REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN THE AMERICAS
VI. ESPECIALLY EXPOSED GROUPS OF DEFENDERS
208. The Commission notes that in recent years certain groups of human rights defenders have been more exposed to the infringement of their rights than others. In this connection, one should note, among others, trade union leaders, who are especially exposed during periods leading up to changes in rights in their union, campesino and community leaders who stage or organize public demonstrations, indigenous leaders who defend the rights of their peoples, and judicial officers, especially to the extent they bring cases on human rights violations. In addition, it should be noted that women human rights defenders, considering their gender, are exposed to specifically sexual threats or assaults.
A. Trade union leaders
209. Since they first appeared in history, trade union organizations have played a fundamental role in the defense of the human rights of thousands of workers throughout the hemisphere who have faced precarious labor conditions in their workplaces. In addition, these institutions have been key in the political and social organizing of thousands of persons, as they constitute key examples of organized political expression for presenting the labor and social demands of many sectors of society.
210. In retaliation for this social and political initiative, many trade union leaders have been victims of all types of acts aimed at thwarting their work, including serious human rights violations. Accordingly, in many countries of the region, the exercise of trade union activity is dangerous, due to the extreme risks faced by those who seek to lead efforts to improve working and social conditions for workers.
211. Due to the natural inequality in the labor relationship, trade union leaders make easy targets of professional or labor-related reprisals for their work. The cumulative experience of the Committee on Freedom of Association has shown the interminable ways in which trade union promotion can be thwarted by anti-union discrimination in areas such as remuneration, economic, social, and fringe benefits, workloads, work hours, and opportunities for rest and vacation, among many others. In other cases, employers have recourse to lay-offs or transfers in direct retaliation for the exercise of the right to form and join trade unions, with a negative impact on the interests of trade union leaders, organizing, and the workers. Thanks to these practices, many union organizations have disappeared or have lost their capacity to negotiate and press grievances, for reprisals against trade union leaders discourage all other workers from joining unions, staying in them, or participating in their activities.
212. In addition to the types of labor-related repression within the workplace, workers who take the initiative in pressing trade-union demands are frequently victims of threats, assaults, and assassination attempts. The Commission has found that in some countries, the persecution of trade union leaders and their family members is increasingly common and systematic. The Commission has learned that most violations take place in the context of trade union activity, and occur with greater intensity when there are nationwide work stoppages, when unions are being established, during collective bargaining, or in the midst of other struggles to improve observance of social rights, such as the negotiation of trade union demands and internal union elections. These actions are aimed at limiting the bargaining power of organizations at those moments that are most crucial to improving labor conditions.
213. The IACHR has found that in many cases, repressive actions combine physical violence with threats to life, and increased harassment in the workplace, or temporary transfer of certain leaders from the workplace, as a result of which the leader loses touch with the rest of the unionized workers, and is unable to carry out his or her organizing activities.
214. The Commission also notes with concern that in some countries of the region, violent actions against trade union leaders entail a process of stigmatization that has turned many unionists into “military targets” of “self-defense” or paramilitary groups, as well as the contracting of private justice groups to direct physical violence against members of trade union organizations engaged in collective bargaining. In addition, the Commission has received reports of speeches and public statements by state authorities that delegitimize the work of trade unions, adducing that their members oppose the economic development of nations or productive progress, in an effort to get society to reject the legitimate work of those persons who vindicate such rights.
B. Campesino and community leaders
215. The backsliding in the degree of attainment of economic, social, and cultural rights, the increased inequity in the concentration of wealth, and the deepening of social exclusion that have taken place in the last decade have generated protests and deepening social exclusion in the hemisphere, giving rise to protests and social mobilizations that have extended to several countries of the Americas. The struggle for the right to land and the right to a healthy environment, demonstrations against economic reforms, and protests against greater “flexibility” in labor contracts, among many other factors, have led thousands of human rights defenders, student leaders, social leaders, and rural leaders to organize to struggle for the effective observance of their rights. The Commission has received many complaints that indicate that many leaders have been targeted by threats and attacks because of their work to protect economic and social rights. In this regard, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission has stated that
Our hemisphere’s most impoverished sectors encounter discriminatory policies and actions, their access to information about the planning and execution of measures affecting their daily lives is nascent at best, and, in general the traditional channels of participation for publicizing their complaints are frequently blocked off to them. Faced with this, in many countries around the hemisphere, protests and social mobilizations have become a tool for petitioning the authorities and a channel for publicly denouncing human rights abuses and violations.
216. The IACHR observes with concern that in some cases the institutional responses to the acts mentioned have been tended to criminalize social protest by police repression and criminal prosecution of the persons involved, distorting the application of the criminal laws of the state, and violating inter-American treaties for the protection of human rights, which protect the rights to life, physical integrity, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, among others.
217. The Commission wishes to reiterate that the effective exercise of democracy requires as a precondition the full exercise of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Criminalizing legitimate social mobilization and social protest, whether through direct repression of the demonstrators or through an investigation and criminal prosecution, is incompatible with a democratic society in which persons have the right to express their opinion.
218. The conflicts and situations of tension provoked by the inequality in the distribution of natural resources in the vast majority of countries of the hemisphere has given rise to confrontations that create the conditions for excesses to be committed in the repression, and for human rights violations. In many cases, the persons who promote and lead these initiatives to seek redress are the hardest hit, as they are considered targets who can set an example to dissuade others from participating in the protests.
219. The Commission has received information concerning the increase in the cases of excessive use of force by state agents to control demonstrations and protests of rural workers, campesino leaders, social leaders, and student leaders. The Commission has been informed that in many cases, peaceful demonstrations have become violent confrontations due to the authorities’ repressive approach and the lack of comprehensive solutions.
C. Indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders
220. Indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders play a crucial role in their communities, religious as well as cultural and political. The IACHR has found that the patterns of violations of their human rights generally have a direct correlation with their activities laying claim to, defending, and protecting their territories and natural resources, defending their rights to autonomy and to cultural identity. The IACHR has noted with concern the frequency of assassinations of and threats against indigenous leaders engaged in the defense of their peoples’ rights, and impunity, in the vast majority of cases, for the perpetrators of these serious violations. Similarly, the Commission has received and processed complaints of violations of leaders of Afro-descendant communities in several countries of the region, and has requested the Inter-American Court to protect threatened Afro-descendant leaders.
221. In recent years a considerable increase has been observed in the requests for precautionary measures from indigenous leaders, who have found it necessary to recur to the inter-American human rights system to attain protection for the right to life and the right to personal integrity, and respect for the special relationships indigenous peoples have with their ancestral territories. The Commission is extremely concerned over the devastating effect on the indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities of threats, assassinations, and the forced displacement of their leaders. In the vast majority of cases, the persons who stand up for the rights of their peoples and communities are those spiritual leaders considered a source of ancestral knowledge; they are fundamental figures for the political, spiritual, and cultural development of the communities. The unexpected absence of these leaders seriously undercuts the identity, integrity, and culture of the peoples and communities to which they belong. Accordingly, these actions have a direct negative impact on the cultural integrity and survival of the indigenous peoples.
222. In addition, the Commission is concerned about incidents involving attacks on human rights defenders who represent the rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities in the courts. Historically, discrimination against and exclusion of ethnic minorities in the hemisphere have been accompanied by the systematic lack of access to justice. The attacks on persons who provide legal counsel to the members of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities further aggravate the already-precarious judicial protection for indigenous peoples.
D. Judicial officers
223. In the region, there are ever more judicial officers committed to the cause of human rights, justice, and the attainment of democracy. In this regard, the Commission wishes to note the valuable work of those individuals and authorities whose functions include protecting, enforcing, promoting, or defending the human rights of individuals and communities throughout the Americas. Judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and police commissars, as agents of the administration of justice, play a fundamental role as a liaison between the state and the general population. Moreover, they are the ones who carry out the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of perpetrators of human rights violations.
