PRESENTS ITS ANNUAL REPORT TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE
The President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Dr. Evelio Fernández Arévalos, presented the Annual Report for 2005 to the OAS General Assembly.
The report underscored the important progress made on human rights matters in the Hemisphere, for example: the decision by the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina nullifying the due obedience and “full stop” laws, as recommended by the Commission; extensive constitutional reforms in Chile to remove obstacles to equal political participation, also recommended by the Commission; and the conclusion of agreements and important progress in friendly settlement procedures in cases pending before the Court, involving Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico.
The report also underscored progress in women’s human rights law, such as the adoption of the Family Violence Act in Chile; the ratification by Jamaica of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, "Convention of Belém do Pará"; and the ratification by Honduras and Colombia of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. Likewise, attention was drawn to the importance of the far-reaching national human rights program introduced in Mexico in late 2004 and to the constitutional reforms adopted in Brazil to modernize the judicial system and enhance the judicial mechanisms available for ensuring that human rights violations do not go unpunished. The Commission also noted the changes adopted by the Brazilian Government to promote racial equality in Brazil.
The President of the Commission referred to serious obstacles that continued to hinder the full exercise of human rights in the Hemisphere. These had to do primarily with weak rule of law in various countries of the region, the difficult socioeconomic situation in most OAS member states, structural problems from prior decades involving impunity in serious human rights violations, a weak Judiciary in various countries, and serious prison violence that had led to the death of dozens of detainees in the region. Further, he noted that public insecurity had risen steadily in 2005 in the face of increased crime, and that governments often implemented hard-line policies without due attention to the causes of the problem or consideration of constructive prevention and rehabilitation policies.
In addition, the President of the Commission referred to those OAS member states whose human rights practices had been accorded special attention in the 2005 Annual Report: Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, and Venezuela.
In the case of Colombia, the Commission acknowledges the efforts made by the State to combat armed actors and end violence, as well as the important steps taken to protect human rights, such as ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. However, the Commission is still troubled by the toll that the violence caused by the players in the armed internal conflict has taken on respect for the fundamental rights of the civilian population in Colombia, particularly among the most vulnerable sectors.
The dialogue between the State and the “negotiating high command” (“estado mayor negociador”) of Colombia’s United Self-Defense Forces (AUCs) has led to the start of a demobilization process that raises hopes in the quest for peace long sought by Colombians, with support from the international community. A fundamental factor in the success of this process is the cessation of all actions against the civilian population by paramilitary groups, which has not yet been fully achieved.
Likewise, the IACHR has taken note of the grave violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by guerrilla groups against the civilian population.
The IACHR is mindful that negotiation mechanisms must be used to get the armed actors to disengage and thus end the complex, painful, and protracted experience that Colombia has endured. To ensure a lasting peace, non-recurrence of conduct criminalized under international law, human rights violations, and gross violations of international humanitarian law must be guaranteed. To that end, the crimes must be investigated and reparations made for the consequences of the violence, using suitable mechanisms to get at the truth of what happened, administer justice, and fully compensate the victims in keeping of the State’s international obligations.
As concerns the human rights situation in Cuba in 2005, the Commission received, in particular, information on violations of due process guarantees and lack of independence of the Judiciary; conditions of detention of persons deprived of liberty because of their political dissidence; violation of the right to freedom of expression; on the situation of human rights defenders; violation of labor and union rights of workers; and restrictions placed on the exercise of the right of residence and transit of the island’s habitants.
The Commission pointed out that the economic sanctions imposed on the Government of Cuba have seriously affected the enjoyment of economic and social rights by the most vulnerable sectors of the population and must be lifted.
In the case of Ecuador, the Commission emphasized that the initiatives adopted by President Palacio’s administration constitute a positive sign for the reestablishment of democratic institutions. In this connection, the unprecedented process of appointment of Supreme Court judges, assuring a transparent selection with international verification, constitutes an important step, above all because it was the result of an internal democratic dialogue.
Despite these important achievements by the government in power, the security of the democratic system was affected by political instability which, although not a recent phenomenon in the country’s history or the responsibility of the present government, has displayed the deficiencies of a weak governmental structure, incapable of providing satisfactory public policy responses to bring about the structural reform needed to protect the human rights of the majority of the Ecuadorian population.
In 2005, the Commission witnessed further deterioration of the human rights situation in Haiti, owing mainly to an increase in violence by armed groups and gangs coupled with the failure of the Government, even with international assistance, to ensure the security of the population throughout the country. Although some efforts have been made to apprehend dangerous criminals, the failure to disarm illegal armed groups and gangs in Haiti is a paramount concern to the Commission not only because of the immediate threat to the lives and physical integrity of Haitians, but also because much of the country’s future depends upon the successful implementation of security efforts.
With regard to Venezuela, the Commission noted certain actions aimed at implementing the decisions of the organs of the system and international human rights instruments. Among them are the adoption of the Law Approving the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and recognition of responsibility by the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in a public hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Moreover, the Commission paid special attention to situations concerning the administration of justice: problems underlying the provisional nature of the judges and prosecutors of the Public Ministry; the use of military courts for trying civilians; the situation of impunity, particularly in the case of extrajudicial executions; and the lack of procedure or procedural delays in investigations of allegations related to human rights violations and extrajudicial executions.
Lastly, the Commission should report that in 2005 it did not receive a confirmation of dates for a visit to Venezuela. It should be pointed out that since its on-site visit in 2002 the Commission has been unsuccessfully requesting a follow-up visit.
In concluding his presentation of the report to the OAS General Assembly, the President of the IACHR underscored the support received from member states and their collaboration in the work of Commission, and reaffirmed its commitment to work with the member states in fulfilling its mission to defend human dignity in the exercise of its mandate to protect and promote human rights.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, June 6, 2006