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N° 8/96

The 92nd regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights closed today, May 3, 1996. Participants were Dean Claudio Grossman, Chairman; Ambassador John Donaldson, First Vice Chairman; Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, Second Vice Chairman; and Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Oscar Luján Fappiano, Robert Goldman and Jean Joseph Exume, members.

At the inauguration of this session the Commission welcomed its new Executive Secretary, the distinguished Argentine diplomat, Ambassador Jorge Taiana, and expressed its confidence that he will contribute to the strengthening and development of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.

The Commission, considering that it could not overlook recent events which endangered the political stability of Paraguay, sent a note to the President of that member state, Juan Carlos Wasmosy, expressing its condemnation of the attempts at destabilization and its satisfaction that this were rejected. In that regard it stated that the solution achieved has confirmed the free expression of the popular will in that country and represents an important advance in the consolidation of democracy in the Hemisphere .

In addition, the Commission sent a note to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States in which it expressed its solidarity regarding the abduction of his brother, Juan Carlos Gaviria Trujillo, and condemned this reprehensible crime. At the same time that it deplored this matter and extended its wishes for a favorable conclusion to the situation, the Commission placed itself at the disposal of the Secretary General and his family, standing ready to provide any cooperation within its power with respect to this distressing event.

The Commission also met with the Secretary General and exchanged opinions with regard to holding a meeting of experts on the Future of the Regional System for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. That meeting will utilize the experience gained by the system's organs and users in an effort to identify a consensus on possible reforms of the system and prepare specific proposals designed to enhance its effectiveness. Once the results are analyzed, the Commission will report on them to the Secretary General and the Permanent Council of the Organization. The Secretary General expressed his firm support for this endeavor and offered extremely valuable suggestions in that connection. The date of the meeting was set, in principle, for December 4, 5 and 6, 1996.

In the course of its meetings and in the same context, the Commission considered the document entitled "Draft Program for the Meeting of Experts." In this regard it exchanged opinions on the methodology to be used during that meeting: it will consist of a combination of various means, including presentations, round tables, and general debates. The Commission also drew up an agenda including the following topics, among others: compatibility between domestic systems and the international system, domestic and international human rights law, and international humanitarian law. It also includes the subject of practices contrary to international instruments and ways of promoting human rights (human rights training courses, seminars, publications, etc.). Other topics for inclusion will be the experience of the Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, focusing on the system's future; operational, administrative and budget matters; and the procedures followed in the system's agencies.

The Commission decided to intensify the consultation process it is pursuing in regard to the approved draft of the Inter-American Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition to voicing encouragement for the various meetings on this matter that are being held and scheduled in several member countries, the IACHR has made the draft available through books, publications, and the Internet (http// Subject to the authors' consent, it will also make available, by this means, the responses it is receiving. The Inter-American Indian Institute and the OAS's Unit for the Promotion of Democracy will collaborate in the consultation process.

The Commission also considered the Questionnaire on the Status of Women in the Americas, speeded up its approval process, and decided to send it to the member states within a month. The Commission further decided to begin consideration of the topic of migrant workers in the Hemisphere, with a view to preparing a report on that subject .

The IACHR reflected on the recent visits to the Dominican Republic and to Allenwood prison in Pennsylvania. It also finalized the preparations for on-site visits to be conducted in the coming months at the invitation of the Governments of Venezuela, for the purpose of observing the penitentiary system first hand, and of Mexico, in connection with the human rights situation in that country. It further considered the possibility of future on-site visits to other member states and requests to those states, in due course, for the necessary consent.

Regarding the visit to Mexico, the Commission held a very positive meeting with Carmen Moreno de Del Cueto, Ambassador of Mexico, and with staff of the

Permanent Mission of Mexico to the OAS, in the course of which a useful exchange of opinions took place concerning the visit scheduled for July 14 to 24 of this year.

In addition to the various items referred to above, the Commission during this session stressed the study of individual cases, whose expeditious processing is one of the matters on which the Commission is focusing in order to respond to the growing demands of a new situation in the Hemisphere characterized by democratic governments and requiring legal, conceptual and operational updating of the efforts of the inter-American human rights system.

