Monitoring, on site observations, special and follow up reports
While it routinely monitors the status of human rights in each member
state through communications received from governmental, intergovernmental and
nongovernmental sources, on-site visits provide an opportunity for the
Commission to examine a situation through direct observation, interviews and
documentation. Such visits are
conducted pursuant to the consent of the State concerned, which is bound to
furnish the Commission with the necessary facilities for carrying out its
mission. Most on site visits and
subsequent reports are of a general nature.
They may, however, be issue-specific, such as the recent series of visits
focussing on prison conditions. The
special report generally prepared and published pursuant to such a visit allows
the Commission to address situations that may not be readily susceptible to the
This procedure was used, for example, in addressing the systematic use of
rape by members of the security forces and paramilitary groups during the de
facto regime in Haiti.
The victims were unwilling to request individualized investigations
of their cases due to fear of reprisals. During
a 1994 visit, the Commission interviewed a substantial number of victims in
confidence, as well as a few doctors who had treated them.
Groups assisting the victims provided the Commission with additional
information. The Commission looked
to the inter-American and UN definitions of torture in defining that this sexual
violence was not only a violation of the right to physical integrity, but also a
form of torture. The practice had
been utilized to inflict physical and mental pain and suffering in order to
punish or intimidate women deemed unsympathetic to the regime.
The Commission described this kind of sexual violence as a brutal
expression of discrimination. Moreover,
as this practice was "widespread, open and routine" during the de
facto regime, the Commission determined that it represented a "weapon
of terror" that was a "crime against humanity under customary
The Commission is developing a practice of regularly analyzing
gender-specific human rights problems in its special reports on particular
member states. For example, in its
Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador,
and its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil,
both released in 1997, as well as in the Report on the Situation of
Human Rights in México, to be released in 1998, the Commission included a
chapter focussing on gender-specific human rights issues. Common themes addressed in the reports include the status of
women in national law and society, gender-discrimination in the sphere of labor
and the economy, the ability of women to fully and equally participate in public
service, political life and decision making, and the problem of violence against
women. Having noted certain
advances realized at the national level, the respective examinations provided
the basis for the Commission to address recommendations designed to assist each
State in enhancing compliance with their inter-American human rights
obligations. The recommendations
focus on modifying or abolishing legal provisions which discriminate or have the
effect of discriminating against women, addressing practices and structural
barriers which impede the full incorporation of women in national life, and
allocating appropriate resources to pursue such objectives.
reporting and the competence to make recommendations
The Commission may also adopt thematic approaches to human rights issues
of a broader scale. In the past few years the Commission has appointed special
rapporteurs whose mandates address: women's rights, the rights of indigenous
peoples, prisons, displaced persons, migrant workers and, recently, freedom of
expression. Pursuant to extensive
preparatory efforts, the Commission has submitted a proposed Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples for adoption by the OAS General Assembly in June of
rapporteurships will produce reports of different kinds accompanied by
corresponding recommendations, beginning with the present example.
As has been noted, the Commission has the competence to make
recommendations to member states for the adoption of progressive measures in
favor of human rights through each of the foregoing mechanisms, as well as to
issue free-standing recommendations, as it regularly does in its Annual Report.
In its Report for 1996, for example, the Commission recommended that
member states take additional concrete measures to combat gender-based
discrimination. More specifically,
the Commission recommended that the few States that have yet to do so to ratify
the Convention of Belém do Pará; that member states fully incorporate gender
perspective and analysis into the development and implementation of public
policy; and that they amplify initiatives designed to increase the number of
qualified women serving in elected and appointed office, and augment the role of
women in decision making in the public sphere.
COMMISSION'S REPORT ON THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND THE PROJECT ON THE STATUS OF
WOMEN IN THE AMERICAS
The appointment of Special Rapporteur Dean Grossman was prompted by the
convergence of a number of factors. The
Commission had become increasingly aware of the range of ways in which
discriminatory legislation and practices at the national level prevent women
from freely and fully exercising the rights to which they are entitled.
This initiative followed upon the World Conference on Human Rights
(Vienna, 1993), which called for integrated system-wide approaches to addressing
the status and human rights of women. It
coincided with the final stages of the drafting of the Inter-American Convention
on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, a
treaty which recognizes the integral link between discrimination and gender
violence. It also looked forward to
the developments of the Summit of the Americas, where the States of the region
expressed a priority commitment to advancing the status of women in society, and
to the Fourth World Conference on Women's Rights (Beijing, 1995.)
Design and Implementation of the Project
A month after the appointment of the Special Rapporteur, the Commission
informed the member states of the initiative and requested some very initial
information, including the text of relevant legislation.
Brief submissions and/or copies of legislation were received from
Argentina, The Bahamas, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Venezuela.
In developing the project, and considering its implementation, Special
Rapporteur Dean Grossman determined that a specialized questionnaire should be
developed to assist in collecting the necessary data for analysis.
Soon after his appointment, he began a process of consultation with
various experts in the field of women's rights on the design of the project, and
the development of a data collection instrument to gather the information from
both governmental and nongovernmental sources.
The data collection process sought to identify discriminatory legislation
or practices with respect to each of the basic human rights recognized and
protected within the inter-American system.
This linkage between a woman's right to be free from discrimination and
her ability to enjoy other substantive rights and freedoms derived both from the
structure of the guarantees of the system and from the system-wide recognition
that a woman's status affects her ability to participate in national life and
Meeting of Experts
The Special Rapporteur convened a First Meeting of Experts to assist him
in designing the project and questionnaire in San José, Costa Rica on May 15
and 16, 1995. The meeting was
organized and co-sponsored with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. Eleven experts from throughout the hemisphere advised the
Rapporteur on issues to be taken into account in his study, and worked with him
to complete an initial draft of questions for inclusion in a questionnaire on
women's rights. The experts
considered various options for organizing the questions, finally recommending a
structure relying on that of the American Convention and Declaration.