224. The Commission is aware that the situation of insecurity affecting judicial officers in charge of investigating cases of human rights violations has a detrimental impact on the independence of their work, and on their personal security and that of their families. Threats, intimidation, and other acts against the life and physical integrity of judicial officers have led to a substantial increase in insecurity in the performance of their work.
225. The Commission also observes that the users of the judicial system as well as all those who answer to the call of justice to participate in the proceeding, be it as witnesses or experts, are also victims of this insecurity, which encumbers the search for justice, and determines that on many occasions citizen opt not to have recourse to the courts or to refrain from cooperating with the judicial organs.
226. The Commission considers violence against women to entail violations of many human rights. In this regard, the IACHR has referred to the right to be free from violence in the public sphere and in the private sphere, stipulated in Article 3 of the Convention of Belém do Pará, which includes protection of other basic rights, among them, the rights to life, to personal integrity, to liberty, to be free of torture, to equal protection before and of the law, and to effective access to justice, stipulated in Article 4. Accordingly, there is an integral connection between the guarantees established in the Convention of Belém do Pará and the fundamental rights and freedoms stipulated in the American Convention, which applies once one treats violence against women as a human rights violation.
227. The Commission finds that there are two situations that require special attention: that faced by women human rights defenders in general, due to the historical disadvantages women and girls have suffered, and that of women human rights defenders who specifically promote and protect women’s rights.
228. The Commission has learned of special types of threats, based on the gender of the threatened person. Based on information collected recently, the Commission observes that women human rights defenders and organizations that defend women’s human rights continue to be subjected to systematic intimidation, persecution, kidnapping, torture and sexual abuse, among other crimes, in relation to their work, along with other forms of discrimination and physical, psychological and sexual violence for gender reasons. In this respect, the Commission has received multiple petitions regarding the stigmatization of women’s rights defenders, who are stigmatized due to the historical patriarchal conception that assigns an inferior role to women. As such, these defenders are stigmatized with social, degrading stereotypes concerning their sexual life, or are accused that their work for eradicating discrimination against women is against the moral values or the social institutions such as the family.
229. The Commission also recognizes the vulnerability of women who specifically work to defend women’s human rights. The IACHR recognizes that by promoting and protecting the rights of other women, these women defenders increase their own risk and are exposed to yet another factor of discrimination among the many forms of discrimination suffered by women.
230. In some countries where armed conflicts persist, combatant groups frequently impose social controls on women’s living conditions, dictating to them standards of daily behavior, interfering in family and community disputes, and meting out punishments as harsh as murder, torture, and cruel and degrading treatment, in situations in which these women fail to adhere to the codes of behavior imposed on them by force. In such cases, the armed actors believe that the leadership exercised by women’s organizations represents an obstacle to advancing their own social and territorial control and, as a result, national and regional women’s organizations operating in zones of armed conflict are subject to harassment and threats that seriously affect the community work they perform.
231. The Commission also finds that the situation of ingenuous and afro-descendent women, including those women who lead the campaigns demanding rights, is particularly critical, as they are victims of multiple forms of discrimination because of their race, ethnic group and by the virtue of being women; A situation that is aggravated in those countries that suffer from social tensions or armed conflict. Indigenous and afro-descendent women face two layers of discrimination since they are born: for belonging to their racial and ethnic group and because of their sex. Being exposed to two forms of discrimination historically, they are doubly vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. The Commission has had knowledge that the champions of the rights of indigenous and afro-descendent women, in addition to the other forms of discrimination already indicated, are habitual victims of acts of racism, stultification and stigmatization on the part of the majority communities and, in some cases, of public authorities and people from within their own communities.
232. Given this context, the Commission reiterates that gender-based violence is unacceptable, be it in the form of murder, sexual violence, or domestic violence. Moreover, impunity for such acts reduces the visibility of these violations of rights to the point that domestic violence, for example, is the practice of an invisible crime.
VII. PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES
233. The mechanism of precautionary measures granted by the Commission is one of the most effective instruments for protecting the work of human rights defenders and their rights in the inter-American system. Like the provisional measures granted by the Inter-American Court, precautionary measures perform a “precautionary” function, in terms of preserving a legal situation vis-à-vis the exercise of jurisdiction by the Commission, and “protective” in the sense of preserving the exercise of the human rights enshrined in the provisions of the inter-American system, preventing irreparable harm to persons.
234. In practice, precautionary and provisional measures have been recognized by the member states of the OAS, the individuals who use the system, and the human rights community as a whole as an important tool for protecting human rights in the inter-American system. In recent years the Commission has made an effort geared to recording and properly analyzing the growing number of requests, defining criteria for invoking the provisions that regulate such measures, and monitoring their implementation. Below, a summary will be presented of the importance of precautionary measures of protection to human rights defenders.
A. Precautionary measures in the inter-American system
235. Precautionary or provisional measures (“interim measures”) are a procedural mechanism used by several international tribunals and quasi-judicial organs, both in the universal United Nations realm, and in the regional systems for the protection of human rights in Europe and the Americas. In the inter-American system, the Commission and the Court have the authority to decree precautionary and provisional measures, respectively.
236. Like other international organs, the Inter-American Commission has defined the existence and operation of this mechanism in its Rules of Procedure. Article 25 states:
1. In serious and urgent cases, and whenever necessary according to the information available, the Commission may, on its own initiative or at the request of a party, request that the State concerned adopt precautionary measures to prevent irreparable harm to persons.
2. If the Commission is not in session, the President, or, in his or her absence, one of the Vice-Presidents, shall consult with the other members, through the Executive Secretariat, on the application of the provision in the previous paragraph. If it is not possible to consult within a reasonable period of time under the circumstances, the President or, where appropriate, one of the Vice-President shall take the decision on behalf of the Commission and shall so inform its members.
3. The Commission may request information from the interested parties on any matter related to the adoption and observance of the precautionary measures.
4. The granting of such measures and their adoption by the State shall not constitute a prejudgment on the merits of a case.
237. The text of the provision, which entered into force on May 1, 2001, with the Commission’s new Rules of Procedure, reflects the elements of gravity, urgency, and irreparability present in Article 63 of the American Convention. While these elements are taken into account by the judicial and quasi-judicial organs to whose practice reference has been made, these terms have not been clearly defined in the case-law of these organs. In the view of the Inter-American Court, the appreciation of the “extreme gravity” and “urgency” of the threat that such measures are intended to prevent should be understood mindful of the nature and content of the right in question. The requirement of extreme gravity and urgency presupposes the existence of a real danger or certain imminent threat that could result in irreparable harm to the fundamental rights of persons.
238. This provision does not require that a case be pending before the Commission for a request for precautionary measures to be considered, in view of the circumstances in which the petitioners seeking the measure require the protection of the Commission, in order to prevent the grave and imminent consummation of an irreparable harm. When there is a case pending concerning an alleged violation of a right enshrined in the instruments of the system, the Commission can exercise its precautionary function in order to preserve circumstances which, if it were otherwise, would make its intervention in the determination of the international responsibility of States abstract. The Commission endeavors to avoid situations in which its issuance of precautionary measures, whether it be autonomous or as an accessory to a pending case, implies a pronouncement on the merits of a case about which a decision still has not been issued.
239. The mechanism established in Article 25 of the Rules of Procedure applies to both the member states of the OAS that have ratified the American Convention and those that have not yet done so. As the Commission has noted:
OAS member states, by creating the Commission and mandating it through the OAS Charter and the Commission's Statute to promote the observance and protection of human rights of the American peoples, have implicitly undertaken to implement measures of this nature where they are essential to preserving the Commission's mandate.
