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Nº 15/98


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concludes today, August 11, 1998, its on-site visit conducted at the invitation of the Government of Guatemala, in order to observe the current human rights situation in this country.

The following Members of the Commission participated in the visit: Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao, Chairman of the IACHR; Dean Claudio Grossman and Professor Hélio Bicudo. The Commission received technical support from its Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana; from Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David Padilla; and from attorneys Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, and Verónica Gómez. Mrs. Martha Keller and Mrs. Ana Cecilia Adriazola provided administrative support.

The Commission is an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) in charge of promoting in an impartial manner the observance and defense of human rights in the hemisphere. The Commission’s powers derive fundamentally from the American Convention on Human Rights (the "American Convention") and the very Charter of the OAS, these instruments having been ratified by Guatemala. Accordingly, the Commission investigates and pronounces on complaints of human rights violations, conducts on-site visits (such as the current visit in Guatemala), and drafts proposed treaties and declarations on human rights, as well as preparing reports on human rights in the countries of the region. The Commission is composed of seven members elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly for a term of four years.

Today in the afternoon the IACHR Delegation will meet with the President of the Republic, Mr. Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen. During its stay in Guatemala, the Commission also met with senior government officials, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other ministers; the Presidents and several members of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court; the Speaker of the Congress and representatives of various congressional committees; and the Chairwoman of the Presidential Commission for Coordinating Executive Branch Policy on Human Rights Matters (COPREDEH) [Comisión Presidencial Coordinadora de la Política del Ejecutivo en Materia de Derechos Humanos].

The Commission also had the opportunity to conduct interviews with many human rights nongovernmental organizations, social organizations, trade union leaders, business lobbies, representatives of indigenous communities, journalists, and alleged victims of human rights violations, inter alia (see annex). The Commission also held meetings with the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) and with international organizations, such as, the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Commission visited the Pavón Model Rehabilitation Farm; the Preventive Detention Centers of "Pavoncito", Santa Teresa, Zone 18; and the juvenile detention centers of "Los Gorriones" and "Las Gaviotas". The IACHR Delegation also traveled to Nebaj where it met local officials, human rights nongovernmental organizations, other grassroots groups, and a large number of individuals and representatives of indigenous communities. The Commission also visited Quetzaltenango where it met with the Mayor.

The Commission would like to state that during the course of this visit it was provided all necessary facilities and unfettered freedom to meet with all the people it saw fit, as well as to travel to any part of Guatemalan territory. The Government of Guatemala cooperated fully and completely with the IACHR, which enabled it to pursue a vast program of activities. The Commission would like to emphasize that the invitation extended by the Government of President Arzú to conduct an on-site visit reveals the importance that is now attached to the issue of human rights.

The extensive and complex information received will be analyzed in depth at the Commission’s next regular meeting, which will be held at its headquarters in October 1998, with a view thereafter to preparing a report on the situation of human rights in Guatemala.

The foregoing notwithstanding, in concluding its visit, the Commission would like first to make some preliminary observations on issues of a general nature relating to the promotion and protection of human rights, followed by some observations on specific issues that came to its attention during this visit.



This is the Commission’s first visit to Guatemala since the signing of the Peace Agreements on December 29, 1996. The IACHR has been able to verify that Guatemala is in transition through a new reality in which, while there are still many problems impairing full respect for human rights, many efforts are underway to strengthen democracy and consolidate the rule of law.

Peace has created immensely valuable spaces for dialogue and exchange of opinion and has encouraged the development of civil society. The IACHR was able to verify the existence of hundreds of organizations of the most diverse possible positions that channel and provide a means of expression for valuable forms of dialogue and participation.

The Commission was also able to ascertain that the peace process has placed concerns on the Guatemalan people’s agenda that are essential to the growth and consolidation of a democratic system. Included among these concerns are the creation of an independent judiciary that is perceived as fair, modern, and effective; recognition of the just aspirations of indigenous communities; development of a respected and respectable Civilian National Police (Policía Nacional Civil); redefinition of the role of the armed forces with a focus on external security; achievement of a society that is both free from gender discrimination, and offers legal and real equality to men and women alike; and progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights that enable all Guatemalans, without discrimination, to aspire to a life of dignity with equal opportunity.

