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Nº 15/96

Today, July 24, 1996, marks the end of the visit that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made to Mexico, at the invitation of that country's President, to observe the human rights situation there. Participating in the visit were all the members of the Commission: Dean Claudio Grossman, Chair; Ambassador John S. Donaldson, First Vice Chair; Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, Second Vice Chair; Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano; Ambassador Alvaro Tirado Mejía; Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, and Professor Robert Kogod Goldman. The Commission was assisted during its visit by Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Executive Secretary; Dr. Domingo E. Acevedo, Assistant Executive Secretary; Dr. David J. Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, Senior Legal Counsel, and Mr. Ibrahim García, the Commission's legal counsel for Mexican affairs. The Commission was provided with administrative support by the secretaries Mmes. Rosario McIntyre, Martha Keller, and Tania Hernández.

During the visit, the IACHR met with the President of the Republic, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, and other high-level officials of the Federal Government, including the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior, and Defense, Ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice; representatives from both chambers of the Mexican Congress, the National Human Rights Commission, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), and the Federal Electoral Tribunal; representatives from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Baja California; church dignitaries; political leaders; businessmen; media representatives; and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the area of human rights.

As is customary on such visits, the Commission received complaints from parties who alleged, directly or through their representatives, that their human rights had been violated.

During its visit, the IACHR completed its work schedule in Mexico City and in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Baja California, to which it traveled to meet with state officials and representatives of civil society. /

The IACHR wishes to underscore that it was entirely free to meet with whomever it wished and to travel anywhere in the territory it saw fit. The Government of Mexico made it possible for the IACHR to complete its schedule and provided it with the utmost assistance and cooperation in all areas.

The extensive schedule of meetings and visits afforded the most diverse social and political groups the opportunity to share their views with the IACHR on the human rights situation in Mexico. In addition, this first visit also made it possible for the Commission to explore in depth its relationship with the government and with civil society in order to continue cooperation in the ongoing task of protecting and promoting human rights.

Its schedule of activities allowed the IACHR to make an appraisal which, for the time being, is necessarily preliminary and provisional. The complex body of information it received will require more detailed study at the regular session to be held by the Commission in October of this year to prepare a special report on Mexico.

It is important to emphasize that when the IACHR receives and processes complaints from persons alleging human rights violations, it is performing quasi-judicial functions. In such cases, the IACHR refrains from issuing specific pronouncements that may prejudice the merits of the cases submitted for its consideration.

Without prejudice to the foregoing, the current considerations of the Commission are as follows:

At all levels, federal as well as state and local, and in the media and civil society in general, the IACHR has noted the existence of a widespread debate on human rights. The IACHR welcomes the presence of human rights on the agenda of Mexican society, given their importance in strengthening democracy and the rule of law.

The human rights debate, as well as important steps taken by President Zedillo, has been translated into institutional and nongovernmental activities and developments for the promotion and protection of human rights.

The invitation to the IACHR from President Zedillo's Government to visit Mexico for the first time in the Commission's 37 years of existence is an historic event that reveals the significance the President attaches to human rights. At the same time, it appropriately illustrates the Government's open attitude to dialogue and cooperation with the international community and to its criticism. The invitation also confirms the universal value of human rights within the framework of freely assumed international obligations.

Within Mexico itself, the IACHR welcomes the development of institutions and standards to promote and protect human rights. The IACHR has observed the worthy efforts made by the National Human Rights Commission. The IACHR finds it highly significant that more than 60% of the Commission's recommendations have been carried out and that there is public debate on them. The IACHR calls on the state commissions to learn from the example of the National Human Rights Commission and to perform their duties to the utmost.

The IACHR appreciates that a debate is under way to strengthen the autonomy of the national as well as district and state human rights commissions, to broaden their spheres of competence, and to fully carry out their recommendations. The IACHR has noted the presidential initiative to increase the constitutional autonomy of the National Human Rights Commission.

The IACHR recognizes the major reforms carried out in the judiciary, particularly regarding judicial administration, professional training for judges, the appointment system for ministers of the Supreme Court of Justice and other judges, and the establishment of a legal procedure for challenging the constitutionality of laws. It was also able to observe that the agenda of forthcoming reforms included important items aimed at institutional enhancement, specifically, the incorporation of all jurisdictional bodies in the judiciary and oversight of the constitutionality of federal and state electoral laws. Because of the importance of these items for the rule of law, the IACHR will continue observing their implementation with interest.

The IACHR is in favor of strengthening federal institutions which serve to improve the electoral system and promote the free exercise of the right to vote. In that connection, the IACHR has learned of the positive achievements of the Federal Electoral Institute and the Federal Electoral Tribunal.

