IN WHICH STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN TOWARDS FULL OBSERVANCE
THE HUMAN RIGHTS SET FORTH IN THE AMERICAN DECLARATION
THE RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF MAN AND THE AMERICAN
CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS
Year after year, in a special chapter of its Annual Report to
the OAS General Assembly, the IACHR has been recommending both to
member countries of the Organization and to the Assembly the adoption
of certain measures to improve the observance of human rights.
These recommendations have been made in the context of how
human rights have been observed, or of the problems that the region or
a portion of it has encountered.
For that reason, these recommendations have been changing or
have been modified in successive annual reports.
While some of these recommendations have been made in
successive reports, when the situation has improved, the Commission
has not repeated them, but has chosen to introduce new aspects of
them, always calling the member countries' attention to the new
realities that have emerged.
The fact that the heads of state and government at the Summit
of the Americas, in Miami, in December 1994, have made decisions on
promoting and protecting human rights in the hemisphere the Commission
has simply decided to endorse the position adopted by the heads of
The heads of state and government have decided that the
promotion and protection of human rights is one of the priorities in
inter-American relations. Accordingly,
the Commission's desire is simply to help have the decisions adopted
at the Summit carried out in the most appropriate, effective and
The Commission shares the views put forward by the heads of
state and government and notes that many of these measures had already
been proposed by the Commission itself in different chapters of
various annual reports, and in reports on individual cases.
The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to the heads
of state and government for the importance they have assigned in the
context of international relations to the promotion and protection of
human rights, particularly the support they have given to the human
rights organs, of which the IACHR is one.
In the Plan of Action, the heads of state instruct the
governments to take certain specific steps, aiming at the same goals
as did the IACHR in its final reports.
As indicated, the Commission at this time fully endorses the
decisions taken by the heads of state and government, and from the
perspective of the inter-American system and of the specific
responsibility that the OAS Charter and the Pact of San José have
entrusted to the IACHR, the Commission will address the decisions of the
heads of state and will point out how, in its view, the governments
should proceed to implement these promptly.
Below is a review of each of the decisions adopted in the Plan of
Action by the heads of state and government at the Summit of the
Give serious consideration to adherence to human rights
instruments to which they are not already party
Without prejudice to the instruments concluded in the United
Nations and of those adopted by the old Pan American Conferences, and
the conventions on diplomatic and territorial asylum, the main
inter-American human rights instruments are the following:
The American Convention on Human Rights, known as the Pact of San
José, Costa Rica, 1969;
The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture,
adopted in Cartagena de Indias in 1985;
The Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human
Rights in the area of economic, social and cultural rights,
"Protocol of San Salvador," adopted in 1988 at the OAS General
Assembly in San Salvador;
The Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human
Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, adopted at the OAS General Assembly
in 1990 in Asuncion, Paraguay; and
The Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of
Persons, adopted by the General Assembly in 1994, in Belém do Pará,
Of all these instruments, certainly the most important is the
American Convention on Human Rights, to which 25 OAS member states are
party. The states that have
not acceded to it are: Antigua
and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Cuba, Guyana, Saint Kitts and
Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United
The other instruments have unfortunately not had a large number
of accessions or ratifications despite the effort made by the
Organization to promote these important conventions.
In fact, the Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture has been
signed only by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Guatemala,
Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela; the
Protocol of San Salvador, by Ecuador, Panama and Suriname; the Protocol
on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, by Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela;
and the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of
Persons, by twelve states with no ratifications.
The Commission has been urging year after year that all the
states should be party at least to the Pact of San José.
It vigorously supports the stand taken by the heads of state, and
again appeals for ratification of these instruments as soon as possible,
especially the American Convention on Human Rights, which is the
cornerstone of the entire inter-American system for the protection of
Cooperate fully with all inter-American and United Nations
human rights bodies
The effectiveness of an organ to protect human rights depends
both on the powers given it by its constituent instrument and on the
cooperation the States give it. Without
that cooperation, it really cannot do its work effectively.
Accordingly, the decision of the heads of state and government
that the governments should cooperate with human rights bodies is
especially important for the IACHR.
It is true that, as a general rule, most OAS member countries
have cooperated with the IACHR, but at the same time it is important to
underscore that such cooperation must be maintained and increased as
much as possible. In the
Commission's view, it is particularly important in this connection that
the countries give their consent when the Commission asks to make an
on-site observation visit, and that when it makes such a visit, they
furnish it with all the facilities it needs to accomplish its task. Regarding the Commission's requests in relation to the
processing of individual cases, the governments are obligated to provide
promptly all the information the Commission needs to achieve the
objectives assigned to it by the OAS Charter and the American Convention
on Human Rights.