240. The foundation underlying the binding nature of what the Inter-American Court has called the “precautionary” aspect of the measures issued by the organs of the system is similar to that of the universal and regional antecedents analyzed. The Court has highlighted the obligations of the states parties in the following terms:
the States Parties to the Convention should fully comply in good faith (pacta sunt servanda) to all of the provisions of the Convention, including those relative to the operation of the two supervisory organs; and, that in view of the Convention’s fundamental objective of guaranteeing the effective protection of human rights (Articles 1(1), 2, 51 and 63(2)), States Parties must not take any action that may frustrate the restitutio in integrum of the rights of the alleged victims.
241. The binding nature of the protective aspect of the precautionary measures decreed by the IACHR rests on the general duty of the states to respect and guarantee human rights, to adopt the legislative or other measures necessary for ensuring effective observance of human rights, and to carry out in good faith the obligations contracted under the American Convention and the Charter of the OAS, as well as the competence of the IACHR to oversee that the states parties are carrying out the commitments they assumed, established at Articles 33 and 41 of the American Convention. In this respect, the Inter-American Court has established that
the ultimate aim of the American Convention is the effective protection of human rights, and, pursuant to the obligations contracted under it, the States should ensure the effectiveness of their mechanisms (endow them with effet utile), which implies implementing and carrying out the resolutions issued by its supervisory organs, whether the Commission or the Court.
242. In practice, for the purposes of facilitating the study of requests for precautionary measures, the Commission has considered the requirements of gravity, urgency, and irreparability in relation to categories such as threats to life and the physical integrity of persons, threats to the environment that may result in harm to the life or health of the population or the way of life of indigenous peoples in their ancestral territories, and threats to health; the enforcement of certain types of judicial or administrative orders; and the legal situation of persons who are detained and held incommunicado.
243. Measures to protect life and physical integrity are of vital importance to human rights defenders, given the current situations of risk these persons face in many countries of the region. Given this situation, the lion’s share of requests are in this category, and precautionary measures have been decreed to protect the right to life and personal integrity, whether of one person, several persons, or an entire community.
244. The decision on the request depends on the gravity of the individual or collective situation, taking into account (a) the content of the threats received (oral, written, and symbolic messages, among others) and whether they have been carried out against one or more members of a group of persons; (b) previous acts of aggression against persons similarly situated; (c) the acts of direct aggression that may have been perpetrated against the possible beneficiary; (d) the increase in threats, showing the need to take preventive action; (e) and factors such as advocacy of or incitement to violence against a person or group of persons. Second, one must consider the urgency of the situation reported based on (a) the existence of cycles of threats and attacks showing the need to act immediately; (b) the continuity and proximity in time of the threats; (c) whether a credible “ultimatum” has been stated which, for example, indicates that the potential beneficiary should leave the region where he or she lives or become the victim of violations. The interests threatened in this category – life and personal integrity – no doubt constitute the extreme of irreparability of the consequences, which the granting of precautionary measures seeks to avoid.
245. In order to evaluate these aspects, one should consider information related to the description of the acts that are the grounds for the request (phone threats/written threats/assassination attempts/acts of violence/public accusations), the identity of the origin of the threats (private persons, private persons with ties to the state, state agents, others), the complaints lodged with the authorities, the measures of protection of which they are already beneficiaries and their effectiveness, a description of the context needed to weigh the seriousness of the threats, the chronology and proximity in time of the threats made, the identification of the persons affected and their degree of risk; individually identifying persons or groups who belong to a category of individuals at risk; and a description of the measures of protection or other measures requested. In addition, on evaluating this information, one takes account of the following contextual elements in relation to the country to which the request refers: the existence of an armed conflict, whether a state of emergency is in force, the degrees of effectiveness and impunity in the functioning of the judicial system, indicia of discrimination against vulnerable groups, and the controls imposed by the Executive branch on the other branches of government.
246. In the case of protecting life and physical integrity, not only is reference made to security measures required by the beneficiary, but also, it has been noted consistently that one must judicially investigate the threats, acts of harassment, or attacks that have targeted the beneficiary directly or other persons in his or her same situation (for example, in the case of human rights defenders, other members of the organization of which he or she is a member, who have been killed or exiled because of the threats). The Inter-American Court has established in its case-law that an investigation aimed at clarifying and eliminating the causes for which provisional measures have been granted is among the measures that the State should adopt for carrying out its obligation to remove the risk factors that beset the beneficiary.
247. The Commission is satisfied to note the measures that many states have adopted to comply with the requests for precautionary measures, which have included, in some cases, implementing systems of protection and risk analysis, and it calls on all other states to adopt without delay all measures necessary to keep human rights defenders from continuing to be victims of actions that impede the free exercise of their activity.
B. Precautionary measures decreed from January 2002 to December 2005 to protect persons involved in activities of human rights defense
248. Since the Human Rights Defenders Unit was established, the Commission has granted a total of 217 precautionary measures of 1163 requests received. The following graphs show the relationship between the number of requests received and the number of measures actually granted in recent years. It should be noted that the number of precautionary measures granted does not reflect the number of persons protected by their adoption, since, as noted below, many of the precautionary measures granted by the Commission extend protection to more than one person, and in certain cases to groups of persons such as communities, indigenous peoples, and civil society organizations.
249. The Commission notes with concern that the group that has been forced to seek precautionary measures in the largest numbers corresponds to those persons who have received threats to their own rights because of their efforts to defend the human rights of other persons. Of the total number of precautionary measures granted during the period analyzed (217), 44,8% correspond to measures of protection granted to human rights defenders, which means that 97 measures in all have been granted to this group of persons.
250. Of the universe of the measures granted to defenders, the Commission notes that the largest numbers of threats come from Colombia (44), Guatemala (18), Mexico (8), Venezuela (7), and Brazil (6). In addition the situation is worrisome in Haiti, with respect to which five measures of protection have been granted, and from which one provisional measure was sought from the Inter-American Court.
251. Based on the affiliation of the beneficiaries of the measures granted, one finds that in the vast majority of these cases, they were granted to persons tied to civil society organizations, such as non-governmental human rights, peace, development, and environmental organizations. Second is a group of persons who did not say they were directly tied to a civil society organization, but who individually carry out work to defend human rights. Third were public employees such as judicial officers, personnel from the forensic medicine services, personnel from prosecutorial offices, and persons who hold popularly-elected positions such as legislators and local council members. Shared the same third persons who benefited from measures said they belonged to trade union organizations. Fourth place were indigenous leaders. Finally, in one case the beneficiaries belonged to a student organization.
252. The Commission notes that the defenders who are beneficiaries of precautionary measures undertake activities in different areas related to the promotion and protection of human rights. A large majority are involved in the judicial investigations of serious violations such as forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, torture, and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Other persons work overseeing the power of the state in matters such as denouncing corruption, denouncing police brutality, and denouncing acts of collusion between authorities and paramilitary or parapolice groups. In addition, persons dedicated to protecting the rights of children, the rights of homosexuals, lesbians, and transgenders, the right of migrants, and the cultural and territorial rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendant communities have been victims of threats and risks to their life and integrity related to their work. The Commission also notes the grave risk that trade union leaders, social leaders, and student leaders in several countries face as they seek redress for their grievances.
253. In every case of measures granted to defenders, the Commission concluded that the facts show grave risks to the life and integrity of these persons and, in some cases, their families. Death threats are reported in almost every case. Many threats were made through written notes in which the messages are found, and in some cases strict orders indicating the time the threatened person has to leave a given place or must stop seeking redress for a given grievance. Another type of threat has been found in the form of objects that represent death or violence that appear at the offices or homes of human rights defenders, as in the case of bullet cartridges or bloodied dolls. In other cases, the threats were made through intimidating or insulting phone calls. In one case, a defender received phone calls where only funeral music was heard.