With regard to the establishment of a legal framework that fully guarantees the right to vote and to be elected, the IACHR is also in favor of the current debate in Mexico on initiatives to strengthen the independence and autonomy of the electoral bodies, to achieve equitable conditions for all participants in the electoral process, and to hold state elections under principles and standards similar to those that must govern in the federal framework. The IACHR will continue attaching great importance to the evolution of this process referred to in certain reports since 1986 which targets full implementation in Mexico of the right to participate in government, as set forth in Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The IACHR was impressed by a rich, multifaceted, and diverse civil society, which is reflected in many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the most diverse areas of national life. The existence of these organizations and the possibility of their functioning freely within the legal framework of democratic societies, in accordance with Article 16 of the American Convention, is universally recognized today as a manifestation of democracy, which, by definition, is not limited to government structures or to elections. Without prejudice to the obvious differences that must exist among various institutions and organizations playing different roles, the IACHR considers that ongoing and open dialogue between the organizations and government institutions is very useful, in the interests of the lofty common goal of promoting and protecting human rights.

The Commission wishes to underscore that, upon ratification of the American Convention, the governments assumed, under Articles 1 and 2 of that document, the obligation of adapting its domestic legislation to the American Convention. In particular, it undertook to provide, in accordance with due legal process, effective remedies for identifying and punishing government agents responsible for human rights violations and to make appropriate and effective reparations to the victims of those violations. These provisions are necessary if the rule of law in a democratic society is to be reaffirmed.

In the view of the IACHR, the citizens' aspirations to live in a secure environment are fully justified. What is essential is strengthening of the rule of law, which entails an efficient, professional, modern, and completely nonpartisan police force that acts in compliance with the law.

During its visit to Mexico, the IACHR received information about a strong distrust of the police and heard complaints about their inefficiency, corruption, arbitrary arrests, and torture.

The IACHR attaches the utmost importance to the claims it has received regarding torture in Mexico. Based on its abundant experience throughout the Hemisphere, the IACHR wishes to underscore that in the ongoing fight against the scourge of torture, tribunals must not accord any evidentiary value to confessions extracted under torture and must punish those guilty of such acts. The IACHR is aware that the National Human Rights Commission has made numerous recommendations in cases of torture, only some of which have been implemented. The IACHR will investigate the complaints submitted to it in this regard.

The IACHR wishes to note that, unless distrust of the police is encountered through effective measures, it will continue to undermine the development of a culture respectful of human rights, inasmuch as it nurtures the erroneous idea that the security sought by the people can only be obtained through extralegal measures. On the basis of its experience, the IACHR believes that the public security that the citizens desire—and to which they are entitled—will be achieved only by strengthening the rule of law.

The Commission believes that to strengthen the rule of law arbitrary acts must be condemned and their perpetrators punished. On the basis of information it received, the IACHR was able to determine that impunity is still a serious problem despite the prosecution and dismissal of some public officials who have violated human rights. The murders of Monsignor Posadas, Luis Donaldo Colosio, and Ruiz Massieu, which have stirred public opinion in Mexico and abroad, are still not fully cleared up. The IACHR will continue to insist that the fight against impunity is an essential component in achieving public security and is an internationally recognized obligation under Article 1 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The IACHR received information that court and ministry of justice employees were slow, inefficient, and biased in performing their duties. The fact that the Ministry of Justice has been given exclusive control over criminal prosecution calls for the establishment of an institution that is independent, autonomous, professional, efficient, and impartial. The compulsory nature of due process is set forth in Article 8 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Without prejudice to the Commission's continued monitoring of this subject, the IACHR wishes to refer to two specific situations.

The IACHR was able to observe the effort made by the Attorney General of Mexico City to implement an interesting program to educate and purge the police. It was also able to observe his willingness to offer protection to those whose lives had been threatened. In the Commission's view, this is a model worthy of emulation, notwithstanding the difficulties inherent in longstanding problems.

As regards the serious incident that occurred in the state of Guerrero in which, as is known, 17 persons were killed, it should be noted that this case is before the Commission for alleged violations, including the failure to institute criminal proceedings. The Commission notes that, despite appeals by President Zedillo and the Supreme Court of Justice for a full investigation of this case, it was informed that liability and the alleged coverup had still not been fully established.

In those cases in which the Ministry of Justice failed to prosecute, the IACHR has been able to note a situation of legal uncertainty concerning the use of Article 21 of the Constitution to pursue a judicial remedy making it possible to examine the failure to act. To establish actual liability, both the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution and the possibility of its effective implementation in practice must be clear.

This situation is all the more significant since the IACHR received numerous complaints of intimidation against community and NGO leaders, which, according to the complainants, have not been investigated. The IACHR attaches great importance to this matter and will investigate the complaints.