The inclusion of these concerns on the country’s agenda and in national debates is valuable as a first condition for progressing in the creation, consolidation, or enhancement of important institutions and values of human dignity, which are crucial to the success of the transition and the peace process.

The Commission wishes to reiterate its resolute support for a process that has put an end to over 35 years of internal armed conflict. The climate resulting from that conflict is a heavy burden that, sadly, is impossible to throw off from one day to the next. The spread of a culture of tolerance, of respect for the law, and rejection of impunity, requires an effort from all Guatemalans, efforts that the international community has accompanied and will continue to do so in a mutually supportive manner.

The IACHR has seen that the many instances of dialogue and cooperation created by the Peace Agreements provide an immensely useful climate for making headway in the consolidation of those agreements. The Commission, furthermore, is aware, both of the difficulties involved in that task and in all that remains to be achieved, and of the displays of frustration with the progress of the process by some social organizations. The IACHR takes the liberty to point out that those difficulties should not be cause to lose sight either of the importance of what has been accomplished or of the need to preserve and strengthen the spaces of cooperation and participation in place.

The IACHR considers the mandate consigned to the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) to be of supreme importance to the consolidation of peace and reconciliation in Guatemala. In this regard, the IACHR was informed of the progress of the work carried out to date by the CEH, and awaits the culmination of its efforts with high expectations.

We underscore the importance of the Peace Agreements as instruments for moving forward with the task of constructing a more democratic, fair, and tolerant country where there is respect for human rights. We call on the State and civil society to redouble their efforts to bring about full implementation of these agreements. We especially acknowledge the contribution that the presence and reports of the MINUGUA has made to the observance of human rights and the process of strengthening the rule of law in Guatemala.


During its stay in Guatemala, the Commission received valuable testimonies on the issues of citizen security and safety, violence, and crime, which seriously obstruct the real exercise of civil rights and, therefore, hinder progress in the enhancement and consolidation of the rule of law. International experience shows that in order to combat crime effectively it is necessary to set up well-trained, well-equipped and well-paid police forces that wage a clean war against crime. In this regard, the IACHR was informed about the progress achieved by the new Civilian National Police and their effect on reducing crime rates. Combating crime also depends on the structure and set-up of an Interior Ministry capable of conducting proper investigations and securing indictments in criminal proceedings; on an independent and professional judiciary that, via due process of law enforces the punishments permitted under the law; and a penal system that serves to confine criminal offenders for the duration of their punishments. Having said that, the IACHR would like to recall the fact that effectively combating crime is associated with promoting values of tolerance and strengthening the fabric of society via education and economic development. It has been demonstrated that every additional year of education received by the population as a whole geometrically reduces the amount of criminal offenses committed in society. On occasions during its visit the IACHR has mentioned the compatibility and interdependence between human rights and effectively combating crime in the framework of the rule of law.

During its visit, the IACHR has been informed of serious occurrences involving lynchings that have taken place in Guatemala. The IACHR emphatically condemns lynchings for being not only abhorrent acts in themselves, but also criminal offenses that should be punished.


The promotion and protection of human rights is, without a doubt, first and foremost a right and a duty of all Guatemalans. In an increasingly integrated world and hemisphere, the issues facing countries – of an economic, commercial, environmental, and security-related nature – acquire undeniably global connotations. The hemisphere has progressively created a community that views as crucial components the political legitimacy afforded by elected and democratic governments, and international recognition of essential values of human dignity gathered up in human rights treaties and provisions. In the framework of this new hemispheric reality, the international and regional community will continue to stand by the people and Government of Guatemala in the noble task of progressively advancing toward the full realization of human rights. By the same token, the valuable experience that Guatemala gains from building up its own democracy will increasingly contribute to the enrichment of the hemisphere as a whole.

During its stay the Commission noted the existence of initiatives designed to have Guatemala desist in its acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and even to withdraw from the American Convention (Pact of San José) to which 25 countries in the hemisphere are parties. Under international law, from a technical and legal point of view, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights would like to underscore that, as far as the cases currently pending over Guatemala are concerned, those initiatives, were they to achieve their objective, would not have the effect of excluding the cases currently covered by the inter-American system. Equally, pursuant to stipulations contained in the American Convention, any case arising while the Convention is applicable and in force may also be validly heard and judged by international organs. It should also be noted that the Commission exercises its mandate to promote observance and defense of human rights in respect not only of the states parties to the American Convention, but also of all OAS member states.

