PRESENTATION OF THE 2005 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE IACHR
BY PRESIDENT, DOCTOR EVELIO FERNÁNDEZ ARÉVALOS
Thursday, April 27, 2006
President of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,
Distinguished Representatives of the Member States and Observers of the Organization,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“Commission,” “Inter-American Commission,” or “IACHR”), I have the pleasure of presenting the Commission’s 2005 Annual Report to the Permanent Council’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. Today the Executive Secretary and the professional staff of the Secretariat are with me.
The report we are presenting today to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs was approved by the Commission in its 124th ordinary period of sessions which took place between February 27 and March 17 of this year. The report was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of Resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-0/78) of the General Assembly, and according to Article 57 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure. The report reflects the general activities of the IACHR under the presidency of Dr. Clare K. Roberts. I will complement the presentation of this report with a PowerPoint presentation that includes details about the individual petitions system and the financial state of the Commission.
The Human Rights Situation in 2005
Since its last annual report, the IACHR has verified important progress in the area of human rights: Argentina’s Supreme Court of Justice declared null and void the “Full Stop and Due Obedience Laws,” as recommended by the Inter-American Commission; Chile made broad constitutional reforms eliminating obstacles to equal political participation, also as recommended by the IACHR; and agreements have been signed and important progress made in friendly settlement procedures in cases involving Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Normative advances in the area of women’s rights also stand out, such as the approval of the Family Violence Law in Chile, Jamaica’s ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, the “Belém do Pará Convention;” and Honduras and Colombia’s ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. In late 2004, a broad national program of human rights was presented in Mexico and constitutional reforms were approved in Brazil that tend to modernize the judicial system and broaden the available judicial mechanisms for combating impunity in cases of human rights violations. At the same time, the IACHR took note of the profound changes that Brazil’s government is making in the area of the promotion of racial equality in the country. Argentina’s recognition of responsibility this year for failures in the judicial investigations in the case of the terrorist attack against the office of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) also bears mentioning. Other states have recognized their responsibilities both before the Commission and before the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
The IACHR also emphasizes that the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Inter-American Human Rights System continues to grow, as evidenced by the consistent increase in the number of people presenting petitions, the diversity of issues presented and of the organizations attending the sessions and hearings, the high level of state and civil society representation at these sessions and hearings, the increase in the use of the System’s jurisprudence by multiple courts in our region, and the significant results achieved in the defense of human rights, thanks to the use of the System. At the same time, the Inter-American Commission would like to recognize the important work that human rights defenders are doing in the hemisphere and to remind the Member States of their obligation to provide all guarantees necessary for the people who participate in the hearings.
Unfortunately, problems remain. The weakness of the rule of law in several countries of the region has a negative effect on the full observance of human rights. The deficient socio-economic situation in the great majority of the OAS Member States also keeps their inhabitants from the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. At the same time, structural problems from earlier decades persist in terms of impunity in cases of serious human rights violation: for example, in cases of torture, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearance; arbitrary detention; the fragility of the judicial system in many countries of the region; and, in some countries, attacks against the independence and impartiality of the judicial branch of the state; overcrowding and other inhumane conditions suffered by persons deprived of freedom; and very serious incidents of violence in jails that have caused the death of dozens of prisoners. Nor has the situation of legal and factual equality changed in terms of the groups who are traditionally discriminated against, such as women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent peoples, and homosexuals. The year 2005 saw, once again, rising crime rates and an increase in public insecurity, as well as the insufficient response of states that implement “iron fist” policies without adequately dealing with the causes of the problem, and without considering the application of prevention and rehabilitation policies.
In spite of significant economic improvements in several countries of the region, the social situation presents serious problems. For example, with respect to the right to work—the issue chosen for the Summit of the Americas held in November 2005—currently in Latin America and the Caribbean, there are more than 20 million unemployed persons; seven out of every ten new jobs are informal; and many workers do not earn enough to keep their families above the poverty line. In its recently released report, “Poverty Reduction and Growth: Virtuous Cycles and Vicious Cycles,” the World Bank has pointed out once again that Latin America continues to be one of the most unequal regions.
