PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS TO THE PERMANENT COUNCIL
OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
February 6, 1995
Mr. President of the Permanent Council, Mr. Assistant Secretary‑General, Madam Executive Secretary of the Commission, Distinguished Representatives, Fellow Members of the Commission, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a privilege and an honor to open this 88th public session of the Inter‑American Commission on Human Rights. In a preliminary session now required because of the growing amount of work, the Commission has been holding hearings on petitions and on the human rights situation in some countries for the past three working days. Its formal sessions in plenary will commence today. In the tradition of the Commission and the Permanent Council, this initial, ceremonial meeting, is an opportunity for the Chairman of the Commission, speaking on behalf of all of its members, to convey, in general remarks, to the community of states of our region, a review of the recent activities of the Commission and to comment on human rights matters of common concern.
In the 5 months which have elapsed since our last formal sessions, the Commission has conducted on‑site visits in Haiti, Ecuador, Guatemala and Jamaica. The Governments of each of these countries provided every facility to the Commission and cooperated fully. The Commission would like to take this public opportunity to thank the governments for their assistance. The Commission has presented four new applications and has argued two new cases to the Inter‑American Court and has continued with the preparation of a number of hemispheric reports, some of which will be presented, in due course, to the General Assembly. And, of course, it has continued with its major function, indeed, its raison d'être, the processing of individual petitions.
The Inter‑American Commission has often observed that the right to a popularly‑based, democratic government, which is guaranteed in the American Convention on Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is a right in itself and a fundamental prerequisite to the realization of virtually all other internationally recognized human rights. When men with weapons who have been given the responsibility to protect the national community betray that trust and turn their weapons on the popular government, suspend the constitution and laws and seize control of a theretofore independent court system, all human rights are put in jeopardy. Without the operation of an independent court system, citizens have no recourse to violations of their rights. Without an independent court system, there are no controls on the police, for a modern police system cannot operate without an effective judiciary overseeing it. Military usurpations of power signal the beginning of an avalanche of human rights violations.
Yet, curiously, the international legal system has, in general, tended to view the problems presented by military coups as a secondary and less urgent human rights violation. Public international law, until recently, routinely inclined to recognize and seat usurpers, on the ground that they were, after all, the de facto government. To act otherwise, it was suggested in some quarters, might be considered an infringement on internal affairs.
Happily, the Inter‑American system is far in advance of the rest of the world, in this regard. The historic Santiago Declaration and a series of resolutions at the political level have clearly characterized usurpations of civilian authority as a fundamental human rights violation and have established special procedures to enable the hemisphere to respond effectively. Most recently, the hemispheric commitment to democracy and human rights was reaffirmed at the Summit meeting in Miami.
Our region continues to undergo a process of consolidation and extension of democratic government. Since the previous session of the Commission, the legitimate, constitutional government of Haiti has been restored. The Commission again visited Haiti in October and was able to confirm the extraordinary and manifest relief of the population at the return of the elected President and his government, the gratitude to the Multinational Force and to the international and regional system which had refused to acquiesce to brutal force and had insisted on the vindication of the rights of the Haitian people was voluble. Nevertheless, the situation in Haiti continues to be delicate, as the legitimate government seeks to consolidate control and remove the effects of three years of brutal despotism. On January 17, 1995, the U.N. Secretary‑General Boutros‑Ghali, in a comprehensive special report to the Security Council on the situation in Haiti observed that "[t]he relative security currently by the Haitian people remains very fragile." (S/1995/46, at p. 4) That should hardly be a surprise. In a country that has been subjected to a brutal military dictatorship for years, one that also cynically spoliated a country that was already subject to severe international economic sanctions, reconstruction of democratic, political, as well as economic infrastructures will take time and will require substantial international assistance.
The Commission met with President Aristide in Port au Prince and affirmed its continuing support for the human rights of the Haitian people and its willingness to assist, in ways compatible with its function under the Convention, in the reconstruction of Haiti. The role of the Organization of American States and the United Nations is critical in this. The Commission will continue to monitor the human rights situation in carefully.
Unfortunately, there has been little discernible change in Cuba, that would begin to move it toward an approximation of international human rights standards. There, a single party under a virtually permanent leader continues to exercise total control and to resist popular elections.
