LEGAL BASES AND ACTIVITIES OF THE IACHR DURING 2008
A. Legal bases, functions and powers
1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“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 and the Commission’s Statute. The IACHR is one of the two bodies in the inter-American system responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights. The other is the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose seat is in San José, Costa Rica.
2. The IACHR consists of seven members who carry out their functions independently, without representing any particular country. Its members are elected by the General Assembly of the OAS for a period of four years and may be re-elected only once. The IACHR meets in regular and special sessions several times a year. The Executive Secretariat carries out the tasks delegated to it by the IACHR and provides legal and administrative support to the IACHR in carrying out its functions.
3. In April 1948, the OAS adopted in Bogotá, Colombia, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (“American Declaration”), the first international instrument on human rights of a general nature. The IACHR was created in 1959 and held its first sessions in 1960.
4. In 1961, the IACHR began a series of visits to several countries to observe on-site the human rights situation. Since then, the Commission has made more than 105 visits to member States. Based in part on these on-site investigations, the Commission has, to date, published 75 country reports and special subject reports.
5. In 1965, the IACHR was expressly authorized to examine complaints or petitions related to specific cases of human rights violations. By 2008, the Commission has received thousands of complaints which brought the total number of cases and petitions to over 14,000. The final reports published by the IACHR on these individual cases can be found in the Commission’s Annual Reports.
6. The American Convention on Human Rights was adopted in 1969 and it entered into force in 1978. As of December 2008, 24 member States were parties to the Convention: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, 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 defined the human rights that the ratifying States had agreed to respect and guarantee. The Convention also created the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and established the functions and procedures of the Court and of the Commission. In addition to examining complaints of violations of the American Convention committed by States parties to this instrument, the IACHR has competence, in accordance with the OAS Charter and with the Commission’s Statute, to consider alleged violations of the American Declaration by OAS member States that are not yet parties to the American Convention.
7. The principal responsibility of the IACHR is to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the Americas. In fulfillment of its mandate, the Commission:
a) Receives, analyzes and investigates individual petitions alleging human rights violations pursuant to Articles 44 to 51 of the Convention, Articles 19 and 20 of its Statute and Articles 22 to 50 of its Rules of Procedure.
b) Observes the general human rights situation in member States and, when it deems it appropriate, produces special reports on the existing situation on any member State.
c) Conducts on-site visits to member States to carry out in-depth analyses of the general situation and /or to investigate a specific situation. In general, these visits lead to the preparation of a report on the human rights situation encountered which is then published and submitted to the Permanent Council and to the General Assembly of the OAS.
d) Promotes public consciousness with regard to human rights in the Americas. To that end, the Commission prepares and publishes studies on specific subjects such as, the measures that must be adopted to guarantee greater access to justice; the effect of internal armed conflicts on certain groups of citizens; the human rights situation of children, women, migrant workers and their families; the human rights situation of those persons deprived of liberty; the situation of human rights defenders; freedom of speech and the human rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and racial discrimination.
e) Organizes and carries out visits, conferences, seminars and meetings with representatives from governments, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and others, to disseminate information and to foster broader understanding of the work carried out by the inter-American system on human rights.
f) Makes recommendations to OAS member States to adopt measures that contribute to the protection of human rights in the countries of the Hemisphere.
g) Requests that member States adopt “precautionary measures” in accordance with the provisions of article 25 of its regulations, to prevent irreparable harm to human rights in grave and urgent cases. It can also request that the Inter-American Court order the adoption of “provisional measures” in cases of extreme gravity and urgency to prevent irreparable harm to persons, even if the case has not yet been considered by the Court.
h) Submits cases to the inter-American Court of Human Rights and appears in court during litigation.
i) Requests advisory opinions of the Inter-American Court in accordance with the provisions of Article 64 of the American Convention.
8. Any person, group of persons, or non-governmental entities, legally recognized in one or more of the OAS member States, may petition the Commission with regard to the violation of any right protected by the American Convention, by the American Declaration or by any pertinent instrument in accordance with its provisions, its statute and its regulations. Also, under the provisions of Article 45 of the American Convention, the IACHR may consider communications from a State alleging rights violations by another State. The petitions may be filed in any of the four official languages of the OAS (Spanish, French, English or Portuguese), by the alleged victim of the rights violation or by a third party, and in the case of interstate petitions, by a government.