254. In addition, in evaluating the risk defenders face, the Commission took into account that many of these persons were victims of attacks with firearms and explosive artifacts, such as “book bombs.” The fact of human rights defenders or their family members being followed was also considered to show the urgent need for special protection. Commonly, vehicles without license plates or identification numbers follow the movements of human rights defenders; these vehicles park in strategic locations such as in front of their residences or offices, or by the schools attended by the children of the persons being threatened. Other defenders were arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and forced to get into vehicles in which they were beaten and threatened. In one such case, a woman human rights defender was knocked out and placed in the trunk of a vehicle, and released in another town several kilometers away.
255. In response to these incidents and the grave and imminent risk to life and physical integrity they pose to human rights defenders and their families, the Commission has made several requests to the states involved. In general, the Commission has called on the states to adopt, without delay, all measures necessary to protect the life and personal integrity of the beneficiaries. This has been translated, depending on the circumstances in each case, into the granting of perimeter protection for headquarters, offices, and residences, police escorts and private bodyguards, mechanisms of personal protection such as armored vehicles and bulletproof vests, temporarily leaving town, changes in residence, and trips outside the country.
256. The Commission has also requested the states that in carrying out the measures they pay special attention to the circumstances that produced the risk, so as to be able to fully deactivate the focal points giving rise to risk, and to keep the situations reported from recurring. In addition, the Commission finds that for this to be done, it is vital that the states allow the beneficiaries of the measures to participate in planning and implementing them. Finally, to prevent the chronic repetition of situations of risk, the Commission asks in every case, as part of the measures of protection, that a serious investigation be undertaken into the facts, so as to identify, prosecute, and punish the direct perpetrators and masterminds of the acts of intimidation and violence.
257. Even though the Commission is satisfied to receive the response from the state in most cases in which it has granted measures of protection to human rights defenders, it laments and is concerned about the lack of prompt and adequate action to provide effective protection in some cases, which has translated into fatal events, such as the death of defenders who have been beneficiaries of precautionary measures. In addition, the Commission notes its concern over the failure of judicial investigations to advance in the vast majority of cases studied. The Commission reiterates that the failure to prosecute and sanction the persons responsible for such deeds makes it impossible to structurally dismantle the causes giving rise to risk; accordingly, the failure to undertake an adequate investigation not only prejudices the daily activities of the defenders, but also increases the risk that they might become victims of even worse acts of violence. The Commission makes an appeal to the states to take actions necessary to fully protect human rights defenders, especially those who are the beneficiaries of precautionary and provisional measures.
VIII. THE STATES’ RESPONSES ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
258. The Commission underscores the importance of the role of state organs in implementing international human rights law. Accordingly, in principle the implementation of human rights in the international system is primarily an internal matter, and, therefore, the organs of protection of the inter-American system are subsidiary in nature.
259. On that basis, and in order to analyze the advances of the states’ protection of defenders in keeping with the obligations they have assumed under the American Declaration and the American Convention, and reaffirmed in the most recent sessions of the OAS General Assembly, the Human Rights Defenders Unit prepared a questionnaire that it sent to the 35 member states of the OAS. The questionnaire had 20 questions, divided into three themes: recognition of the human rights organizations by the states, protection by the states, and acts that impede or encumber the tasks of human rights defenders and their organizations.
260. The Commission is grateful for the responses received from the states of Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Below a summary of the states’ responses will be presented, organized based on the topics addressed in the consultation.
A. Recognition of human rights organizations
261. The Commission asked the states four questions to determine the legal requirements demanded by the authorities for forming civil society organizations whose purpose is to promote and protect human rights, and to determine whether the domestic legislations include measures that differentiate between those organizations that are legally recognized and those that are not. In addition, the Commission asked about the possibilities of foreign individuals and organizations exercising the defense of human rights in the territory of the countries of the Americas.
262. First, the Commission asked the states specifically how their legislation provided for developing the freedom of association for the defense of human rights, and whether the domestic laws or regulations imposed any restrictions on such activity. In general, the states answered that the freedoms of assembly and association are constitutionally recognized rights and that their citizens may make use of them to carry out activities to protect human rights.
263. Argentina stated that its legislation does not establish restrictions. Those persons who so desire may form non-profit civic associations with legal status, may do so informally in keeping with the provisions of the Civil Code, or may come together as fundaciones under the pertinent commercial law provisions. Non-profit civic associations must meet certain requirements such as having articles of incorporation, registering with the Office of the Inspector General of Justice, and keeping books of their assemblies and accounting books.
264. Belize noted that its Constitution establishes the right of association for all persons, and, pursuant to that right, those persons so interested may form non-governmental organizations in keeping with the provisions of the Companies Act. The state also noted that such organizations are independent of governmental control in both operations and management.
265. The Government of Chile stated that in its domestic legal order there is no special legislation for associating to defend human rights, accordingly one should refer to the general rules on the subject, contained in the Civil Code. Accordingly, the requirements for organizations dedicated to defending human rights are the same as for any group. Those organizations that formalize their existence as such become corporations at private law. The Chilean State indicated that to meet this requirement the organizations must fill out the standard form bylaws drawn up by the Ministry of Justice, by which they request of the President of the Republic that he grant them juridical personality. That authority grants such recognition through a decree that must be published in the Diario Oficial. The request must be submitted by at least six persons or the number of persons required to serve in the positions and functions described in the respective bylaws. None of these persons can have a criminal record, and they must have a minimum of economic means to carry out their activities.
266. The Government of Costa Rica indicated that freedom of association is constitutionally recognized and that form provided for in the law for forming such organizations is that of civic association (asociación civil). Nonetheless, human rights organizations may also organize as fundaciones, or trade unions when the purpose is to defend workers’ rights. According to Costa Rican legislation, any association must be constituted through a basic charter that governs its activities (articles of incorporation, or bylaws). In addition, in order for an association to carry out its activities lawfully, it must be entered in the Registry of Associations kept by the Ministry of Interior. The state emphasized that the juridical personality obtained with registration is declarative and not constitutive.
267. El Salvador indicated that if a group of persons wishes to come together to defend human rights, Salvadoran legislation offers the possibility of constituting a non-profit association that is legally formed once the founding members have the articles of incorporation put in the form of an official public document (escritura pública) and elect the members of the boards of directors. According to the Salvadoran authorities, the only restriction established by law is the bar on foreigners being members or founders of an association, which is only allowed if the person shows that he or she resides in the country.
268. The Government of Honduras answered that the freedoms of association, assembly, and petition enjoy constitutional rank. Accordingly, in order to constitute different types of organizations, one must make a formal request to the competent authority (Ministry of Government and Justice or Ministry of Interior) in order to obtain the juridical personality that allows it to operate legally.
269. The Mexican State reported that its legislation provides for two legal forms: Private assistance institutions (instituciones de asistencia privada) and civic associations (asociaciones civiles). The first are governed by the Law on Citizen Participation, among other laws, while the latter are regulated by provisions of the Civil Code. The State indicated that there was no restriction other than respect for the rights of all others. Thus, those persons who wish to form a private assistance institution or a civic association need only file a written request, attaching their draft articles of incorporation.
270. Panama answered noting that its Constitution recognizes the right to peaceful assembly. At the same time, this provision has been developed by an executive decree that regulates recognition as a social-interest, non-profit association for those associations that carry out socially beneficial activities. According to this decree, any organization that wishes to obtain juridical personality must file a power-of-attorney and an application through an attorney on official paper containing the legal grounds for the association. In addition, it must file the articles of incorporation and the bylaws. The members of the board of directors must be of Panamanian nationality, unless they are staff of embassies or diplomatic personnel. The work plan for the first five years must also be attached to the application.