One of the greatest challenges faced by OAS Member States is the need to increase good governance and improve the quality of public administration in the region. These are essential requirements for the effective promotion and protection of human rights. The structural weaknesses of many institutions basic to democratic societies, along with significant situational crises that cause political instability, impede the forging of broad and lasting consensuses that permit the identification and implementation of inclusive public policies necessary for the respect and effective enjoyment of all human rights; particularly those related to the equal exercise of the right to political participation; access to an independent and impartial judiciary; the right to an effective appeal; broad freedom of expression; the right to associate and assemble; equal protection before the law, and economic, social and cultural rights.
Within this framework, the societies and governments of the American states should make use of the Inter-American mechanisms available to them. The American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, in particular, represent irreversible advances in the region. They establish international legal obligations with commitments to strengthen a community of free nations whose governments are not only chosen democratically, but also govern with the full adherence to the rule of law, fully guaranteeing the human rights of all of its inhabitants. As the primary body of the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights, the Inter-American Commission is at the service of the inhabitants of the Americas and their governments for making progress on this agenda in the hemisphere.
The essential mission of the Inter-American Commission in the years to come should be to contribute towards lessening these deficiencies through the protection and promotion of human rights. This, with the understanding that it is primarily through actions on the national level that international obligations on human rights assumed by the OAS Member States can be translated into reality. We understand that IACHR responsibilities play a secondary role vis-à-vis the primary function of the state. Therefore, the Commission’s mandate requires it, above all, to work with governments. Because of this, it values dialogue and contact with governments as essential for analyzing the obstacles that impede compliance with international obligations and for working to overcome them. At the same time, the Commission should strengthen its permanent capacity to be able to react quickly to situational crises, lend support on the ground, build the states’ capacity in the area of human rights, and provide guidance and technical assistance. Likewise, it must strengthen the system of individual petitions and precautionary measures, to which the IACHR dedicates a large part of its efforts. All of this without forgetting the crucial role that civil society plays, and which the Commission values greatly, since it believes that both civil society and the state have a natural role in the work of promoting and defending fundamental freedoms.
Structure and Summary of the 2005 Annual Report
As in previous years, the Annual Report is divided into three volumes: the first two refer to the work of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and the third contains the report of the Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2005 Annual Report is dedicated to assessing the human rights situation in the hemisphere as well as the greatest obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights. At the beginning of my presentation, I concentrated on several of the issues discussed in Chapter I of the Report.
Chapter II provides a brief introduction to the origins and legal bases of the Commission and describes the primary activities carried out by the Commission during the course of the year. To that effect, the chapter highlights activities carried out during its two ordinary period of sessions.
Chapter II also describes the on-site visits, special visits, and promotional visits, as well as other activities developed by the Commission during the year and activities of the Commission related to the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
In 2005, the Commission made three visits to the Republic of Haiti, with financial support provided by the government of France and logistical support from the OAS Special Mission for Strengthening Democracy in Haiti. Likewise, in July 2005, the First Vice President and IACHR Rapporteur for the Republic of Guatemala, Susana Villarán, visited that country, thanks to financial support provided by the European Commission. The IACHR also visited Colombia on two occasions. In January 2005, a delegation headed by the Vice President and IACHR Rapporteur for Colombia, Susana Villarán, traveled there to formally present the Report on the Demobilization Process in Colombia. In mid-December, an IACHR delegation headed by the Executive Secretary, Santiago A. Canton, visited Bogotá in order to follow up on Colombia’s demobilization process, according to the mandate established by Resolution 859 (1397/04) of the OAS Permanent Council in which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is invited to provide advisory services to MAPP/OAS. Finally, the Rapporteur at the time for Mexico, Dr. José Zalaquet, visited Mexico during August 25-31, 2005. The mission’s program included the Commission’s first official visit to the state of Oaxaca, where the delegation met with civil society organizers and with technical staff of the United Nations Project for the Implementation of the Recommendations of the Human Rights Diagnostic in Mexico.
