OAS: Organization of American States


IACHR:  Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (or “the Commission”)


I/A Court H.R.:  Inter-American Court of Human Rights (or “the Court”)


American Declaration:  American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man


American Convention:  American Convention on Human Rights (or “the Convention”)


Convention of Belém do Pará: Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women


Universal Declaration:  Universal Declaration of Human Rights



Executive summary


1.       The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has addressed the issue of citizen security and its relationship to human rights through the study of petitions, cases and precautionary measures, in reports on the situation of human rights in the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS), in thematic reports and at hearings held during its sessions.  Based on the information received, the Commission decided to prepare a thematic report on citizen security and human rights in order to analyze the issue and make recommendations to the member states of the OAS on how to improve the institutions, laws, policies, programs and practices on prevention and control of crime and violence. 


2.       Citizen security is one of the dimensions of human security and therefore of human development and is linked to the interrelated presence of multiple actors, conditions and factors.  Among these factors are: the history and structure of the State and society; the policies and programs of the governments; the relevance of economic, social and cultural rights; and the international and regional level.  Citizen security is undermined whenever States fail to protect their population from crime and social violence, signaling a breakdown in the relationship between those governing and the governed.


3.       The countries of the region have some of the highest rates of crime and violence in the world and their young population has been the most affected, both as victims and as perpetrators.  For the first time in decades the population of Latin America lists crime as a major concern, even greater than unemployment.  The judicial branch, public prosecutor’s offices, the police and the prison system have failed to develop the capability to respond effectively through lawful measures to prevent and suppress crime and violence.


4.        The IACHR indicates in its report that citizen security must be regarded as a public policy, understood as the guidelines or courses of action established by the authorities to achieve an objective and that serve to create or transform the conditions in which individuals or groups in society carry out their activities.  A public policy cannot be fully understood without establishing a nexus to human rights.  The purpose of public policy is to ensure that these rights are respected in law and in practice, and in the conduct of state institutions and agents.  It should also involve a comprehensive approach to the causes of crime and violence.


5.       A human rights perspective enables the issues of crime and violence, and their impact in citizen security, to be tackled through the strengthening of democratic participation and the implementation of policies focused on the protection of the individual instead of those focused on the security of the State or of any particular political system.  While the international legal order of human rights does not expressly define the right to be safe from crime or interpersonal or social violence, whose prevention and control are the object of citizen security policies, States are bound by a normative core demanding the protection of rights particularly vulnerable to criminal or violent acts: the right to life; the right to physical integrity; the right to personal liberty; the right to due process and the right to peaceful use of property and possessions.  The States’ obligations in the area of citizen security also involve the right to a fair trial and the right to judicial protection; the right to privacy and the right to have one’s honor respected and dignity recognized; the right to freedom of expression; the right to freedom of assembly and association; and the right to participate in public affairs.  In broad terms it may also include measures to guarantee other human rights, such as the right to education, the right to health, the right to social security and the right to work, among others.


6.         The report identifies the international human rights standards that are relevant to citizen security, based on the provisions of international human rights law, particularly those embodied in the instruments governing the Inter-American system.  The report elaborates upon the interpretation of the States’ negative and positive obligations with respect to the human rights associated with the security of all persons under their jurisdiction.  Particular emphasis is placed on the rights that crime victims have vis-à-vis violent acts committed by state and non-state actors.  It includes an analysis of prevention programs, as well as lawful methods of deterrence and suppression that competent public institutions should employ; and the design, implementation and evaluation of the policies on citizen security in the region, informed by the international principles of human rights, especially the principles of participation, accountability and nondiscrimination.


7.         The positive obligations undertaken by member states demand public policies on citizen security contemplating as a priority an efficient institutional structure that guarantees the public the exercise of human rights related to the prevention and control of violence and crime.  The Commission is thus troubled by the difficulties that the region has had in the past in creating a set of institutions to enable the State to function properly in this area.  These difficulties are particularly evident in the following areas: (1) the treatment of victims of violence and crime; (2) the privatization of security services; (3) the governability of citizen security; (4) the professionalization and modernization of the police forces; and (5) the intervention of the armed forces in tasks related to citizen security.


8.       In its report the IACHR issues a number of recommendations calling for the member states to comply with their international obligations to protect and ensure the human rights at stake in citizen security by designing and implementing comprehensive public policies involving simultaneous performance of specific measures and strategic plans at the operational, normative, and preventive levels.  The IACHR recommends generating the necessary institutional capacity within the public sector to carry out the measures included in the plans and programs associated with public policy on citizen security, while making available adequate human, technical, and economic resources.  These policies must ensure democratic governance of citizen security; they should be sustainable based upon political and social consensus; and they should be permanently subject to evaluation and accountability through internal and external control mechanisms, fostering transparency in the exercise of public office, and implementing measures to deal with impunity and corruption.


9.         The IACHR also recommends that member states ensure the special standards of protection for those persons or groups that are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime, such as children and adolescents, women, the indigenous population, Afro-descendents, migrants and their families, notwithstanding the obligations that the member states have undertaken to protect and ensure the human rights at stake in the policy on citizen security to all persons subject to their jurisdiction.


10.           Finally the IACHR makes a number of specific recommendations for the adoption of administrative, legislative or other measures in order that the State institutions respond adequately to the victims of crime and violence and that they implement measures for the prevention, deterrence and legitimate suppression of violent and criminal conduct within the framework of respect for and guarantee of the human rights related to citizen security.


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