facing us is the continuing gap between those norms and the everyday experience of women in the Americas. On this point, the Special Rapporteur has stressed the problem of impunity, which tends to perpetuate gender-related violations of human rights. Impunity in such cases undermines the very system of guarantees and creates a climate that promotes repeated violations, to the detriment of human dignity and the most fundamental rights. The Special Rapporteur urges member states to redouble their efforts at ensuring due diligence in investigating, prosecuting and punishing acts of discrimination and violence against women, pursuant to the Convention of Belém do Pará, which has been ratified by nearly all member states, and the other instruments of the system. With respect to this obligation, it is essential that states should afford victims prompt access to effective justice.
As you will be aware, the Inter-American Development Bank and the OAS signed a Technical Cooperation Agreement in 2001 for strengthening the IACHR's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Rights of the Child, and this has been operating successfully. The project has produced a compilation of international and regional instruments relating to the human rights of children, and a systematization of inter-American doctrine and case law entitled "Children and Their Rights in the Inter-American System for Protection of Human Rights".
As well, a number of promotional visits and workshops are being conducted on the human rights of children and on the mechanisms that the inter-American system of human rights provides for their protection. Several such workshops were held in 2002, and more are planned for 2003 in Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Mexico. They are targeted at government officials and at defenders of children's' rights. These activities have achieved wide publicity for the system's various mechanisms. During its 116th regular session in Washington D.C., the IACHR held a public hearing attended by representatives of UNICEF and various regional organizations working for children's' rights.
In its effort to strengthen, promote and systematize its work on the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Commission established a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1990. Since 2000, thanks to contributions from the Danish government's program for human rights in Central America (PRODECA), a project has been underway for "strengthening the capacity of the Inter-American system for the defense of human rights of communities, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups affected by the conflicts in Central America", under which the Commission has formed a specialized team, consisting currently of a lawyer and a fellowship trainee, to support the work of the Special Rapporteur. During 2001 an opening was created under the "Rómulo Gallegos" fellowship, aimed specifically at young indigenous lawyers from Central America interested in broadening their experience and knowledge of human rights and indigenous law.
With the reinforcement of its professional staff, the IACHR was able in 2002 to make significant progress in processing petitions and cases submitted to it, relating to indigenous peoples and individuals. Indigenous peoples, their leaders and defenders also acquired a better understanding of how to gain access to the inter-American system of human rights, and this has resulted in a significant increase in the number of complaints about violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples relating to their ancestral lands, political rights, discrimination etc. At the same time, civil society has become more aware of the breadth and depth of the inter-American jurisprudence on the rights of indigenous peoples. The IACHR is currently processing more than 70 petitions or cases relating to those rights.
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared a report on the Status of Freedom of Expression in the Americas, which is part of the Commission's Annual Report. During the year 2000, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was replaced for the first time: after evaluating candidates in a public competition, the IACHR appointed Eduardo Bertoni to the post, which he took up in May 2002. This is the fifth Annual Report prepared by the Office of the Special Rapporteur since its creation in 1997, and, as before, it is divided into six chapters.
Chapter I of the report considers the mandate and powers of the Special Rapporteur, as well as activities conducted during 2002. Chapter II contains a description of certain aspects of the status of freedom of expression in countries of the hemisphere. With a view to promoting comparative jurisprudence, Chapter III summarizes inter-American case law and domestic case law of member states. Chapter IV represents a first attempt to address the issue of "freedom of expression and poverty", looking at the mechanisms by which poor people can access public information, the legitimate use of community-based communications media, and the exercise of the right of legitimate expression and public assembly. Chapter V, on "Laws on Desacato (Insult) and Criminal Defamation", stresses the need to repeal the crime of desacato, and discusses the scant progress that countries of the hemisphere have achieved in this area since the last reports on the issue in 1998 and 2000. Chapter VI makes recommendations to states in terms of investigating assassinations, kidnappings, threats and intimidation against social communicators, and prosecuting those responsible; repealing desacato laws and laws on criminal defamation and libel, and promulgating laws that guarantee broad access to information.
Finally, the report notes that, in terms of freedom of expression and information in the Americas, assassinations and attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and people in general who make use of this right continue to pose a severe problem. In an alarming number of cases such crimes go unpunished. The report also points to the persistence of practices designed to restrict the freedom of expression, whereby individuals who speak out critically about matters of public interest are charged with the crimes of desacato or libel. These circumstances do little to generate an atmosphere in which freedom of expression can flourish.