271. The Paraguayan Government stated that any group of persons has broad powers to associate for the defense of human rights in Paraguay, since the Constitution recognizes the freedom of association. The Civil Code has a section on non-profit associations, so long as they state their specific purposes. The only limitation is that the purpose involve the pursuit of lawful aims; the formation of secret and paramilitary organizations is forbidden. The Paraguayan Government also indicated that the existence of juridical persons begins once they have been authorized by law or by the Executive branch, and are entered in the registry at the General Bureau of Public Registries.
272. Peru also indicated that under its domestic law the right of association has constitutional rank. According to the legislation, human rights organizations must adopt the legal form of a non-profit organization, since their activities are not geared to an economic or entrepreneurial objective; rather they have to rise funding to enable them to pursue their objectives. In addition, Peru indicated that within its jurisdiction, organizations can form without prior authorization, i.e. they are not subject to administrative or any other approval. The juridical personality of these organizations begins from their entry in the respective registry. The State emphasized that the entry is a merely declaratory requirement by which access to the formal sector is sought.
273. The Uruguayan Government indicated that its laws contain no restriction on the freedom of association, which is a right recognized in the Constitution. The legal forms provided for in the domestic legislation that are best-suited to human rights organizations are civic associations (asociación civil) and non-profit fundaciones. The requirements for constituting such associations are to present the written by-laws, approved by the assembly, the articles of incorporation of the association, and the notarial stamps and other fees established by the regulation.
274. On the same subject, the Commission asked the states what differences exist, if any, in the legal treatment afforded the organizations that are legally registered before the authorities and those that carry out their work informally. In addition, the Commission asked whether there is any difference between foreign individuals and organizations, and nationals. With respect to the first inquiry, the states in general indicated that the registration of organizations was declarative and enabled organizations to exercise rights as juridical persons, and, in some cases, to receive tax benefits.
275. Argentina indicated that the only notable difference between the informal and registered organizations is that the first are considered mere civic associations, and the founding members and directors assume joint-and-several liability for the acts of the informal ones. In addition, Argentina indicated that under its legislation, associations existing in foreign countries under the same conditions as those required in Argentina are juridical persons.
276. With respect to the differences between legally recognized organizations and those that are not recognized, Belize indicated that the only distinction is that the recognized ones may benefit from tax exemptions. The Belizean State also reported that its legislation regulates national and international organizations without distinction.
277. Chile noted that in contrast to the unregistered organizations, those with juridical personality have a full legal existence, and may acquire assets, dispose of their own property, obtain public and private financing, have bank accounts, and represent interests before the courts of justice. Similarly, non-profit organizations enjoy tax benefits. Nonetheless, the organizations without juridical personality may exercise citizen rights as natural persons. Chile indicated that there was no special regulation for foreigners and international organizations wishing to carry out activities in Chile, just as there are no special limitations on the Chileans who work in those organizations.
278. Costa Rica indicated that the informal organizations could carry out the same type of activities, but that their members would answer individually for them. In addition, some economic benefits can be granted to legally constituted organizations to which the informal groupings do not have access. With respect to foreign organizations, the Costa Rican Government reported that foreign associations, according to the associations law, may operate in Costa Rica when they establish a subsidiary or register in the country. If not in compliance with these options, they would be in the same situation as the informal organizations. The only limitation on foreign persons in Costa Rica, according to the state, is that the Constitution prohibits them from holding leadership positions in trade unions.
279. El Salvador stated that both the legally recognized organizations and the informal ones may engage in any lawful activity, peacefully and without arms. Nonetheless, the first are subjects of rights and are obligated to pay taxes, though non-profit associations may be declared to be of public utility by the General Bureau of Revenue, in which case they are exempted from payment of the income tax. El Salvador also indicated that its legislation does not have any special regulation for a foreign person to undertake human rights promotion activities, except that they cannot found an association if they do not have legal residence in the country. Nonetheless, the state recognized that “unfortunately the legislation on migration matters gives wide discretion to the authorities of the Ministry of Interior to consider whether a foreigner is becoming involved in internal political affairs, which is grounds for expulsion. One runs the risk, therefore, of the arbitrary use of that power, according to which a foreigner’s activities in the promotion and protection of human rights may be considered involvement in internal politics, and that they may be expelled and repress by that channel.”
280. Honduras stated that foreign persons have the same rights as nationals as provided in the Constitution. With respect to the difference between registered and informal organizations, Honduras indicated that the unrecognized organizations “may carry out their activities.”
281. Mexico indicated that the legally recognized organizations have the right to enter into cooperation agreements with the state, receive tax incentives, receive donations, make investments, and receive advisory services from the Junta de Asistencia Privada, among other benefits. Foreigners who wish to enter the country and engage in work to monitor the human rights situation may enter as visitors, in which case they are authorized for one year, which can be extended for up to four years. If the purpose of entering the country is solely to engage in promotion activities, no special permission is required to enter the country beyond what is demanded of all foreign citizens.
282. The Panamanian State answered that the legally recognized organizations have access to tax benefits and incentives aimed at bolstering their operations, and to contract and acquire rights and obligations on behalf of the organizations. The State added that under Panamanian law no organization, registered or unregistered, could serve as legal representative before the courts. With respect to the distinction between foreigners and nationals, the State reported that there is no provision establishing any distinction in the exercise of these rights.
283. The Government of Paraguay indicated that the differences between legally constituted organizations and others have to do with actions before the judicial, political, and administrative authorities of the state, in that the legally constituted associations may represent persons affected, whereas the informal groups cannot exercise such representation. As for the distinctions between foreigners and nationals, the State said that any foreign person must be affiliated with an internationally recognized organization to carry out human rights activities.
284. Peru indicated that the associations duly entered in the public registries may act before third persons with no limitations other than those established by law. In contrast, those not so entered do not have sufficient juridical personality to be able to act with the same facility. In addition, the State alleged that there is no limitation or distinction for foreign persons other than complying with residency requirements.
285. Uruguay said that the informal organizations cannot appear at trial, or enjoy tax benefits. Nonetheless, access to mechanisms of citizen participation, for example, on the ground, is not subject to official recognition or having juridical personality. Furthermore, the Government indicated that the recognition of international organizations whose main office is outside Uruguayan territory is subject to the special regime regulated in Decree 334/70. Among the benefits granted by that provision are, inter alia, the recognition of juridical personality, the inviolability of the organizations’ locales and documents, exemption from customs duties and other taxes, exemption from labor charges, and visa at no charge for entering and leaving the country.
B. Protection from the State
286. In the second section of the questionnaire, the Commission inquired into the means of protection created by the state to keep human rights defenders from being victims of illegal restrictions or reprisals for their work. First, the Commission asked the states whether they have forums for dialogue with the organizations dedicated to the promotion and defense of human rights.
287. Based on the states’ responses, the Commission finds that the state entities that have the most contact and dialogue with the human rights organizations are the Offices of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (las Defensorías del Pueblo). Accordingly, the Governments of Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, and Venezuela indicated that the fundamental mechanism for dialogue was the Office of the Human Right Ombudsperson (la Defensoría del Pueblo or Defensoría de los habitantes).
288. Belize indicated that the Government provides for a mechanism of dialogue that includes quarterly meetings with the prime minister. The Government emphasized that this is the first time the Executive branch has recognized the importance of civil society, including it in the ministerial portfolio.