Democratic constitutional government is a requirement of the Convention and
a precondition for the fulfillment of other internationally protected human rights. But it is worth recalling that elections and popular government do not automatically bring about the fulfillment of the other human rights. Therefore the American Convention calls for a comprehensive human rights program in each country party to it.
The consolidation of democracy at the regional level has permitted the Commission to focus on other systemic problems common to many states in the region. One matter is of particular concern. The judicial system or judiciary and the civil service are critical struts of democratic government and, as a result, of a human rights system. In many countries that the Commission has studied, the judiciary does not meet those standards and, indeed, judges at virtually every level of the judicial system are the first to acknowledge it. Part of the problem is insufficient financial resources being provided by the political system, which leads to understaffing and general demoralization and opens the way for corruption. Part of the problem, in some countries, is the persistence of antiquated procedures, which require the judiciary to operate in inefficient ways, expending already scarce resources unnecessarily. These systemic problems are aggravated by a deluge of narco‑traffic cases, in numbers far beyond what the judiciaries were designed to accommodate. One of the major indications of the resulting pathology is the serious delay in processing cases, the extraordinarily long period between arrest for criminal matters and trial, and unacceptable periods of pretrial incarceration.
These problems are widespread and little is served in singling out individual countries. Indeed, governments themselves have been among the first to acknowledge the difficulties. The Commission is working on a continent‑wide study which will be able, we hope, to suggest certain systemic adjustments that countries may make, in accord with their obligations under Article 2 of the American Convention, to remedy the situation. Here, as in most other matters, change depends on the political will of the government of each country. Important historical models of self‑improvement of civil services and judiciaries are available. There are some outstanding examples of recent judicial initiatives in our hemisphere. While the conditions in each country are different, the successful responses indicate that this is a matter that can be dealt with where there is the will.
The urgency of these changes cannot be overemphasized. Human rights violations are not uncommon in democratic and constitutional regimes, for human rights is a dialectical process which is constantly evolving under the stress of events and new demands by people. Indeed, the more democratic a system, the more confident and comfortable its people are in making demands on the official institutions of government to clarify and implement their rights. Courts are the essential internal resource for the fulfillment of these claims and an effective court system is required by the American Convention. A modern and efficient police service is also an indispensable part of a system of rule of law. But the police in a modern system cannot operate effectively without constitutional controls including an independent judiciary. Hence the centrality of an efficient court system in national human rights matters.
In the period between the last session of the Commission and the current session, the Commission had to deal with claims sounding in environmental law. It may seem anomalous to characterize violations of environmental law as human rights violations, but Article 4 of the American Convention requires governments to protect the right to life. That right is in jeopardy for example when water, without which life cannot be imagined, is polluted by unregulated industrial processes. When toxic effluents are poured directly into the drinking water of the population, the epidemiological consequences are well known ‑ increases in disease, stillbirths, malformation of fetuses, disease and diminish life expectancy.
The American Convention is not against industrial development. Quite the contrary. More than any of the other great human rights instruments of the modern world, the American Convention emphasizes economic rights and economic development, as does the Charter of the Organization of American States. These rights can beet be fulfilled by the development of a robust economy. The problem is to regulate industrial uses in ways that provide for protection of rights guaranteed by the American Convention. Virtually every state in our hemisphere has such regulations on the books, indicating that there is a general appreciation of the obligation. In some instances, the problem is ineffective enforcement of those regulations. The Commission has been receiving more complaints in the form of individual petitions on these matters.
As it has remarked to the Permanent Council on previous occasions, the Commission, which was created by the political processes of the Organization of American States continues to depend on the support of those processes in the performance of its own tasks. In this respect, Mr. President, Mr. Assistant Secretary‑General, I should like to take this opportunity on behalf of my colleagues on the Commission to thank you for the extraordinary assistance you have afforded the Commission in the previous period. The Commission, as always, looks forward to cooperation with you in the fulfillment of our common objective, the protection of human rights in our hemisphere.