Summary of the 2001 [sic] Annual Report
The Annual Report is divided into three volumes, of which the first two relate to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The third volume, as explained, contains the report of the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2001 [sic] Annual Report is devoted to an assessment of the human rights situation in the hemisphere, and the major obstacles to the enjoyment of those rights. Chapter II offers a brief introduction to the origins and legal foundations of the Commission, and describes the main activities accomplished by the IACHR during the year. In this respect, it highlights the activities conducted during the Commission's two regular sessions, and one special session. It also reviews activities conducted with other organs of the inter-American system, and with regional and universal institutions of a similar nature. Among these we may mention visits to Commission headquarters by the United Nations Rapporteurs for Racial Discrimination, Torture and Indigenous Peoples. In particular, I would like to call attention to the practice of holding annual meetings of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court for dealing with issues of common interest, so as to improve the functioning of the regional human rights system. The Commission and the Court maintain a mutually beneficial relationship of cooperation in pursuit of their respective mandates.
During the period covered by this report, the Commission conducted two on-site visits to Haiti and one to Venezuela. It also made a working visit to Argentina, which is mistakenly referred to as an "on-site visit" in the copies of the report that you have received. The final printed version, and the version that will appear at our web page, will show this correctly as a working visit. In addition, the Commission concluded its visit to Guatemala last week. Our thematic and country rapporteurs also conducted promotional and working visits throughout the year. The IACHR is processing information received before, during and after those visits for preparing its report on the human rights situation in those countries. On behalf of the Commission, I want to express special thanks to governments for their cooperation in achieving the objectives set out during the visits in 2002.
Chapter III is undoubtedly the keystone of the IACHR's work, since it contains the Commission’s analyses and decisions on complaints of violations that affect people's fundamental human rights. This Chapter, the longest in the report, contains decisions adopted on petitions and individual cases presented to the Commission and processed in accordance with the rules of procedure. I would also stress the growing importance that the Commission is giving to achieving friendly settlement of petitions and individual cases: this year's report includes four decisions of this kind. At the same time, the IACHR is pursuing negotiations for friendly settlement of dozens of cases in various countries. The disposition of the parties to enter into dialogue and seek creative solutions constitutes a promising portent for the system’s further evolution.
In the period under analysis, a total of 58 reports were published, including 38 cases declared admissible; six reports on petitions declared inadmissible, three reports on friendly settlement; and 11 reports on merits. In these reports, the Commission has continued to deal with structural issues in the hemisphere such as violations of due process, extrajudicial executions, abuse of military jurisdiction, and impunity. The IACHR has also ruled on issues that are coming to our attention with increasing frequency, such as the rights of women, the freedom of expression, and the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. These cases reflect the growing juridical complexity of cases that the Commission is called upon to decide, as well as the Commission's efforts to improve and strengthen its arguments and justifications. Thus, the Commission seeks not only to resolve cases and petitions in a juridically sound manner, but also to engage in promotion through juridical determination of the scope of the obligations assumed voluntarily by member states of the Organization. Finally, in its reports, the Commission has continued to clarify a number of procedural questions, particularly on the issue of the admissibility of petitions, such as legitimate standing for initiating complaints, the temporal validity of the American Convention, and exceptions to the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies, among others. The Commission hopes in this way to contribute to legal security in our system, by setting rules and standards that the Commission faithfully observes. The IACHR points out that the approval for publication of a report on the merits of an individual case serves to some extent to offer compensation to the victim of a violation of human rights, where justice could not be obtained through the organs of domestic jurisdiction.
I would like to call your attention to some significant figures concerning the system of individual petitions. In 2002, the IACHR received 4,656 individual complaints. Of this total, 3,635 related to the rights of persons affected by the banking measures (the "corralito”) imposed in Argentina. It should be noted that the annual average was 609 petitions between 1997 and 2001, and so the year 2002 represented an increase of more than 700 percent in the number of complaints received. Even if we leave aside those complaints relating to the so-called corralito, the IACHR received 1,021 complaints in 2002, or 40 percent more than the average of the previous five years. These circumstances have exerted tremendous pressure on our executive secretariat, which has responded to the situation quite efficiently and has managed to keep the number of petitions in processing within historic averages.