Through its specialized rapporteur offices, the IACHR also undertook intensive labor. The Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples participated in the Commission’s visits to Colombia in July 2005, to Guatemala in June 2005, and to Mexico in August 2005. He met with representatives of indigenous peoples of those states and obtained important information. The Rapporteur’s office, which was under the direction of Commissioner José Zalaquet at the time and is currently led by Dr. Paolo Carozza, also participated in a variety of conferences and seminars on the rights of indigenous peoples, including a presentation on the topic of the rights of indigenous peoples in the Inter-American Human Rights System at the Annual Conference of the Association of American Law Schools in January 2005 and a seminar on the Justice System of Indigenous Peoples organized by the Due Process Legal Foundation (DPLF) and the Center for Human Rights and Legal Services to Indigenous Peoples (CEPHAPI) under the auspices of the state’s Human Rights Commission and the Sub-secretary for Human Rights of the Oaxaca government in November 2005.
During the last year, the work program of the Rapporteur for Women’s Rights, headed today by Commissioner Victor Abramowitz who succeeded Commissioner Susana Villarán, has focused on a priority task for the rights of women on the continent: that is, assuring effective access for women to the justice system, in particular when the woman has been subjected to violence and discrimination. In 2005, the Office of the Rapporteur carried out a process aimed at gathering information to identify the greatest achievements and challenges for women in effectively accessing the justice system in the Americas. Activities implemented so far include the distribution of a questionnaire to OAS Member States and civil society experts, international agencies, and the academic sector; and the organization of five meetings of experts in Washington DC (April 19-20); Peru (August 1-2), Costa Rica (August 11-12), Argentina (September 12-13), and Jamaica (September 29-30), at the regional and sub-regional level.
The activities of the Rapporteur for Children in 2005 included a seminar at Brown University, led by the Commissioner in charge of the Office of the Rapporteur, Dr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro; and participation in the June 2005 Consultation for Latin America, held within the framework of the U.N. Secretary General’s study on violence against boys, girls, and adolescents, held in Argentina. At the same time, the Office of the Rapporteur participated, together with the UNICEF Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, in an observation visit to Haiti during the month of December. In addition, in March 2005, the IACHR sent the hemisphere’s first case related to child soldiers to the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
In compliance with its mandate, the Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, participated in numerous activities for promotion, observation, and assistance in 2005. The Special Rapporteur traveled to many countries in the region, including Brazil and Colombia, with the objective of conducting on-site analysis of the detention conditions of people deprived of their liberty in these countries. In addition, in the exercise of his functions of promotion, Rapporteur Florentín Meléndez participated in the seminar organized by the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and the Teotonio Vilela Commission on “The Facultative Protocol of the Convention Against Torture: Implementation in Brazil and other Federal and Decentralized States,” that took place June 22-24 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-descendent Persons and Against Racial Discrimination, through its Rapporteur, Commissioner Clare K. Roberts, visited Brazil in response to an official invitation from that government. During this visit, the Special Rapporteur participated in the First National Conference for the Promotion of Racial Equality and met with authorities and various representatives of civil society, particularly the Black Social Movement (Movimiento Social Negro). The Special Rapporteur visited Brasilia, Salvador, and Sao Paulo. In addition, during the month of August 2005 the Rapporteur participated in the creation of the Black Parliament of the Americas in San José, Costa Rica. The current rapporteur recognized during the meetings that improving political participation and representation is imperative for the progress of the movements of the African descendent people in the entire region.