PRESENTATION OF THE ANNUAL REPORT FOR 1994
BY THE CHAIRMAN OF THE IACHR
BEFORE THE FIRST COMMITTEE OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
AT ITS TWENTY-FIFTH REGULAR SESSION
Mr. Chairman, distinguished Delegates, ladies and gentlemen:
As Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am especially pleased to submit to this important Committee the Commission's Report for 1994, pursuant to the article 41(g) of the American Convention on Human Rights and article 90(f) of the OAS Charter.
First, allow me please, Mr. Chairman, to introduce two distinguished members of the Commission who are accompanying me today: Professor and Dean Claudio Grossman, First Vice-Chairman of the Commission, and Ambassador John Donaldson, Second Vice-Chairman. I am also joined by Ambassador Edith Márquez Rodríguez, Executive Secretary of the Commission, and Mr. Domingo E. Acevedo, Special Adviser to the Commission.
The report has taken account of the points referred to in resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-0/78) and article 63 of the Commission's Regulations. The report contains six chapters, which I shall now outline.
The first chapter, as is customary, includes a general description of the origins and legal foundations of the Commission. Also mentioned in this chapter are the meetings the IACHR has held in the course of 1994 with other inter-American agencies and with regional and international human rights bodies.
The second chapter refers to the activities the Commission undertook in the period covered by the Report. In this connection I would note that in 1994 three sessions were held: the 85th, from January 31 to February 11; the 86th, April 6 and 7; and the 87th, from September 19 to 30.
The matters taken up in the above-noted sessions have been summarized in the Report. Therefore I deem it unnecessary to refer to them in detail.
As I noted in the presentation I made to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council, the most important activities carried out by the Commission in 1994 included the on-site observations and visits. The IACHR assigns great importance to the on-site visits because in practice they are one of the best means available to the Commission to promote the observance of human rights.
These observations or visits give the Commission an excellent opportunity to examine and in many cases to have corrected situations that affect the general observance of human rights. The General Assembly has recognized the importance of these observations; we hope that in this session the Assembly will reiterate that recognition and recommend to the states that when the IACHR requests permission to carry out on-site visits, they should give such permission.
As regards the on-site visits carried out in 1994, in March the Commission visited the Communities of Population in Resistance in Guatemala.
Later, from May 22 to 27, the Commission visited the Bahamas. The main purpose of this visit was to observe the Haitian settlements in Great Abaco, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, and New Providence, as well as the Carmichael Road detention camp.
In November of last year the Commission visited Ecuador and from December 7 to 9 made a visit to Jamaica to look into conditions in prisons and detention centers.
From December 12 to 15, the Commission once again visited Guatemala in order to observe the human rights situation and to receive information on cases before the Commission that stemmed from individual petitions alleging violations of human rights set forth in the American Convention.
Very special mention should be made of two on-site observations rendered by the Commission in Haiti, one from May 16 to 20, the other from October 22 to 24.
I should reiterate here the Commission's satisfaction with the course of events in Haiti and the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the post that is rightfully his by popular mandate. In the Commission's view, strengthening democratic institutions is the most effective means of protecting and defending human rights. Re-establishing constitutional government is no doubt one of the most important measures for strengthening democracy and the observance of human rights.
The Commission would also like to highlight the important step taken by President Aristide with the creation of the Truth and Justice Commission, made up of seven members and presided over by Mrs. Françoise Boucard. Mr. Patrick Robinson, current member and former Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, is among the members of that Commission, on which he serves as an expert in his personal capacity.
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate once again that the Commission is willing to collaborate, within the scope of its competence, in the process of consolidating democracy in this beautiful and hospitable member state.
Another very important activity of the Commission in 1994 had to do with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in relation to both the Commission's participation in contentious cases and the Court's advisory function.
As regards the contentious cases, the Court issued a judgment in the case of Neira Alegría et al. (also known as "El Frontón"), against the state of Peru.
In the case of Isidro Caballero Delgado and María del Carmen Santana, brought by the IACHR against Colombia, the Court took testimony on the merits from the witnesses proposed by the Parties.
In the Genie case against the state of Nicaragua, the Court held the hearing on preliminary exceptions raised by the Government. The Court issued its decision on those exceptions and declared it has jurisdiction to hear the case.
In the case known as "El Amparo," against the Government of Venezuela, the Court decided to take note of the recognition of liability by the Government of Venezuela. At present the Commission is engaged in conversations with the Government and petitioners on reparations and compensation for the victims.