This section also includes 91 precautionary measures granted or extended by the IACHR, for which there was activity during this period. The Commission has continued its practice of reporting on precautionary measures requested of member states, through its own initiative or at the petition of a party, pursuant to Art. 25 of its Rules of Procedure, in cases where this is necessary to avoid irreparable harm to individuals. The Commission has also engaged in greater direct communication with petitioners and the authorities
Chapter III has a section on the status of compliance with IACHR recommendations in individual cases. The OAS General Assembly, in resolution AG/RES 1890 (XXXII-O/02) on the Evaluation of the Workings of the Inter-American System for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights with a View to Its Improvement and Strengthening, urged member states to make their best efforts to follow up on the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (operative point 3.c), to continue to take appropriate action in connection with the Annual Reports of the Court and the Commission, in the framework of the Permanent Council and the General Assembly of the Organization, and to study possible means to address the state of compliance with the judgments of the Court and the observance of the recommendations of the Commission by the member states of the Organization (operative point 3.d). Both the Convention (Art. 41) and the Statute of the Commission (Art. 18) give the IACHR explicit power to request information from member states and to produce such reports and recommendations as it deems appropriate. Specifically, the IACHR Rules of Procedure that came into force on May 1, 2001, provide (Art. 46) that the Commission “may adopt the follow-up measures it deems appropriate, such as requesting information from the parties and holding hearings in order to verify compliance with friendly settlement agreements and its recommendations”. As well, the General Assembly approved Resolution AG/RES 1894 (XXXII-O/02), Observations and Recommendations on the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and invited the Commission “to consider the possibility of continuing to include in its Annual Reports information on the follow-up of its recommendations by the states [and] to review, with a view to their improvement, the criteria and indicators on that subject in the report for this year”.
Consistent with its powers under the Convention and its Statute, and in light of the resolutions quoted, as well as Art. 46 of its Rules of Procedure, the IACHR requested information from states about their compliance with recommendations made in the reports published on individual cases included in the Commission's Annual Reports for the years 2000 and 2001. The table presented by the Commission shows the status of compliance with IACHR recommendations on cases decided and published in the last two years. The IACHR notes that some of its recommendations involve successive stages of compliance, and that some of them will require a considerable time in order to be fully implemented. The table therefore shows the current status of compliance, which the Commission recognizes is a dynamic process that may evolve continuously. From this perspective, the Commission assesses whether recommendations have been fulfilled or not, rather than whether a start has been made at fulfilling them. The IACHR has attempted to reflect observations made by representatives of different member states during presentation of the 2001 Annual Report.
In an effort to make the system more transparent, the Commission has decided to include on its web page all responses to our reports from states that have expressly requested their publication. We believe that this mechanism will strengthen dialogue between states and the IACHR, and that it will foster greater public control over the inter-American system of human rights. I am pleased to note that, in contrast to last year, we have been able in this Annual Report to report almost full compliance with the Commission's recommendations on several cases. Yet there are many outstanding cases that are still awaiting full or partial compliance. In this respect, member states should make their best efforts to comply with the Commission's recommendations in good faith. We also have confidence that the Permanent Council and the Committee on Juridical Affairs will be able to establish a regular oversight mechanism on compliance with decisions of the Commission and the Court, so as to give effect to the principle of collective guarantees that underlies the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.
Chapter III also provides information on the Commission's actions before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This section describes the provisional measures ordered by the Court at the request of the Commission in situations of extreme gravity and urgency, pursuant to Art. 63 (2) of the American Convention on Human Rights, and summarizes decisions of the Court and actions of the Commission in several contentious cases.
The Commission has also followed the criteria set forth in its 1998 Annual Report for identifying member states whose human rights practices deserve special attention and the inclusion of a special chapter in the Annual Report. In this respect, Chapter IV of this year's report contains an analysis of the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela. Chapter V continues the practice of examining progress in carrying out previous recommendations of the Commission, in exercise of its role as the principal OAS organ for human rights. This year, that chapter contains a follow-up report on Guatemala and with the recommendations in IACHR reports on the human rights situation in those countries [sic - words missing in this sentence??]. I want to thank member states at this time for their response to the IACHR's request for information.
Volume I of the report concludes with the usual annexes reporting on the status of the regional conventions and protocols on human rights, as well as press releases and selected statements that the IACHR has published during the past year.