For its part, the Human Rights Defenders Unit of the Executive Secretary participated in several visits to countries in the hemisphere with the goal of receiving information and meeting with defenders. One of the primary tasks of the Unit during this year was the conclusion of a Draft Comprehensive Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. To this effect, I want to communicate to you that the Inter-American Commission discussed and approved the “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas” in its 124th ordinary period of sessions, in accordance with the mandate established by the General Assembly of the OAS through Resolution AG/RES. 1818 (XXXI-O/01). In its report, the IACHR emphasizes that the human rights promotion and protection work carried out by the defenders is an essential activity that coincides with an essential obligation of the states, and therefore, generates in the states a special obligation to protect those who are dedicated to promoting and protecting these rights.
In conclusion, the Commission has fulfilled all of the mandates given to it by the General Assembly and the Summit of the Americas. However, several of these activities were carried out by the Commission through voluntary contributions and external funding sources due to shortfalls in the regular budget of the Commission. In this sense, we want to emphasize once again the need for Member States to fulfill their commitments to increase the Commission’s regular budget so that it may continue fulfilling its growing responsibilities and mandates.
The longest chapter in the report, Chapter III, contains the decisions of the Commission with respect to the petitions and cases about human rights violations in the Organization’s Member States. The chapter also includes statistics about the work of the Commission, summaries of the precautionary measures adopted or expanded during 2005, and a general vision of follow-up on the recommendations on decisions published since 2001.
In the period of analysis, the Commission published a total of 84 reports, including 53 reports of admissibility of petitions, 16 reports of inadmissibility of petitions, 8 friendly settlement reports, and 7 background reports. In the same period, the Commission authorized a total of 33 precautionary measures, according to Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, in order to prevent irreparable harm to people. At the same time, the Commission received a total of 1,330 individual petitions in 2005 and began to process 150 of them, reaching a total of 1,137 individual petitions processed by the Commission in the year 2005. The Commission also referred a total of 10 cases to the Inter-American Human Rights Court. All of this was achieved as a result of the untiring efforts of the small staff of the Executive Secretariat and the members of the Commission. These circumstances impose considerable pressure on the Executive Secretariat in its efforts to manage the increasing caseload and the increasing mandates of the Commission in other areas with a budget that remains the same, or is even smaller in real terms.
* The number of decisions made by GRUMECA and by the IACHR during the period indicated, including the follow-up actions taken. It should be kept in mind that a request for precautionary measures can have more than one decision and that requests received outside of this period may have been evaluated during this period.
The strength of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights depends on compliance with the recommendation of the Commission, the decisions of the Court, and urgent protection measures. The above table on case follow-up shows that many states have complied with the recommendations totally or partially. On the other hand, there are many cases in which the states involved must still implement recommendations completely. In this sense, it is important to reiterate the obligation of Member States to make the utmost effort to comply in good faith with the recommendations of the Commission.
Chapter IV of the 2005 Annual Report contains the analysis of the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, and Venezuela. This chapter includes those OAS Member States whose practices in the area of human rights call for special attention.
With respect to Colombia, the Commission recognizes the efforts the State has made to combat the armed actors and put an end to the violence. The IACHR observed with satisfaction in 2005 the government’s important step of ratifying the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons. However, the Commission continues to be concerned about the violence generated by the actors in the internal armed conflict and its impact on respect for the fundamental rights of the civilian population in Colombia, particularly the most vulnerable sectors. At the same time, attacks continue to be recorded against human rights defenders, social and labor leaders, and journalists.
In spite of the dialogue between the government and the AUC high command for negotiations, the commitment to cease hostilities, and the demobilizations implemented in several regions of the country, paramilitary action against the civil population continues.
The IACHR recognizes that a situation that is as complex, painful, and prolonged as the Colombian one requires the de-activation of armed actors through the mechanisms of negotiation. For this reason, in order to assure the durability of peace, there must be some guarantee that crimes against international law, human rights violations, and serious infractions of international humanitarian law will not be repeated. This requires a public clarification of the facts of the violence and reparations for its consequences through mechanisms that can establish the truth about what happened, administer justice, and give comprehensive reparations to the victims in light of their international obligations, according to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and the OAS Charter.
