ANNUAL REPORT OF THE IACHR 2006
LEGAL BASES AND ACTIVITIES OF THE IACHR DURING 2006
A. Legal bases, functions and powers
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the “IACHR” or the “Commission”) is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) headquartered in Washington, D.C. Its mandate is prescribed in the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights (the “American Convention”), and the Statute of the Commission (the “Commission’s Statute). The IACHR is one of two bodies in the inter-American system responsible for protecting human rights, the other being the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is located in San José, Costa Rica.
2. The IACHR is composed of seven members who act independently, without representing any particular country. The members of the IACHR are elected by the General Assembly of the OAS for a four-year period and can be re-elected only once. The IACHR meets in ordinary and special sessions several times a year. The Executive Secretariat of the IACHR carries out the tasks delegated to it by the IACHR and provides legal and administrative support to the IACHR as it carries out its work.
3. In April of 1948 the OAS approved the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (the “American Declaration”) in Bogotá, Colombia, the first international human rights instrument of a general nature. The IACHR was created in 1959 and held its first session in 1960.
4. By 1961, the IACHR had begun to carry out on-site visits to observe the human rights situations in various countries. Since that time, the IACHR has carried out 87 visits to 23 member States. Based in part on its on-site investigations the IACHR has published 62 country and thematic reports.
5. In 1965, the IACHR was expressly authorized to examine complaints or petitions regarding specific cases of human rights violations. By the end of 2005, the IACHR had examined 1330 complaints, resulting in the publication of over 84 individual case reports, which are included in the Annual Reports of the Commission.
6. In 1969, the American Convention on Human Rights was adopted, and subsequently entered into force in 1978. As of December 2005, 24 member states were parties to the Convention: Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela. The Convention defines the human rights that the ratifying States have agreed to respect and ensure. The Convention also created the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and defines the functions and procedures of both the Commission and the Court. In addition to considering complaints of violations of the American Convention by states that are parties to that instrument, the IACHR is competent under the OAS Charter and the Commission’s Statute to entertain alleged violations of the American Declaration by OAS Member states that are not yet parties to the American Convention.
7. The IACHR has the principal function of promoting the observance and the defense of human rights in the Americas. In carrying out its mandate, the Commission:
a) Receives, analyzes and investigates individual petitions that allege human rights violations, pursuant to Articles 44 to 51 of the Convention, Articles 19 and 20 of the Commission’s Statute, and Articles 22 to 50 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.
b) Observes the general human rights situation in the Member states and publishes special reports regarding the situation in a specific Member State, when it considers it appropriate.
c) Carries out on-site visits to countries to engage in more in-depth analysis of the general situation and/or to investigate a specific situation. These visits usually result in the preparation of a report regarding the human rights situation observed, which is published and presented to the Permanent Council and General Assembly of the OAS.
d) Stimulates public consciousness regarding human rights in the Americas. To that end, the Commission carries out and publishes studies on specific subjects, some of which are the subject of special rapporteurships, such as: the right to freedom of expression; the human rights situation of children and women; the human rights of indigenous peoples; and the protection of human rights in the struggle against terrorism.
e) Organizes and carries out conferences, seminars and meetings with representatives of governments, academic institutions, non-governmental groups and others in order to disseminate information and to increase knowledge regarding issues relating to the inter-American human rights system.
f) Recommends to the Member states of the OAS the adoption of measures that would contribute to human rights protection.
g) Requests member states to adopt "precautionary measures" pursuant to Article 25 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure to prevent irreparable harm to persons in serious and urgent cases. The Commission may also request that the Inter-American Court order "provisional measures" in cases of extreme gravity and urgency to avoid irreparable damage to persons, even where a case has not yet been submitted to the Court.
h) Submits cases to the Inter-American Court and appears before the Court in the litigation of cases.
i) Requests advisory opinions from the Inter-American Court in accordance with Article 64 of the American Convention.