Mr. Chairman, representatives, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:
Before concluding, I want to express the Commission's gratitude for the increased funding that the Organization has recently approved. Every year we come before you to explain the IACHR's financial needs. The additional funding that we have received will allow us to pursue and reinforce the fulfillment of our mandates under the Convention and our Statute, and those received from the Summits of the Americas. We hope that member states will continue to approve this additional funding in the future, and that this will apply to the IACHR as a whole. We are also particularly grateful for the voluntary contributions of member states and permanent observers.
The constant search for mechanisms to strengthen participatory democracy creates new opportunities for member states to commit themselves to the organs of the inter-American system of human rights. The Commission and the Court are, as member states would have them be, instruments for supporting development of "a system of personal liberty and social justice", which is the ultimate objective enshrined in the preamble of the American Convention on Human Rights. Accordingly, the Commission renews its commitment to work with member states in fulfilling its mandate to defend human dignity through the protection and promotion of human rights. On behalf of the Commission, I want to thank member states for the support they have given the Commission in its continuing effort to honor that common commitment to oversee the exercise of human rights for every person in our hemisphere.
Thank you very much.
WORDS OF MARTA ALTOLAGUIRRE LARRAONDO,
PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE OAS
Santiago, Chile, June 10, 2003
Distinguished President of the General Assembly, distinguished Secretary General of the OAS, distinguished Assistant Secretary General, distinguished representatives of the member States of the Organization and Observers, distinguished Judges of the Inter-American Court, ladies and gentlemen:
Your Excellencies, Representatives of Member States, ladies and gentlemen: It is an honor to address this body on behalf of the Inter-American Commission. Let me start by expressing the awareness of the IACHR of the different situations and issues concerning English-speaking member States and specifically Caribbean countries. The IACHR is currently working on a new strategy towards acquiring a deeper vision of the particular situation of the Caribbean region and towards strengthening its cooperation to achieve the common goal of protecting human rights. I will continue speaking in Spanish, my native language.
In my capacity as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am pleased to submit the annual report of the Commission for 2002. I am accompanied today by José Zalaquett, First Vice-President of the Commission; Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary; Eduardo Bertoni, Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression; and professional staff of the Secretariat.
The report we submit today to the General Assembly was approved by the IACHR during its 117th regular session, held in February and March of this year. This report reflects the general activities of the Commission during the term that Juan Méndez served as President.
In December 2002 the Commission published its Report on Terrorism and Human Rights in which it presented a study on the force of and respect for human rights in the context of the member States’ counter-terrorism measures, based on its experience of more than 40 years, and on the standards of international law. In its report, the Commission articulates several fundamental principles concerning the necessary relationship between fighting terrorism and protecting human rights in states of emergency.
The anxiety generated both by the threat of terrorist violence and by the expectations of countering it must not distract the priority attention from endemic issues that beset the societies of our hemisphere, and especially their most vulnerable sectors. In this regard, the Commission observes with great concern the weakness of the democratic institutional framework in several countries of the hemisphere. Periodic elections have not sufficed to keep many democracies of the region from showing signs of institutional weakness. It also notes with concern that the limits to public power determined by domestic law are, in some cases, disrespected or ignored, provoking the breakdown of the rule of law, and the loss of credibility in the political system. Fortunately, the member States of the OAS are consistent today in their collective rejection of any effort to depart from constitutional rule, invoking instruments such as Resolution 1080 and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Corruption, poverty, exclusion, and social, economic, ethnic, and gender gaps also contribute to political instability. This situation, which is aggravated by the lack of effective access to justice in a large part of the hemisphere, not only contributes to perpetuating the lack of effectiveness and impunity that beset the operation of the judicial systems of the hemisphere, but also lead to the exclusion of citizens from the administration of justice, both as persons employed by the justice system, and as persons seeking to set the system of justice in motion to vindicate their interests. These factors coincide with the mounting sense of insecurity of citizens in the face of mounting violence and crime, and the tendency to recur to de facto measures.
In this hemispheric context, which also reflects global realities, the mechanisms for protecting human rights continue to perform a fundamental function. The integrity and effectiveness of the protection provided to the inhabitants of the hemisphere depends mainly on the efforts of the member States to attain the universality of the system by ratifying the American Convention and the other human rights instruments, and to accept the jurisdiction of the Court; on carrying out the obligation to adapt their domestic legislation to their international obligations and on the proper interpretation and application of such provisions by the organs of the State, in particular the judiciary; and, finally, on carrying out the international commitments and complying with the recommendations and decisions of the Commission and the Court.