International law clearly provides that invocation of grounds of nullity or non-existence based on breach of domestic legal provisions (constitutional law included) lacks force when a State acknowledges, via its actions, the effect of the respective treaty. The State of Guatemala has voted in elections under the American Convention, has been a party in cases, and has explicitly recognized the effect of the American Convention and the jurisdiction of the Court. However, notwithstanding the technical and legal considerations that the Commission contributes to the debate underway in Guatemala, it has always been the Commission’s doctrine that crime should be fought in an integral manner and, and it is by strengthening the rule of law in every respect, not by its denial – and that includes respect for the international system of laws – that progress will be made toward achieving the security to which all Guatemalan citizens legitimately aspire. The IACHR would like to make it clear that the American Convention does not block the death penalty in cases involving crimes for which it is thus established under the domestic criminal laws at the moment of ratification. However, under the American Convention the Guatemalan State itself gave an undertaking before the community of states signatories that it would not subsequently extend application of the death penalty to new crimes. At all events, the IACHR stands by its position that effectively combating crime requires the application of legitimate punishments via due criminal process.


The IACHR cannot keep silent, in making these general observations, about the brutal murder of Monsignor Juan José Gerardi Conedera. The death of Monsignor Gerardi has sent not just Guatemala but also the whole hemisphere into mourning, and deprived us of a tireless champion for human rights, justice, and truth.

The Commission had a meeting with representatives of the Archbishop’s Office for Human Rights, to whom it expressed its solidarity, support, and recognition of the valuable work carried out in the report on the Interdiocesan Project for the Recovery of the Historic Memory (REMHI), which sheds new light on the tragic human rights violations committed in the past against the Guatemalan people.

In the course of its visit the IACHR has received various reports about the progress of the investigations under way to clear up the murder of Monsignor Gerardi. It took particular note of the dissatisfaction in that respect expressed by several sectors, including the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala. The Commission will continue to follow closely the progress of the investigation and exhorts all those with any responsibility in the investigation, in particular the Attorney General’s Office, to make every effort to get to the very bottom of the crime and to arrest and punish all those guilty of physically committing and conspiracy to commit the crime. The murder of Monsignor Gerardi must not go unpunished.


During its visit in Guatemala, the IACHR received testimonies and information from governmental and nongovernmental entities, as well as from many individuals from civil society on the issues mentioned below.


The IACHR was informed during its visit about the status of the Guatemalan Judicial Branch, including efforts and accomplishments as regards training judges, creation and appointment of new justices of the peace, community courts, and improved socioeconomic conditions for members of the Judiciary. The IACHR also received information on the shortcomings that continue to beset the Judicial Branch, including shortage of resources, pressures of various forms intended to compromise their independence, and lack of judicial training and the instability attendant thereupon. The IACHR also received information regarding impunity in cases of human rights violations involving both civilian and military agents of the State.

Nevertheless, the IACHR was also informed of some exemplary cases involving judges who preside in a responsible manner over proceedings against agents of the State who have violated human rights, and of judges who properly enforce international human rights instruments, such as the American Convention on Human Rights. In these and other cases, the IACHR received reports of harassment, threats, and pressures from various sources intent on compromising the independence of these judges.

The IACHR wishes to reiterate the importance for enhancing democracy and providing a framework for the rule of law of a Judiciary that is competent, professional, well-trained, independent, autonomous, and, in short, fair. The Judicial Branch is a barrier against abuse of power, it ensures legality over and above any personal desire, and, in sum, guarantees the rights of all persons. The Judiciary is also the civilized instrument used by society to settle the conflicts that occur every day. A society without a properly structured judiciary is prone to violence and self-destruction. The IACHR, therefore, calls upon the competent authorities and bodies in the Guatemalan State to continue implementing measures designed to set up independent, autonomous, and fair judges and tribunals. By that token, the IACHR will monitor very closely the reforms that have been proposed in Guatemala, as regards the running of the Judiciary and training for its members, access to justice, combating impunity, respect and support for the independence of judges, and effective development of judicial guarantees. 