In the Maqueda case, against Argentina, the Court authorized discontinuance of the action brought by the Commission and decided to order the record closed, considering that the Government and petitioner reached a friendly settlement that addressed the interests of both sides.
The Commission requested and the Court granted provisional measures to protect the life and physical integrity of several witnesses, their relatives, and attorneys in the Colotenango case, now before the Commission, against the Government of Guatemala.
I would also like to inform the distinguished Delegates that the Court, on December 9, 1994, issued Advisory Opinion OC-14, entitled "International Responsibility for the Promulgation and Enforcement of Laws in Violation of the Convention (Articles 1 and 2 of the American Convention on Human Rights)."
This Opinion had been requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which asked the Court to determine the legal effects of a law promulgated by a state party to the Convention that manifestly violates the obligations said state contracted on ratifying the Convention, and what the obligations and responsibilities would be of the agents or officials who enforced such a law.
The General Assembly recommended to the Commission that it seek to coordinate its activities with the Court. The Commission, like the Court, greatly values the fruitful dialogue between these two organs of the inter-American system. In this regard I wish to inform the distinguished Delegates that last April 12 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a joint meeting at the Commission's headquarters in Washington. At this meeting issues of common interest were discussed and the exchange of views continued regarding possible amendments to the American Convention on Human Rights. A document was drawn up that was signed by the Chairman of the Commission and the President of the Court, and sent to the Chairman of the Permanent Council.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished Delegates,
I wish now to refer to other important activities that the Commission has carried out in the area of the promotion and dissemination of human rights, pursuant to the provisions of the OAS Charter and the American Convention.
Among the activities described in the Report, very special mention should be made of the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Commission, which was held in Chile at the invitation of that member State. During this visit several acts were held, some of which included the participation of the President of Chile, Mr. Eduardo Frei, members of his cabinet, the President of the Supreme Court, and other executive and legislative branch authorities. Academic activities were also organized, as well as meetings with representatives of human rights NGOs.
Chapter III of the report, Mr. Chairman, entitled "Reports on Individual Cases," answers to the fundamental mandate of the Commission regarding the protection of human rights and describes what may well be the Commission's most important activity. I am referring to the individual petitions that the IACHR considered in the course of 1994, with respect to which it adopted resolutions.
The length of this Chapter, 96 pages, by itself reflects the importance the Commission attributes to this matter. Consequently, it has devoted a large part of its activities to the consideration of these individual cases. The Commission intends to redouble its efforts in this area, to which it accords priority, since it contributes to legal treatment of human rights problems.
In Chapter IV the Commission has included sections on the evolving human rights situations in Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
In Chapter V the Commission has prepared a report on the compatibility of desacato laws with the American Convention on Human Rights.
Chapter VI makes reference to the areas in which measures should be taken to promote observance of human rights, pursuant to the American Declaration and American Convention on human rights. This chapter gives the Commission an opportunity to recommend to the highest body of the OAS, and to the member states, that they adopt measures to ensure greater observance of human rights.
Last year saw an extraordinarily important event: the Heads of State and Government of the region met at the Summit of the Americas, in Miami, to make important decisions regarding what they consider a Plan of Action to strengthen and preserve democracies in the Hemisphere.
In this Plan of Action the Heads of State and Government considered that promotion and protection of human rights are among the priority tasks in inter-American relations. The Commission wishes to contribute to ensure that the decisions adopted at such a high level can be carried out in the most advisable, efficacious, and timely fashion.
The decisions adopted by the Heads of State and Government have been a matter of concern for the Commission for many years, as well as the subject of studies and recommendations. They are reflected in the respective chapters of many Annual Reports and also in reports on individual cases.
The Commission wishes to express its gratitude to the Heads of State and Government for the importance they attribute to human rights promotion and protection in the context of international relations, and its special appreciation for the support they have extended to human rights organs, including our Commission.
I am not going to refer to each of the thirteen decisions adopted at the Miami Summit. The Commission has analyzed each of them extensively, but I would like to underline some aspects that have a more direct impact on the Commission's work.