Finally, IACHR Chairman Dean Claudio Grossman presented this body's Annual Report to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council. The Commission expresses its gratification at the warm welcome which that report has received from the governments of the member states. The IACHR is also pleased to note the positive reaction of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs to its initiative to call the meeting of experts on the future of the inter-American human rights system.

Washington, D.C., May 3, 1996

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Nº 9/96

Today, May 13, 1996, at the invitation of the Government of Venezuela, the Working Group on Prisons and Prison Conditions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will begin its visit to observe the prison situation in that country.

This on-site visit is the first to Venezuela by the Commission since its establishment in 1959.

The Working Group comprises the First Vice Chair, Ambassador John S. Donaldson, and Commissioner Jean Joseph Exumé. During this visit, the commissioners will be assisted by the Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David Padilla, and by the attorneys Milton Castillo, Bertha Santoscoy, and Relinda Eddie. Ms. Tania Hernández and Ms. Blanca Cáceres will provide administrative support.

The IACHR is one of the principal organs of the Organization of American States. It is responsible for promoting the observance and protection of human rights in the Hemisphere and for serving as a consultative body on such matters.

The seven members of the Commission are elected in their personal capacity by the General Assembly of the OAS for a four-year term and represent all the member states. The powers of the Commission are derived essentially from the OAS Charter and from the American Convention on Human Rights, an international instrument ratified by Venezuela on August 9, 1977.

During its stay in Venezuela, the Commission's Working Group will meet with government officials, representatives of the Venezuelan Congress and of the judiciary, human rights organizations, prison system experts, and prisoners and their relatives.

The IACHR has found it necessary to visit the interior of the country. It will travel to Ciudad Bolívar on May 14 and to Valencia and Maracaibo on May 15, 1996.

The Commission's visit is being made under the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights and in keeping with the Commission's governing provisions. Under the Regulations of the IACHR, the governments undertake to provide the Commission with all the facilities necessary for accomplishing its mission and, in particular, bind themselves to refrain from reprisals of any kind against any persons or agencies cooperating with the Commission by providing information or testimony.

The Commission is grateful for the cooperation it has received from the Government of Venezuela, from nongovernmental organizations, and from representatives and institutions of civil society in preparing for this visit.

At the end of the visit, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will issue a press release.

Caracas, May 13, 1996

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Nº 10/96

Today, May 17, 1996, was the last day of the visit by the Working Group on Prisons and Prison Conditions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the invitation of the Government of Venezuela, the purpose of which was to observe conditions in the country's penitentiaries. John S. Donaldson, First Vice President of the Commission, and Commissioner Jean Joseph Exumé took part in the visit. The Commissioners were assisted by Assistant Executive Secretary David Padilla and attorneys Milton Castillo, Bertha Santoscoy, and Relinda Eddie. The Commission received administrative support from Tania Hernández and Blanca Cáceres.

The Commission split into two groups to carry out its observation program. The first group visited the Catia reformatory and correctional facility at Caracas, the El Rodeo capital correctional facility in the state of Miranda, the Carolina Uslar center for immediate care of minors at Caracas, and the Carabobo penitentiary center in the state of Carabobo. The second group visited the El Paraíso "La Planta" reeducation center at Caracas and the Sabaneta National Prison of Maracaibo in the state of Zulia.

In Caracas the IACHR working group met with President of the Republic Rafael Caldera, Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas, Minister of the Secretariat of the Presidency Asdrúbal Aguiar Aranguren, Minister of Justice Henrique Meier, President of the Supreme Court of Justice Cecilia Sosa Gómez, Attorney General of the Republic Ivan Darío Badell, Director of Prisons of the Ministry of Justice Antonio Marval, Sectoral General Director of Defense Arturo Ruiz Araujo, President of the Council of the Judicature Alberto Pérez Marcano, Director of Human Rights of the Attorney General's Office Celia Márquez de Viete, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the Congress Vladimir Villegas, Chair of the Special Subcommittee on Prison Overcrowding Rafael [illegible name], Director of the National University Institute for Prison Studies (IUNEP) Elio Gómez Grillo, Central University of Venezuela Professor Héctor Faundez Ledesma, and penitentiary systems expert María Gracia Morais de Guerrero.