The Commission continued its work in relation to the situation of especially vulnerable groups through the work of its special rapporteurships for the rights of children, indigenous peoples, and migrant workers, which are reflected in Chapter VI of this annual report. The IACHR has also paid special attention to the situation of Afro-descendants, through its promotion work and through its study of the general human rights situation in the member States, individual cases, and precautionary measures. The scope of verifying the rights of women, especially those related to the violence that affects millions of women in the hemisphere, has been expanded. In addition, the Special Rapporteurship has devoted efforts to promoting actively the Convention of Belém do Pará in the framework of proceedings before the system.
The Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression has also continued its work of promotion and advisory services. Since the central theme of this Assembly is democratic governance, and, in particular, the freedom of expression, I would like to highlight the importance of the debates in this area, mindful of the parameters set forth in Articles 13 and 14 of the American Convention, as well as the principles of international law in this area.
I cannot but call attention to some important numbers in the system of individual petitions that reflect both the great credibility of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the deterioration in the administration of justice in several countries of the region. In particular, in 2002, the IACHR received 1,021 complaints, 40% more than last year. I must clarify that this figure does not reflect the 3,635 complaints related to the banking measures adopted by the Government of Argentina. This increase has placed enormous pressure on our Executive Secretariat, which has been able to respond to the situation efficiently, and, in fact, has maintained the number of petitions being processed within its historical averages.
During the period covered by this report, the Commission made two on-site visits to Haiti and one to Venezuela. In addition, two months ago, the Commission concluded an on-site visit to Guatemala. Additionally, the Commission has followed the criteria set forth in its 1998 annual report to identity those member States whose human rights practices merited special attention. Accordingly, Chapter IV of the report for 2002 analyzes the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela.
As regards Colombia, the Commission is seriously concerned by the impact the violence generated by the actors in the internal armed conflict continues to have on respect for the fundamental human rights of the civilian population, and, in particular, of the most vulnerable sectors, i.e. the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, the displaced population and human rights defenders, and social leaders, women, and children. In this context the Commission wishes to reiterate its call to the parties to the armed conflict to respect and enforce, through their command and control structures, the norms that govern the hostilities, enshrined in international humanitarian law, with special emphasis on the norms that provide protection to civilians.
With respect to Cuba, the Commission finds that the Cuban State persists in its pattern of repressing human rights, particularly civil and political rights. Every person who wishes to exercise peacefully his or her rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Cuba is systematically repressed by the State. The Commission also finds that the Cuban State has not implemented the reforms needed to ensure the observance of the right to a judicial guarantees and the right of the accused to a court properly vested with jurisdiction that is independent and impartial. In this sense, the Commission must note its concern over the systematic persecution of political dissidents in recent months, the grave sentences imposed on many of them, and the execution of three persons after proceedings that did not include due process guarantees and which therefore were arbitrary. The Commission has consistently expressed its concern over human rights violations in Cuba, and hopes that the decisions adopted in this Forum will contribute to drawing up a hemispheric strategy aimed at ensuring the recognition and enjoyment of the fundamental rights of its inhabitants.
With respect to Haiti, the Commission expresses its concern over the profound structural weakness of the administration of justice. While the State has taken some initiatives to investigate and bring to court those who violated human rights, most such cases continue unresolved, particularly those concerning the grave events of December 2001. With respect to citizen security, the Commission recognizes the Government’s efforts to train the future members of the security forces, but continues receiving reports about police abuse. Similarly, the Commission expresses its concern at the limited success of efforts to disarm the population. The widespread illegal possession and use of firearms and the repeated violent actions of certain armed groups and popular organizations is a constant threat to the security of all Haitians. With respect to the freedom of expression, the Commission laments that threats against journalists continues, and the crimes against them remain in impunity.
As for Venezuela, the Commission expresses its concern over the deteriorating human rights situation, which seriously compromises the stability of the rule of law. During the May 2002 on-site visit, the IACHR observed that the lack of independence of the judiciary, limitations on the freedom of expression, the extreme polarization of society, the action of death squads (grupos de exterminio), the scant credibility of the oversight institutions due to the uncertainty as to the constitutionality of the designation of their officers and the partial nature of their actions, the lack of coordination among the security forces, and the existence of structural impunity in the Venezuelan justice system represented a clear weakness of the fundamental pillars of the rule of law. Given the seriousness of the situation, the Commission had planned to carry out a series of follow-up visits, which to date has not been possible due to the failure of the Venezuelan State to determine the respective dates, despite repeated requests by the Commission and the invitation made by President Chávez and Vice-President Rangel during the on-site visit. The Commission considers that its presence in Venezuela would help strengthen the protection of the human rights of all its inhabitants.