The first of these decisions was to ask the governments to consider seriously acceding to those human rights instruments to which they are not yet party. In the view of the Commission, those instruments are:
a.The American Convention on Human Rights, known as the Pact of San José, Costa Rica, of 1969;
b.The Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, adopted at Cartagena in 1985;
c.The Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, known as the Protocol of San Salvador, adopted in 1988 at the OAS General Assembly in San Salvador;
d.The Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty, adopted at the OAS General Assembly in 1990 in Asunción, Paraguay; and,
e.Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, adopted by the General Assembly in 1994, at Belém do Pará, Brazil.
Of all these legal instruments, certainly the most important is the American Convention on Human Rights, to which 25 member states of the OAS are party. I would like to take this opportunity to make an impassioned appeal to all the states to accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and in so doing to allow the system to function as a whole.
A second decision adopted by the Summit of Heads of State and Government was to cooperate fully with all inter-American and United Nations organs.
The Commission maintains permanent relations of cooperation with both the inter-American and United Nations human rights bodies. As part of this practice I was honored to represent the IACHR in the meetings of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last year. In addition, on behalf of the Commission I had a working meeting with Mr. José Ayala Lasso, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Most of the member states of the OAS have extended their support to our Commission; I think it is important to emphasize that this cooperation should be maintained and built upon.
In the Commission's view, it is particularly important that the states cooperate by granting their permission when our Commission asks to make an on-site observation, and that when such observations take place, they do their utmost to facilitate the work of the Commission in carrying out its charge, as has been the practice.
Another important decision of the Summit has to do with the need to adopt measures to remedy inhuman conditions in the prisons and to reduce to a minimum the number of detainees awaiting trial.
The Commission is preparing a report on prison conditions in the hemisphere and therefore reiterates its request to the states to provide the IACHR with the information it has asked for on this subject. Similarly, it asks that they answer the questionnaire on this matter that was drawn up and sent to the governments.
The prison situation has been one to the problems to which the Commission has devoted priority attention in recent years. For this reason we are very pleased to note that this concern has been shared by the Heads of State and Government, who believe that they will have to give much of their efforts in coming years to amending the criminal procedure laws so as to expedite the administration of actions makes it possible to quickly determine the fate of the accused in speedy trials.
This is one of the issues to which the Commission feels the States should assign special priority.
I should highlight that the heads of state, in their last decision, state that the governments should strengthen the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Commission is also preparing a study on laws and practices related to women's rights in order to determine whether they are compatible with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Mr. President, distinguished Delegates:
During the presentation I made to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council, some delegations made observations on the report. The IACHR, as an intergovernmental organ made up of independent experts, greatly values and appreciates the interest expressed by the delegations.
Some delegations voiced their discrepancies with respect to the breadth and contents of the Commission's press releases. I wish to inform the distinguished delegates that the Commission, in its next session, will study this matter to adopt a uniform criterion for press releases.
As regards the "issue of the violation of human rights by terrorist groups and the need ... to pool efforts to eliminate all forms of terrorism, national and international":
The Commission has taken up and vehemently and repeatedly condemned the phenomenon of terrorism, both in its annual reports and in special reports and several press releases, and also in reports on individual cases.
The IACHR recognizes the need to severely punish terrorist acts, which cause so much harm to society--especially to innocent persons--under the rule of law.
The IACHR has also condemned, and will continue to condemn, indiscriminate violence by armed bands and irregular armed forces. For example, the Annual Report for 1990-91 included a section, in Chapter V, on "Irregular Armed Groups and Human Rights."
Later, in the Annual Report of the Commission for 1992-93, Chapter V also included another section on the same issue, entitled "Actions of Irregular Armed Groups." In the last Annual Report, on 1994, which is before the First Committee for its consideration, you may note that in Chapter IV, on referring to the human rights situation in Colombia, beginning at page 145 [of the Spanish version] the IACHR has included a section on "How the Actions of Irregular Armed Groups Affect the Observance of Human Rights."
The Commission has always forcefully condemned violations, whatever their origins, but at the same time has voiced its concern when a state has ignored fundamental human rights with the argument that it is the only effective way to combat groups that practice violence.