The Working Group also met with the directors of the prisons it visited: Irving Betancourt Coello, Director of the Catia reformatory and correctional facility; Henry Andrade Villegas, Director of the El Paraíso "La Planta" reeducation center; Tirso Meza Nuñez, Director of the El Rodeo capital correctional facility; Hellen Ruíz, Director of the Carolina Uslar center for immediate care of minors; Juan [illegible surname], Director of the Carabobo penitentiary center; and Oscar Luis Castillo, the Sabaneta National Prison of Maracaibo. It should further be noted that the Commission received statements from some inmates of each of those prisons.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights further met with the following nongovernmental organizations: Committee of Relatives of Victims of the Events of February and March (COFAVIC), Support Network for Justice and Peace, Provea, Vicariate of the Archdiocese of Caracas, Secorve, Work Volunteers in Penitentiary Establishments of the UCAB, Justice and Peace of Petare, and the National Federation of Human Rights.

The IACHR working group's diligent observation effort during this visit and the various contacts it made produced an overview of the complex and delicate penitentiary situation in Venezuela. The Working Group also collected valuable information that will be of use to it when it prepares its report on prisons and prison conditions in the Hemisphere.

The complex and difficult situation experienced by the prison population in the country's prisons was made evident to the Working Group from the statements taken from the inmates, and from the information provided by human rights and civic organizations. The most common problems identified by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the prisons visited are the following:

1. Slow pace of proceedings, a high number of unsentenced persons held for trial, and other deficiencies rooted in government agencies.

2. Excessive size of prison population.

3. Widespread violence.

4. Illegal weapons possession.

5. Inadequate medical care.

6. Mistreatment of inmates.

7. Hygiene and health problems.

8. Problems connected with the transfer of prisoners.

The working group of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must point out — without prejudice to the detailed analysis it will conduct in due course — that an effective judicial branch is an essential requisite of a modern democratic system. As specified in the American Convention on Human Rights, of which Venezuela is a participating state, everyone has the right to simple and prompt recourse for protection against acts that violate his fundamental rights recognized by the constitution, the law, or the convention itself, even though such violation may have been committed by persons acting in the course of their official duties. The states, for their part, undertake to ensure the exercise of such recourse. The Commission has observed the existence of difficulties in the administration of justice pertaining to the completion of proceedings within a reasonable time, the consequence of which is a high number of persons in custody awaiting trial, whether to be acquitted or convicted.

In addition to delays attributable to the judicial branch, further bottlenecks are caused by the insufficient number of courts; lack of transport and a system in which the prisoners have to pay to be taken to court; delays in access to evidentiary documents; delays in police investigations conducted by the Judicial Technical Police (PTJ); and red tape connected with court appearances.

The Commission Delegation was also told by the authorities of a general deterioration of correctional facilities. Overcrowding is becoming very serious, with inmates packed into unhealthful premises. Health care is inadequate. It was verified that there were inmates entitled to be transferred to more open correctional facilities who cannot be moved either because there is no room for them or the authorities of other states refuse to approve the transfers.

Another matter of concern to the IACHR working group is the Law on Idlers and Criminals and the consequences arising from it. According to the information provided, that law specifies a number of security measures applicable to persons deemed "dangerous" in pre-criminal situations. It authorizes administrative bodies — prefectures, governor's offices, and the Ministry of Justice — to take measures restricting individual liberty. Such measures can range from a reprimand to incarceration for an average of up to ten years. The procedure forces the detainee to defend himself against the charges laid from the moment he is informed of them, without assistance of counsel. He then has three days — during all of which time he is in preventive detention — in which to disprove the charges, after which he may submit no further evidence.

According to the information supplied by the Government of Venezuela, some resources have been earmarked to improve training of corrections personnel, thanks to contributions from some Hemispheric multilateral financial organizations. In that connection the delegation of the working group of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights wishes to support the international community's financial cooperation initiative in order to consider financing projects to reform the prison system, improve its conditions, and further its development in Venezuela and other countries of the Hemisphere.

The working group of the Inter-American Commission has taken due note of the commitment undertaken by the penal system's senior authorities to guarantee the fundamental rights of the prison population, within a climate of order and respect it owes to any correctional system.