The Commission wishes to reiterate its concern, which it has
voiced on previous occasions, about the difficulties it has often
encountered in getting adequate replies from some governments, as well
as the lack of compliance with the Commission's recommendations on cases
being processed and on other specific matters that it considers
necessary to resolve. The lack of compliance with the Commission's recommendations
is particularly unfortunate when they refer to serious violations of
basic rights guaranteed by the American Convention.
Develop programs for the promotion and observance of human
rights, including educational programs to inform people of their legal
rights and their responsibility to respect the rights of others
This important decision has been considered by the Commission.
In several previous reports, the IACHR has pointed out the
importance for the inter-American rights protection system to develop
programs to promote the observance of human rights, especially through
educational programs to inform all the people of member countries about
basic concepts on human rights and basic freedoms.
Since its 1978 Annual Report, the IACHR has been recommending
that member countries and the OAS itself adopt programs to teach about
human rights and other measures to promote those rights.
These programs, as the Commission has pointed out earlier, should
be organized by each country in light of its own distinctive features
and culture, and should preferably cover all sectors of the population,
beginning with primary school, followed by secondary schools, and
universities (undergraduate and graduate programs), through special
courses on human rights protection nationally and internationally.
It is very important for the promotion programs to cover sectors
that have special responsibility for monitoring and protecting human
rights, such as the courts, the Justice Departments (Ministerios Públicos),
the security forces and the armed forces.
The Commission considers that, while the distinctive features of
each member country should be taken into consideration, this training
should not be confined to studying the provisions of the domestic legal
system, but should include basic instruction on global and regional
The Commission has noted with satisfaction that some countries
have already started programs in which the Commission and the
Inter-American Institute of Human Rights have participated and
collaborated. The work done
in this field has been assigned priority by the heads of states.
The Commission wishes again to say it stands ready to do
everything in its power, in collaboration and coordination with other
institutions and organizations both governmental and nongovernmental, to
have this important decision implemented.
Promote policies to ensure that women enjoy full and equal
legal rights within their families and societies, and to ensure the
removal of constraints to women's full participation as voters,
candidates, and elected and appointed officials
The IACHR considers this Summit decision especially important.
The Commission has been working on this topic for several years.
At its 85th session, the Commission set up a working group to
draw up, in consultation with the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM),
a report on the compatibility of domestic laws with the American
Convention in the protection of women's rights, particularly
on any discrimination there might be against women in the
domestic legal system of some OAS member countries.
Another issue on which the Commission has expressed its deep
concern in several of its reports is the humiliating case of rape and
other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment committed against
imprisoned women by members of the security forces in some member
countries. On this topic,
the IACHR plans, in coordination with other governmental and
nongovernmental organizations, to draft special reports on those
countries where the number and seriousness of the complaints and other
information received by the Commission warrant a study being made of
Review and strengthen laws for the protection of the rights of
minority groups and indigenous people and communities to ensure freedom
from discrimination, to guarantee full and equal protection under the
law, and to facilitate active civic participation.
Support a process to review and enhance the protection of
indigenous rights in OAS member states, and to develop promptly an
effective United Nations declaration on indigenous rights
"Special protection of indigenous peoples is a sacred
obligation of the States," the Commission asserted in 1972.
Since then, the Commission, on several occasions, it fulfilled
its general mandate to concentrate its efforts on seeking solutions to
violations of the rights of indigenous people, individually or
The Commission received complaints about murders, torture and
genocide committed against indigenous peoples.
These violations resulted from invasions of indigenous lands,
road construction, settlement projects, development projects that damage
the habitat, attacks on and massacres of indigenous civilian populations
during military actions against guerrillas, discrimination and attacks
on freedom of speech and worship. The
IACHR conducted research, published reports, and submitted resolutions
to the General Assembly. The
most important of these was perhaps the resolution drawn up in 1985
demanding the right of the Yanomami to lead their own lives and possess
the land they live on.
In resolution AG/RES. 1022(XIX-0/89), the General Assembly asked,
on the Commission's recommendation, that preparations begin on an
inter-American legal instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. Based on technical support from many governments, national
and international organizations and experts, the Commission initiated in
1995 extensive consultations regarding the first draft of an
"American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,"
which it hopes to submit to the General Assembly in 1996.
Reaffirming the General Assembly's decision, a large number of
member countries have reiterated how necessary and important it is to
produce a regional instrument on this subject.