B. The Commission’s Sessions in 2008
9. During the period covered by this report, the Commission met on three occasions: from March 3 to 14, 2008, in its 131st Regular Session; from July 17 to 25, 2008, in its 132nd Regular Session, and from October 15 to 31, 2008, in its 133rd Regular Session. During 2008, the Commission approved a total of 49 admissibility reports, 10 inadmissibility reports, and 4 friendly settlements. It also published 7 merits reports, as well as held 93 hearings and 70 working meetings.
1. 131st Regular Session
10. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 131st Regular Session from March 3 to 14, 2008. During this session, the Commission elected its board of officers which is composed as follows: Paolo Carozza, Chairman; Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, First Vice Chairwoman; Felipe González, Second Vice Chairman. Commissioners Sir Clare K. Roberts, Víctor E. Abramovich, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, and Florentín Meléndez are also members of the IACHR. Dr. Santiago A. Canton has been the Executive Secretary of the IACHR since August 2001.
11. During this regular session, the Commission approved reports on individual cases and petitions and held 33 working sessions and 36 hearings, some relating to individual cases, petitions or to precautionary measures, and others relating to general or specific human rights situations. It also approved the report on its visit to the Republic of Haiti from April 16 to 20, 2007 and the “Guidelines for a Comprehensive Reparations Policy,” a document delivered to the Republic of Colombia on March 13, 2008. 11. At the request of its Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, the Commission adopted the Buenos Aires “Principles and Best Practices on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas,” through Resolution 1/08 of March 13, 2008.
12. Also in this session, the Commission approved its 2007 Annual Report. The report was submitted to the 38th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), which was held in Medellín, Colombia from June 1 to 3, 2008.
13. On behalf of the IACHR, the President drew attention to the important role that the Commission plays as part of the inter-American system for protection of human rights, which, he noted, represents a vital mechanism to further the establishment of justice and the rule of law in the countries of this Hemisphere. In that connection he mentioned that more and more frequently national institutions employ international human rights standards and the jurisprudence of the regional system in their decision-making, using those norms as a baseline against which to assess and revise their own practice at the domestic level.
14. He said that the effectiveness of the IACHR reflects the high credibility of the system’s organs. He added that as the legitimacy of the system continues to rise, individuals present an ever-increasing number of petitions before the Commission; civil society and States request more hearings covering more diverse issues; the Commission carries out expanded thematic initiatives; and it receives additional mandates from the General Assembly.
15. The President drew attention to the fact that the activities and mandates of the Commission cannot be carried out without adequate financial and human resources. Those resources have not increased in proportion to the Commission’s growing importance and role in the region; indeed, the regular budget allocated to the Commission by the member States has remained constant or even decreased in real terms since at least 1999. Accordingly, the President of the IACHR urged the member States gathered at the OAS General Assembly to adopt urgent measures to resolve the dire financial situation that the IACHR faces.
16. The Commission expressed its appreciation to all the member States that invited the Commission to visit, since such visits play an important role in enabling the Commission to monitor human rights in the Hemisphere. Such freedom of the Commission to visit and observe human rights conditions has historically been one of the most critical tools for ensuring the effectiveness of the inter-American human rights norms, even in the Hemisphere’s darkest periods of repression.
17. In the course of its 131st regular session, the Commission expressed its concern, in view of information received during the hearings held during these sessions, about grave situations involving human rights violations in the region. The continued worsening of citizen insecurity; the discrimination suffered by Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples, as well as by poor people and women; the deterioration of economic, social, and cultural rights; grave obstacles to access to justice; difficulties in exercising freedom of expression; the persistent use of military justice for crimes that should be handled by civilian courts; and the impact the region’s growing environmental deterioration has on human rights are just a few of the many problems on which the Commission received troubling information.
18. The working meetings produced significant advances, such as, for example, the signing of a memorandum of commitment concerning the situation of captive communities in Bolivia and progress toward reaching a friendly settlement in cases in Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico.
2. 132nd Regular Session
19. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 132nd Regular Session from July 17 to 25, 2008. The IACHR held no public hearings or working meetings during the session because it was of an internal nature. The Commission approved a total of 39 reports on cases and petitions.