The delegation takes pleasure in noting that the Ministry of Justice has stated its intention of taking a number of initiatives aimed at the internal reorganization of the prison administration system in order to reduce the loss of human life, including swift intervention and investigation whenever violence breaks out inside a prison. Another initiative by the Minister is linked to a proposal of the President of the Republic to pardon all accused persons whose maximum sentences would exceed their probable sentence under existing law. Other measures include increased recreational, cultural, and educational activities; the construction of libraries; and the creation of a manufacturing industry to produce school desks under a cooperation agreement.

The working group of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommends to the appropriate authorities that they apply international human rights standards and take urgent steps to correct the appalling situation witnessed during this visit. In this context, the delegation of the Commission states its desire to work with the Government of Venezuela within its area of competence in order to help strengthen domestic and international mechanisms for the purpose of improving the country's prison conditions.

The Commission wishes to express its gratitude to the Government of Venezuela in the person of its President, Dr. Rafael Caldera; to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas; to the Minister of Justice, Dr. Henrique Meier; and to the other governmental and state authorities for the hospitality, facilities and cooperation offered to make this visit a success, as well as the nongovernmental and private organizations whose frank and lucid assessments were a valuable contribution to this mission.

Caracas, May 17, 1996

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Nº 11/96

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issues this announcement with profound sorrow:

Fernando Volio Jiménez, a distinguished Costa Rican jurist, died at age 71 as a result of a cardiac arrest on Tuesday, May 21, 1996, at his home in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, San José, Costa Rica.

Dr. Volio Jiménez held many important posts and left an indelible mark in the field of human rights. He was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States for three years.

In recent years, Dr. Volio Jiménez served as Rector of La Salle University. For many years, he taught at various universities in Costa Rica.

He held various public posts in his diplomatic career, including that of minister of foreign affairs. He also served as a member and secretary of the Costa Rican delegation to the Central American foreign ministers' meeting which launched the General Secretariat of the Organization of Central American States (OCAS) in Antigua, Guatemala.

Dr. Volio Jiménez served as Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations, Vice President of the United Nations General Assembly, and a member of the United Nations General Assembly's Special Committee on Charter Reform.

He also received various honors, including honorary president for life of the Costa Rican Literary, Artistic, and Scientific Works Association, and Knight Commander of the Order of Isabel La Católica of Spain.

He is survived by his wife, María Luisa Echeverría Casoria, and four children.

Washington, D.C., May 23, 1996


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Nº 12/96


Due to the interest the proposed Inter-American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has generated, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has decided to expand the period for consultation with Governments and indigenous organizations until November 30th of this year, in order to revise and submit it for consideration by the OAS General Assembly in 1997.

Since the approval of a draft text by the IACHR in October 1995, many consultative activities have already been completed. They have generated proposals on human rights, cultural, political organizational, and economic rights of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. The IACHR requested comments from more than 200 organizations and Governments. Many indigenous peoples have analyzed and discussed its text in their community assemblies and meetings. Internationally, the Draft Declaration was reviewed in meetings with indigenous representatives and experts at the World Meeting of Indigenous Peoples in Arequipa, Peru in October 1995; at a seminar of the Canadian Bar Association also in October 1995; at a special meeting convoked by the Canadian Foundation for Latin America and the Caribbean (FOCAL) in Ottawa, Canada, in February 1996; at a special meeting called by the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights in Guatemala in February 1996; and in May 1996 in Denver, Colorado, at a meeting organized by the Council of Energy Resources Tribes (CERT-IORD) with representatives of 134 indigenous organizations of the United States and Canada.

The Draft Declaration has had wide dissemination. It was published in several technical publications and journals in the Americas and Europe; and is accessible at INTERNET already ( The IACHR, with the authors' agreement, will make available to the public comments already received from Governments and institutions.

The IACHR has decided to stimulate and participate, within its resources, in different regional and national consultations to be realized in 1996, organized by indigenous sectors and by Governments to further disseminate the Draft Declaration and to prepare comments on it. The Inter-American Indian Institute and the Unit for Promotion of Democracy (OAS) will cooperate in this endeavor.

Washington, D.C., May 28, 1996


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Nº 13/96

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has been informed of a communique issued in Colombia on May 28, 1996, attributed to a group that is holding Juan Carlos Gaviria captive and is threatening to "execute" him if the group's demands are not met.

In view of the seriousness of this news, the IACHR at a time when its officers are in Panama City attending the twenty-sixth regular session of the OAS General Assembly, feels it is urgently necessary to issue this press release.

