I.         Introduction


A.        Background


1.                  As the specialized organ of the Organization of American States charged with overseeing the observance of human rights in the Hemisphere, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has addressed problems of citizen security and its relationship to human rights.  It has done so through the study of petitions, cases and precautionary measures, thematic reports, country reports issued on the basis of in loco visits made to various countries of the region and at hearings held during its sessions.  Given its mission of promoting and protecting human rights, the Commission has a particular interest in the policies that the member states put into practice to comply with their international obligations with respect to the current threats that violence and crime pose in the complex world that is the Americas today.  That scenario is one that has been building steadily for the last twenty-five years.


2.                  The Commission has called attention to the effects of violence and crime upon governability in the countries of the Hemisphere and it has indicated that citizen security requires a civil police to protect citizens, the strengthening of the administration of justice, the elimination of corruption or impunity, and a prison system aimed at the genuine rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners.[1]  Thus, in their domestic laws and procedures every State, without exception, must operate on the premise that the instruments that comprise the universal and regional systems of human rights “enable them to enforce measures to deal with the threats to citizen security (…) within a framework of the rule of law.  Such measures must be put in place in such a way as to guarantee full respect for the basic, inalienable rights recognized under international law.”[2]


3.                  On October 14, 2005, the Commission convened a special hearing on citizen security and human rights in the Americas.  There, a group of civil society organizations presented a concept paper and also examined the possibility of the Commission’s preparing a thematic report on citizen security and human rights.[3]  In the paper they presented, the civil society organizations indicated:


As nongovernmental organizations active in the area of citizen security from the standpoint of human rights and democracy, we understand that this problem cannot be tackled by focusing solely on the limits to State power.  Were that the case, we would run the risk of perpetuating the mistaken belief that human rights are an obstacle to promoting effective policies on security; in other words, we would be playing into the false dichotomy that juxtaposes human rights against security.  The Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission in particular, can be a major agent in a regional strategy to respond to this problem, by systematically adding citizen security to their agenda.  By examining the problem of citizen security and human rights as issues that affect democratic government, the Commission could help build up and consolidate democratic institutions as the effective means of protecting human rights.[4]


4.                  In this context and in furtherance of its established functions within the Inter-American system, the Commission decided to prepare and publish a thematic report that would address the issue of citizen security in the Hemisphere, while making recommendations to the member states to help them improve their institutions, laws, policies, programs and practices on crime and violence prevention and control.  It was determined that the report should identify the international standards on human rights and their relationship to citizen security, using as a basis the provisions of international human rights law, particularly the instruments within the Inter-American system. 


5.                  The Commission also announced the objectives and methodology that would be used to prepare the study:


there is a pressing need for States to reflect on this matter and to adopt effective measures and public policies to guarantee the safety of the population and respect for human rights.  To that end, the IACHR has embarked on a regional study that will provide guidelines to OAS member states on how to meet their obligation to protect the inhabitants of the Hemisphere, especially the victims of crimes and human rights violations.  The research for that study will be preceded by ample debate and consultation, coordinated with the General Secretariat and civil society organizations specializing in citizen security and human rights.  The relation between citizen security and human rights has been and continues to be a priority issue for the IACHR, which it addresses through the cases it processes, precautionary measures, and working visits to, and investigations in, the member states.  Its annual report, adopted at its 127th period of session, again registered in 2006 an increase in the number of actions threatening citizen security.[5]


B.        Objectives of the report


6.                  The purpose of this report is to identify human rights norms and principles that have a bearing on citizen security, so as to help build up and strengthen the member states’ capacity to prevent and respond to crime and violence.  The report enhances the interpretation of the States’ obligations both positive and negative with regard to those human rights that are related to the citizen security of all persons under their jurisdiction.  Particular attention is devoted to the victim’s rights vis-à-vis the State and the violence committed by State and non-state actors (whether organized or not).  It also includes an analysis of prevention programs and legitimate deterrence and measures of suppression under the jurisdiction of public institutions.