20. At its 132nd session the Commission also approved the document entitled “Guidelines for Preparation of Progress Indicators in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.” The IACHR also approved a reform of Articles 15 and 12(1)(a) of its Rules of Procedure concerning rapporteurships and working groups and the powers of the Executive Secretary of the Commission, respectively.
21. Further to the foregoing, during the aforesaid session the Commission adopted resolutions 2/08 (concerning Article 17 of the Rules of Procedure); 3/08 (on Human Rights of Migrants, International Standards and the Return Directive of the EU); and 4/08 (in connection with Case 10.855, Pedro García).
the framework of its 132nd session, the Commission also
interviewed the finalists in the selection process for the new Special
Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression,
attorney Catalina Botero Marino, who took up her duties at the beginning
of October 2008.
3. 133rd Regular Session
23. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 133rd regular session from October 15 to 31, 2008. During the sessions, the Commission approved reports on cases and individual petitions, and held 57 hearings and 34 working meetings. The hearings encompassed issues that have a general impact on all the countries of the region, as well as specific issues related to one country or sub-region in particular. During this session the Commission held hearings on the rights of women, persons deprived of liberty, children, Afro-descendants, and indigenous peoples, among others. Hearings were also held on issues having to do with obstacles to obtaining access to justice; citizen insecurity; the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, and intersexuals; the situation of people who carry the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV); and economic, social, and cultural rights, among other topics.
24. During the aforementioned session, the Commission approved the projects entitled “Observations of the IACHR on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Racial Discrimination in Colombia“ and “Women’s Right to a Life Free of Violence and Discrimination in Haiti.” It also approved the second edition of the book entitled “The Rights of Children in the Inter-American System of Human Rights.”
25. At a working meeting held in the course of the session, a friendly settlement agreement was reached between the government of Paraguay and the petitioners in the case involving the Kelyenmagategma Indigenous Community (Puerto Colón) of the Enxet People. In addition, important agreements were reached during working meetings with the government of Mexico and petitioners involving cases of disappearances and extrajudicial executions.
26. The IACHR received information in a public hearing on the impact caused by the four hurricanes that hit Haiti in August and September, and on the critical humanitarian crisis caused by the storms, particularly due to the loss of crops. The Commission also received the government of Bolivia in a hearing in which the latter provided information about the acts of violence that took place during the social conflicts of recent months and on the respective investigations undertaken. The Commission also received information during a hearing on the situation of children and adolescents in conflict with the law in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
27. During another hearing, the Commission received information about the impact that the construction of a wall in Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border, has on the human rights of the residents of the area, in particular its discriminatory effects. The information received indicates that its construction would disproportionately affect people who are poor, with a low level of education, and generally of Mexican descent, as well as indigenous communities on both sides of the border. Furthermore, the IACHR continued to receive troubling information during this session about the situation of detainees in Guantánamo.
28. The IACHR also received information that the State of Colombia’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS) conducted intelligence activities against opposition political leaders, national senators, and nongovernmental organizations. Hearings were also held on citizen insecurity in Venezuela and Mexico and there were several hearings on human rights defenders.
29. The Commission met during the session with the new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Business and Human Rights, John Ruggie, and with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, James Anaya. In addition, for the first time a UN Rapporteur attended a working meeting of the IACHR; with the consent of the petitioners and the State, Professor Anaya participated in the meeting on precautionary measures for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation in Peru.
30. Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, in her twin capacity as Rapporteur for Argentina and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina on July 1, 2008, to take part in the Conference on Democratic Reform and Human Rights in the Armed Forces organized by the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS). As part of the visit, she also attended a working meeting organized by the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women on July 2, 2008, with fifteen women experts from different sectors. The purpose of the meeting was to compile information on the situation of women in the sphere of political participation in Argentina with a view to its inclusion in the regional report that the Rapporteurship is preparing on the issue.
31. From August 20 to 22, 2008, the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, visited Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he met with government authorities and representatives of civil society organizations. During this visit, the Rapporteur made a presentation on the issue of “Challenges for the Full and Effective Compliance in the Hemisphere of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography”; this was part of the Preparatory Meeting for the World Congress III on Sexual Exploitation which was held in the Argentine capital from August 19 to 22.