In another area of work, I would like to reiterate at this point that the Commission has been carrying out its work over the last 35 years with ever dwindling resources to discharge the responsibilities that have been entrusted to it. In the period covered by this Report, the Commission had before it 641 individual cases, carried out seven on-site observation visits, prepared special reports on three different states, submitted three contentious cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, requested an advisory opinion of the same organ, and in general was effective in its work to promote human rights.
The Commission held two regular meetings and one special two-day session. The IACHR has an Executive Secretariat made up of only ten attorneys, which contrasts with the number of professional staff who work at the European Commission of Human Rights, for example, and the human rights bodies of the United Nations system.
As Chairman of the Commission I would like to request that you grant the Commission the resources it needs to continue performing its important functions. For this reason, we request an increase in our budget and the assignment of additional human resources.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, the Commission has found it useful to attach annexes to the Report. They refer to the status of the on-site observations and visits and the current status of the human rights conventions and protocols in effect in the inter-American system. On this point, I would like to refer to the very significant adoption of the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons in the General Assembly at Belém do Pará; this is an instrument the Commission had been calling for over several years. While this instrument has yet to win any ratifications, it has been signed by 12 states (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela).
Before concluding, Mr. Chairman and distinguished delegates, I would like to reiterate something that I think is well-known to all of you: The defense of human dignity, expressed in the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights, is the basic paradigm for the activities of the IACHR. The right to life, to security, and personal liberty, and to judicial protection and guarantees are among the many matters of constant concern to the Commission that I am honored to chair. Within the scope of its competence, Mr. Chairman and distinguished delegates, the IACHR will continue to do its utmost to defend these rights.
And so, Mr. Chairman, I conclude the honorable duty of submitting this Annual Report to the consideration of this illustrious Committee.
REPORT BY THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
TO THE COMMISSION ON LEGAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS FOR HAITI
TWENTY-FIFTH ORDINARY PERIOD OF SESSIONS OF THE
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Representatives,
Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is an honor for me to have this opportunity to address the Commission on Legal and Political Affairs at the twenty-fifth ordinary period of sessions of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, here in the city of Montrouis.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has given priority to the human rights situation in Haiti. As a result of the ongoing process of monitoring the situation in this country, the Commission approved a new special report that describes the events that occurred between January 1994 and January 1995. From January to September 1994, the Commission recorded a substantial number of cases in which human rights had been systematically violated in Haiti. Most of these cases were committed under the illegal de facto regime, which resorted to acts of repression against the population, particularly against those groups that favored a return to democracy.
During that period, the acts committed by members of the armed forces, paramilitary groups, and the so-called "Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti" (FRAPH) became increasingly cruel and excessive (i.e. people were massacred in rural areas, mutilated and dismembered bodies were left in the streets of Port-au-Prince, women were beaten and raped). The rights of children were also violated in retaliation against the families of political activists, who were forced to flee and go into in hiding.
This systematic repression by the military was intended to destroy all forms of organization, the right of expression, and any activity that could be interpreted as opposition to the regime.
The acts of violence noted by the Commission during its on-site visits became considerably less frequent with the arrival of the multinational force authorized by the United Nations. The reinstatement of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as President of Haiti on October 15, 1994, opened the way for dialogue and national reconciliation. The serious problems left behind by the dictatorship, however, are indicative of the formidable task that faces the constitutional government in its efforts to bring about national economic recovery and lay the groundwork for a state of law, a sine qua non for representative democracy.
The first chapter of the Commission's report gives an account of the historical and political background to the dramatic events that took place in this Caribbean nation. The second chapter describes the activities of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Haiti during the period covered in the report, particularly its on-site visits to the country to substantiate the human rights situation and the true magnitude of the problem.
In Chapter Three, the Commission sets out the national and international political setting for the events it describes. It highlights the negotiations and activities by the Organization of American States and the United Nations Organization to seek a solution to the Haitian crisis.
The main thrust of the report appears in chapter four, which analyzes the principal cases of human rights violations that contravene the American Convention i.e. violations of the rights to life, personal freedom, and physical integrity, freedom of expression and right of assembly. It reports that the serious deterioration in the human rights situation was part of plan to intimidate and terrorize a defenseless people, and Haiti's de facto authorities are held responsible for these violations and on the basis of their conduct there is grounds to charge them individually with international crimes.