7.                  In its report, the Commission also makes recommendations to the member states and to civil society organizations on how best to effectively apply the international human rights norms and principles so as to improve citizen security and democracy in the Americas.  Specifically, the report’s objective is to recommend strategies and measures to prevent and mitigate the impact of crime and violence at the individual and community levels.  These strategies and measures will involve mobilization of the political, economic, scientific and technological sectors and professional resources and are also intended to strengthen the institutional alignments that will provide proper incentives to tackle the problems of citizen security.  These were the objectives set by the member states at the recent First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas, which issued a declaration to the effect that they recognize the need for additional efforts to


(...) 1) Foster and strengthen comprehensive long-term government security policies, with full respect for human rights; 2) Strengthen, within the context of those policies, the capacity of our states to promote citizen security and to respond effectively to insecurity, crime, and violence, by adapting their legal framework, structures, operational procedures, and management mechanisms, as necessary; 3) Analyze citizen security problems from a comprehensive point of view, taking into account emerging threats, and to promote management instruments that enable the national authorities to evaluate, and, where necessary, improve the effectiveness of citizen security policies (…).[6]


8.                  The Commission also hopes that this report will illustrate just how immediate is the need to support the processes underway to effect change in the policies on citizen security by promoting activities and forming and expanding networks and partnerships at the domestic and international levels.  It is the Commission’s hope that this report will promote in-depth interdisciplinary cooperation and comparative research on citizen security, human rights and democracy in the Americas, thereby not only expanding the pool of available knowledge but also the ability of experts, government officials, police and professionals in the justice system, human rights groups and society as a whole to make good use of the information and know-how available.


9.                  The report is also intended to highlight the need to devise indicators that can measure and evaluate the impact that the institutional mechanisms, laws and policies are having on citizen security, especially the impact of the reforms and innovations introduced during and after a transition to democratic government.[7]  In this sense, it is highlighted that the successful experiences the region has had in preventing and controlling violence and crime have been based on strategic plans designed by using reliable indicators.  These not only enable a proper diagnosis of the problems to be tackled, but also constant circulation of information, which in turn makes possible society’s involvement and democratic oversight.

C.        Methodology


10.              The Commission convened the first meeting of regional and international experts, held on May 30, 2007, in Washington D.C.,[8] as an initial activity in the preparation of this report on citizen security.  The meeting discussed the technical aspects of the report and worked on a proposed methodology for its preparation.  It was established that consultations would be held with countries of various areas of the region, for the purpose of sharing experiences and defining basic concepts.  The participants would be government officials, experts, academics and representatives of local and international nongovernmental organizations active in the area of citizen security.


11.              In December 2007, a questionnaire was sent to the member states and to a number of civil society organizations, asking for information on issues related to human rights and citizen security.  Specifically, the questionnaire was aimed at identifying the member states’ principal achievements and the challenges they face in endeavoring to ensure the citizen security of persons within their jurisdiction, and the policies and measures being implemented to respond to these demands.  The answers to the questionnaire provided a wealth of input for preparation of this report.[9]


12.              During 2008, steps were taken with a view to concluding a cooperation agreement between the IACHR and the Americas and Caribbean Regional Office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF-TACRO) to establish a framework of cooperation for preparation of this study.  The Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has also become party to this cooperation agreement.  This cooperative arrangement made it possible to conduct the various activities introduced into the plan for securing the information needed to produce the report, and then to write and edit it. 


13.              A second meeting of experts was held in Bogotá, Colombia, on September 18, 2008, during the seminar on “City, Conflict and the Public Sphere: the Latin American view,” organized by the Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones internacionales (IEPRI) of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, UNICEF, the IACHR, and the United Nations’ OHCHR.[10]  At this second meeting there was further discussion about the concepts that would serve as the basis of the report, and adjustments were made to the topics that would be added in the next phase, which was implementation of sub-regional consultation meetings.