32. The Commission conducted a visit to Bolivia from June 9 to 13, 2008, to gather information on the situation of a large number of families belonging to captive communities of the indigenous Guaraní people who continue to live in a state of bondage analogous to slavery, in Bolivia’s Chaco region, in the Departments of Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Tarija. The IACHR delegation was led by Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero in her capacity as Rapporteur for Bolivia, and by Commissioner Víctor E. Abramovich, as Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
33. During the visit the Commission gathered information and received testimony that confirmed the continuing problem of debt bondage and forced labor in Bolivia’s Chaco region and that the plight of the Guaraní people in this region had worsened since the last visit of the IACHR in November 2006.
34. This visit came about as a result of a Memorandum of Commitment signed on March 11, 2008, at the IACHR headquarters, during the Commission’s 131st session, by the government of Bolivia, the Council of Guaraní Captains of Chuquisaca, and civil society organizations. In that agreement, the State made a commitment to adopt the protection measures needed to safeguard the personal integrity of all the Guaraní families, their leaders, and advisors. It also agreed to inform the Commission as to measures adopted and progress made in the process of restoring territories to the Guaraní people.
35. The Commission recognized the efforts made by the State to address this problem, and verified that the Bolivian State has attempted to carry out the regularization of lands in compliance with Law 1715 of 1996 and Law 3545 of 2006, both of which are related to a process of agrarian reform. However, it noted that enforcement of these laws has encountered obstacles created by various political and economic sectors that oppose their implementation in the region in question. This has even generated acts of violence that resulted in serious injury to a number of persons, as well as cases of kidnapping and torture. The IACHR condemned the gross human rights violations that are being committed against members of the Guaraní people and the obstruction by individuals of the implementation of public policies.
36. The IACHR urges the State to increase its institutional presence in the Bolivian Chaco in order to guarantee access to the exercise of fundamental rights for these communities. The State should design these policies in consultation with the indigenous peoples, ensuring that the policies are compatible with their worldview and cultural identity.
37. The Commission has noted that another significant institutional problem with regard to administration of justice in Bolivia is the inactivity of the Constitutional Court due to an incomplete bench. This court performs an essential role in guaranteeing the application of the Bolivian Constitution and the rule of law, and has jurisdiction in various constitutional disputes related to laws on land ownership. The IACHR expresses its deep concern about this irregular situation and urges the National Congress to resolve it as soon as possible.
38. At the invitation of Special Secretariat for Human Rights of Brazil, the Inter-American Commission participated at the Fourteenth Meeting of High-Level Authorities of MERCOSUR and Associate States, held in Brasilia from November 10 to 12, 2008. The IACHR was represented by Commissioners Felipe González, Clare K. Roberts, and Víctor Abramovich, as well as Executive Secretary Santiago A. Canton. During the meeting, delegations of participating states and the IACHR delegation had a productive exchange of information concerning questions related to the functions of human rights promotion and protection in the Hemisphere. While in Brasilia, the Commission’s delegation met with several senior Brazilian officials, including the country’s Vice President, the Vice President of the Supreme Court of Justice, the Human Rights Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, and the Attorney General, among others. The Inter-American Commission also conducted a seminar at the University of Brasilia, on jurisprudence in the inter-American system.
39. Commissioner Sir Clare K. Roberts, as Rapporteur for Canada, and the Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) of the Permanent Council of the OAS, conducted a visit to Canada on April 21 and 22, 2008, in order to encourage accession by the Canadian State to the American Convention. In the course of the visit there were meetings with authorities of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, Supreme Court, Border Services, Citizenship and Immigration, and the Canadian International Development Agency, as well as with representatives of civil society organizations.
40. The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty conducted an observation visit to Chile, from August 21 to 25, 2008. During the visit, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, visited two juvenile detention centers (the San Joaquín Center for Provisional Internment of Minors, in Santiago, and “Tiempo Joven,” in San Bernardo); three prisons operated under concession (the Santiago I Preventive Detention Center, the Rancago Prison Complex, and the Valdivia Prison Complex); two State-run centers (the South Santiago Prison Center and the Valparaíso Prison Complex); and women’s detention centers (the Santiago Women’s Prison Center and the women’s sections of the Rancagua and Valparaíso prisons). The Rapporteur also met with high-level State authorities and representatives of civil society.