Along this same line, the Commission focused in particular on violence against women and sexual abuse resulting from political repression, the desire of the perpetrators to destroy democratic movements through the terror inflicted by sexual violence.
The acts reported to the Commission by the victims themselves appear to confirm that sexual violence did not occur randomly or sporadically but was widely and routinely employed an instrument of terror. Although these events occurred at the hands, or with the acquiescence, of the illegal de facto regime, the Commission is of the view that sexual violence as an instrument of terror is an international crime since, in the case of Haiti, sexual violence was found to be not only inhumane treatment against the physical, mental, and moral integrity of the individual pursuant to article 5 of the Convention but also a form of torture pursuant to article 5(2) of the same Convention.
The Commission's report also refers to the mass exodus of people within Haiti known as the "marronage", which was used as a strategy by the military to eliminate the opposition. Approximately 300,000 people were constantly moving in search of sanctuary and were forced to live as fugitives in their own country. This same climate of insecurity that prevailed in Haiti caused thousands of Haitians to flee the country by sea in small vessels and rafts in the hope of reaching the coast of the United States, with great loss of life.
The serious human rights violations that led to the refugee question compelled the States signatory to the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights to take a stand. Towards the end of the crisis, some attempts were made to coordinate policy on Haitian refugees but few countries would agree to take them in. The Commission then refers to the member States' commitment to work together to resolve the problems that arise during a major crisis, such as the one in Haiti, in any part of the hemisphere.
The final chapter of the Commission's report describes the main events that occurred after the democratically elected government was restored to power and the impact this had on the safeguard of human rights. The general climate of terror and human rights violations that had existed in the country ended with the departure of the military dictatorship. Political activity resumed in many parts of the country and there is now considerable freedom of information and the media. In its general analysis, the Commission points out the main problems that besetting the incipient democracy emerging in Haiti, including the incidents of violence and common crime that threaten the country's fragile institutions.
The Commission made a series of recommendations based on its observations of the country's human rights and political situation during the period covered in the report. These recommendations include the immediate need for specific measures to collect all weapons and for continued efforts to locate hidden caches of arms still in the hands of the former leaders of the attaches, macoutes, and members of the FRAPH, which allows them to continue promoting the use of violence.
The Commission was pleased to note that the constitutional government is taking the necessary steps to form a new constabulary, that will report to the civil authorities. It is vital, however, for the Haitian government to use strict criteria in screening candidates for the new police force in order to weed out individuals with a history of human rights violations.
The report also mentions that a substantial reform of the judicial system is urgently needed and that attention should focus on the prison system so that serious problems such as malnutrition, inadequate medical care, and the absence of due process for inmates can be rectified.
The Commission noted with satisfaction that a National Commission for Truth and Justice had been established by the government because it was imperative to know what exactly had occurred during the three-year military dictatorship. The human rights violations endured by the Haitian people needed to be exposed so that the process of rebuilding society and the government could begin.
The Commission is convinced that the Constitutional Government will make every effort to protect and promote respect for human rights notwithstanding the difficulties that stand in its way. The government will be assisted in this immense undertaking by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in achieving our common objectives of promoting and protecting human rights.
Mr. Chairman, Delegates, on behalf of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, thank you for being here today.
Montrouis, Haiti, June 7, 1995
REMARKS BY DR. ALVARO TIRADO MEJIA, CHAIRMAN OF THE
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, AT THE INAUGURAL SESSION OF THE NINETIETH ORDINARY PERIOD OF SESSIONS OF THE IACHR
Washington, D.C., November 11, 1995
Chairman of the Permanent Council, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General, members of the Commission, Ambassadors, Executive Secretary of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen:
It give me great satisfaction to have this opportunity to address you here today as Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at the Commission's ninetieth ordinary period of sessions.
I would like to open this brief talk with a few words of appreciation on behalf of the Commission to the Governors for the member States for the increase in resources approved by the General Assembly at its twenty-fifth period of sessions. This increase will make it possible to step up the strategy of strengthening and reforming the Inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights being implemented by the Commission.