Chapter V continues the practice of analyzing implementation of the recommendations made by the Commission pursuant to its powers as principal organ of the OAS in the area of human rights. On this occasion, that chapter contains a report following up on the recommendations set forth in the IACHR’s report on the human rights situation in Guatemala.
Madame President, distinguished representatives, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:
Before concluding, I must express the Commission’s profound concern over its budgetary situation. While acknowledging the increase in funds approved by the Organization in 2002, which enabled us to continue carrying out our conventional and statutory mandates and those that have been conferred on the Commission at the Summits of the Americas, I must note that these additional funds have not been provided, in their entirety, to the Commission. We are aware of the Organization’s budgetary adjustments, which, as we understand, will continue at least during the next year. These budget cuts affect and will affect even more the essential tasks that the Commission carries out to protect and promote human rights in the hemisphere. Several states have pointed out and rightly so that our cases are processed slowly. It is true, and we are striving to improve, with the reform of our Rules of Procedure and additional efforts by the Executive Secretariat. Nonetheless, without more human and financial resources it is absolutely impossible for the Commission to be able to respond to the growing demands efficiently. The constant expressions of support for the inter-American system for the protection of human rights and the political will to provide funds to the organs of the system, expressed by the highest offices and fora of the inter-American system, in the Summits process, in this organ, and by the Permanent Council, have not been translated into an increase that makes it possible for the inter-American system for the protection of human rights to carry out the conventional, mandates and with the new mandates that are periodically entrusted to the Commission. In addition, both the Commission and the Court have, as agreed, carried out the reforms to our respective rules of procedure that allow for greater efficiency in the organs of the system. We hope that the States will effectively provide resources in an amount that would enable us to guarantee that the human rights of the inhabitants of this hemisphere have efficient international protection.
The constant search for mechanisms to consolidate democracies creates new opportunities for the member States’ commitment to the organs of the inter-American human rights system. The Commission and the Court are, in keeping with the aim of the member States, means for helping to bring about “a system of personal liberty and social justice,” the ultimate objective set forth in the preamble of the American Convention on Human Rights. In keeping with this spirit, the Commission renews its commitment to work with the member States in carrying out its mandate to defend human dignity by exercising its mandate for the protection and promotion of human rights. On behalf of the Commission, I wish to express our gratitude for the support the member States have given the Commission so that it may continue honoring the common commitment to ensure that all persons of our hemisphere are able to exercise their human rights.
Thank you very much.
ADDRESS BY DR. JOSÉ ZALAQUETT,
PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
AT THE OPENING OF THE 118th REGULAR SESSION
October 6, 2003, Washington, D.C.
Mr. Chair of the Permanent Council of the OAS, Ambassador Salvador E. Rodezno Fuentes; Mr. Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs and Representative of the Secretary General, Dr. Enrique Lagos; distinguished representatives of the Organization’s member states and permanent observers; esteemed colleagues; ladies and gentlemen:
In my capacity as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it is an honor to address you at this opening ceremony of our 188th regular session. We are pleased to have with us on this occasion my colleagues First Vice-President Clare K. Roberts and Commissioners Robert K. Goldman, Julio Prado Vallejo, and Susana Villarán. Also present are the Executive Secretary, Dr. Santiago Canton, and members of the Executive Secretariat staff.
As you know, the General Assembly of the OAS elected four new members to the Commission this year. I would like to congratulate and extend an early welcome to Messrs. Evelio Fernández of Paraguay, Freddy Gutiérrez of Venezuela, Florentín Meléndez of El Salvador, and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of Brazil, who will be assuming their posts on January 1, 2004.
I am sorry to announce that, as communicated to the General Secretariat, our valued colleagues Marta Altolaguirre and Juan E. Méndez recently resigned from their posts as commissioners due to longstanding conflicts. On behalf of the Commission, I would like to express our fraternal thanks for their outstanding work over the past years.