With respect to Cuba, the IACHR has observed and evaluated the human rights situation during 2005, a period within which it received, in particular, information about: the violations of legal due process and the lack of independence of the judicial system; the prison conditions of those deprived of liberty for opposing the government; violations of the freedom of expression; the situation of human rights defenders; the violation of workers’ labor rights and organizing rights; and restrictions on exercising the right to residence and transportation for the inhabitants of the island.
In addition, the Commission states in its report that the commercial embargo imposed against Cuba over more than 40 years ago should end. This sanction of economic nature has had a serious impact on the ability of the population to enjoy its economic and social rights. It is clear that those who have suffered the consequences of the embargo have been the most vulnerable sectors of the Cuban population.
In terms of the situation in Ecuador, the report concentrates on the situation in the country from late 2004 and through the year 2005. The Commission highlights some of the initiatives adopted by the government of President Palacio, initiatives that are a positive sign for the reestablishment of some institutions. This includes the unprecedented process for naming Supreme Court magistrates, a process that assures transparent selection and international verification, and constitutes an important step, particularly because it is the result of a democratic internal dialogue.
In spite of this, the year 2005 was witness to a weak rule of law and, therefore, the fragile protection of human rights in Ecuador. The security of the democratic system was negatively affected by political instability, and while this is not a recent occurrence in the history of the country, nor is it the responsibility of the current government, it has exposed the failures of a power structure that has been feeble in terms of being accountable for public policy and the structural reforms necessary to protect the human rights of the majority of the Ecuadorian population. On occasions, the government has also found it impossible to develop effective work programs due to the temporary nature of its functions, since the average time in office for Ecuadorian presidents in the last decade has been only two years. This erosion was reflected, also, in the incapacity of the political system to respond to social problems, which then contribute to perpetuating structures failures in the area of human rights.
Similar to the conclusions of the Commission’s 2004 Annual Report, the Commission saw a greater deterioration in conditions in Haiti during 2005, due primarily to the increase in violence caused by armed groups and gangs, added to the fact that the government, with international assistance, has not guaranteed security for the population in the whole country. For example, in some neighborhoods of the city of Port Au Prince, like Cite Soleil, there is no presence of either the National Police or international forces. Therefore, these areas do not have any kind of security. While some efforts have been made to apprehend dangerous criminals, the fact that armed groups and gangs in Haiti have not been disarmed is of primary concern for the Commission, not only because of the immediate threat that this violence poses to the life and physical integrity of Haitians, but also because the future of the country depends in large part on pro-security efforts being successful. If there is no efficient state control over security, human rights defenders, journalists, people who are threatened because of their political opinions, and other key actors in the exercise of democracy will continue to be threatened and the prospect for holding free and fair elections will diminish along with opportunities for long-term international cooperation and development in the country. In light of these considerations, the Commissions calls on the government once again to adopt the necessary urgent measures, according to the principles and norms of international law, in order to affirm their control over security in Haiti and be able to appeal to the international community to redouble its efforts to aid the government in this task.
With respect to Venezuela, the Commission highlights some actions aimed at complying with decisions issued by the bodies of the System and in international instruments for the protection of human rights. These actions include the authorization of the law approving the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the IACHR hopes that the instrument for ratification instrument will be delivered shortly); the recognition of the responsibility taken on by the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in a public hearing held June 29, 2005 before the Inter-American Human Rights Court in the case of Blanco Romero and others; and the payment of appropriate pensions and compensation for moral and material loss to VIASA retirees in the framework of an agreement signed before the IACHR between the state and the representatives of Petition 667/01 Jesús Manuel Naranjo Cárdenas and others (retirees of the Venezuelan Aviation Company, VIASA).