41. Following the observation visit to Chile, the delegation of the Rapporteurship participated in the Second Meeting of Authorities Responsible for Penitentiary and Prison Policies of the OAS Member States, held in Valdivia, from August 26-28, 2008.
42. From September 15 to 19, 2008, the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, visited Bogotá to meet with authorities in charge of childhood issues and representatives of civil society, and also to take part in a seminar on “City, Conflict, and the Public Sphere: The Latin American Perspective,” organized by UNICEF on from September 17 to 19. The Rapporteur also held meetings with representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, the Ombudsman, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Alliance for Early Childhood, among other organizations.
43. In his dual role as Rapporteur for Colombia and Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Commissioner Victor E. Abramovich paid a working visit to the Republic of Colombia from November 17 to 21, 2008, accompanied by officials of the Commission’s Executive Secretariat.
44. During the visit, Commissioner Abramovich held meetings with national and local officials, and went to Bogotá and the Department of Chocó. In Bogotá, he met with Foreign Affairs Minister Jaime Bermúdez Merizalde; Minister of Justice and the Interior Minister Fabio Valencia Cossio; officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office; officials of the Attorney General’s Office; President of the Supreme Court Francisco Ricaurte; and President of the Constitutional Court Humberto Sierra. During those meetings, the Rapporteur expressed his concerns over the application of the Justice and Peace Law, the bill on reparations to victims of armed conflict, and complaints about extrajudicial executions, as well as risks faced by human rights advocates, and the situation with the judiciary in Colombia. The Rapporteur also heard a variety of testimonies from university students, community activists, and members of civil society organizations concerning the human rights situation in Colombia and the growing number of threats made by the so-called Black Eagles and other illegal groups.
45. One of the main purposes for the Rapporteur’s visit was to gather information on the situation of Afro-Colombians residing in the Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó River Basins, in the Department of Chocó, in response to a request by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The members of those communities are protected under provisional measures that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights adopted in 2003. The IACHR delegation visited a humanitarian zone located on collective lands on the banks of the Jiguamiandó River and held a series of meetings in the city of Riosucio. While visiting the humanitarian zone, the delegation gathered information and heard testimonies about acts of violence and intimidation carried out by illegal groups operating in the zone, and confirmed that the risk factors that led to the Court’s intervention remained. The IACHR Rapporteur was updated on efforts by Colombian state authorities to provide protection for the communities and to enforce the physical return of the collective territory.
46. The Commission conducted an in loco visit to observe the human rights situation in Jamaica, which took place December 1-5 at the invitation of the government. The IACHR delegation to Jamaica included Commissioners Paolo Carozza, Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero, Felipe González, and Sir. Clare Roberts, as well as the IACHR Executive Secretary Santiago Canton and Secretariat staff. During its visit the Commission focused particular attention on the situation of citizen security in the country (including the operation of the criminal justice system and the conditions of persons deprived of liberty), and on the human rights of women, children, and persons suffering discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.
47. The IACHR observed an alarming level of violence in Jamaica that has affected all sectors of society for many years. The persistence of this widespread violence has had severely negative consequences for the human rights of the Jamaican people. The Commission’s preliminary observations conclude that although the government has undertaken certain constructive efforts to address the problem, these remain insufficient. They are hampered by inadequate resources, a failure to sufficiently address the severe shortcomings of the security forces and the judicial process, and the lack of integral, effective policies to ameliorate the social conditions that generate the violence.
48. The profound social and economic marginalization of large sectors of the Jamaican population not only contributes to sustaining the high levels of violence, but also results in the poorest and most excluded sectors of the population being disproportionately victimized by the overall situation of insecurity. In the same way, the deep inequalities pervading Jamaican society exacerbate the State’s failure to adequately protect and guarantee the human rights of women, children and other vulnerable groups. In particular, the IACHR found the violent persecution and fear to which gays and lesbians are subject in Jamaica to be deplorable.
49. The Commission’s preliminary observations identify a number of other human rights issues of particular concern, including severe problems in the administration of justice, conditions of detention and incarceration, the treatment of the mentally disabled, and freedom of expression. In particular, the Commission urges the government of Jamaica to address immediately the inhuman conditions of detention that the IACHR observed at the lockup facility of the Hunts Bay police station.
