INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
On Tuesday, February 17 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, meeting to hold its 98th regular session at IACHR headquarters in Washington, D.C., elected its officers by unanimous vote of the Commissions members. The young Venezuelan jurist, Carlos Ayala Corao was elected Chairman of the Commission, while Professor Robert K. Goldman and Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé were elected First and Second Vice Chairman, respectively. Under the OAS Charter, the IACHR is the principal organ in charge of promoting the observance of human rights throughout the Americas. The Commission is composed of seven members, elected in a personal capacity by the member states of the Organization.
In the past, other illustrious Venezuelans, such as Rómulo Gallegos, Andrés Aguilar, and Marco Tulio Bruni Celli have held the important position of Chairman of the Commission. At age 40, Carlos Ayala Corao has become the youngest ever Chairman in the history of the IACHR. Ayala Corao is a Professor of Public Law (Constitutional and Administrative) at Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) and Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) (both in Venezuela), and President of the Venezuelan Association of Constitutional Law (Asociación Venezolana de Derecho Constitucional). Ayala Corao obtained his law degree "cum laude" at UCAB, pursued postgraduate studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and was a Fulbright scholar at the United States Library of Congress. He is also the author of several legal texts on constitutional, administrative, and human rights-related issues.
Robert K. Goldman, the new First Vice Chairman of the Commission, is a United States citizen and Professor at the College of Law, American University, Washington, D.C. He has been a member of the Commission and Rapporteur for several countries and for the issue of internal displacement since 1996. Professor Goldman is a specialist in international humanitarian law, human rights, and forced internal displacement.
Jean Joseph Exumé is a citizen of Haiti and served as Minister of Justice for his country. Dr. Exumé has also been a member of the Commission for the past two years, as well as Rapporteur for several countries. He has been Secretary of the Council of the Order of Lawyers of the Port au Prince Bar Association and adviser to several lawyers organizations in his country.
Carlos Ayala Corao takes up the chair of the IACHR at an important moment for the Organization, when the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the OAS and, in particular, of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, has prompted a process of reflection on the need to strengthen the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. The refusal by important countries to accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court, and by others to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, poses major challenges for the future of a system of inter-American integration, which requires equal acceptance and adoption of common minimum standards in these areas. The reaffirmation of human rights in the new democratic era for the Americas has reinforced the need to enhance the value of the rule of law and of democracies themselves.
The IACHR has functions relating to the settlement of petitions in cases of individuals denouncing violation of their human rights by any member state of the OAS, once domestic remedies are deemed exhausted. The IACHR also conducts observation visits to states; drafts general reports on the situation of human rights, in which it makes recommendations; and engages in other promotion activities, including drafting proposed declarations of rights, and seminars. The IACHR has appointed special rapporteurs on hemispheric issues, such as prison conditions, rights of indigenous peoples, womens rights, and rights of migrant workers. The IACHR is currently defining the mandate for the important post of Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The IACHR annually presents a public report to the OAS General Assembly, in which it publishes its decisions on individual cases, its activities and those of its rapporteurs, proposed declarations, and resolutions. The IACHR Annual Report also has an important chapter containing special reports, based on objective criteria, on the situation of human rights in the countries of the Americas.
Washington, D.C., February 18, 1998
1. The 98th Regular Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission" or the "IACHR")" concluded on March 6, 1998. The following members participated in that session: Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, President; Dr. Robert K. Goldman, First Vice-President; Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, Second Vice-President; Ambassador Alvaro Tirado Mejía; Dean Claudio Grossman; and, Dr. Hélio Bicudo.
2. During that session, the Commission discussed its Annual Report for 1997, which will be presented to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in June of this year.
I. INDIVIDUAL CASES
3. During its 98th Regular Session, the Commission took up numerous individual petitions involving human rights violations alleged to be committed by OAS member states. The Commission adopted decisions in a total of 39 cases.
A. Substantive reports
4. Pursuant to Article 51(3) of the Convention and Articles 48, 53, and 54 of its Regulations, the Commission decided to publish decisions on the merits of the following cases:
5. The other decisions reached by the Commission were adopted pursuant to Articles 50 and 51 (paragraphs 1 and 2) of the American Convention, according to which a certain period must lapse before the IACHR decides to publish them.