During its stay, the IACHR met with numerous NGOs in the area of women's rights. It listened to their statements concerning violations of those rights, in particular domestic violence, and the need for achieving true equality. The IACHR will continue attaching great importance to this topic in its report on women's rights in the Hemisphere and through the individual complaint system.

The IACHR considered in particular the situation of millions of Mexicans who are members of indigenous peoples, with their diverse cultures, problems, and aspirations. It held talks with numerous delegations, including delegations from different ethnic groups in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, on dignity, respect for their cultures and autonomy, equal access to economic and all other types of opportunity, as well as property and land tenure.

In that connection, the IACHR was informed that, as agreed in the Chiapas peace negotiations, a special joint committee of the legislative and executive branches was preparing a set of draft constitutional and legal amendments that would lay the basis for enhancing the cultural status and the autonomy and dignity of the Mexico's indigenous peoples. The Commission looks forward to the early adoption of those constitutional and legal reforms.

For its part, the IACHR has prepared a preliminary draft Inter-American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which has been circulated throughout the Hemisphere for comment.

In the Chiapas segment of its schedule, the IACHR confirmed the deep yearning for peace and human rights shared by the most diverse groups in that state. The IACHR is pleased that negotiation was given preference over solutions based on force. The IACHR is gratified that because the current dialogue is continuing within the institutional framework, the recommendations and commitments are being properly implemented, and the judgments are being appropriately enforced through suitable mechanisms and competent institutions.

In Chiapas, the IACHR received numerous complaints concerning the existence of groups that are opposed to the peace negotiations and seek to disrupt them by financing and promoting violent conflicts and "guardias blancas" (private security personnel hired by land owners in the rural areas). The IACHR expresses concern over this matter and hopes that a fitting outcome to the negotiations will establish a climate that will conclusively prevent such groups from acting without prejudice to the immediate adoption of effective measures against them.

The IACHR will investigate the complaints received in Chiapas about intimidation, eviction, murder, kidnapping, and other serious crimes. The IACHR wishes to underscore that these complaints refer primarily to acts of violence which, in the vast majority of cases, affect indigenous populations and often concern land tenure disputes.

Lastly, the IACHR wishes to refer to a specific matter in Chiapas. The Commission was able to learn firsthand at once that, without prejudice to the progress made with regard to religious tolerance in the state, children are still being denied the right to an education, allegedly because of religious intolerance.

During its visit to Guerrero, the Commission learned from the Governor and other state officials about the legislative and administrative measures that have been or were being adopted to improve the human rights situation in the state.

Representatives of the civil society in the state of Guerrero presented numerous complaints to the Commission regarding the use of torture by the police as a method of investigation, illegal detention, false charges, and the activity of armed groups who frequently perpetrate acts of random violence against peasants. In that connection, the Commission also received complaints about the climate of insecurity in which many people live because the very officials responsible for ensuring public order are perceived as the perpetrators of arbitrary treatment and other excesses, against whom no proceedings are instituted. In many of the complaints on torture submitted to the IACHR, it has been noted that the victims were apprehended without an arrest warrant issued by the competent authority. The IACHR will investigate these complaints.

The IACHR also heard complaints of situations in which the Armed Forces performed police functions. In this connection, the IACHR—on the basis of its experience—wishes to highlight the consequences of using the Armed Forces for activities involving public security, since the use of those forces may seriously infringe upon human rights, because of their military nature and training.

In the city of Tijuana, the Commission toured a stretch of the northern border of Mexico and saw various groups of persons waiting to cross it.

The IACHR members attended a seminar on "Migration and Human Rights," which was held at the Northern Border College in Tijuana. This seminar provided the Commission with very valuable information which will be used in a report it will prepare on migrant workers in the Hemisphere. At the seminar, the Commission learned about the human rights violations perpetrated against the migrant populations from their places of origin.

In this connection, the Commission wishes to underscore the effective, humanitarian work done by the Beta Group to protect the migrant population from the abuse and outrage meted out to that population by various criminal groups.

Finally, the Commission met with representatives of NGOs and other groups representing the civil society in that city. These groups provided further information on general topics concerning human rights.

In concluding its visit, the IACHR wishes to say that it has a great readiness on the part of the most diverse groups in the nation to continue forging ahead in promoting and protecting human rights. Further it has noted that, in this endeavor, there is no alternative to dialogue, negotiation, and the search for consensus.

The Commission wishes to thank the Government of Mexico, its President, Dr. Ernest Zedillo Ponce de León, the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, and the other federal and state authorities for the hospitality, facilities, and cooperation they afforded the IACHR in carrying out the visit and making it a success. It also wishes to thank the NGOs and individuals who, in an open and transparent fashion, provided valuable testimony and documents and thus helped the IACHR to fulfill its mission.