289. The Government of Bolivia referred to the creation of its “National Strategy for Human Rights,” which it described as a mechanism for designing and carrying out public policies to promote the defense of and respect for human rights. This mechanism is entrusted to an Inter-institutional Council made up the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Worship, the Presidency, Education, Indigenous Affairs, and Sustainable Development, and representatives of the human rights community. The National Strategy also has an Inter-Ministerial Commission on Human Rights made up of all the vice-ministries of the Executive branch, entrusted with the essential mission of drawing up government reports on human rights to be submitted to the various international agencies and mechanisms.
290. The Government of Chile indicated that its ministries serve as liaison and generally receive requests related to human rights. In addition, the General Secretariat of Interior, through the Division of Social Organizations, has created units known as Unidades Orgánicas, and has developed programs to attend to organizations that represent society. In July 2001, the Presidential Advisory Commission for the Protection of Human Rights (known as the Comisión Defensora Ciudadana, Citizen Defense Commission) was installed; its mission is to see to the defense and protection of persons in the face of acts or omissions of state organs once a citizen has exhausted the respective initiatives, without obtaining any response.
291. Costa Rica said that in addition to the work done by the Defensoría de los Habitantes, the State institutionalized as forums for dialogue the National Council on Childhood and Adolescence; the Boards of Protection for Children and Adolescents, and Committees to Protect the Rights of Children and Adolescents; the Permanent Forum on the Migrant Population; and the Regional Environmental Councils.
292. The Salvadoran State indicated that “unfortunately one does not find in El Salvador any mechanism for dialogue between the State and the civil society organizations or individuals who work in the defense of human rights. To the contrary, on many occasions the relationship between them has become very tense.”
293. Honduras indicated that its Government has a mechanism for dialogue in the National Forum of Convergence (FONAC), which brings together state institutions, social and political organizations, the church, and others. The State indicated that this forum establishes and fosters consensus on social issues, including human rights.
294. Mexico answered that the mechanism for channeling dialogue is the Inter-Ministerial Commission for Attending to Mexico’s Human Rights Commitments, created in 1997 to coordinate the positions of the different offices of the public administration in order to carry out the country’s international commitments. As part of this Commission, the Mechanism of Dialogue was instituted between the Inter-Ministerial Commission and the civil society organizations for the purpose of creating institutional spaces for interaction and dialogue with the non-governmental organizations.
295. Paraguay, in addition to noting the creation of the Office of Human Rights Ombudsperson (Defensoría del Pueblo), indicated that inter-institutional commissions have been formed with representatives of the state and civil society. The State indicated that such commissions have undertaken specific actions, such as visiting the military barracks in order to investigate the recruitment of child soldiers, visiting the country’s penitentiaries and police stations to investigate the quality of life of the prisoners, responding to the demands of the indigenous communities, and assisting street children.
296. Peru indicated that the State has a National Human Rights Council (CNDH), which is entrusted with promoting, coordinating, and disseminating the protection and observance of human rights, and advising the Executive in this area. The CNDH is made up of the minister of justice and several representatives of other ministries, the Judicial branch, and the Public Ministry.
297. In addition, in order to learn of the states’ actions to prevent violations by promoting the culture of human rights, the Commission asked the states about the extent of human rights training for public officials, and about the mechanisms implemented by states to foster the dissemination and application of the organs of the inter-American system and the decisions of its organs with regard to human rights defenders.
298. Argentina indicated that in 2002 the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Nation began to give permanent training courses in human rights for administrative agents, including the security forces. Belize noted that the Ministry of Human Development has made an effort in this regard geared to the Ministry staff who work with women’s and children’s rights. Bolivia stated that the Human Rights Ombudsperson has the mission of designing, implementing, and supervising programs for the defense, promotion, and dissemination of human rights; as part of that mission, the Ombudsperson trains public officials, including the National Police and the Armed Forces. The Council of the Judiciary does the same for the Judicial branch and the Office of the Attorney General.
299. The Chilean Government stated that it offers general courses given by specialists that include training in international instruments and the incorporation of international human rights treaties into domestic law. Chile indicated that as of 2000, the Armed Forces have been receiving special training in human rights and international humanitarian law as part of the courses they take in their military training.
300. Costa Rica reported that judicial officers receive a training program at the Judicial School covering issues such as family violence, children’s rights, refugees’ rights, the rights of indigenous peoples, and international humanitarian law, among others. Along the same lines, the Salvadoran State indicated that the National Academy for Public Security and the National Council of the Judiciary are the entities entrusted with giving human rights training to public officials. Honduras reported that the personnel of the Office of the Attorney General and other judicial officers are providing training through short courses (diplomados) and in some cases are given the opportunity to attend international seminars such as the inter-disciplinary course given by the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.
301. Mexico indicated that several courses and programs have been organized in the area of human rights education. In this vein, human rights and international humanitarian law were included in the study plans of the Military Education System, and in the permanent programs for training and instruction of the units, offices, and installations of the Mexican Army and Air Force. In addition, the State cited several programs for training in human rights that have benefited members of the armed forces and police, including graduate-level courses, short courses (diplomados), and other trainings.
302. Panama said that public defenders, personnel working in the administration of justice, and the members of the National Police have been trained in human rights through seminars, workshops, conferences, and even specialized studies. In addition, the Panamanian State noted that to promote the dissemination and application of the instruments of the inter-American system and the decisions of its organs in the area of human rights, human rights studies have been included in the curricula of the schools and universities.
303. Paraguay indicated that government employees are regular beneficiaries of programs to train in human rights, some designed by its own institutions, such as the Judicial branch, the Public Ministry, and others, with the support of international cooperation and non-governmental organizations. In addition, the State indicated that the mechanism most commonly used to promote the dissemination and application of human rights is holding symposia and workshops that include the participation of all the state institutions involved in human rights, and civil society organizations, as well as special guests and victims of human rights violations, who participate in the public debates held as part of those activities and events, which are widely disseminated.
304. The Government of Peru responded that the Public Ministry, the Judicial branch, and the National Police and Armed Forces include issues related to fundamental human rights in the training they give their personnel. These trainings complement those given by the National Human Rights Council. In addition, the State pointed to Law 25,211, on the dissemination and teaching of the Constitution and treaties for the defense, promotion, and development of human rights, which mandates education in this area.
305. The Government of Uruguay said that prosecutors, public defenders, as well as judicial personnel are law graduates from the national universities, which incorporate the teaching of human rights in their programs. The same holds for the Armed Forces and Police, whose courses for entry and promotion include human rights studies.
306. Venezuela indicated that the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson disseminates human rights, and has designed several programs for human rights training geared to various state agencies. In addition, the State created the Area of Citizen Security and National Armed Forces in order to raise the awareness of members of the armed forces and police and optimize the systems, plans, and mechanisms for the protection of human rights. A recommendation was also made to the educational authorities at police training centers to include human rights in the curriculum.
307. The next group of questions was aimed at inquiring into the mechanisms adopted by the states to grant measures of protection to defenders when they are victims of actions that keep them from doing their work freely. In this vein, the Commission asked what provisions and measures have been adopted domestically to guarantee the freedom to defend human rights, which organs are entrusted with promoting the observance of the norms of the inter-American system in relation to human rights defenders, and what their functions are.
308. Argentina reported that its Constitution establishes the rights and freedoms of all persons, including human rights defenders. The State did not indicate an organ specially dedicated to protecting human rights defenders, but it did note that the national Ombudsperson for Human Rights, the provincial ombudspersons, the Secretariats of the Nation and the provincial ones, the National Institute against Discrimination, Racism, and Xenophobia, and the Indigenous Institute are among the institutions charged with promoting observance of the rules with respect to the protection of human rights defenders. In addition, the Argentine Constitution provides for the remedy of amparo to defend human rights.