8. At present the Commission is processing over 1237 individual cases. Any person, group of persons or nongovernmental entity legally recognized in one or more of the member states of the OAS may submit petitions to the Commission concerning violations of a right recognized in the American Convention, the American Declaration or other pertinent instrument in accordance with their respective provisions and the Commission’s Statute and Rules. The denunciation may be presented in any of the four official languages of the OAS (English, French, Portuguese or Spanish) and may be presented by the alleged victim of the violation or by a third party.
B. The Commission’s Sessions in 2006
9. During this reporting period, the Commission met on three occasions: during its 124th regular session, from February 27 to March 17, 2006; during its 125th special session, held in Guatemala from July 17 to 21, 2006; and during its 126th regular session, from October 16 to 27, 2006.
1. 124th regular session
10. During its 124th regular session, the Commission elected its new board of officers which was comprised of Evelio Fernández Arévalos, President; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, First Vice-President, and Florentin Meléndez, Second Vice-President. Members Clare K. Roberts, Freddy Gutiérrez Trejo, Víctor Abramovich, and Paolo Carozza also sit on the Commission. Furthermore, the IACHR selected Ignacio Álvarez, a Venezuelan national, to be the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
11. During its sessions the Commission noted some significant gains for human rights: the Supreme Court of Argentina annulled the laws called Obedencia Debida and Punto Final, (“Due Obedience” and “Final Stop”) as recommended by the Inter-American Commission; broad constitutional reform took place in Chile, which removes obstacles for egalitarian political participation, also recommended by the IACHR; and agreements were signed and significant progress was made towards reaching a friendly settlement in cases involving Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico. In Peru, a National Human Rights Plan was adopted, whose implementation will benefit from a technical assistance agreement signed during the Commission’s sessions between the IACHR and the Ministry of Justice of that country. Regulatory progress has been made for the human rights of women, such as the adoption of the Family Violence Law in Chile, and Jamaica’s ratification of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish, and Eradicate Violence against Women, the “Belem do Pará Convention.” In Mexico, a National Program for Human Rights, approved at the end of 2004, was implemented. Also, in Brazil, constitutional reform was approved that seeks to modernize the judicial system and expand the judicial mechanisms available to prevent impunity for violations of human rights, and the government instituted significant changes in that country in terms of racial equality. The government of Uruguay has attained concrete results in locating and identifying persons who were disappeared during the military dictatorship. And other States have acknowledged their responsibility before both the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which is a clear example of the continuously increasing legitimacy and effectiveness of the inter-American system.
12. The Commission also reflected on the apparent challenges that exist in our hemisphere to its mission of fostering respect for fundamental human rights, which is a priority area to be addressed. People and governments continue to face threats to their security stemming from terrorism, drugs, trafficking in persons, gang violence, and common crime. Frequently, some of the responses to these threats do not sufficiently consider its consequences on human rights, and the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our societies are often harmed by the security measures adopted by States. These issues are complicated by the fact that large segments of the population in the region continue to suffer from inadequate standards of living, malnutrition, substandard health care and education, while democratic institutions continue to be weak in several countries of the hemisphere.
13. During the sessions, the Commission continued its practice of holding meetings with various regional groups. On this occasion, it met with the Permanent Representatives of the member states of Central America to have an exchange of information on human rights in that subregion.
14. During its internal working sessions, the Commission devoted special attention to the study and review of petitions and cases involving various States of the hemisphere, and to analyzing what it considered to be priority situations. Regarding the system of individual cases, the approved reports include 27 on admissibility, 3 of inadmissibility, 15 on the merits, 8 friendly settlements, and 16 to be archived. Pursuant to its mandate of preparing studies and reports and drawing up recommendations for the States to foster proper respect for human rights, the Commission discussed and approved a “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas.” The report stresses, among other things, the legitimacy of the work that human rights defenders perform to promote and protect human rights. While their work assists States in fulfilling what is essentially a State obligation to protect human rights in general, it generates special obligations for the State to protect those who promote and protect these rights.
15. Between March 3 and 13, 2006, the IACHR convened 61 hearings concerning individual petitions and cases, precautionary measures, and general and specific situations of human rights in various countries and regions. The hearings on individual cases and petitions focused on issues of admissibility, merits, friendly settlement, and follow-up. The hearings on general matters took in information on the situation in Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. There were also hearings on the State’s obligation to investigate and prosecute alleged violations of human rights that are international crimes; the situation of persons affected by mandatory minimum sentences in the United States; the situation of justice in Nicaragua; and economic, social, and cultural rights in Brazil.