During its visit the Commission was informed of the initiatives set in motion by the Government and civil society to build a multicultural, multilingual and multiethnic Guatemala free from discrimination and where there is respect for dignity and freedom of expression for all. Parliamentary and political debates are underway for enshrining these principles in the Constitution. The Commission was also informed of the progress in the education and health sectors, which are beginning to recognize the value and to make use of the abundance of indigenous communal and cultural structures in implementing their plans and projects. The Commission also notes with satisfaction, the ratification of ILO Agreement 169, which provides Guatemalan legislation with a frame of reference in these areas, and hopes to see it applied in full. The draft of the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, approved by the Commission and currently under consideration by the political bodies of the OAS, could broaden and strengthen that framework.

The Commission received information on initiatives designed to provide redress for the consequences of the conflict in indigenous areas in accordance with undertakings adopted via the social assistance funds (FONAPAZ, FONATIERRA, FONDIGUA, FIS). The Commission underscores the effective fulfillment of the friendly settlement agreement that was reached for providing redress to the communities of the Colotenango area, and for the investigation and punishment of those responsible for the violations in that case. The Commission has further noted the progress made toward fulfillment of recommendations regarding general situations, such as those relating to the Communities of Peoples in Resistance (CPR). The IACHR, however, received complaints about the lack of support from certain state institutions for the investigation into the whereabouts of the corpses of victims of various massacres. That investigation is only proceeding thanks to the efforts of civil society and community organizations.

The IACHR was given information by peasant and indigenous organizations about the ineffectiveness of certain state institutions, particularly the labor law courts "justicia laboral" and those of the INTA, in recognizing and giving effect to the rights of workers and indigenous communities. Complaints were also made about excessive use of force on the part of security forces in carrying out eviction orders in rural areas.

With a view to avoiding the proliferation of these conflicts, the IACHR wishes to point out the importance of granting legal security for property ownership, to which end it is vital that progress be made in the use of modern and transparent land titling and registry methods. The IACHR also received information about the situation of indigenous communities, for whom the lack of real access to independent and effective justice has very often translated into their being denied their rights and stripped of their property. The IACHR will perform a thorough examination of the information it has received and will refer to it in its final report.


The Commission received important testimonies from organizations and prominent figures in government and civil society concerned with women’s issues. The IACHR attaches the very highest importance to the existence of civil society organizations that provide a powerful mouthpiece for the private sector to express the aspirations of women and that enable civil society to participate in shaping policies aimed at attaining gender equality. The testimonies received praised both the Guatemalan Government’s ratification of the Convention of Belém do Pará on violence against women, and the passing of the law on domestic violence designed to enforce that Convention in Guatemala.

The IACHR was informed of the need to pass the regulations that would give effect to the above Convention and Law. In Guatemala and in the hemisphere as a whole domestic violence is an extremely important issue and a large obstacle that brutally obstructs the full realization of women’s rights. The IACHR was informed also that to eradicate domestic violence it was necessary for the people and Government of Guatemala to give considerably more impetus to education campaigns, adopt significant concrete measures at the institutional level, and funnel resources in amounts commensurate with the importance ascribed to such brutal violation of women’s rights. The Commission was also furnished with statistics on the degree to which women are represented in the business world, the judiciary, public administration, and ministries. The IACHR, too, expresses the hope that, in the framework of the peace processes, concrete initiatives will be implemented for achieving real equality between men and women.


Children and young people make up approximately half the Guatemalan population and constitute the richest source of potential and hope for the country’s development. The Commission is carefully studying the situation as regards their rights and freedoms. Article 19 of the American Convention states that, "Every minor child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a minor on the part of his family, society, and the state." Accordingly, the Commission values the fact that Guatemala has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child; however, it received information from various organizations querying why the Children’s Code (Código de la Niñez y la Juventud), designed to bring domestic law into line with the commitments accepted under the UN Convention, has not yet come into force. Consequently, according to reports the Commission received, there are still no legal safeguards to ensure, for instance, the right of the child to be provided legal assistance ex officio and to be heard in judicial proceedings, or the prohibition against holding minors in protective custody in detention centers for juvenile offenders.

At the same time, the IACHR was informed of important State initiatives, such as the opening up of new spaces for dialogue on children’s issues, adoption of the law against domestic violence, broadening of social assistance programs, such as the school breakfasts program, and access to medical care and education.