309. Belize also indicated that its Constitution recognizes fundamental rights, which include, inter alia, the rights to life, personal liberty, and the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression. The State indicated that there is no agency specifically dedicated to protecting human rights defenders. Nonetheless, the State indicated that it has the Office of the Parliamentarian Commissioner, known as the Ombudsman, which is in charge of investigating citizen complaints of corruption or illegal activities of public employees. The powers of this office include requesting support for its work from the public authorities, who are required to take all measures necessary to assist the Ombudsman.
310. El Salvador stated that the protection of rights established by the Constitution and by statute for all persons who live in its territory is entrusted to the Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson) and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the State indicated that the Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos has a broad constitutional mandate that authorizes it to see to it that human rights are respected and guaranteed, to investigate human rights violations on its own initiative or when a complaint has been lodged, and to produce and publish reports, among others. The Procuraduría has a staff of 425 persons no more than 60 of whom have knowledge of the law, the rest being administrative personnel.
311. The Mexican Government answered that it has a group of federal government offices made up the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Public Security, and the Office of the Attorney General, who meet with the possible beneficiaries to discuss what measures should be taken to protect not only the defenders, but also the possible victims of human rights violations. The group is made up of four ministries, which work on the Draft Terms of Collaboration, in keeping with the Organic Law of the Federal Public Administration.
312. The governments of Costa Rica, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela indicated that given that in their countries no acts occur that might impede the normal development of the activities of human rights defenders, they do not have specific mechanisms for protecting these persons. In addition, the governments of Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru indicated that they have not taken any specific measure to protect human rights defenders.
313. In the next section of the questionnaire, the Commission asked the states what internal mechanism was used to channel precautionary measures granted by the Commission. The Argentine Government stated that depending on the nature of the measure ordered, the national or provincial public authority adopts the respective measures. Bolivia indicated that once the state receives the request through the Foreign Ministry, it forwards it to the Vice-Ministry of Justice, which helps coordinate the other offices of the state so as to implement the measures ordered. Chile stated that periodic reports are requested of the institutions that carry out the measures through the Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
314. El Salvador noted that it does not have a statutorily mandated mechanism for that purpose. In practice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after being informed that measures have been adopted, communicates with the pertinent state office to request information. The State indicated, moreover, that “the effectiveness of this mechanism is frankly in doubt, and it was made very clear that it was useless for handling the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in the case of persons living with HIV/AIDS, which led to the death of nearly one-third of the victims.”
315. The Mexican Government reported that its Draft Terms of Collaboration provide for the creation of a Monitoring and Evaluation Committee to implement precautionary or protective measures. This Committee is in charge, among other things, of receiving, analyzing, and, as the case may be, turning over to the competent authority the requests for precautionary measures that come before it, as well as proposing to the competent authorities the precautionary or protective measures that are necessary and indispensable.
316. The Panamanian State noted that the measures are sent, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the administrative or judicial authority in charge of the case or proceeding. If the measures entail a judicial proceeding, they are processed through the presidency of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General (Procuraduría General de la Nación). For its part, the Paraguayan Government indicated that measures are implemented through different offices that have been established for the defense and promotion of human rights in the three branches of government, and for coordinated work in committees to that end. The actions of these offices are reported to the Commission through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly with the General Bureau for Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice and Labor.
317. The Peruvian State explained that on receiving the request for measures, in the case of situations related to health, coordination is immediately established through the Ministry of Justice with the health sector to visit the person and verify his or her health, and determine the care needed. Those actions are reported to the Commission through the Foreign Ministry. In the case of threats to physical integrity, the Ministry of Justice communicates with the Ministry of Interior, which, through a special committee, makes a visit to the person in question in order to obtain detailed information on the situation and to be able to adopt measures to protect and patrols to safeguard the physical integrity of the person affected, and his or her family and property.
C. Acts that impede or encumber the work of human rights defenders or their organizations
318. The final section of the questionnaire drawn up by the Commission was aimed at looking into the acts committed against human rights defenders, and the measures of protection, investigation, and punishment of such conduct adopted by the states. Accordingly, the Commission asked the states whether in their countries there were acts that directly or indirectly impede or encumber the work of human rights defenders. If there were such restrictions, the states were asked to indicate what measures have been taken to prevent such attacks, in how many cases there had been guilty verdicts, and how the judicial system is organized to respond to such acts. Finally, the Commission asked the states whether they faced any obstacle to attaining effective protection for the activity of human rights defenders.
319. The Argentine State indicated that “of late there have been attacks against persons who work in human rights organizations.” To investigate and punish such conduct, the Government said that it has the same justice system that is involved in any other crime, through the law on regular criminal procedure. Nonetheless, the Argentine State answered that there are no known cases in which perpetrators, accomplices, or aiders and abettors in attacks on human rights defenders have been identified, other than those referring to the participants in the violations committed during the last military dictatorship. According to the Government, the only perpetrators identified have been those responsible for some attacks committed for anti-Semitic reasons by neo-Nazis, who were prosecuted. Argentina added that the main obstacle faced by persons who are dedicated to the defense of human rights may be the lack of specific policies aimed at disseminating and promoting human rights in the public administration and in the judicial branch.
320. Belize indicated that there have been some cases of confrontations between public authorities and human rights organizations. The issues that commonly give rise to such confrontations refer to police abuse, but according to the State, they have not kept human rights defenders from doing their work. With respect to the question of whether there are convictions of the perpetrators of human rights violations committed against human rights defenders, Belize answered: “Not many convictions, if any at all.”
321. Bolivia indicated that it did not have a record of acts of the state that might directly or indirectly impede or encumber the work of those persons, groups, or organizations who work to protect and promote human rights. Nonetheless, the State noted it had difficulties effectively protecting the activity of human rights defenders, due to the lack of a special law and a specific state mechanism to address the issue. The Government indicated that for this reason it began work on a preliminary bill on defenders.
322. The Chilean State answered that in its jurisdiction no acts are performed that directly or indirectly impede or encumber the work of human rights defenders. The State added that in the last 12 years, it has not learned of any complaint by members of human rights organizations against the Government or its employees for attacks on life or personal integrity, threats, harassment, violations of the home, or arbitrary interference with or attacks of any type against these organizations. Nor has it had any news of wiretapping, bugging, or other forms of intercepting communications.
323. Similarly, Costa Rica indicated that in its territory there are no acts encumbering the work of human rights defenders. To the contrary, the activities of protecting and promoting human rights are generally very well received.
324. El Salvador stated that in recent times no cases have been known that entail attacks on life, personal integrity, threats, or harassment of defenders. Nonetheless, some cases have come up in relation to the violation of the facilities where human rights organizations operate. In this respect, the State’s response indicated that “there are strong suspicions – yet no evidence – that the state intelligence agency (Organismo de Inteligencia del Estado) wiretaps and uses electronic listening devices to listen to many persons, including human rights defenders, notwithstanding the express constitutional prohibition” on such conduct. In addition, the State noted “with great concern” that Salvadoran legislation recognizes that juridical status is granted by entry in the Registry of Associations and Foundations; and that agency is known for excessive delays in making the entry, with which efforts to form associations and fundaciones are held back until the entry is finally ordered. The State indicated that no measures are known of that are directly fostered by the State to prevent these acts, and that no guilty verdicts are known of in cases of the violation of human rights of human rights defenders. El Salvador concluded that there are no legal obstacles to attaining effective protection of the activity of human rights defenders, but obstacles arise given the lack of political will to foster a climate of broad respect for human rights.
325. Honduras noted some acts impede the free defense of human rights, including attacks on the life and personal integrity of the defenders. With respect to these events, the State indicated, the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic, the Ministry of Security, the National Human Rights Ombudsperson (Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos), and the Judicial branch undertake investigations as well as the respective corrective measures and penalties to avoid impunity. Nonetheless, the state response indicated, in very few cases have convictions been secured. The response also indicated that the Honduran State faces certain obstacles to attaining effective protection for the activity of human rights defenders, such as reticence on the part of citizens to cooperate with judicial officers, in some cases for fear of reprisals, and the lack of inter-institutional coordination.