16. Also, during the sessions more than 40 working meetings were held with various countries. The meetings covered various cases and petitions, principally those at the stage of friendly settlement or follow-up, as well as precautionary measures. The matters addressed within this framework were related to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.
17. The subject areas on which the Commission received information during this session included such particularly vulnerable groups as indigenous peoples, women, persons deprived of their liberty, migrant workers, and children and adolescents. In particular, the Commission received general information on the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Regarding women’s rights, the Commission received information on the problem called “feminicide” or “femicide” at various locations in the Americas. It also examined the situation of displaced women in Colombia, and the need for a public policy to address the specific needs of this group of women.
18. Regarding conditions of detention, the Commission received information on the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Likewise, there was also a hearing about the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in El Salvador. In addition, the Chilean State presented information in a hearing regarding the rights of persons deprived of their liberty in that country and about the various initiatives that are being adopted to reduce and eliminate the overcrowding of detention centers.
19. The situation of migrant workers and their families was addressed in three hearings. One was on human rights and natural disasters in the hemisphere, and the effects of State actions on the population of migrant workers. The second was on the situations created by Immigration Law No. 285-04 in the Dominican Republic, and its effect on the Haitian-Dominican population. The third was on migrant workers in Costa Rica.
20. The situation of children and child labor in Latin America was also addressed in a hearing.
2. 125th special session
21. In response to an invitation from the Government of Guatemala, the Inter-American Commission held its 125th session from July 17 to 21 in Guatemala. On that occasion the Commission held protocol meetings with the President of the Republic, Oscar Berger Perdomo, the Vice-President of the Republic, Eduardo Stein, and other high-ranking State authorities. It convened 10 hearings on important issues and situations on the human rights agenda of Central America, and held two days of closed meetings. In tandem with the session, the members of the Commission participated in several activities to promote the Inter-American system of human rights.
22. Holding a session away from headquarters was essential in allowing the Commission to have a direct dialogue with government officials of one of the member states in their own territory, as well as important players in civil society. This strengthened the Commission’s role of promoting and teaching about human rights. The Commission also had the opportunity to hold two hearings on individual cases, as well as nine general or thematic ones. The latter afforded a great opportunity to discuss matters of interest to various organizations in Central America. For them, the presence of the IACHR in their region made it much more accessible, which would have otherwise been very difficult in light of scant resources. The Commission in particular received information regarding such issues as the free trade agreements and human rights; the status of collective property rights of indigenous peoples regarding land and natural resources; the situation of community media; intra-family or domestic violence; and persons affected by open-air mining concessions. Hearings were also held on situations in specific countries, such as that of women deprived of their liberty in Honduras; obstacles to the investigation and punishment of human rights violations in El Salvador; trade union rights in El Salvador; and the human rights of campesino and indigenous communities in Honduras.
23. During its internal meetings held in Antigua, the Commission approved a total of 18 draft reports on individual cases: one on publication, 3 reports pursuant to Article 50, 7 reports on admissibility, and 7 decisions to archive cases.
3. 126th regular session
24. During the two weeks of the 126th session intensive work was done, particularly regarding the examination and review of petitions and cases regarding the various States of the hemisphere. The approved reports include 17 on the merits, 23 on admissibility, 11 on inadmissibility, 2 friendly settlements, and 4 cases to be archived. The Commission held 48 hearings on pending individual cases and petitions, and on general situations of human rights in several States of the hemisphere. It also approved amendments to its Rules of Procedure and to its rules for the designation of special rapporteurs.