The Commission also wishes to thank the media for the interest they showed in covering the visit.

Pursuant to the functions assigned it in the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the other applicable international legal instruments, the Commission will monitor the human rights situation in Mexico. It reiterates its wish to collaborate with the Mexican authorities within the framework of their competence so as to help strengthen domestic and international mechanisms for the defense and protection of basic rights under of the rule of law.

Mexico City, July 24, 1996


In Mexico City, the IACHR met with the President of the Republic, Dr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León; the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, José Angel Gurría; the Secretary of National Defense, Major General Enrique Cervantes; the Secretary of the Interior, Emilio Chuayffet Chemor; members of the Supreme Court of Justice; the Attorney General of the Republic, Alfonso Lozano Gracia; the Attorney General of the Federal District, José Antonio González Fernández; the Secretary General of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), Agustín Ricoy Saldaña; the head of the Federal Electoral Tribunal, José Fernández Franco González Salas, and judges of the Tribunal; members of the National Commission for Conciliation and Peace (COCOPA) and the human rights commissions of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies of the national Congress; the leader of the National Action Party (PAN), Felipe Calderón Hinojosa; the leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Porfirio Muñoz Ledo; the leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Santiago Oñate; and with representatives of NGOs and other groups and persons representing the civil society. The Commission received representatives from Mazatecas, Mixteco, Chapines, Mijes, Zapoteca, and other ethnic groups in the state of Oaxaca, accompanied by Senator Héctor Sánchez López.

During its stay in the state of Chiapas, the Commission was able to engage in dialogue various state officials and civic organizations. It met with the Governor, Julio César Ruíz Ferro; the Secretary of the Interior, Eraclio Zepeda Ramos; the President of the Supreme Court, Noé Catañon León; the Chair of the State Congress Special Committee, Juan Carlos Bonifaz Trujillo, as well as with members of that body and of the State Congress Human Rights Committee; the State Attorney General, Jorge E. Hernández Aguilar, and his immediate staff; and with the Commander of the Seventh Military Region, General Mario Renán Castillo Fernández, and his senior staff.

The Commission also met with the bishops of Tuxtla, Tapachula, and San Cristóbal de las Casas; representatives of the evangelical churches, and with numerous human rights organizations called together by the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Center and the network of human rights organizations, titled "Todos los Derechos para Todos" (All Rights are for Everyone); and with the Chiapas Human Rights Commission. It also met with the leaders of the principal boards and associations for businessmen, employers, professionals, merchants, carriers, and rural producers. Similarly, it met with Monsignor Samuel Ruíz García, head of the National Mediation Commission (CONAI). It was also able to speak with various indigenous groups, including representatives of the Reconciliation Association (ARICO), and with the Federation of Unions. Further, it was received by representatives and leaders of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) at its headquarters in the municipality of San Andrés de Larrainzar.

A group of the Commission traveled to the state of Guerrero and met with the Governor of the state, Angel H. Aguirre Rivero; the Attorney General of the State, Antonio Hernández Díaz; the Coordinator of the State Congress, Zótico García Pastrana; the Chair of the Human Rights Defense Commission in Guerrero, Juan Alarcón Hernández, and other members of the Commission; and with the state's Director General of Traffic and Public Safety.

The Commission group also met with NGO representatives and spokespersons and with the widows and relatives of those who lost their lives in the massacre at the

Vado de Aguas Blancas on June 28, 1995.

The group also visited the Acapulco prison where it met with prisoners from whom the Commission received complaints alleging torture by members of the security services (Army) which detained them.

In the city of Tijuana, the Commission carried out the following activities. On the night of July 21, it toured a stretch of the northern border of Mexico where it observed several groups of persons waiting to cross into the United States as undocumented persons in search of work or, in some cases, to join their relatives.

On June 22, the members of the IACHR participated in a seminar on "Migration and Human Rights," held at the Northern Border College, and subsequently met with representatives of NGOs and other civic groups in that city.


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Nº 16/96

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held its 93rd regular session from September 30 through October 18, 1996. The participants included: IACHR Chairman, Dean Claudio Grossman; Ambassador John Donaldson, First Vice Chairman; Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, Second Vice Chairman; Ambassador Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Prof. Robert Goldman and Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé.

The Commission started its meeting by examining 38 reports on individual cases, along with various requests for preventive measures, thereby responding to the growing need to ensure that the system protecting human rights give proper attention to the processing of individual cases.

The Commission granted 63 hearings, during which it received representatives of governments and nongovernmental organizations as well as private citizens who testified on cases currently being processed. It also heard a number of presentations concerning the general situation of human rights in various OAS member countries.

In the course of those hearings, the Commission was pleased to note a new trend in favor of opting for amicable settlement in numerous cases, and it was gratified at the attitude adopted by the governments and the exchanges which took place in connection with the settlement of cases involving Argentina, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay.