50. During the visit, the Commission and The Norman Manley Law School signed an institutional cooperation agreement, under which they will deepen and strengthen their institutional cooperation ties in order to promote awareness of the inter-American human rights system in the Caribbean.
51. Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, as Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty conducted an observation visit to the Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital of Asunción, Paraguay, on September 11, 2008, to verify compliance with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR on July 29, 2008 (PM 277/07).
52. In November 2008, Commissioner Pinheiro in conjunction with UNICEF-TARCO organized the first sub-regional consultation for Southern Cone Countries on public security and juvenile criminal justice, in Asunción, Paraguay.
53. On April 9, 2008, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and Against Racial Discrimination met with members of the United States Congress. In this context, Commissioner Sir Roberts discussed the challenges facing Afro-descendants in the region and proposed recommendations for improving their protection through legislative reforms and policies. He also took part in the roundtable organized by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Inter-American Foundation, which was held in Washington, D.C.
54. From September 29 to October 3, 2008, the Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers carried out a field visit to Texas, USA, where the great majority of detained immigrants are held. During this visit, the delegation of the Rapporteurship interviewed representatives of civil society organizations located in Texas and came into contact with more than 10 former immigrant detainees.
55. On August 19, 2008, the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, visited Montevideo, Uruguay, where he met with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture, UNICEF, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child–Uruguay.
1. Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
56. For the entities of the inter-American system, the respect and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples is a matter of special importance. In 1972, the Commission maintained that for historical reasons, and for moral and humanitarian principles, States had a sacred compromise to provide special protection for indigenous peoples. In 1990, the Commission established the Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with the purpose of focusing special attention on indigenous peoples in America who are particularly exposed to human rights violations because of their vulnerability, and to strengthen, give impetus and organize the Commission’s activities in the area.
57. Since the 1980s, the Commission has systematically spoken on the rights of indigenous peoples in special reports; and through the case system, in admissibility reports, in-depth reports, reports on friendly settlements, the mechanism of precautionary measures, as well as through orders and requests for provisional measures filed with the Inter-American Court.
58. In that sense, the Commission has expressed the need to demand special protection of the right of indigenous peoples to their lands, because the full exercise of that right not only implies the protection of an economic unit, but also the protection of the human rights of a community whose economic, social and cultural development is based on its relationship to the land. In the 1993 Report on the Human Rights Situation in Guatemala, the Commission stated:
From the standpoint of human rights, a small corn field deserves the same respect as the private property of a person that a bank account or a modern factory receives.
59. During 2008, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to carry out its activities in support of the system of individual petitions and of the study and processing of precautionary measures, cases and communications regarding the rights of indigenous peoples and/or its members. The Rapporteurship also continued with its promotional activities and to give advise to OAS member States.
60. The entities of the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of human rights have developed progressive laws that recognize the collective rights of indigenous peoples. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reiterates its concern with the difficulties in the implementation of its recommendations, as well as with compliance with judgment and provisional measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in cases where the victims are indigenous peoples. To that end, the Commission encourages the States to redouble their efforts to comply with the decisions of inter-American institutions concerning indigenous peoples. In that way, not only are specific groups of people recognized, protected and made whole but also a special way of life and the human diversity inherent in societies in the American continent are respected.
61. Likewise, the Rapporteurship reiterates its call on OAS member States to recognize and respect the right of indigenous peoples to their cultural identity, based on their close relationship to their ancestral lands and to the resources found there, not only because they are their primary means of subsistence but because they also play an integral role in their vision of the cosmos. On August 8, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the Rapporteurship issued Press Release No. 34/08, in which it urged the OAS member States to ensure that the human rights of indigenous peoples are respected and guaranteed, especially their rights to lands, territory, and natural resources, and to participation and consultation.
62. In this connection, the Rapporteurship acknowledges and appreciates the actions undertaken and implemented by many States that have legally recognized the traditional territories of indigenous peoples. Nevertheless, there remain significant weaknesses in actions geared toward protection, which leave indigenous peoples vulnerable especially to the interests of third parties in exploiting and extracting the natural resources located in indigenous territories.