They also considered how the information gathering process could be
broadened to be as inclusive as possible, recommending that an effort be made to
seek out governmental and nongovernmental perspectives and information.
on "Women, Human Rights and the Inter-American System: An Agenda for
Action;" Second Meeting of Experts
On March 29, 1996, the IACHR, the CIM, the IIDH, the Washington College
of Law of American University and the Pan-American Health Organization
co-sponsored a conference entitled "Women, Human Rights and the
Inter-American System: An Agenda for Action" held on March 29, 1996.
The conference consisted of panel discussions (1) identifying problems
and prospects within the region in preventing, punishing and eradicating of
violence against women; (2) analyzing approaches to discrimination against women
at the national and regional levels; and (3) suggesting and appraising follow up
strategies to the Beijing Conference.
Participants represented countries throughout the region, and included
experts from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as
government experts and noted academics. They
offered insights into advances realized and remaining challenges, and described
initiatives being designed and implemented in their respective institutions.
Working on the basis of national and regional perspectives, participants
provided an energetic exchange of ideas about the evolving role of the
inter-American system in the area of women's rights. More concretely, they
identified and discussed strategies for government, and for organs and agencies
of the system to respond more effectively to the barriers which continue to
impede the ability of women to freely and fully enjoy their rights.
In this regard, a number of participants indicated that the Commission's
appointment of a special rapporteur provided an important focal point for
encouraging the much-needed development of its work in this sphere. The
co-sponsorship of the event provided an important opportunity for collaboration
and dialogue among regional actors.
A second Meeting of Experts was held on March 30, 1996, at the American
University in Washington, D.C. The
group of 12 experts, approximately half of whom had attended the first meeting,
offered the Special Rapporteur additional suggestions on the implementation of
the project, proposed additional possibilities for collaboration, and reviewed
the draft questions developed during the May, 1995 meeting in order to refine
the questionnaire. The experts
reviewed each set of proposed questions with the aim of ensuring focus and
clarify in the responses. They
offered specific suggestions to enhance the collection of statistical data.
The experts also provided suggestions on concrete steps to be taken to
disseminate the questionnaire and to ensure valid responses.
Shortly after the second meeting, Dean Grossman finalized the content of
the project questionnaire and presented it to the Commission for review during
its 92nd period of sessions. The
questionnaire (see Annex) was organized by listing the rights established
by the American Convention and the American Declaration.
With respect to each right identified, a series of questions was
formulated to serve as a basis to analyze the compatibility of the legislation
and practices of the countries of the hemisphere with respect to the rights of
women. In certain cases, the
questions sought data for informational purposes, in order to analyze the
context in which the theme of women's rights arises.
Where information and statistical data were requested, respondents were
requested, to the extent possible, to provide those disaggregated by region,
ethnic group and social class. Additionally,
it was requested that data be provided to cover the current situation dating
back to 1990.
The Commission Secretariat began mailing the questionnaire to the member
states in July of 1996, with responses requested within six months.
A further opportunity to disseminate the questionnaire presented itself
from July 22-26, 1996, when the Special Rapporteur was represented at a regional
workshop sponsored by the gender programs division of the Inter-American
Institute of Human Rights to train approximately 30 representatives of the
prominent regional network organization CLADEM.
In the spring of 1997,
the Secretariat mailed the questionnaire to over 100 nongovernmental
organizations throughout the hemisphere. Finally,
in October of 1997, the Secretariat reiterated its request for information to
those Governments that had not yet responded.
Meeting of Experts
The Special Rapporteur convened a Third Meeting of Experts on November 7,
1997 in Washington D.C. Approximately
two dozen experts from countries throughout the hemisphere participated. The participants first provided observations on the
information gathering process, and the responses to the questionnaire received
as of the meeting. They noted that
the quality and scope of the information provided was not consistent, and
expressed concern with the lack of specificity of certain responses. They noted that the questions asked tended toward responses
not necessarily taking into account the specific concrete challenges faced by
women. They also indicated that it
would be useful to establish mechanisms to identify the source of certain
statistical information offered, and to verify the information provided
generally. They observed, in
particular, the importance of involving representatives of civil society in
information gathering exercises of this nature.
They recognized the difficulty in any fact-gathering exercise of this
nature of identifying and defining how discriminatory practices and structures
impede the advancement of women.
The experts observed that the responses pointed out the need for
legislative reform, and for the adoption of positive actions and policies aimed
at advancing the ability of women to fully exercise their rights. They
offered specific examples and observations on information provided with respect
to juridical capacity, as well as with respect to the right to life and physical
Finally, the participants discussed future possibilities for the work of
the Special Rapporteur on women's rights. Participants
were unanimous in supporting that the Commission continues to devote special
attention to this area of its mandate. They
suggested that, in the future, given the Commission's limited human and material
resources, it may wish to identify a priority theme or themes around which to
adopt a more specific focus. The
experts indicated that, given its status as a priority objective, the
eradication of violence
against women would be a constructive focus.
See, Report on the Situation of
Human Rights in Haiti, OEA/Ser.L/V/
Doc. 10 rev., Feb. 9, 1995, pp. 39-46.
OEA/Ser.L/V/II.96, Doc. 10 rev. 1, April 24, 1997.
OEA/Ser.L/V/II.97, Doc. 29 rev. 1, Sept. 29, 1997.
"Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,"
in Annual Report of the IACHR 1996,
OEA/Ser.L/V/II.95, Doc. 7 rev., Mar. 14, 1997, pp. 627-45.
The workshop proceedings, to which the questionnaire was attached as an annex,
were published in Protección
Internacional de los Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (IIDH and CLADEM