B. Friendly settlement reports
6. The Commission also decided to publish a report on friendly settlement in the case of Gustavo Gorriti (Report No. 15/98, Case 11,791, Panama).
C. Admissibility reports
7. The Commission also adopted public decisions on admissibility in the following cases:
D. Precautionary measures
8. During its session, the IACHR considered various requests submitted for precautionary measures to avoid irreparable damage to persons. In cases in which the conditions required under the Regulations were duly verified, the Commission decided to request the states in question to adopt measures to avoid irreparable damage, and to inform the Commission of the measures adopted at the earliest possible date. Since the last session, there have been 27 instances in which certain member states have been requested to adopt precautionary measures in various cases.
E. Cases and proceedings before the Inter-American Court
9. Since its last session, the Commission has taken various steps in relation to the 14 cases in litigation and the 7 proceedings involving provisional measures, which are currently before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The IACHR has also participated in the proceedings related to request for advisory opinion OC-15, and it has undertaken to prepare its observations on request for advisory opinion OC-16.
10. On January 9, 1998, the IACHR referred to the Inter-American Court Case No. 11,730 (Gustavo Cesti Hurtado) against the State of Peru. The case has to do with the detention and imprisonment of the victim, and to his indictment in a military court, in spite of a final order to the contrary. Likewise, on January 16, 1998, the Commission submitted to the Court Case No. 11,325 (Baena et al) against the State of Panama, which involves 270 persons affected by the events that occurred as of December 14, 1990, when Law No. 25 was approved. Pursuant to this law, hundreds of public employees were arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs. These workers, who had participated in a demonstration to protest labor conditions, were accused of complicity with a military protest. They were subsequently denied guarantees of due process when they lodged complaints with the domestic courts. The case involves 270 persons, to whom the aforesaid Law No. 25 was applied retroactively.
11. During the present session, the State of Ecuador presented to the IACHR a proposal for a friendly settlement to the Benavides Case, which was submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in March 1996. The Commission appreciates the initiative taken by the State in acknowledging the Courts international responsibility in the case, and it will be in contact with the victims to consider the proposal.
II. REPORTS OF SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS
A. Right to freedom of expression
12. The commission defined the mandate and the working procedures to be applied to its Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression created at the last regular meeting of the Commission.
13. The IACHRs competence to consider matters related to freedom of expression is based on the provisions of Articles 13 and 41, subparagraphs a., b., c., d., f., and g. of the American Convention on Human Rights, on Article IV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and on Article 18, subparagraphs a., b., c., d., f., and g. of the Commissions Statute.
14. The IACHR has dealt with freedom of expression issues through its system of individual petitions, involving cases of censorship, unpunished crimes against journalists, and threats and restrictions to the media. It has also dealt with these issues in special reports, covering issues such as "desacato" laws (laws criminalizing insults or injury to public officials), and it has analyzed the status of this human right in on-site visits and in its general reports. It has also adopted precautionary measures to ensure prompt action in cases that required urgent steps to be taken.
15. The decision to create an office of the special rapporteur on freedom of expression is aimed at substantially reinforcing these activities and at significantly enhancing the IACHRs capacity to protect this important right in the Americas, and thereby make it stronger. To this end, the Commission reiterates the importance of freedom of expression to the existence and development of a democratic society and a constitutional state, not to mention to the existence and development of other human rights.
16. The mandate of this office of the special rapporteur includes the following promotional and protective activities:
17. To perform this work, the IACHR has decided to appoint a special rapporteur who will work on a full-time basis at the Commissions headquarters. This person will be responsible for preparing the reports and carrying out the activities indicated under the above item 16, which will then be submitted to the Commission for its consideration.
18. This special rapporteur, to be referred to as the "Special Rapporteur of the IACHR for Freedom of Expression," must meet the requirements of eligibility, independence, and integrity essential to perform the duties in question.
19. One or more IACHR Commissioners will be responsible for ensuring coordination with the Office of the Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. They will be assisted by a working group made up of themselves, plus the Executive Secretary and three persons from various sectors involved in this area.