326. The Mexican State noted that “the historical mutual distrust between government and civil society, along with the mistaken perception of some sectors of society that human rights defenders defend criminals, has created a hostile environment for the work of human rights defenders, especially in localized areas.” Moreover, according to the Government, previous administrations never openly recognized the importance of civil society nor did they forcefully condemn attacks on and threats against human rights defenders, which contributed to the tense environment in which human rights defenders perform their work. According to the State, in addition to the foregoing is the lack of adequate legislation to facilitate the development of these organizations’ work and fundraising efforts. The State indicated that officials of the current government, including the President of the Republic, have voiced their respect for human rights defenders and have emphasized just how necessary and useful their work is for the country in several forums. In addition, campaigns have been carried out to promote human rights in general, and the cultural of human rights; and the organizations have been recognized to have a permanent place in the Inter-Ministerial Commission on Human Rights Policy. With respect to guilty verdicts for those who have committed crimes against defenders, the State answered that it has no information in this respect. The State indicated that the main obstacles human rights defenders face in Mexico are the different forms of inertia from the past and the inherited culture of a lack of respect for human rights.
327. The Panamanian State answered that none of the acts that the Commission gave as examples of violence against human rights defenders has been found. Nonetheless, the State indicated that it has institutional mechanisms such as the Public Ministry and the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson to investigate such acts should they arise. In addition, those who live in the Republic of Panama have procedures such as habeas corpus, amparo or special protection for constitutional guarantees, and the right of petition to claim their rights.
328. Paraguay answered that in its territory there are death threats and harassment of human rights organizations, but that those threats have not been consummated. In addition, in only a few cases have acts of vandalism against defenders been reported. The State indicated that Paraguay is taking several measures to prevent such cases. Nonetheless, the State indicated that even when the justice system has adequate laws, generally they are not used adequately by the parties in criminal cases, who do not provide the solid data and evidence needed for the measures to be adequate. Accordingly, convictions for such acts are few and far between, due to the lack of reliable evidence, “even though approximately 20 cases are on record” in which convictions were handed down. The State concluded that it finds no obstacle to the political will and mechanisms implemented to protect human rights; to the contrary, with each passing day it is further developing mechanisms for prevention and protection in this area. According to the State, the sole obstacle that comes up blindside is the economic factor, which, if bolstered, would allow the actions to have broader coverage and be more effective.
329. The Peruvian Government indicated that at present no acts are detected that directly or indirectly impede or encumber the tasks of persons who work to promote human rights. Accordingly, with the full re-establishment of democracy in our country, there are no difficulties in the work of human rights defenders, which in general terms includes all persons engaged in activities to disseminate and promote human rights, not only from civil society, but also from the perspective of the State itself. Similarly, the Governments of Uruguay and Venezuela answered that there are no obstacles to human rights defense in their respective countries.
 In this regard, see also UN, E/CN.4/2003/104 § 23.
 According to data from the Committee on Freedom of Association, of all the complaints ever filed with it, 1,232, accounting for 52.7% of the worldwide total of cases have been complaints against OAS member states. According to the Committee, the historical trend in the hemisphere shows that anti-union discrimination, violations in the realm of collective bargaining, and attacks on the life and physical integrity of union members are, in percentage terms, the most common violations committed in the Americas. ILO, Situación de la libertad sindical en las Américas, Lima, Peru, July 2004, pp. 13 and 15.
 See IACHR, Press Release Nº 28/05, “Vice-President and Rapporteur for Guatemala of IACHR ended a visit to the Republic of Guatemala,” para. 14.
 IACHR, Chapter IV, Annual Report 2002, Vol. III “Report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression,” OEA/Ser. L/V/II. 117, Doc. 5 rev. 1, Para. 29.
 In this respect, the UN Special Representative has emphasized:
The governments, in the sphere of their security activities nationally and internationally, show excessive zeal limiting the right of their populations to peaceful dissent, in particular through the unwarranted use of violent methods to control peaceful multitudes.
UN, Report submitted by Ms. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, at the 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights, January 15, 2004, para. 45. E/CN.4/2004/94.
 See, e.g., IACHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil (1997).
 I/A Court H.R., Case of the communities of Jiguamiandó and Curbaradó, Provisional measures, Order of March 6, 2003.
 The Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women ("Convention of Belém do Pará") defines "violence against women " in Article 1 in the following terms:
For the purposes of this Convention, violence against women shall be understood as any act or conduct, based on gender, which causes death or physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, whether in the public or the private sphere.
 IACHR, The Situation of the Rights of Women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: The Right to be Free from Violence and Discrimination, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.117, Doc. 1 rev. 1, March 7, 2003, para. 120.
 Speech by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Beijing +5, Review Conference. "We must acknowledge that some human rights defenders are even more at risk because of the nature of the rights that they are seeking to protect, particularly when they relate to issues of sexuality, in particular sexual orientation and reproductive rights.”
 IACHR, Press Release Nº 27/05, “The Armed Conflict Aggravates the Discrimination and Violence Suffered by Colombian Women.”
 The authority of the Inter-American Court to issue provisional measures is provided for in the American Convention on Human Rights. Article 63(2) provides:
In cases of extreme gravity and urgency, and when necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons, the Court shall adopt such provisional measures as it deems pertinent in matters it has under consideration. With respect to a case not yet submitted to the Court, it may act at the request of the Commission.
As appears from the text of the provision, the Court may invoke this power with regard to both cases pending before its jurisdiction and cases before the jurisdiction of the Commission. There are also precedents of provisional measures issued in relation to situations of gravity and urgency that involve the possible consummation of irreparable harm, without any link to the processing of an individual case. See, I/A Court H.R., Case of the Communities of Jiguamiandó and Curbaradó (Colombia), Provisional Measures, Order of March 6, 2003.
 Thus, the power to issue provisional measures is not provided for in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or its Optional Protocol, but in the Rules of Procedure of the Committee, at its Rules 86 and 91. The Committee against Torture has also established the power to issue interim measures, at Rule 108 of its Rules of Procedure. Also, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also established the authority to issue provisional measures at paragraph 3 of Rule 94 of its Rules of Procedure. The power of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to issue provisional measures was granted by the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
 The regulatory provision in force prior to May 1, 2001, established another situation in which precautionary measures could be issued: “The Commission may, at its own initiative, or at the request of a party, take any action it considers necessary for the discharge of its functions.” Regulations of the IACHR, adopted in 1980, Article 29(1).
 The IACHR analyzes whether these requirements are met in each case, based on the information received.
 In relation to this, the Inter-American Court held:
6. That, in general, the purpose of provisional measures, under national legal systems (internal procedural law) is to preserve the rights of the parties to a dispute, ensuring that the future judgment on merits will not be prejudiced by their actions pendente lite.
7. That the purpose of provisional measures in international human rights law goes further, because, in addition to their essentially preventive nature, they effectively protect fundamental rights, since they seek to avoid irreparable damage to persons.
See Inter-American Court on Human Rights, The Case Of Haitians And Dominicans of Haitian Origin in the Dominican Republic. Provisional Measures. Order 0f 26 May 2001. Considering paras. 6 and 7.
 IACHR, Juan Raul Garza v. United States of America, Case 12.243, Report Nº 52/01, April 4, 2001, para. 117.
 I/A Court H.R., James et al. Case (Trinidad and Tobago), Provisional Measures, Order of August 29, 1998, seventh whereas clause.
I/A Court H.R., Case of Penitentiaries in Mendoza, Order of
November 22, 2004,
 The period analyzed in this chapter is January 2002 to December 2005.