In spite of these advances, the Commission regrets Venezuela’s persistent contentious position with respect to the inter-American system as expressed in the reaffirmation of Judgment 1,942 of the Supreme Court of Justice which establishes that the decisions of the organs of the system will not be executed if they contradict the Venezuelan Constitution.
Likewise, the Commission’s report gave particular attention to situations related to the administration of justice; the lack of due process or a delay in due process in investigating complaints related to human rights violations and extrajudicial executions; and the existence of an environment hostile to political dissent and to non-governmental organizations or media that publicly point out human rights violations or irregularities in the public administration of the country. In the last year, the Commission has also been alerted about the serious conditions in which people deprived of their liberty are found.
Chapter V of the Commission’s 2005 Report contains the Seventh Progress Report of the Rapporteur’s Office on Migrant Workers and their Family Members, which establishes the parameters of the primary activities carried out in this area during 2005.
The report presents a panorama of the most important facts in the area of migration and human rights, as reviewed by the jurisprudence of the inter-American system and national policy and practices related to the human rights of migrant workers and their families.
As in earlier years, the Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression prepared his 2005 report on the subject; it is Volume II of the Annual Report. According to the mandate of the Commission, the report covers the issues and activities that were named as priorities for the Office of the Rapporteur during the year, including the evaluation of the state of freedom of expression in the hemisphere, a summary of the jurisprudence on freedom of expression from the African Commission of Human Rights and of the Peoples and internal jurisprudence of the Member States, a report about access to information in the hemisphere; a report about public demonstrations as a way to exercise freedom of expression and the freedom of religion, and a report on the freedom of expression and electoral processes related to opinion surveys and exit polls. At the same time, during 2005, the Rapporteur’s office published the report, “Impunity, Self-Censorship, and Armed Conflict: An Analysis of Freedom of Expression in Colombia,” a study based on information obtained during his visit to Colombia.
As many of you know, during its 124th ordinary period of sessions, the IACHR selected Dr. Ignacio Alvarez as the Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression. Dr. Alvarez, of Venezuelan nationality, has been working as a human rights lawyer in the IACHR since 1998 and is a lawyer for the Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas. He specialized in procedural law at the Universidad Central of Venezuela and holds a Masters in International Law from American University Law School in Washington DC.
Finally, the annexes of the Annual Report contain information about the current state of human rights conventions and protocols adopted within the framework of the inter-American system, as well as copies of the press releases issued by the Commission during 2005 and the speeches made in the name of the Commission.
Mr. President, Representatives, Esteemed Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I don’t want to end without highlighting that the support of the Member States and their collaboration with the Commission’s work is crucial for assuring genuine effectiveness of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. The ongoing search for mechanisms to consolidate democracies creates new opportunities for the commitment of Member States with the organs of the inter-American system of human rights. The Commission and the Court are, according to the purpose of the Member States, means for aiding the development of “a regimen of individual freedoms and social justice,” which is the final objective consigned in the preamble of the American Convention on Human Rights. In accordance with this, the Commission renews its commitment to work with the Member States to help them comply with their mandate to defend human dignity though the exercise of their mandate to protect and promote human rights. In the name of the Commission, I want to express our gratitude for the support that Member States have given the Commission so that it can continue to honor this common commitment to safeguard the exercise of the human rights of all people in our hemisphere.
In the name of the Commission, I also want to thank the Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, who from the time he assumed the post has continuously supported our work and has enshrined in the structure of the Organization of American States a recognition of the independence of the Commission, even as he continues to support and advocate for increasing its budget.
In relation to the IACHR budget, in the first place I want to reiterate our thanks to the political bodies of the Organization, especially the Committee of Administrative and Budgetary Affairs and its President, Ambassador Manuel María Cáceres, and to the Permanent Council, which authorized an addition to the budget that allowed us to hold our 123rd ordinary period of sessions. In addition, I want to express thanks for the approval of the adjustment for the program-budget for 2006, which in the case of the IACHR translates into the creation of seven new positions that will be absolutely vital for the Commission’s functioning.