14.              The sub-regional consultations were conducted in the form of two-day workshops and included the following working meetings with representatives of government, civil society and experts: (a) Asunción, Paraguay, November 20 and 21, 2008, for the countries in the Southern Cone.  Representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay were invited to this event;[11] (b) San José, Costa Rica, on March 2 and 3, 2000, attended by representatives of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and Mexico, and (c) Bogotá, Colombia, on March 5 and 6, 2009, to which representatives of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia were invited, joined by a delegation from Brazil.  During May of 2009, representatives of the IACHR and UNICEF undertook a working visit to Haiti, in order to gather information for the preparation of the report.  At each of these consultation meetings, statistics and information were compiled and participants shared ideas and experiences.


15.              The existing pool of knowledge and information –in the form of research, studies and other academic projects in the region- was also used to prepare this report.  Here the Commission would like to expressly acknowledge the contribution that experts and academic institutions have made in recent years to the conceptualization of theoretical constructs and to defining the subject matter of this report.  Another source drawn upon to prepare this report was the international juridical framework, general principles, jurisprudence and various pronouncements of specialized organizations –with emphasis on the Inter-American system— on the subject of citizen security and human rights.  The idea was to identify the norms and standards that apply to this specific issue in the region.  Using this input, observations and recommendations were included in the report to enable the member states to continue their efforts to improve citizen security through public policies that focus on protecting and guaranteeing human rights and that prove to be effective and efficient means of preventing and controlling crime and violence.  Finally, this report also includes the information and figures supplied by the representatives of the member states, civil society organizations, and the experts brought together for each of the consultation meetings held as this report was being prepared.


D.        Structure of the report


16.              The report introduces a definition of the concept of citizen security in order to identify precisely the subject matter.  Once the conceptual framework has been presented, the report describes violence and crime in the Americas today, using the statistical data available.  It then examines the policies, laws and institutional practices in the Hemisphere with regard to citizen security, as a function of the obligations arising out of international human rights law, especially the obligations under the Inter-American System.  The report makes reference to the following regional instruments: the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; the American Convention on Human Rights; the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture; and the Inter-American Convention for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women.  Similarly, the report draws on the principles of the principal instruments within the universal system, such as the Universal Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, among other instruments of equal rank.


17.              The report also examines the member states’ positive and negative obligations vis-à-vis their policies on citizen security.  It also looks at how the principles of human rights are put into practice in the measures the member states take to deal with the problem of violence and crime in the region.  In this context the Commission presents the main elements that, in its view, characterize public policy on citizen security in light of international standards on human rights.  Afterwards, an examination is made regarding each individual human right directly at stake in policies on citizen security.  Finally, it concludes with a series of specific recommendations aimed at working with the member states for the proper fulfillment of their obligations vis-à-vis citizen security.



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[1] Introduction of the IACHR’s Annual Report for 1999 at the General Assembly in Windsor, Canada, June 6, 2000.

[2] Press Release 20/02, May 1, 2002 on the Introduction of the IACHR’s Annual Report for 2001.

[3] The group of nongovernmental organizations included: Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales - CELS (Argentina); Conectas Direitos Humanos/Sur Rede Universitária de Direitos Humanos (Brazil); Núcleo de Estudos Da Violência Da Univerisdade de São Pablo - NEV-USP (Brazil); Instituto Sou DA Paz (Brazil); Viva Río (Brazil); Centro de Estudios de Seguridad Ciudadana – CESC- (Chile); Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho –FESPAD- (El Salvador); Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia – INSYDE- (Mexico); Centro de Derechos Humanos Pró-Juárez - Centro Prodh (Mexico); Instituto de Defensa Legal - IDL (Peru); Open Society Institute (United States); and Washington Office on Latin America – WOLA (United States).

[4] Report of the coalition of nongovernmental organizations “The Inter-American System for the Protection of Citizen Security and the Challenges of Human Rights in the Americas”, presented to the IACHR on October 14, 2005, Washington, DC.

[5] IACHR, Press Release No. 16/07, March 15, 2007.

