Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened its 116th
regular session here today, with an inaugural address by Commission
President, Dr. Juan Méndez, who talked about various aspects of the human
rights situation in the hemisphere.
his address, Dr. Méndez said that vast segments of society found themselves
in a particularly vulnerable position in the wake of the structural
adjustments and economic imbalances that had been occurring in most OAS
member countries. Such a situation was attributable to the fact that these
groups had been excluded from the benefits of progress and lacked access to
education and the means of satisfying their basic needs. Dr. Méndez
expressed concern about the economic and social crises that had brought down
living standards in many countries of the hemisphere, in some instances
crippling State institutions.
alluded to the breakdown of democratic institutions and weaknesses in the
rule of law in many countries across the region.
Despite the great strides made towards the holding of free elections
in virtually every OAS member State, institutions in a significant number of
countries continued to suffer from shortcomings that impeded the effective
rule of law, he said. As a result, fundamental human rights were adversely
affected thus creating a climate conducive to social crisis. The stability
that was needed for stable and sustained social and cultural development
continued to be postponed.
Commission had repeatedly expressed concern about the human rights situation
in Colombia where basic rights were being gradually eroded and the country
has failed to implement the recommendations made in the Commission’s
general reports. In this connection, Dr. Méndez said that the country’s
civilian population had been the victim of serious violations of human
rights and abuses of international humanitarian law, in a climate of
impunity. The civil unrest that prevailed should not lead to a situation
where little or no protection was afforded to vulnerable groups such as the
civilians, displaced persons, social and union leaders, and defenders of
human rights. Nor should such a situation interfere with the workings of the
judiciary or prevent human rights violations from being fully investigated.
August, on its most recent in loco visit to Haiti, the Commission again
issued a warning about deficiencies in the rule of law in that country, the
absence of an independent judiciary, the climate of impunity and insecurity
for the civilian population, armed groups that acted with impunity, and
threats to certain journalists. In his address, the Chairman said that the
lack of any dialogue between the principal sectors of Haitian society posed
a serious obstacle to finding solutions to these problems and was
undermining the basic pillars on which the rule of law was established in
accordance with the American Convention and the Inter-American Charter on
respect to the situation in Venezuela, Dr. Méndez felt that it was
essential to maintain political debate within the bounds of democratic
institutions, and that complaints filed by the opposition as to the way in
which power was exercised by the government should not be intended to incite
violence or disobedience on the part of the military. He said that the
Commission would follow very closely the progress of the judicial inquiry
into the events of 11 to 14 April 2002 to ensure that those responsible were
brought to justice. He also indicated that the Commission was concerned
about recent institutional developments that would appear to set limits on
the scope of the investigation. Based on the Commission’s experience with
violence and the breakdown of institutional order in different countries
across the region, impunity simply encourages a repetition of activities at
variance with the precepts of democracy and human rights.
various occasions, the Commission has expressed the deepest concern about
systematic attacks made directly or indirectly to hinder or thwart the
efforts of defenders of human rights in the hemisphere. Dr. Méndez recalled
that complaints continue to be received about attacks of various kinds and
acts of intimidation against individuals who are dedicated to defending
basic human rights in the hemisphere. Illegal searches of offices of human
rights organizations, theft of equipment and information, death threats,
physical abuse, stalking, abductions, and even murder were just some of the
acts that were still being perpetrated. According to the Commission’s
information, in the great majority of these attacks, charges are never laid.
Commission envisages an intensive work program for the present regular
session that begins today. It will consider numerous reports on petitions
and individual cases from different countries in various stages of the
review process, including admissibility, amicable settlement, merits or
submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The session will
culminate with a review of the Commission’s soon to be published report on
terrorism and human rights.
the second week of the three-week session, the Commission has schedule more
than 60 hearings of cases and petitions in different stages of review as
noted above. Also appearing before the Commission will be different
individuals, organizations, and representatives of the member States who
will present information of a general nature concerning the human rights
situation in the hemisphere or will report on some specific aspect or right
coming under the Commission’s jurisdiction.
Commission is the principal body designated in the OAS Charter as
responsible for enforcing the observance of human rights in all States in
the hemisphere. The body is made up of seven judges, independent experts,
elected individually by the OAS member States. The present membership of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are Dr. Juan E. Méndez, President;
Marta Altoguirre, First Vice-President; Jose Zalaquett, Second
Vice-President; and Commissioners Robert K. Goldman, Julio Prado Vallejo,
Clare Kamau Roberts, and Susana Villarán. The Executive Secretary is Dr.
Santiago A. Canton.
Washington, D.C., 7 October 2002