The progress made in consultations regarding the forthcoming Inter-American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was another source of satisfaction for the Commission, which will continue its inquiries on this subject with governments, indigenous organizations and experts throughout the region. The activities conducted thus far include meetings in Montreal and Quebec (Canada); Denver, Colorado; and Mexico City. This sphere of interest provided a framework for the "Sovereignty Symposium" in Oklahoma (U.S.) and the Kuna General Congress in San Blas (Panama). Additional consultation activities were scheduled up to the end of this year, when the consultation phase will be completed.

Some changes were made in the draft report on the study now being conducted by the Commission on Detention Conditions in the Americas, and it was decided to extend the deadline to allow time for OAS member countries which had not yet sent in their replies to the IACHR questionnaire to do so by December 31. The meeting then considered the information gathered during the Commission's on-site visit to Venezuela (May 13-17, 1996) in response to an invitation from that Government. Within its program of prison observation, the Special IACHR Delegation visited the lock-up and reformatory at Catia; the Carolina Uslar Center for Immediate Care of Minor Children; the El Paraiso "La Planta" Reeducation Center; the Capital Reformatory "El Rodeo" (State of Miranda); the Carabobo Penitentiary Center; and the "Sabaneta" National Jail in Maracaibo (Zulia State). The Commission again thanks the Government of Venezuela for its collaboration, hospitality and many courtesies during that visit.

As part of its activities to follow up on the study of conditions in penitentiary centers, the Commission decided to accept an invitation from the United States Government to observe the situation of the Haitian refugees ("Marielitos") in the jails in Avoyelles Parish, in the city of Marksville, and the Orleans Parish in New Orleans, Louisiana from December 9 through December 12 of this year. The IACHR is grateful to the U.S. Government for extending that invitation and for its collaboration in the preparation of the visit.

In response to AG/RES. 1404 (XXVI-0/96), adopted by the OAS General Assembly in Panama, the Commission discussed a preliminary draft of a paper on the "Situation of Migrant Workers and Their Families in the Hemisphere."

The Commission reviewed the progress made by the Special Rapporteur on Woman's Rights in drafting a report on instances of discrimination against women found in the member countries' laws and practices. As a basis for this report--which will address compliance with the norms established in the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man--a detailed questionnaire was sent to the member countries. The questionnaire will also be distributed to nongovernmental organizations and other entities specializing in this field. The Commission wishes to acknowledge the collaboration it has received thus far in this important project, and at the same time urges the states to send a prompt response to the questionnaire.

In the course of the meeting, the Commission met with Dr. Robert H. Kisanga, Professor U. Oji Umozorike and Dr. Emmanuel Dankwa, members of the African Commission on Human Rights, with whom it had an opportunity to exchange experiences and opinions about the operation of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights--in particular, the processing of individual cases and the need to expand promotion activities in the region.

During this regular session, the Commission examined the information obtained during the on-site visit to Mexico (July 15-24, 1996) and it considered the basis for the draft Special Report on the General Situation of Human Rights in Mexico. The Commission wishes to thank the Government of Mexico for its collaboration and for the facilities provided during that visit, in which all of the IACHR members participated.

In addition, the Commission considered draft reports on the situation of human rights in Ecuador and Brazil in light of the information obtained during the in loco visits made to those countries in November 1994 and December 1995, respectively.

The Commission also reviewed the status of the cases which it had presented to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights since its previous regular session. Those presented on August 30, 1996 included case 11.129 against the Republic of Guatemala concerning the violation of Efrain Bamaca's right to life; Case 11.337 against the Republic of Peru last May 30 concerning the murder of Juan Cantoral; and Case 10.009, the complaint presented by two brothers, Gabriel Ugarte and Nolberto Duran, also against the Republic of Peru. All of these complaints have been deemed admissible and accepted for processing by the Court, and formal notification to that effect has been sent to the governments of those States.

The Commission also asked the Inter-American Court to take provisional measures in Case 11.154, Maria Elena Loayza against the Republic of Peru, dated May 30. The Court issued the provisional measures requested by the Commission.

In two complaints against Guatemala, Case 11.333, Jorge Carpio Nicolle, and 11.212, Colotenango, the Court decided to extend the measures in effect. After holding a public hearing on June 27, the Court also issued provisional measures to be carried out by the Republic of Guatemala in Case 11.497 (Father Daniel Vogt) and Case No. 11,570 (Serech and Saquic).

In the Jean Paul Genie case against the Republic of Nicaragua the Commission appeared at the public hearing before the Court on September 5 and 6 of the present year in order to question a number of witnesses presented by the Court. The Commission also took part in the hearing on the payment of compensation in the case of Isidro Caballero Delgado and Maria del Carmen Santana against Colombia.