In second place, I was to express that in spite of these efforts, the amount envisaged in the annual program-budget of the Organization does not correspond to the real needs of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The IACHR has received with enthusiasm the mandates assigned to it by the General Assembly as well as those entrusted to it by the Summits of the Americas. They demonstrate the growing legitimacy of the System and the states’ recognition of its relevant role and priority position within the Organization. However, the capacity of the Inter-American Commission to fulfill its broad and diverse mandate is a commitment equivalent to the level of assignation of financial and human resources.
The total adjusted budget for the Commission in 2006 is US$ 3,719,700, which represents 4.6% of the overall budget of the Organization (US$81,497,700). In accordance with the 2006 program budget, the US$716,400 approved for operations are being used to cover the costs of the two periods of ordinary sessions, office expenses, common service costs, observation visits, some human rights promotion activities, including the “Rómulo Gallegos” scholarships and participation in a small number of hearings before the Inter-American Court. As a consequence, this amount is not enough to pay for the preparation, edition, and publication of the Commission’s documents, the Annual Report of the General Assembly, the reports on human rights situations in various countries, special reports on topics related to human rights, and the manual of norms pertinent to the area of human rights. It also does not include the Documentation Center and the Special Library, or the purchase of books and subscriptions. All of these expenses must be covered with specific funds.
In this context, I want to express thanks for the commitment and financial support of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, and Mexico whose contributions made the work of the Commission possible during 2005. At the same time, the Commission invites all Member States to express support by assigning greater resources for the appropriate and regular functioning of the human rights bodies of the inter-American system. The Commission would also like to take advantage of this opportunity to express its gratitude for the contributions received from Italy, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, France, Finland, the organization Rights and Democracy, the McCormick Foundation, the Secretariat of the Commonwealth, and the European Commission, which made it possible to carry out many activities vital to the work of the protection and promotion of human rights.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of our Executive Secretary and for the professional and administrative support of the Secretariat in its tireless work to support human rights under extremely difficult circumstances and to the best of its abilities.
OF THE 126TH REGULAR SESSION
October 17, 2006
Your Excellency José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the OAS,
Your Excellency Albert R. Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the OAS,
Your Excellency Marina Annette Valère, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the OAS and Chair of the Permanent Council of the Organization,
Distinguished ambassadors, permanent and alternate representatives, officials of the OAS member states,
Distinguished ambassadors and representatives of the OAS permanent observers,
Esteemed colleagues, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
Esteemed Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Dr. Santiago Canton, and equally esteemed staff of the IACHR Executive Secretariat,
Representatives of civil society organizations,
Special guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor for me to take the floor, in my capacity as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at this inaugural session of our 126th regular session. I am pleased to be accompanied on this occasion my colleagues Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, First Vice President; Florentín Meléndez, Second Vice President, and Commission members Freddy Gutiérrez, Paolo Carozza, and Víctor Abramovich. We are sorry that, for reasons beyond her control, Commission member Clare Kamau Roberts was not able to attend.
I would like to begin by thanking the states and the Secretary General for all their support for the Commission’s work. Unquestionably, the readiness of the OAS member states and the Secretary General to cooperate has been essential in providing the peoples of the Americas with increased human rights protection.
We would like to inform you of an innovation we have made this year in the format of our sessions. Now, instead of the traditional two 3-week sessions, we shall hold three 2-week sessions, one of them in a member state if our shaky financial situation allows us to do so.
I should comment that we set this new plan in motion in Guatemala with a very productive session, and I would like to take this opportunity to offer our sincere appreciation to the people and Government of Guatemala for their hospitality last July.
