IN WHICH FURTHER STEPS ARE NEEDED TO GIVE EFFECT
THE HUMAN RIGHTS SET FORTH IN THE AMERICAN
OF THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF MAN
In its previous annual reports, the Commission reported to the
General Assembly on the serious situation in the region as a whole as
regards the observance of human rights. During 1978, there were no
significant changes in this situation. However, there were some
encouraging signs during this period with regard to the promotion and
protection of human rights, that we are pleased to print out at the very
beginning of this part of our report.
One of the most positive events that occurred was the entry into
force, on July 18, 1978, of the American Convention on Human Rights, or
the Pact of San José. This event, which inaugurated a new stage in the
progressive development of the promotion and protection of human rights
within the framework of the Organization of American States, was,
without doubt, the best way of commemorating the thirtieth anniversary
of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The
Commission, which has made repeated recommendations toward achievement
of this objective, now calls on the member states that are not parties
to this international instrument to take the steps necessary for
ratification or accession as soon as possible, to achieve broadest
possible adherence to the Convention in the near future.
Secondly, we wish to express our satisfaction over the attention
given at the eighth regular session of the General Assembly to the
recommendation contained in our previous annual report, that a
convention be drafted to make torture an international crime. Resolution
368 of the General Assembly, which endorses this recommendation is,
without doubt, a very clear expression of the Organization’s desire to
condemn and combat torture by all appropriate means.
Last, but not least, we must take notice of the very positive
efforts to reestablish representative democracy in some of the member
states of the Organization. As the Commission has stated in previous
annual reports, a political system in the Americas organized on the
basis of the effective exercise of representative democracy is one of
the principles enshrined in the Charter of the Organization that has the
most direct relationship with the observance of human rights.
These positive tendencies, along with the qualitative and
quantitative decrease in human rights violations in some countries
cannot allow us, however, to conclude that the situation described in
our previous annual reports has appreciably improved.
In fact, during the year covered by this report, the Commission
has received numerous denunciations of human rights violations in
various member states of the Organization, some of which demand
particular comment because of their gravity and frequency.
It is of continued concern to the Commission that some
governments continue to refuse to provide information on the fate of
persons kidnapped from their homes, places of work, ports or airports or
in public thoroughfares, by non/uniformed, heavily armed individuals,
traveling in unmarked vehicles and acting with such security and
impunity that they are assumed to be forces invested with some
authority. The truth is that until now, all the remedies provided for
under domestic law, and the innumerable efforts made by family members,
friends, institutions, agencies, and by this Commission itself, to find
out what has happened to victims of such procedures have been fruitless.
What is more, cases of this type continue to occur, although not with
the same frequency as in previous years.
A particularly serious aspect of this problem is the fact, which
has been repeatedly brought to the attention of the Commission, that
children born to women who have “disappeared” while pregnant, and
very young children kidnapped with their parents, have not been placed
into the custody of their legitimate guardians-grandparents, aunts or
uncles, or other family members—but rather placed in institutions and
in some cases, given up for adoption either in the same country or
The Commission reiterates its severe condemnation of this
practice. As was stated in the previous report, this kind of repression
is cruel and inhuman, and represents a very serious actual or potential
violation of such fundamental rights as the right to life, the right of
freedom and the right to the security and integrity of the person. It
leaves the victim totally defenseless violating the rights to a fair
trial, to protection against arbitrary arrest and to due process. It
also affects the entire circle of family and friends who wait for months
and sometimes years for some news of the victim’s fate. This
uncertainty, and the deprivation of contact with the victim, creates
serious family problems, particularly for children, who in some cases
have witnessed the kidnapping of their parents or relatives and the
physical mistreatment or verbal abuse to which they were subjected.
The Commission also regrets the fact that in some states of the
Organization, there is systematic recourse to the use of all types of
physical and mental coercion, not only during pre trial interrogation,
but even after an administrative or legal prison sentence has been
handed down. Torture in some countries appears to be a usual practice in
the investigation of all kinds of facts, particularly those that have to
do with public policy (ordre publique) or the security of the
State. The Commission has said many times, and it believes it necessary
to repeat it on this occasion, that it is necessary for all governments
to adopt a deliberate policy against torture. This policy must have two
basic components: a thorough investigation of all accusations of
torture, to be conducted by impartial authorities, and public example
and sanction to those responsible for acts of this nature, no matter
what their position or standing.
A further negative aspect of the situation, which indeed is
nothing new, is the way in which some governments abuse the power
granted to the executive, under the constitution or other laws, to
detain persons without trial in cases of national or international
emergency. Indefinite maintenance of the state of siege is one of the
artifices employed to cloak long or indefinite sentences with supposed
legality. The Commission’s position on this is well-known; the right,
and at the same time, the duty of governments to maintain public order
and the security of the state is undeniable, but it is also evident that
the detention of persons without trial, for an indefinite time,
constitutes a serious violation of the right to freedom and of the right
to due process of law.
These and many other violations of civil and political rights and
of economic, social and cultural rights, are occurring precisely in
those countries where either there are not sufficient means of
protection and relief against such violations, or where the organs
established for such a purpose are impotent or ineffective. It is
obvious that in countries where the judiciary is not completely
independent, or where its independence may be formally respected, judges
are subjected to pressures and threats from the executive authorities,
there can be no effective domestic defense of human rights. Legal
remedies such as “habeas corpus” or the writ of amparo are
useless if judges are not independent and live in a climate of
insecurity and terror, which inhibits them from acting. To complete the
picture, if, as often happens, there is no legislative branch, or if the
legislators are docile instruments of the will of the executive, there
is a total lack of domestic protection of human rights and fundamental
Taking into account the foregoing considerations, the Commission
Prompt ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights or
the Pact of San José, or accession to this instrument, as the case may
be, by all member states of the Organization that have not yet done so.
Recognition by the States Parties to the American Convention on
Human Rights, and by those states that shall be parties to it, of the
jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear all
cases regarding the interpretation or enforcement of this Convention.
Prompt clarification of the status of persons who have
Lifting or modification of states of emergency and laws of
exception whenever the circumstances that originally gave grounds for
these measures have ceased or tapered off.
In those countries where there are still de facto regimes,
adoption of measures for prompt reinstatement of a system of
representative democracy, which is the system that best ensures full
observance of the fundamental rights and liberties of man.
Promotion, by the Organization of American States (OAS) and by
each of its member states, of human rights education programs and other
means of promoting human rights.
It likewise reiterates the recommendations contained in its
previous Annual Reports.