The Commission also received worrying information about the situation of child labor and prostitution, existence of illegal adoption networks, the situation of street children, violence against children, and the degree of impunity in these crimes. The IACHR was also presented with evidence of failure to guarantee the economic, social, and cultural rights of most children. Likewise, the IACHR will also refer to the important issue of children in its final report.


The Commission visited the Model Rehabilitation Farm known as Pavón, which is used to hold inmates serving out prison sentences, and the Preventive Detention Centers of ‘Pavoncito’, and Zone 18, all of which are situated in Guatemala City. There the Commission was informed about such aspects as security, sanitation, medical care, recreation, and rehabilitation of inmates. The Commission noted that there is a shortage of trained personnel at these institutions and that this situation has contributed, in some cases, to the adoption of a system of ‘discipline committees’ ruled by inmates themselves – and therefore out of the control of the State – and, in others, to the cutting back of recreation times, to the point of compromising the proper humane treatment of inmates. The conditions as regards sanitation, medical care, and recreation of persons held in preventive custody are unacceptable and a cause for concern.

The Commission visited the detention centers "Las Gaviotas" and "Los Gorriones", which are used, respectively, to hold male and female minors at the request of judges or whose participation in serious offenses has been determined. The Commission notes that, as a result of the centralization of the detention system in the capital, minors held on a judge’s orders very often lose contact with their families when the latter live in remote parts of the country, which seriously hinders their rehabilitation. The IACHR will make an in-depth assessment of all the information it has received on the prison system in its final report.


Various organizations and prominent figures in government and private sectors provided information to the IACHR on the status of economic, social, and cultural rights in Guatemala. Those sources stressed the fact that the majority of the population live in a state of poverty, while more than half live in conditions of extreme poverty and are unable to satisfy basic needs such as food, health, education, and housing. The result is that vast sectors of the population are excluded from social development. In the course of its visit, the Commission also took delivery of detailed information on positive initiatives intended to improve the coverage and quality of primary education in rural areas, and to broaden bilingual education and programs like school breakfasts and the Comprehensive Health Care System. The IACHR also received information on the ambitious commitments given under the Peace Agreements, such as, for instance, a 50% hike in public spending on education and health between 1995 and 2000, which will require raising tax revenue from 8% to 12% of GDP by 2000. The State has also committed to instituting a range of measures designed to boost the participation of the populace in various aspects of public administration, including social and rural development policies. The Commission will refer in its final report to these undertakings and their potential for enhancing the capacity of poor and disenfranchised sectors for participation in the country’s democratic system and national development.


In the course of its visit, the Commission has observed the major successes achieved in Guatemala, as well as the challenges facing the State and civil society in their efforts to establish and strengthen the conditions required to develop and enhance democratic institutions.

Therefore, it is heartening to see the involvement of broad sectors of Guatemalan society intent on the full realization of the commitments of the Peace Agreements for ensuring respect of the rights and freedoms of the individual. That aim presupposes strengthening Guatemala as a State governed in accordance with the rule of law, as well as enhancing its democracy on the political, social, and economic planes in a climate of dialogue, consensus, and tolerance. The IACHR will continue to stand by the people of Guatemala in their ongoing struggle to achieve full respect of human rights in a framework of peace.

Finally, the Commission would like to thank the Government of Guatemala, its President, Alvaro Arzú, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and all the other officials for their cooperation in this visit. The Commission would also like to express its gratitude to the nongovernmental organizations, civil society representatives, and private citizens, who, in a candid and objective manner, contributed with their information and documentation to the effective fulfillment of our aims during this visit.

 The IACHR will examine the information it has been furnished and will present its conclusions and definitive recommendations in its final report.