The Commission has a busy program scheduled for the regular session being inaugurated today. As usual, we shall dedicate the major part of our work to studying and taking under consideration reports on individual petitions and cases relating to different countries in the Hemisphere, cases that are in different phases of the process of admissibility, friendly settlement, consideration of the merits, or decisions about their referral to the Inter-American Human Court of Human Rights. During the second of the session’s three weeks, the Commission has scheduled more than 50 hearings on cases and petitions that are in the various phases mentioned above. A number of individuals, organizations, and representatives of member states will appear before the Commission to present information on the human rights situation in the Hemisphere, both in general and in connection with specific rights or issues that the Commission is authorized to consider.
The Inter-American Commission has followed with special attention the evolution of democratic institutions in the Hemisphere, recognizing advances and noting inadequacies. The issues of special concern in this regard have been, and continue to be, respect for the rule of law and democratic governance, primarily because of signs of backsliding in the consolidation of the rule of law in some of the region’s states. Indeed, as we have repeatedly said, although periodic elections are held in the Hemisphere, many democracies still suffer from institutional weaknesses, and attempted coups d’état or efforts to alter the constitutional order have not entirely disappeared. Fortunately, the level of awareness reached by the OAS has made it possible to create mechanisms, first, resolution 1080 and especially the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which work together to prevent serious attacks on democratic institutions.
Among the important advances made are the holding of periodic elections and freer and more open societies with a multiplicity of private actors and organizations that interlink in the international arena, reinforcing the legitimacy of democracy and human rights. Nevertheless, as I indicated, serious problems remain: insufficiently developed institutions (as in the case of the Judiciary in many countries); poorly trained law enforcement groups (groups that failed to recognize the inherent relationship between respect for human rights and citizen security); vulnerable groups, women, indigenous peoples, communities of African descent, children, persons with disabilities (who have not yet achieved the de facto equality allowing them to develop fully and freely, or even, in some countries, the corresponding de jure equality). Our region is the most unequal in the world in economic and social terms. Full recognition of economic, social and cultural rights continues to be a distant dream for large sectors of our society.
In this context, we can clearly establish at the outset that the democratic system and the rule of law are crucial for the effective protection of human rights. Democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions for the enjoyment of and respect for human rights in a society. According to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; the pluralistic systems of political parties and organizations; and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government. Transparency in government activities, probity, responsible public administration on the part of governments, respect for social rights, and freedom of expression and of the press are, in turn, essential components of the exercise of democracy (Inter-American Democratic Charter, Articles 3 and 4).
Based on these principles, we can affirm that the rule of law, hemispheric security, and the poverty affecting large sectors of the inhabitants of the Americas are interconnected issues and are central to facing the challenges of strengthening democracy.
One of the Commission’s main concerns continues to be the need to create mechanisms for combating terrorism within a framework of absolute respect for human rights. The Commission’s long experience as the region’s principal human rights body for more than 40 years shows that the only effective and lasting security is based on full respect for human rights, without any discrimination whatsoever. As it indicated to the Committee on Hemispheric Security, the Commission recognizes the interdependent relationship between maintaining state security and protecting the rule of law and basic human rights. Without the assurance that the region’s population will be protected against terrorism and other threats, the rule of law and basic human rights cannot effectively be guaranteed. At the same time, the Commission’s experience shows that when states sacrifice basic human rights in the name of the struggle against terrorism, the rule of law and democratic freedoms are eroded, and ultimately, the objective effects of terrorism are increased, rather than diminished. Thus, maintaining security and protecting human rights are complementary responsibilities: one cannot be achieved without the other.
In its Report on Terrorism and Human Rights–one of most comprehensive studies in this area to date–the Commission has clearly and unequivocally spoken out on the compatibility and interdependence of human rights and the fight against terrorism in the framework of the rule of law. The purpose of any effective measure against the scourge of terrorism should be the preservation of the basic human rights and democratic institutions that terrorist action seeks to weaken and ultimately destroy. The Commission is confident that its Report on Terrorism and Human Rights will help the member states and other interested actors in the inter-American system to prepare and apply antiterrorist initiatives that are fully in accord with basic rights and freedoms. There is no doubt that this is crucial to any effective campaign against terrorist violence.
Nevertheless, as we have indicated, the close relationship between respect for human rights and security is not limited to preventing threats of terrorist violence. Efforts to increase multilateral cooperation in areas such as the fight on organized crime can take advantage of jurisprudence on the rule of law and the administration of justice. Prosecuting those responsible for crimes that undermine the security and human rights of a population is crucial if impunity is to be prevented.