Although preparation of this instrument is, in the Commission's
view, the most immediate step needed to implement the decision of the
heads of state in the Miami Summit, it is not enough.
Study and protection of the rights of indigenous people and
minorities by the OAS with the participation of the IACHR and other OAS
sections should include:
-Special attention to individual complaints and petitions
received by the IACHR on alleged violations, when such violations emerge
from discriminatory attitudes against indigenous or minority peoples, as
well as from follow-up on the implementation and the effects of
compliance with resolutions of the Commission and the Court on these
- Special attention by the IACHR to such topics in its special
country reports, as has been done in recent years.
- Strengthening technical institutional ties between the IACHR
and the United Nations system, and with the ILO in the effort to protect
indigenous peoples and minorities.
- Basic studies on legislation and practices of government
organizations concerning these issues, evaluating their positive effects
and/or attacks against the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.
- Develop capabilities for preventive, mediation or advisory
intervention for the peaceful and legal settlement of disputes
concerning or attacking rights in these sectors.
- Enhance OAS capabilities as a forum and institution for
analysis of problems, demands, and solutions concerning the rights of
these groups, with the joint or ad-hoc intervention of the IACHR, the
Inter-American Indian Institute, the Inter-American Institute of Human
Rights, the Inter-American Juridical Committee, and the OAS Education,
Science and Culture areas, as well as the Regional Development and Trade
areas, CICAD, CIM, the IIN, etc., in the fields of their competence.
- Facilitate the access of institutions representing indigenous
peoples and minorities to OAS forums and mechanisms, and to its training
and fellowship programs.
Review national legislation affecting people with
disabilities, as well as benefits and services for them, and make any
changes needed to facilitate the enjoyment by these individuals of the
same rights and freedoms as other members of society
The Commission has also been concerned with this important issue,
which affects hundreds of thousands of children, women and men in the
Americas, who are for the most part marginalized from society.
In its 1980-81 Annual Report, the Commission recommended that
member countries include legislative provisions, within their respective
overall development plans, to improve the marginal situation of the
disabled and the handicapped.
Subsequently, the OAS General Assembly, in adopting the
Additional Protocol in the Area of Economic, Social and Cutural Rights,
in San Salvador, in 1988, included the following provision in Article
Protection of the Handicapped
Everyone affected by a diminution of his physical or mental
capacities is entitled to receive special attention designed to help him
achieve the greatest possible development of his personality.
The States Parties agree to adopt such measures as may be
necessary for this purpose and, especially, to:
a. Undertake programs
specifically aimed at providing the handicapped with the resources and
environment needed for attaining this goal, including work programs
consistent with their possibilities and freely accepted by them or their
legal representatives, as the case may be;
b. Provide special training
to the families of the handicapped in order to help them solve the
problems of coexistence and convert them into active agents in the
physical, mental and emotional development of the latter;
c. Include the consideration
of solutions to specific requirements arising from needs of this group
as a priority component of their urban development plans;
d. Encourage the
establishment of social groups in which the handicapped can be helped to
enjoy a fuller life.
The OAS has also been concerned with this issue: the General
Assembly, by resolution AG/RES.1249(XXIII-0/93), took cognizance of the
problems now arising with regard to the situation of the handicapped in
the hemisphere and instructed the Permanent Council to explore, in
cooperation with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the
possibility of establishing an agency devoted to the problems of the
handicapped. Later, in
resolution AG/RES.1296 (XXIV-0/94), the General Assembly urged member
countries to cooperate in adopting specific measures to improve the
health of the handicapped, assimilate them into society with the full
exercise of their rights and duties, and identify the risks that cause
disability and prevent them. In
1990, the Pan American Sanitary Conference instructed PAHO to continue
its efforts to cooperate with member countries and with local and
international organizations in developing programs and activities to
prevent disability, and to fully integrate the handicapped into society.
The Commission considers that, together with multilateral
efforts, it is important for those countries that have not yet done so,
to promptly implement the decision of the heads of state and government
by reviewing their domestic law in order to include the
handicapped in the benefits and rights enjoyed by all other members of
The Commission trusts that in the near future this will be a
topic regarding which no country or government will have failed to join
in this urgently needed effort.
Undertake all measures necessary to guarantee the rights of
children, and where they have not already done so, give serious
consideration to ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child
This is a topic of great importance.
Often abuse of children is one of the worst violations of human
rights, and concern that children, who should be the only privileged
members of society, not only can enjoy their rights, but are not the
targets of violence. should be one of the focuses in ensuring that human
rights are genuinely respected.
The Commission again expresses its readiness to help in fully
implementing this decision of the heads of state and government.