Getting back to the principal reason for this gathering, the Commission has a busy schedule in store for the regular session beginning today. As usual, most of our work will focus on study and consideration of reports on the petitions and individual cases of the countries of the Hemisphere, which are at different stages of processing: admissibility, friendly settlement, decision on the merits, or decision on submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Commission has also organized about 50 hearings on cases and petitions in the various stages mentioned above. Accordingly, individuals, organizations, and member state representatives will attend hearings to present reports, either of a general nature or on a specific right or topic within the Commission’s purview, on the human rights situation in their countries.
Moreover, during this session the Commission will continue examining the current human rights situation in the Hemisphere and diverse ways of strengthening the inter-American system as a fundamental instrument for meeting the region’s growing needs in this area. Throughout the course of our work on human rights, we run into challenges, such as observance of the rule of law in our countries; effective protection of economic, social, and cultural rights; public safety; and social inclusion.
As we have said repeatedly, democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions for the observation of human rights and for their respect in democratic societies. According to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, essential elements of representative democracy include 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 system of political parties and organizations; and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government. Moreover, 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 essential components of the exercise of democracy.
It is precisely this democratic system, with full respect for rights and freedoms, that should address the disturbing reality whereby the group of countries making up the Organization of American States is the most unequal in the world: exclusion from the benefits of progress and the failure to meet basic needs and ensure the right to an education make large social sectors especially vulnerable to structural adjustments and economic imbalances.
This situation results in new challenges for the Commission and places new demands on it. As in the past, we shall therefore adjust our working procedures to respond efficiently to these new regional demands and realities. Innovations in the format of our sessions are only one example of this. Every reform we make is intended to give us a strategic overview of the system, so that we may cooperate with states in shoring up the defense of human rights. In this connection, the sense of commitment that we have seen among the states underscores once again the importance of greater interaction, so that our decisions on individual cases and thematic and country reports will expressly help states to better protect human rights.
Another major challenge to the Commission and the hemispheric community is how best to search for a flexible and effective response to grave or structural human rights violations. In this regard, the Commission is the Organization’s principal human rights organ and must use its tools to protect the people of the Americas when their rights are violated, by alerting the OAS and its member states to the existence of particularly disturbing situations. Accordingly, the Commission carefully monitors situations that are especially critical in some states of the region. During this session, we shall be discussing which countries are to be included in Chapter IV of our Annual Report so that the respective observations may be made.
The start of a session is always a good time to take stock, and therefore I consider it necessary to draw attention to three points. First, the work of the inter-American human rights system was greatly facilitated in the past year by the absolute autonomy accorded to the Commission by the Secretary General and by the decisive support it received from the states. Second, I would like to emphasize that this autonomy is greatly reinforced by receipt of the necessary funding for the Commission to carry out its functions. Allow me to take this opportunity to thank all the countries that provide financial support to the Commission’s activities: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.
Lastly, the Secretariat of the Inter-American Commission has continued to improve its performance thanks to the dedication and loyalty of its staff as a whole. It seems fitting then to acknowledge the commitment, the outstanding efforts, and the professionalism of both the Executive Secretary and the entire team, who are working tirelessly to ensure that the human rights of the people of the Americas are fully protected.
Madam Chair, Mr. Secretary General, representatives, and colleagues,
Before concluding, I would like to welcome the participants in the Second Course on the Inter-American and the Universal Human Rights Systems, organized jointly by the International Service for Human Rights and American University. This year defenders from seven countries of the region will be attending. This course will complement the recent one held with the Court and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, directed at officials from your countries’ foreign ministries.
The 21st century has posed multiple challenges that call for new approaches and creativity as we look for mechanisms to offer the people of the Americas greater protection of their fundamental freedoms. However, we must avoid the temptation of viewing each challenge as a reason to disparage our past achievements in the human rights area. The answers to the problems before us must be found within the context of inter-American legality and not outside it. The rule of law is a basic pillar of a just society, which considers poverty alleviation and full respect for human rights as the essence of human dignity, as clearly proclaimed in the OAS Charter. On that note, I call to order the 126th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.