During the present regular session, a start was made on various amicable settlement procedures in cases involving Guatemala, including one concerning discrimination against women in the civil code and one involving the death of Jorge Carpio Nicolle. The friendly settlement proceeding instituted in May of this year in connection with the Colotenango Case 11.212 is still in progress and as a result, the Government of Guatemala dissolved and disarmed the civil defense patrols in the Municipality of Colotenango on August 19, 1996.

Also in the context of a friendly settlement, the Government of Nicaragua and the legal representatives of the Awas Tingni Indigenous Community met with the Commission to start discussing the demarcation of ancestral lands and the concessions granted to foreign companies. The Commission and the parties agreed to continue the amicable settlement procedure and to meet again.

As to the use of that procedure in cases from Colombia--Trujillo, Los Uvos, Caloto and the Villatina massacre--after hearing the parties, the Commission decided to continue the process at the next regular session. It then asked one of its members, the Rapporteur on Colombia, to go to that country so that he could personally observe the status of those cases and report to the Commission at its next meeting on the progress made or difficulties encountered in the conduct thereof.

The Commission also instituted the friendly settlement procedure in connection with a number of cases involving Paraguay. In Case 11.561, the petitioners had requested the extradition of an Argentine couple alleged to have kidnapped two children belonging to women who were arrested and then disappeared. Cases 11.558, 11.559 and 11.560 concern the judicial delay in addressing three detained persons who presented their cases to the domestic courts in 1989. During the present regular session, the parties agreed to establish the basis for a friendly settlement. The Commission thanks the Government of Paraguay for its cooperation in this proceeding.

The Commission has offered its services to the parties for help in negotiating an amicable settlement of Case 11.217 (Paulo C. Guardatti), currently before it; and in the Garrido and Baigorria case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Both cases deal with an accusation regarding the forced disappearance of three persons in the Province of Mendoza. The Commission thanks the Government of Argentina and that of Mendoza for their assistance in the effort to reach the respective agreement. The concrete results thereof have been an arbitration award establishing the sum to be paid to the victims, plus the August 16, 1996 report from the Ad Hoc Investigation Committee created for that purpose. Particular emphasis should be placed on the mission successfully carried out in that country in July of this year by IACHR member Professor Robert Goldman and Executive Secretariat attorney Mario López Garelli to expedite the proceeding. During the present meeting, however, the Commission has decided to suspend its consideration of the report on friendly settlement of the Guardatti case, since the recommendations in the report of the ad hoc committee cited above have not yet been carried out. As a result, no settlement has yet been reached in this case. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has sent a note to that effect to the Argentine Government, in which it also requested that the Government publish and distribute the Ad Hoc Investigation Committee's report dated August 16, 1996.

The Commission also decided to send a note to the Government of El Salvador concerning the present process of constitutional reform designed to extend the death penalty to cover certain crimes to which the Salvadoran laws do not apply that penalty at present. In its note, the Commission expressed its concern over this matter, since if that change were put into effect, El Salvador would be in violation of the international commitment it assumed when it ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which specifically states in Article 4 that the States Parties to the Convention shall not extend application of the death penalty to crimes not subject to such penalty at present.

The Commission has taken note of the creation of an ad hoc committee in Peru that is charged with evaluating, defining, and proposing to the President of the Republic the granting of pardons, under exceptional circumstances, to persons who have been sentenced to death for crimes of terrorism or treason to the fatherland, based on insufficient evidence, thereby enabling the ad hoc committee to presume, reasonably, that such persons have had no connection with the activities cited. The IACHR will follow with interest the decisions adopted by the Government in regard to this important measure.

In the course of this regular session, the Committee voiced its satisfaction over compliance with the initial judgments wherein the Inter-American Court had established a State's responsibility with respect to the denunciation of violations of the American Convention on Human Rights. In August 1996, the Government of Honduras completed its execution of the judgments calling for indemnification of the victims' families in the Velásquez Rodríguez and Godinez Cruz cases. The Commission was favorably impressed by the attitude of the Government of Honduras and the petitioners who testified in the closing procedures of those cases.

As to the truth-determination processes, the Commission has repeatedly emphasized the importance of this approach, which reveals in detail the violations of human rights experienced in certain countries. The Commission was particularly pleased by the recent decision of the Government of Haiti to publish the report of Haiti's National Commission on Truth and Justice.

The Commission also wishes to express its satisfaction at the instruments of ratification deposited over the past year by the States of Mexico, Brazil, and Paraguay, thereby acceding to the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights (the Protocol of San Salvador) concerning economic, social and cultural rights.