20. To allow for the appointment of the Special Rapporteur and for the adequate performance of the duties involved, the IACHR has decided to set up a Voluntary Fund on Freedom of Expression. This Fund, open to contributions from member states, observers, multilateral organizations, cooperation agencies, foundations, and private institutions, will be managed by the Executive Secretariat to finance and budget the activities of the Office of the Special Rapporteur.
21. Finally, the IACHR would like to make it clear that it has established this Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and defined its mandate out of a deep-seated conviction that by so doing, it will make a fundamental contribution to promoting and protecting this important freedom, which is critical to the development of democracy in the hemisphere. The IACHR urges states and civil society to support this initiative, and to take any steps that will enable this right to achieve its full effect in our hemisphere.
B. Rights of migrant workers and their families
22. The IACHR also considered the report on the status of issues related to the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers, under the responsibility of Commissioner Alvaro Tirado Mejía, and it approved two questionnaires on these workers and their families, which will be sent out in the coming weeks. One will be sent to OAS member states, and the other to nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations involved in this area. To strengthen the work in this field done by the Commission, it decided to establish a Voluntary Fund on Migrant Workers and their Families, which is open to contributions from member states, observers, multilateral organizations, cooperation agencies, foundations, and private institutions. At the same time, future initiatives to be developed by the IACHR were planned, to ensure that the work on the final report on the status of migrant workers and their families in the hemisphere will continue to move forward.
C. Rights of women
23. Also during this session, the IACHR considered and approved the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, Dean Claudio Grossman. The report scrutinizes the legislation and practices of states in complying with the obligation to respect the rights of women, as established in the American Convention and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The report, which will be included in extenso in the Annual Report, was drafted on the basis of a questionnaire sent out to all the states in the hemisphere.
24. The report begins by outlining the institutional and legal structure of the inter-American system of human rights, and the way that member states may use it to remedy defects or shortcomings in their domestic system that prevent these rights from being fully exercised. The Rapporteur proceeds to explain the methodology of his study and analysis, and he presents his initial conclusions, based on the information gathered, with regard to certain key issues, including the following ones: institutional and legal guarantees at national level; legal capacity; right to participate in public affairs; right to life, to humane treatment, and to freedom from violence; and, the right to equality before the law and to be free from discrimination.
25. The report concludes with the Commissions recommendations on the following matters: elimination of cases of de facto and de jure discrimination that prevent women from fully exercising their rights; analysis of the consequences of such discrimination; and, development of initiatives to fulfill these objectives within the regional system. Among the key recommendations are those directed to member states to take immediate steps to identify and reform laws and practices that have the purpose or effect of discrimination for reasons of gender, so that all such cases can be eliminated before the year 2000. In addition, it is crucial for member states to evaluate the legal remedies provided in their domestic laws, with a view to making them more accessible and effective. The Rapporteur recommended that, in the coming year, the Commission place special emphasis on the rights of women, on the problem of violence against women, and on use of mechanisms in the inter-American system of human rights to counter such violence.
26. At the same time, the Commission decided to set up a working group to promote and protect womens rights, in keeping with its powers and jurisdiction, and to enhance the participation of governments and civil society in that work.
27. The Commission wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and of the following nongovernmental organizations: "Norma Virginia Guirola de Herrera" Womens Research Institute - CEMUJER (El Salvador); and, the Womens Research Center CEM-H (Honduras), with headquarters in Tegucigalpa. They provided substantive answers to the questionnaire on which the draft report is based. The commission appreciates the interest and cooperation shown by these states and organizations, by the experts consulted by the rapporteur, and by other institutions in the system, such as the Inter-American Commission of Women and the Pan American Health Organization. It understands that this interest reflects the priority that has been given to advancing womens status throughout the region.
28. The human rights obligations assumed by states when they became members of the Organization of American States provided a basis for action at local level. In a democratic system, the responsibility for guaranteeing protection of individual rights necessarily falls first and foremost on the national government. The Commissions decision to designate a special rapporteur, the rapporteurs report on national legislation and practices, and the ensuing recommendations represent a concentrated effort to create and strengthen national initiatives and to work with the governments of the member states and civil society in strengthening the status of womens rights in the Americas.
29. During this session, the Commission established a Voluntary Fund on Womens Rights, which is open to contributions from member states, observers, multilateral organizations, cooperation agencies, foundations, and private institutions. The Office of the Rapporteur on Womens Rights was created during the 85th Session.