63. During 2008, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to carry out its activities in support of the system of individual petitions and of the study and processing of precautionary measures, cases and communications regarding the rights of indigenous peoples and/or its members. The Rapporteurship also continued to advise at public and private hearings on cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights involving the rights of indigenous peoples.
64. The Rapporteurship also continued with its promotion activities and to give advise to OAS member States and held a series of meetings at the Secretariat of the IACHR with petitioners, nongovernmental organizations, and indigenous peoples on the inter-American system and on cases and precautionary measures that concerned indigenous peoples’ rights.
65. During the IACHR sessions held in 2008, several reports regarding the rights of indigenous peoples were approved and various hearings were held dealing with situations that had to do with the rights of indigenous peoples in different parts of the Hemisphere.
66. A visit was made to Bolivia from June 9 to 13, 2008, to gather information on the situation of a large number of families belonging to captive communities of the indigenous Guaraní people who continue to live in a state of bondage analogous to slavery, in Bolivia’s Chaco region, in the Departments of Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Tarija. The IACHR delegation was led by Commissioner Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero in her capacity as Rapporteur for Bolivia, and by Commissioner Víctor E. Abramovich, as Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
67. During the visit the Commission gathered information and received testimony that confirmed the continuing problem of debt bondage and forced labor in Bolivia’s Chaco region and that the plight of the Guaraní people in this region had worsened since the last visit of the IACHR in November 2006. The delegation noted that the situation of bondage and forced labor in which the families of the Guaraní people live is an extreme manifestation of the discrimination that Bolivia’s indigenous peoples and campesino communities have suffered historically and continue to suffer.
68. As part of its activities for the promotion of human rights and indigenous peoples, the Rapporteurship participated in the Seventh Meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on indigenous affairs, held on May 28 and 29, 2008. It also participated in a workshop on “Reparations for Indigenous Peoples” organized by the International Center for Transitional Justice, which was held in New York on September 21 and 22, 2008, and attended by indigenous leaders from Canada and the United States.
69. The Rapporteurship has also continued to advise the president of the Working Group to Prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and took part in the Eleventh and Twelfth Meetings of Negotiations in the Quest for Points of Consensus of the OAS Working Group to Prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In that regard, the Rapporteurship reiterates the importance of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly on September 13, 2007. In that context, the Commission encouraged OAS member States to maximize their efforts to adopt the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and urged member States to consider the instrument approved by the UN as the baseline standard in their discussions and reflections on the inter-American draft.
70. During the 133rd Regular Session, the Rapporteurship held a meeting of experts in human rights of indigenous peoples, the purpose of which was to discuss international norms on the obligation to protect the right to property of indigenous peoples, as well as to receive information to be used in the preparation of a thematic report. The meeting was attended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People, James Anaya, as well as by independent experts, representatives of funding bodies, and notable indigenous leaders.
71. From November 17 to 21, 2008, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples conducted a working visit to the Republic of Colombia, where he had occasion to meet with the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and receive information on killings and forced displacement of members of indigenous peoples and on the precarious food and health situation that threatens the right to survival of these peoples.
72. Finally, with the goal of strengthening the promotion and defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, in 2008 the IACHR hired attorney Leonardo Alvarado, a Chortí Maya from Honduras, for the position of specialist in human rights and indigenous rights law. In addition, attorney Ivonne Barrios, of the Quechua people of Bolivia, was selected for the scholarship program for indigenous lawyers, under which she would do a year’s internship at the IACHR.
 The activities of the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are included in Volume II of this Annual Report.
 See: Justice and Social Inclusion: Challenges to Democracy in Guatemala (2003); Fifth Report on the Human Rights Situation in Guatemala (2001); Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Paraguay (2001); Second Report on the Human Rights Situation in Peru (2000); Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia (1999); Report on the Human Rights Situation in Mexico (1998); Report on the Human Rights Situation in Brazil (1997); Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ecuador (1997); Second Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia (1993); Fourth Report on the Human Rights Situation in Guatemala (1993); Second Report on the Human Rights Situation in Suriname (1985).
 IACHR, Report on the Human Rights Situation in Guatemala, 1993.
 See IACHR, Press Release 51/07, September 18, 2007.