Guarantee the protection of the human rights of all migrant
workers and their families
The Commission has addressed this issue in several of its
reports, particularly in those cases where persecution or violation of
the judicial guarantees of due process and judicial protection have been
In the Commission's view, this topic is linked to various rights
set forth in the Additional Protocol in the Area of Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (Protocol of San Salvador).
Take the necessary steps to remedy inhumane conditions in
prisons and minimize the number of pretrial detainees
This is one of the problems that have most concerned the
Commission in recent years.
From the quantitative standpoint, probably the most frequent
human rights violation at this time in the hemisphere is the one
mentioned here by the heads of state and government.
In many of our countries, inhumane conditions continue to exist
in our jails, and one of the many reasons for this is overcrowding and
the housing together of convicted criminals with inmates awaiting trial
Often, because of excessive delay in trying detained persons, a
very high percentage of the prison population is detained in many
countries for excessively long periods, without the determination by a
court of whether they are guilty or innocent.
This delay results in grave injustice for those who, after
several years of imprisonment, are found innocent.
These delays constitute obvious violations of the right to be
presumed innocent and to due process of law.
The Commission considers that one of the main concerns in the
human rights area that should be addressed by our countries in the
coming years should be the improvement of penal procedures of many
countries to streamline the processing of criminal cases so as to
quickly determine the fate of an accused person through a speedy trial.
This is one of the issues that, in the Commission's view, should
be given priority by the countries.
training curricula for law enforcement agents to ensure that they
adequately cover proper treatment of suspects and detainees as well as
relations with the community
This decision taken by the heads of state relates to some of the
other decisions mentioned above. It
is clear that the observance of human rights will improve as law
enforcement agents are trained in this area so they will fully comply
with international and national rules on human rights protection.
experiences on protection of human rights at the national level and,
where possible, cooperate in the development of law enforcement agents
and security forces training or other programs to reduce the potential
for human rights violations
This Summit decision is closely linked to decision 3 on the
development of programs for human rights promotion, training and
education. Several member countries of the Organization have adopted
human rights training and education programs for their security forces,
the judiciary and the justice department.
As indicated in the comment on item 3, the Commission will
continue to concern itself with this issue and stands ready to exert
every effort to be of service to OAS member country governments in this
The Commission considers that many violations of the right to a
fair trial are due to lack of awareness by the security forces and
sometimes by the judges themselves of the obligations the states parties
to international human rights instruments have undertaken.
The Commission has addressed this issue on numerous occasions,
both in the general reports and in the reports on individual cases.
on the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank to establish or to
reinforce programs, as appropriate, to support national projects for the
promotion and observance of human rights in the Western Hemisphere
This is a decision the Commission applauds.
In the 70s and 80s, when democracy did not exist in many of the
countries, and serious human rights violations were occurring, a number
of nongovernmental organizations devoted to the dissemination and
promotion of human rights received substantial assistance from the
international community in the very important effort at that time of
protecting the human rights that were being taught.
With the reestablishment
of democracy, when fortunately many human rights problems were being
overcome, that aid has declined. But
it is also timely now for both these organizations and many others to
contribute, with the participation of the governments in this new
context, to strengthen democratic institutions and promote the
observance of human rights in the Western Hemisphere.
In this regard, such tasks as strengthening the judiciary,
teaching human rights at various levels, and including marginal sectors
of society such as the indigenous peoples, the handicapped, children and
in some cases women, appear to be essential in modern democratic
Accordingly, the Commission applauds this decision of the heads
of state and trusts that, through the mechanisms available in the OAS
and the financing of the IDB, other programs can be established or
existing ones can be renewed to implement this decision of the heads of
state and government.
strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Commission has for the last thirty-five years been performing
work for which it has had neither the institutional structure nor the
sufficient resources to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to it.
In the period covered by this report, the Commission has been
processing 641 individual cases, has made seven on-site observation
visits, has drafted three special reports on various states, and has
submitted three contentious cases to the Inter-American Court of Human
Rights, requesting an advisory opinion from the Court on them.
To carry out this wide range of tasks, the Commission has only
been able to hold two meetings of its members annually.
The Commission is supported by an Executive Secretariat with only
As the Commission has been pointing out recent years, it is
unquestionably of basic importance for it to be provided with the
resources needed to strengthen it.
Without prejudice to the foregoing, the Commission, based on this
decision of the heads of state, specifically requests an increase in its
budget, and the allocation of more human resources, so it can might have
available the tools it needs to carry out more effectively the duties
assigned to it under inter-American instruments.