30. The Commission is confident that the voluntary funds established in conjunction with the three rapporteur offices mentioned will receive the necessary support, so that they can meet their objective of moving towards full protection for the rights of women and migrant workers and their families, and for the right to freedom of expression.
D. Conditions in detention centers and prisons
31. During this Session, the commission pursued its consideration of issues related to the Report on Prison Conditions in the Americas, under the responsibility of the Rapporteurs for this topic, namely, Commissioners Jean Joseph Exumé and Hélio Bicudo.
III. AMERICAN DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
32. The Commission discussed the status of the Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the IACHR last year, at the proposal of the Rapporteur, Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, and the Commissioner at the time, Ambassador John Donaldson. This declaration is currently being reviewed by the political bodies of the OAS and the member states. The Commission urged that the process initiated by the General Assembly be moved forward, so that the Declaration can be promptly approved. More specifically, the IACHR called on member states to cooperate with the Meeting of Government Experts in their work on the subject, as set forth in the timetable established by the General Assembly.
IV. INTER-AMERICAN PROGRAM TO PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS
33. During this session, the Commission also took up a proposal for an Inter-American Program for Promotion of Human Rights, prepared at the request of the 1997 General Assembly. It decided to refer this proposal to the OAS Permanent Council for its consideration. The purpose of this program is to encourage and coordinate activities already under way and others to be developed, with the cooperation of inter-American organizations, national public institutions, and civil society. It will focus on the following three main areas: disseminating the laws and regulations, practices, and jurisprudence of the inter-American system; strengthening national human rights institutions; and, introducing the teaching of human rights into the educational system.
V. HEARINGS AND MEETINGS
34. In the course of this Session, the Commission held 50 hearings in relation to general issues of human rights, the status of human rights in the various OAS member states, and to individual cases being reviewed by the Commission. During the hearings, the Commission heard representatives of states and persons affected by alleged violations. The general subjects taken up included the right to freedom of expression, electoral fraud, economic and social rights, and application of the death penalty. Some of the hearings held are referred to below.
35. At the hearing held on February 24, 1998, involving Case No. 11,868 (Carlos and Pedro Restrepo), the Republic of Ecuador formally and specifically acknowledged its international responsibility for the acts reported, and the parties agreed to engage in proceedings for a friendly settlement based on the respect of human rights. The Commission would like to express its satisfaction at the important step taken by the Ecuadorian government. During this Session, the IACHR also met with representatives of the state and the petitioners to initiate the proceedings stipulated in Article 48.1.f of the American Convention.
36. During this session, the Commission held a hearing on the precautionary measures requested in conjunction with the Acteal Massacre in Chiapas, Mexico, in which 45 persons were murdered by a group of armed civilians. The IACHR asked the Mexican state to adopt precautionary measures as a result of that event, which took place on December 22, 1997. During the hearing, the Assistant Public Prosecutor [Subprocurador], José Luis Ramos Rivera, spoke on behalf of the state, citing the investigations that had taken place and the fact that 59 persons had been indicted for the serious offenses. The Commission decided to maintain the precautionary measures, under which the state is required to provide periodic reports on the investigations being conducted and the measures put in place to protect the civilian population of the region.
37. As for Report 43/96, it refers to the case of General Juan Francisco Gallardo in Mexico, who remains in custody. Since the recommendations made in Report 43/96 have not been acted on to date, the Commission held a hearing on the subject during its 98th Session, and decided to ask the Mexican government to provide information on the enactment of these measures.
38. Reference should also be made to the hearing held by the Commission with regard to several cases in Colombia, which were engaged in proceedings for a friendly settlement. The Commission takes special note of the information received on the Villatina case, which involves the massacre of a group of eight young people and children in a neighborhood of Medellín. The Colombian state decided to acknowledge its international responsibility in this case to the Commission. As a result, the petitioners indicated that they would like to continue the proceedings for a friendly settlement, and the state gave its consent to that proposal. The Commission adopted a resolution expressing its appreciation to the state for acknowledging its responsibility, and confirming that the proceedings for a friendly settlement would continue, to resolve the pending issues related to the administration of justice, individual compensation for damages, and the community reparations projects.