25. At the end of the session, the Commission published its assessment of achievements and challenges in the region regarding respect for human rights. Regarding achievements, the Commission pointed out that in the area of political rights and the exercise of democracy, presidential elections were held in 12 countries of the region over the course of the past year, which is an important sign of stability. It also expressed its satisfaction with the remarks of the President of Chile, stating that his State would comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding non-applicability of the amnesty law for violations of human rights committed during the military dictatorship. The Commission expressed satisfaction with the pronouncement by the Supreme Court of Argentina that it would comply with the provisional measures of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in acknowledgement of the serious situation faced in the penitentiary system of the Province of Mendoza. In addition, the Commission noted Bolivia’s ratification of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Pleasure was expressed with Brazil’s considerable progress in adjusting its domestic legislation to international standards regarding punishments under the Law on Domestic and Family Violence against Women. Progress was seen in Ecuador, where the Constitutional Court declared the practice of “detención en firme,” to be unconstitutional, when it is used to prolong preventive detention beyond the limit allowed under the Constitution. Finally, the opening of nine new penitentiaries in the Dominican Republic has improved the situation of a sizeable number of persons deprived of their liberty.
26. The Commission confirmed that there continue to be challenges in promoting respect for human rights in the hemisphere. A complex issue which the Commission is following with special interest is that of the relationship between citizens’ security and human rights in the Americas. In fact, the populations of the region continue to face threats to their security stemming from terrorism, drugs, trafficking in persons, gang violence, and common crime. The Commission reaffirmed its commitment to prepare a hemispheric study on the relationship between citizen’s security and human rights. The Commission also pondered the lack of full enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights in the region, particularly because of the high levels of malnutrition, limited or insufficient access to health care and education, and inadequate standards of living. During this session the Commission discussed the first draft of a proposal for progress indicators in the area of economic, social, and cultural rights. It instructed Commission member Victor Abramovich to revise the document and follow-up on the process. Regarding the situation of respect for human rights throughout the member states, the Commission decided to pay special attention to the situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela.
27. Forty-eight hearings were held between October 18 and 26, 2006 on individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific human rights situations. During these hearings, general information was received on the situation in Cuba, Chile, Haiti, and Venezuela. Likewise, hearings were convened on specific topics or situations regarding member states of the Organization. The information the Commission received on Colombia included the process of demobilization of the illegal armed groups, and extrajudicial executions within the framework of a policy of democratic security. Regarding Peru, the Commission learned about implementation of the National Human Rights Plan, and follow-up on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR). Regarding Guatemala, information was received on a process to create a National Commission to Search for Disappeared Persons. The Commission learned about slave labor in Brazil, and regarding Venezuela, hearings were held on the status of freedom of expression, institutions and guarantees, and human rights defenders. Information was also received on the social conflict that has occurred in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, agrarian policy and indigenous rights in Chiapas, Mexico, and on the performance and future of the Special Prosecutor for Social and Political Movements of the Past (FEMOSPP), also in Mexico. Additionally, hearings were held on the human rights situation of people who live near the border between Ecuador and Colombia.
28. The thematic issues that the Commission examined during this session included various aspects of the status of women. Hearings were held on: the situation of indigenous women in the Americas and the effects of dual discrimination based on gender and ethnicity; the women of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and the measures implemented by the Mexican government to handle violence against women; and violence against women in the Dominican Republic. There were also hearings on trends in judicial interpretations of issues related to women’s rights—specifically their sexual and reproductive health—in national and regional courts, and in regional and international mechanisms.
29. Regarding the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, the Commission heard about adolescent detainees in Uruguay, and the situation of children living in group homes and safe houses in Jamaica. Additionally, a hearing was held to present the Commission with information on women deprived of their liberty in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
30. Regarding the rights of children, the Commission received information on adolescents and violence in Guatemala, as well as on the rights of children in Uruguay.
31. During the week of hearings, 23 working meetings were held relating to different countries. The meetings covered various cases and petitions, primarily those at the stage of friendly settlement or follow-up, as well as precautionary measures. The issues addressed referred to Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru.
32. Executive Secretary Santiago A. Canton also participated in a working meeting with human rights defenders, which was attended by several representatives of civil society organizations in the Americas.
33. Also, during this session the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, presented his “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas.” Furthermore, as part of its promotional functions on human rights, the IACHR organized, together with the Human Rights International Service and the Washington College of Law, a training course for NGO members.