The meeting provided the Commission with an opportunity for fruitful dialogue with the Organization's Secretary General, Dr. Cesar Gaviria, on various factors relevant to its functions as the principal OAS organ addressing human rights, and to the manner in which the Secretariat has supported those activities.

Special attention was given at this meeting to the organization of a Seminar on the Inter-American System for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Its purpose will be to discuss the experience gathered by the organs in that system in order to continue identifying areas which need to be upgraded. The Seminar will be held in Washington, D.C. from December 2 through December 4 of 1996. Thereafter, the IACHR will prepare a document describing the statements and ideas presented at the Seminar. The report will be presented to the Permanent Council and to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States as its contribution to the process of reflection currently under way with respect to the inter-American system for promoting and protecting human rights.

Before the meeting concluded, the Commission agreed that its 94th regular session would be held from February 24 through March 14, 1997.

Washington, D.C. 18 October 1996


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Nº 17/96


As part of the hemisphere-wide consultation on the Inter-American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS (IACHR-OAS) will hold in November this year two regional consultation meetings with governments and indigenous organizations. The first meeting will take place in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on 14-16 and the second in Quito, Ecuador, on 21-23 November 1996.

The IACHR-OAS approved a Draft Consultation on the future Declaration in September 1995. This future Declaration is now in preparation by the IACHR-OAS at the request of the member states following a recommendation of the General Assembly of the OAS. The IACHR, the OAS’s leading human rights organ, had previously been involved in the preparation of the drafts of the American instruments on human rights (the Pact of San José, 1969), on economic, social and cultural rights (Protocol of San Salvador, 1980), on abolition of the death penalty (1990), to prevent and punish torture (1985), and on the forced disappearance of persons (1994), among others.

At the Summit of the Americas, held in Miami in 1994, the OAS member countries decided that one of their priorities would be to support a revision and improvement of the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, and to direct their energies at strengthening the exercise of democratic rights by those peoples and at giving indigenous communities access to social services, in observance of the International Decade of Indigenous People declared by the United Nations.

In its Declaration of Montruis in 1995 the General Assembly of the OAS reaffirmed this commitment by declaring "that one of the Hemisphere’s greatest assets is its ethnic and cultural diversity, and that it is incumbent upon the OAS to value and incorporate that reality as it seeks to bring about the development of the American peoples." It then stated its "commitment to promote the economic and social development of indigenous peoples, with particular attention to questions of human rights, the environment, education, and health.... (in a) quest for social development policies that include the protection and promotion of (their) rights... and their cultural diversity."

The Draft Declaration in consultation includes a preamble and sections on special aspects of human rights: cultural development (cultural integrity, language, education, spiritual and religious liberty, family and the environment), organizational and political rights (of association and assembly, of self-government, and on indigenous law), social, economic and property rights (including employment rights and rights to intellectual property and to development), and the validity of treaties and agreements between indigenous populations and governments.

The regional meetings for Central America and the Caribbean, and for South America, to be held this November bring to culmination an extensive process of consultations with governments and indigenous organizations that began in October 1995 and included meetings held in Canada, Panama, Peru, and the United States, and intensive publicizing and discussion of the Draft Declaration in specialized periodicals on indigenous and legal subjects.

This draft inter-American legal instrument has been circulated for consultation among governments and indigenous organizations since last year, and these regional meetings are expected to generate additional comments from the organizations and experts. The opinions received and those to be received by November 30 this year will be taken into account in the review to be carried out by the IACHR in its session of February 1997, which it will submit for consideration to the General Assembly of the OAS to be held that year.

The first of these two meetings will be held in Guatemala City on November 14, 15 and 16 and be attended by representatives of the governments, indigenous organizations and experts of Central America, Mexico, Panama, the English-speaking island countries of the Caribbean, Suriname and Guyana.

The second regional meeting will be for governments, indigenous organizations and experts of South America, and will be held in the city of Quito, Ecuador, on November 21, 22 and 23.

In both cases invitations are being extended broadly to government representatives, indigenous organizations, and experts to exchange views and offer comments on the Draft Declaration.

For the first time in the history of this inter-American agency, its several organs and entities have come together in this common enterprise in demonstration of the importance attached to the situation of the indigenous populations of the Americas. The meetings are being organized by the IACHR-OAS with the cooperation of the governments of the countries that will host the meetings, and with the collaboration of the Inter-American Indian Institute, the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Fund for Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights.


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Nº 18/96

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has been following with profound concern the situation of sixty soldiers of the Colombian Army who have been deprived of their liberty since the end of last August and whose whereabouts are unknown to their families.

Whatever reasons could be given and apart from the considerations of justice or injustice on which they base what they have done, for purely humanitarian reasons the Commission calls upon those who have deprived these soldiers of their liberty to set them free.