Since the previous ordinary period of sessions, held earlier this year in February, the Commission completed some intensive work. As part of its day-to-day business, the Commission must examine the many denunciations it receives to see whether or not they meet the criteria established by the Inter-American Convention, so that they can be processed immediately, and must review and resolve numerous individual cases. The Commission has also carried out other major tasks, the most important of which are described below:
-An extraordinary period of sessions was held on April 18 and 19.
-Two on-site visits were made to penitentiaries in the United States to study the prison conditions of Cuban inmates from the Mariel exodus. The first visit was made by a subcommission of the IACHR chaired by Mr. John Donaldson, Senior Vice President of the Commission to the Lampoc detention center in California from May 3 to 5. During its second visit, in late May, the subcommission again chaired by Mr. Donaldson examined conditions at the detention center in Leavenworth, Texas.
-From July 5 to 10, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Commission responsible for Guatemalan affairs led a special mission to the Republic of Guatemala to coordinate measures to protect the official from the government ministry in charge of the investigation of the case of the former guerilla leader Efrain Bamaca.
-In July, another member of the Commission visited Lima to give two classes in an introductory course on democracy and human rights, organized by the Institute for International Studies of the Catholic University of Peru with the help of the Unit for the Protection of Democracy. Events such as this one which target officials in the Armed Forces and the Police and other public officials such as judges and civil servants are one of the most effective means of preventing human rights violations in member States through education and training for those in positions of authority.
-As agreed at the previous ordinary period of sessions, the Commission submitted two new cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for consideration. The first case, submitted on May 29, was filed against the Argentine Republic for the illegal detention by the police of Mr. Raul Baigorria and Mr. Adolfo Garrido, who disappeared while in police custody. The second case, submitted on August 3, was filed against Guatemala for the abduction and subsequent disappearance in March 1985 of Nicholas Chapman Blake, a United States citizen.
-On the occasion of this twenty-fifth ordinary period of sessions of the General Assembly in Montrouis, the Commission met with the Inter-American Court to discuss a number of issues of mutual interest.
The working document features, "A New Vision of the OAS" prepared by the General Secretariat which describes the new challenges, demands, and tasks that the strengthening of democracy in the hemisphere will entail and the need for the Commission to reinforce its working methodology and develop the judicial dimension in light of this new reality.
The Commission has developed a series of new initiatives to improve the Inter-American system of human rights and augment its capacity to respond to the new needs.
By promoting the respect and protection of human rights in the present regional context, in which democratically elected governments are strengthening their position, the Commission has received more individual denunciations, more cases are being brought before the Inter-American Court, and more on-site visits are being made to countries in the region.
Although the number of denunciations is higher, it is important to bear two things in mind. First, there has been no significant improvement in respect for human rights in some member States. Second, although a strong democratic system is a prerequisite for the respect of human rights, this in itself does not eliminate human rights violations. A truly democratic system will instil in its citizens the trust to turn to international bodies for protection when they consider that basic rights are not being recognized by their country's institutions.
The IACHR has often stated that the efficiency with which rights are protected under the American Convention basically depends on the effectiveness of the competent government bodies. Along these lines, the Commission feels that, as reprehensible as the violation of certain rights is, government bodies still manage to thwart action by the judicial branch to apprehend the perpetrators of very serious crimes, i.e. the indiscriminate massacre of campesinos, forced disappearances, torture, and rape of women at detention centers.
With respect to on-site visits, I am pleased to report that more governments are now willing to work with the Commission in activities of this kind. The most recent examples of an opening up in this sense by democratic systems are the invitations the Commission received from the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments to visit their countries.
The Commission is now bent on strengthening its working methodology and perfecting mechanisms for working closely with the governments of the Organization's member States. This effort will require placing stress on the legal front and perfecting the processing system. It will also involve developing projects concerned with legal issues that call for a joint effort with other areas of the organization (such as the Unit for the Protection of Democracy and the Inter-American Commission on Women) and other international agencies.
Another important area of activity concerns promotion activities. As part of this activity, the strengthening of the working methodology will be of special importance in forging closer relations between the IACHR and the member States.
In conclusion, let me say that the increasing number of cases and on-site visits, the growing number of cases brought before the Court and the many legal functions fulfilled by the Commission in the areas of law, administration, and representation are the framework in which it will perform the mandate assigned to it by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.