[6] "Commitment to Public Security in the Americas" approved at the First Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas,” Mexico, October 7 and 8, 2008, OEA/Ser.K/XLIX.1 MISPA/doc.7/08 rev. 3, October 8, 2008, paragraphs 1, 2 and 3.  Member States have also acknowledged that ”. the conditions for public security improve through the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the promotion of education, culture, health, economic and social development.”  Document of the Second Meeting of Ministers in the Area of Public Security in the Americas, adopted on November 5, 2009 during the seventh plenary session, OEA/Ser.K/XLIX.1 MISPA II/doc. 8/09 rev. 2.

[7] The United Nations are currently testing a pilot scheme that may serve as a guide:  UN ROLIP (United Nations Rule of Law Indicator Project), which aims at obtaining empirical and objective information about the application of the law, the judiciary and the prison services in a country and its evolution over time.

[8] The regional and international experts participating in this meeting were: Ariel Dulitzky (IACHR); Carlos Basombrio (Instituto de Defensa Legal -IDL, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Peru); Daniela Salazar (IACHR); Elizabeth Abi-Mershed (IACHR); Ernesto López Portillo Vargas (Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia – INSYDE, Mexico); Gastón Chillier (Centro de Estudios Legales e Sociales – CELS, Argentina) Gustavo Gorriti Elenbongen (Instituto de Defensa Legal -IDL, and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad –IPYS, Peru); Gustavo Palmieri (Centro de Estudios Legales e Sociales – CELS, Argentina); Hernán Charosky (Centro de Estudios Legales e Sociales – CELS, Argentina); Joy Olson (Washington Office on Latin America -WOLA, United States); Leandro Piquet Carneiro (Universidade de São Paulo – NEV/USP, Brazil); Paul Chevigny (New York University, United States); Paulo de Mesquita Neto (Núcleo de Estudos da Violência, Universidade de São Paulo – NEV/USP, Brazil); Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (IACHR); Santiago Canton (IACHR); Victor Abramovich (IACHR); Victoria Wigodzky (Open Society Institute – OSI, United States).

[9] The following States and institutions answered the questionnaire: Argentina (March 26, 2008); Bolivia (April 14, 2008); Chile (February 27, 2008); Colombia (March 7, 2008); Costa Rica (February 1; February 27 and April 30, 2008); El Salvador (April 10, 2008); Honduras (February 19, 2008); Panama (March 4, 2008); Peru (February 15, 2008); Uruguay (March 3, 2008); Venezuela (February 1, 2008); Brazil (May 27, 2008); Mexico (June 2, 2008) and Jamaica (June 11, 2008).  The following civil society organizations also answered the questionnaire: COFAVIC, Venezuela (March 7, 2008); Justiça Global, Brazil (March 5, 2008); Comissão Teotônio Vilela, Brazil (March 5, 2008), and Mexico’s Centro PRODH (March 5, 2008).

[10] The following regional and international experts attended this second meeting: Fernando Carrión (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales –FLACSO- Ecuador); Francisca Márquez (Escuela de Antropología, Universidad Academia Humanismo Cristiano, Chile); Lucía Álvarez (Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades.  Universidad Autónoma de México - UNAM); Luis Fuentes (Instituto de Estudios Urbanos and professor at the Instituto de Geografía of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile); Pablo Montiel (Under Secretary for Cultural Industries of the Republic of Argentina and a professor at FLACSO-Argentina); Liliana López Borbón (Fábrica de Artes y Oficios –FARO-, Mexico); Iván Gomezcésar (Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México); Antonio Rodríguez López-Tercero (Centro de Formación y Orientación Rafael Palacios.  Asociación Corporación de La Pasión, El Salvador); Helena Azaola (Centro de Investigación y Educación en Antropología Social –CIESAS- México); Gino Costa (Organization “Ciudad Nuestra” and Former Minister of the Interior of Peru); Carlos Mario Perea (Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia); Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (IACHR); Sonia Eljach (UNICEF); Teresa Albero (United Nations OHCHR) and Juan Faroppa Fontana (consultant for the preparation of this study).

[11] In the case of Brazil, due to scheduling problems only nongovernmental organizations participated.  State representatives joined the Third Consultation, conducted in Bogotá.