On many occasions the Commission has spoken out about personal liberty as a basic freedom. It is publicly known that the Commission, with the absolute independence and impartiality that are its hallmark, has repeatedly spoken out in defense of the liberty of persons in different OAS members states, including Colombia.

With the legitimacy of a repeated practice and its commitment to the defense of the rights of the men and women of the Hemisphere, notably the important rights to personal liberty and humane treatment, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights appeals publicly for humanitarian reasons that these soldiers of the Colombian Army be set free safe and sound as quickly as possible.

Washington, D.C. November 13, 1996

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Nº 19/96

At the invitation of the United States Government, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, will conduct a visit to Louisiana, from December 9 to December 10, 1996, in order to assess the conditions of detention of the "Mariel Cubans" detained at State Institutions there, and general conditions of detention for its study on Prisons.

The Commission's delegation will be composed of Ambassador John S. Donaldson, First Vice-Chairman, Commission Members Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, and Dr. Jean Joseph Exume; Dr. David Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Dr. Relinda Eddie and Dr. Bertha Santoscoy-Noro, Human Rights Officers, and Ms. Tania Hernández, administrative assistant.

The Commission is appreciative of the openness with which the Government of the United States of America has acceded to this proposed visit.

Washington, D.C., December 8, 1996

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Nº 20/96

Today, December 10, 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded its two-day visit to Louisiana, in the United States. The visit commenced on December 9th and concluded on December 10, 1996. The object of the visit was to assess the conditions of detention of the "Mariel Cubans" detained at the Avoyelles Parish Jail in Marksville, and the Tangipahoa Parish Jail in Amite, Louisiana.

The Commission's delegation was composed of Amb. John S. Donaldson, First Vice-President; Commission Members Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía and Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé; Dr. David J. Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Drs. Relinda Eddie, and Bertha Santoscoy-Noro, Human Rights Officers; and Ms. Tania Hernández, administrative assistant.

The Commission is the principal organ of the OAS charged with reporting on compliance with human rights standards in the hemisphere. Its authority derives primarily from the American Convention on Human Rights for the 25 States that are parties, and from the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man for those member states of the OAS that have not yet ratified the Convention. Whenever the Commission makes a visit, the Government concerned is deemed under the Regulations to have given assurances that the Commission may interview and meet freely with Government officials, and persons whom the Commission deems relevant in assessing the situation.

During its stay the Commission's delegation benefited from the cooperation of the following persons: Mr. John Castro, of Immigration and Naturalization Services, Cuban Review Panel; Mr. Girod Gillory, Warden, and staff at Avoyelles Parish Jail in Marksville; Mr. Randy Pinion, Warden; Captain Gerard Fairburn, Assistant Warden, and staff at Tangipahoa Parish Jail in Amite.

The Commission received information from the inmates with whom it spoke. Inquiries were made into the general conditions under which the inmates were held. The main issues discussed included questions of the medical facilities and services available to the Mariel Cubans; housing accommodations; educational opportunities offered at the institution; recreational and vocational programs; arrangements for annual review of detention for post-sentence detainees; the availability of legal counsel for inmates; visiting difficulties of distant relatives of the inmates; and methods of discipline at Marksville and Amite.

A comprehensive report of the Commission's visit to Lompoc, California; Leavenworth, Kansas; Allenwood, Pennsylvania; and Marksville and Amite, Louisiana, will be prepared.

The Commission is grateful for the cooperation it received from the government officials, and the "Mariel Cubans" detained at the State Institutions in Louisiana. The Commission continues to assess the conditions of detention of the Mariel Cubans.

Washington, D.C., December 10, 1996

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Nº 21/96

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was deeply distressed to learn of the serious events that have taken place at the Japanese embassy in Lima, Peru, which was assaulted by an armed group that as took hostages diplomatic and consular personnel accredited to the Government of Peru, high-ranking government officials, and other persons who were in the embassy.

The individuals occupying the diplomatic compound have indicated that the hostage-taking was motivated, among other reasons, by their concern over the human rights of persons in detention and that they are calling for their release.

The IACHR feels duty-bound to point out that such a demand suggests an extremely confused system of values, since human rights cannot be defended by actions which in and of themselves violate the very legal rights afforded by human-rights standards. The taking of hostages is incompatible with the full observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

On numerous occasions, the IACHR has expressed that personal liberty is a basic right. It is widely known common knowledge that the Commission, with the absolute independence and impartiality that are its hallmark, has repeatedly spoken in defense of the right to liberty of persons in various OAS member states, including Peru.

In keeping with its regular practice and its commitment to protect the rights of the men and women of the Hemisphere, among them the right to liberty and humane treatment, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights categorically condemns this taking of hostages and the seizure of the compound of the Japanese embassy in Lima.

Washington, D.C., December 18, 1996