39. After holding a hearing on Colombian Cases Nos.11,531 (Oscar Iván Andrade Salcedo) and 11,525 (Roison Mora Rubiano), the parties reported to the Commission that they were moving towards signing an agreement for a friendly settlement. The IACHR appreciates this important initiative.
40. At the hearing requested by the "Twentieth Century Fund", its Vice-President, Morton Halperin, suggested that, to follow up on the Washington Protocol, the Commission support a hemispheric declaration that would establish the individual responsibility of persons who impair democratic instititutionality by acts such as a coup detat. The commission will study this proposal.
41. On February 20, 1998, the Commission held a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago to discuss its concern over recent official instructions issued in that country on procedures for death penalty cases in Trinidad and Tobago.
VI. ON SITE VISITS
42. During its session, the IACHR considered matters related to preparations for various on-site visits scheduled to be made in the course of this year. At the invitations of the respective governments, the Commission will conduct on-site visits of a general nature in Haiti, Peru, and Guatemala. It will also visit certain locations in the United States to study the program of immigration centers and migrant workers and their families.
43. The Commission also reviewed the results of the on-site visit to Colombia December 1-8, 1997, for the purpose of observing the general human rights situation in the country. Ambassador John Donaldson, Professor Carlos Ayala Corao, Professor Robert K. Goldman, Dean Claudio Grossman, Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, and Dr. Hélio Bicudo went on that visit. The following persons from the Secretariat also participated: Ambassador. Jorge Taiana, Executive Secretariat; Dr. David Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; and Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, Dr. Denise Gilman, and Dr. Mario López Garelli. The Commission decided to approve an initial outline of the special report, which is being prepared.
44. The Commission received information during this session that two persons who had been interviewed by the Commission during its on-site visit to Colombia had subsequently been murdered. The first of them is the former mayor of Puerto Asís, Putumayo, Alcibiades Enciso, who had met with various members of this Commission there. Mr. Enciso was murdered on January 30 in Cali. The second person is Dr. Jesús María Valle, President of the "Hector Abad Gómez" Standing Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. He had assisted the Commission in preparing its nongovernmental agenda in Medellín, and had also reported on the human rights situation in Antioquia to the Commission during its stay in that city. Dr. Valle was murdered on February 27 at his office in Medellín. As in all cases of attacks on defenders of human rights, the IACHR vehemently condemns these very serious violations of the right to life and the right to freedom of thought and expression. The Commission would remind the Colombian state and all OAS member states that subparagraph a) of Article 59 of its Regulations specifically states that in the case of on-site visits, the government must "grant the pertinent guarantees to all those who provide the Commission with information, testimony, or evidence of any kind."
45. The Commission reviewed the report of the status of human rights in Mexico, prepared on the basis of reports and information received before, during, and after the on-site visit by the Commission to the country in July 1996. In addition, the IACHR has also made progress in drawing up reports on human rights in the Dominican Republic, which it visited in June 1997, and in Canada, where it made its on-site visit in October 1997.
VII. FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OAS
46. On March 5 and 6, 1998, the Commission participated in the Conference of the Americas, an event organized by the OAS as part of the events celebrating the Organizations 50th anniversary. The event included a panel on human rights, with the participation of Professor Carlos Ayala Corao, President of the Commission.
47. The Commission also confirmed that it would attend various events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAS to be held April 28, 29, and 30, 1998 in Bogota, Colombia, at the kind invitation of that government. Commissioner Alvaro Tirado Mejía is in charge of coordinating that event. On April 29 of that year, the Commission participated in an academic event to celebrate the anniversary of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The Commission indicated that it had a special interest in this significant event, because it commemorates the first international instrument in the area of human rights.
VIII. SPECIAL EVENT
48. The Commission decided to organize a special event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the 100th Session of the IACHR. This event will take place next October, and it will highlight the importance of the commitment of OAS member states to strengthening human rights and democracy in the hemisphere.
* * * * * *
49. The IACHR decided to hold its 99th special session in Caracas, May 4 to 8, in response to the cordial invitation extended by the Venezuelan government. The session is called on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the OAS Charter and the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Washington, D.C., March 6, 1998