It is the Commission's repeatedly stated legal doctrine that there is no cause whatever that can justify "execution" of a defenseless person who is completely at his captors' mercy.

The IACHR has stated over and over again that it is dedicated and committed to the defense and promotion of human rights throughout the hemisphere, particularly such essential rights as the right to life and the right to personal safety. The Commission has never accepted any argument that attempts to justify violation of these rights.

Even in the case of armed attacks, both domestic and international, International Humanitarian Law — the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols — expressly and absolutely prohibit summary executions. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights expressly stipulates, with regard to states of emergency, that the right to life is absolute with no exception of any kind. This protection of the right to life is so important that violations of that right cannot be justified even in reprisal to violations of any kind committed by the other side in a conflict.

For the international community, failure to respect this prohibition is a serious violation, an international crime, over which there is universal jurisdiction. This type of crime is not classified as political. Accordingly neither the right of asylum nor the statute of limitations apply to it.

The most diverse schools of thought have agreed that legal and ethical doctrine recognizes, even in conflict situations, the essential values of respect for human dignity.

The Commission has steadfastly, consistently and uniformly expressed the same position, with absolute independence and objectivity, regarding both governments and nongovernmental groups in the hemisphere. It has done so, as is public knowledge, in situations that have arisen in a number of OAS member states, including Colombia.

Whatever the reasons given and regardless of any claims of justice or injustice that the group holding Juan Carlos Gaviria captive may use to explain its actions, kidnapping and taking the life of a defenseless person can never be justified under the rules and principles of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

It is with the legitimacy and credibility of its unfailing support for human rights that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights publicly urges in this press release that the group holding Juan Carlos Gaviria captive respect his life and his personal safety.

Panama City, June 3, 1996


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Nº 14/96

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today began an on-site visit to Mexico, to observe the human rights situation in that member state of the Organization of American States. The visit is being undertaken at the invitation of the Government of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León.

Its first visit to Mexico, the IACHR has placed great importance on this mission. The Commission has conducted similar visits to almost all OAS member states since it was established.

The members of the Commission are: Dean Claudio Grossman (Chairman), Ambassador John S. Donaldson (First Vice Chairman), Carlos Ayala Corao (Second Vice Chairman), Dr. Oscar Luján Fappiano, Ambassador Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé and Professor Richard Goldman.

As independent experts, the seven members are elected to a four-year term on the Commission by the OAS General Assembly and represent all the member states of the Organization.

During this visit, the IACHR will receive technical support from Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, the Commission's Executive Secretary, and from Assistant Executive Secretaries Domingo E. Acevedo and David Padilla, as well as attorneys Osvaldo Kreimer and Ibrahim García. Martha Keller and Tania Hernández will provide administrative support.

One of principal organs through which the Organization of American States carries out its functions, the IACHR's functions include promoting, observance and defense of human rights in the Hemisphere and serving as a consultative body in the field.

The Commission essentially derives its powers from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The latter instrument was ratified by Mexico on April 3, 1982.

The visit is being conducted under the provisions of the American Convention and in accordance with the rules governing the Commission's operations.

Under those rules, when governments issue an invitation for an onsite visit such as this one, they provide the Commission all the necessary facilities to undertake its mission.

During the visit, which ends on July 24, the IACHR will meet with the President and senior Federal Government officials, including the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, officials from the Judiciary, representatives of Congress, the National Human Rights Commission, officials from the Federal Electoral Tribunal and from the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Baja California, church officials, political leaders, media representatives, and nongovernmental human rights organizations.

As is the norm during such visits, while in Mexico, the Commission will take complaints from interested parties, directly or through their representatives, alleging that their human rights have been violated. It will also take any information from those with cases filed with the Commission. The Commission has set up an office at the Crowne Plaza Hotel for that purpose. It will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The IACHR will be working in Mexico City and in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Baja California where they will meet with state officials and community representatives.

The Commission has expressed appreciation to the Government of Mexico for the cooperation it received from federal and state government officials and from the representatives of nongovernmental organizations, personalities and institutions in the society in preparing for this visit.

In concluding its visit, the Commission will hold a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Mexico City on July 24, 1996, at 1:3 p.m.

Mexico City, July 15, 1996