Similarly, the Commission has emphasized the fact that States are duty-bound to use all legal means at their disposal to combat these situations, since impunity allows for the chronic repetition of human rights violations and constitutes one of the most significant factors contributing to criminal and social violence. In this respect, the Commission is following with interest the processes that unfold in various countries concerning the need for mechanisms to end impunity for serious human rights violations, such as those that have taken place in many of the region’s countries. The Commission has also stressed that legislation to prosecute and punish crime must respect the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, and that criminal proceedings must be subject to judicial control.
At the opening of this Commission’s session a year ago, it was noted that the world had undeniably undergone a radical change since September 11, and yet that many things remained the same, including the exclusion of large majorities of the Hemisphere’s population from the effective enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights. In most countries of the Organization of American States, exclusion from the benefits of progress and a lack of access to basic needs and education make vast sectors of the population especially vulnerable to structural adjustments and economic imbalances. In this connection, the Commission is mindful of the economic and social crises that affect the most vulnerable sectors of society in particular and devastate the standard of living in many of our countries, in some cases with a worrisome impact on the functioning of public institutions and the rule of law.
At the same time, the deterioration of economic and social conditions is reflected in increased security problems due to rising crime rates. Unfortunately, the institutional response to citizen insecurity often consists in repressive action and so-called “get tough” policies, without due attention to proposals to restore harmony and establish community-controlled police forces. This situation results in regrettable setbacks that remind us of a not very distant past when authorities responded to social protest and increased crime by violence, repression, and systematic human rights violations.
Institutions conceived under the rule of law are inseparable from the concept of democracy–the essential foundation for the effective guarantee of human rights in the Hemisphere. Hence, the Commission will always insist not only on preserving democracy, but also on reinforcing it. Our decisions on individual cases and our thematic and country reports are intended, precisely, to assist states in improving the quality of democracy. Although the Hemisphere continues to show its commitment to democracy and its rejection of attempted coups and authoritarian ventures, we must do much more for the quality of the democratic system if we want all inhabitants of the Americas to feel represented and protected by the democratic ideal.
In many of the region’s countries we can see the steady deterioration of democratic institutions and weaknesses in the rule of law. Despite the progress made with regard to free elections in almost all member states, there continue to be institutional weaknesses in many of the Hemisphere’s countries, which prevent the full observance of the rule of law. This jeopardizes the people’s enjoyment of basic rights and creates the conditions for social upheaval. Meanwhile, the stability needed for sustained social, economic, and cultural development in the region remains at bay.
The Commission is carefully following the particularly critical situation of some of the region’s states and will express some ideas on the subject at the end of this session.
The Commission has been in touch with the Inter-American Court to examine essential aspects of the functioning of the inter-American human rights system as a whole, including the question of how to respond better and more quickly to new needs, such as those resulting from an increasing number of cases, and changing circumstances. More funds are required, and they are being sought–on an emergency basis–since this is an issue that the OAS member states must face, as they also consider how to improve their operations and their mutual relationships as human rights bodies.
In this context, the Commission’s Secretariat has continued to improve its management, and the entire staff is working as diligently as possible. I wish to take this opportunity to thank both the Executive Secretary and all members of the staff for their outstanding performance and their professionalism. They are doing their utmost to reinforce the protection of human rights for the people of the Americas.
We would also like to express our recognition and gratitude to the General Secretariat for its constant support and for something that Mr. Enrique Lagos pointed out in his speech: its respect for the due autonomy of the IACHR–within the framework, of course, of the OAS system to which it belongs.
Mr. Chair, distinguished representative of the Assistant Secretary General, distinguished representatives, and esteemed colleagues:
The challenges before us face require new and creative approaches, as we seek mechanisms to strengthen respect for the rule of law in our states. Nevertheless, we must resist the temptation of seeing in each challenge an exception that incites us to disregard the human rights territory that we have conquered over many years. I would like to stress, in this regard, that the states’ commitment to respect the international legal system has not changed, nor should it. Indeed, answers to our problems should be found within and not outside these international mechanisms, since they contain the tools needed to respond to the needs of security and of justice. The rule of law and democracy are the building blocks of just societies, for whom the eradication of poverty and the full observance of human rights are the essence of human dignity and the core of our being.
I therefore hereby declare open the 118th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.