Guatemala, August 11, 1998



This afternoon, the IACHR Delegation will meet with the President of the Republic, Mr. Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen. During its stay in Guatemala, the Commission also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Eduardo Stein Barillas; the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Rodolfo Adrián Mendoza Rosales; the Minister of Labor and Social Security, Mr. Luis Felipe Linares; the Minister of Education, Mrs. Arabella Castro Quiñónez; the Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Héctor Mario Barrios Celada; the Minister of Public Health and Welfare, Mr. Marco Tulio Sosa Ramírez; Mr. Angel Alfredo Figueroa, President of the Supreme Court, as well as Justices of that organ; Mr. Rubén López Mijanjos, President of the Constitutional Court, together with Members thereof; Mr. Félix Castillo Milla, President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, along with its Members; the Speaker of the Congress, Mr. Rafael Barrios Flores, and officers of the Committees for Peace Studies, Human Rights, Women and the Family, and Indigenous Affairs; the State Attorney General and Head of the Justice Department, Mr. Adolfo González Rodas; the Chairwoman of COPREDEH, Mrs. Marta Altolaguirre; the State’s Attorney for Human Rights [Procurador de Derechos Humanos], Mr. Julio Eduardo Arango; Mrs. Raquel Zelaya Rosales, Coordinator of the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ); Mr. Enrique Godoy, Director of the National Fund for Peace (FONAPAZ); and Mr. José Luis Gándara, Executive Director, National Commission for Repatriates, Refugees, and Displaced Persons (CEAR).

The Commission also had meetings with nongovernmental organizations, including the Archbishop’s Office for Human Rights, Alliance against Impunity, National Coordinator on Human Rights in Guatemala, National Coordinator for Indigenous Peoples and Peasants, Peasant Unity Committee, Academy of Mayan Languages, COPRODIMU, Guatemalan Women’s Group, GRUFEPROMEFAM, COALM, CALDH Women’s Department, National Women’s Forum, CIPRODENI, CCOIPINGUA, National Council for the Disabled, Mack Foundation, Guatemalan Journalists’ Association, Guatemalan Chamber of Journalists, Rigoberta Mechú Tum Foundation, Advisory Assembly on Uprooted Peoples, Union for Alternative Development of the Kaqchikel Area, Center for the Defense of the Constitution, UNSITRAGUA, Guatemalan Workers’ Union, CACIF, and Neighborhood Watch.

In Nebaj, the Commission met with officials from the Mayor’s Office, nongovernmental groups, and the Movement of Uprooted Peoples Organized for the Development of North Quiché, Mayan Ombudsman’s Office [Defensoría Maya], CONAVIGUA, CIEDEG, Committee for Integral Development, other grassroots groups and a large number of private citizens. The Commission also visited Quetzaltenango where it met Mayor Rigoberto Quemé.


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Nº 16/98


 1. During its 100th session, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("the Commission" or "the IACHR") adopted the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico, by virtue of the competence attributed to it in the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 41), its Statute (Article 8) and the IACHR’s Regulations (Article 62). The report was based on information and documents received before, during, and after the IACHR’s on-site visit to Mexico from July 15 to 24, 1996, which took place at the invitation of its Government. It should be noted that this was the Commission’s first visit of this type to Mexico and this is its first general report on human rights in Mexico.

2. The backdrop to the report is a process of change in Mexico, in which significant progress has been made in strengthening the democratic system and the rule of law, especially in terms of free elections and an increasingly stronger civil society. The IACHR commends the interest of that society and of its authorities in keeping human rights in the agenda of the main national concerns. Despite the progress reflected by the report, serious problems, such as impunity, continue to hinder the full observance of human rights in the country.

3. In the examination of the human rights situation in Mexico, consideration was given first to the structure of the State, then to certain specific situations, such as violations of the right to life, personal freedom, and humane treatment. Also studied were the right to a fair trial in the country; political rights; the rights of indigenous populations; economic, social, and cultural rights; and the rights of women. It should be noted that, for the first time in an IACHR report on a country of the inter-American system, a special chapter has been devoted to freedom of expression. The report ends with the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations to the Mexican State, including a special recommendation on the importance of international technical cooperation to support efforts by the state and civil society to protect and promote human rights. As provided in the Regulations of the Commission, a preliminary version of the report was sent to the Mexican State, which issued its comments and observations, and provided information on certain specific questions. The pertinent parts of that information were incorporated into the text of the report.

4. The Commission trusts that the report will contribute to improve the situation of human rights in Mexico, and encourages the Mexican State to take every possible measure --in accordance with its internal procedures-- to comply with the recommendations set forth therein. The IACHR shall keep monitoring that situation closely, and to that end it shall continue to offer Mexico its cooperation in the terms of the American Convention. Finally, the IACHR thanks the Mexican State and the nongovernmental human rights organizations for their assistance in carrying out the visit and in the preparation of the report.

5. The complete text of the report can be found at the IACHR’s Internet website:

Washington, D.C., September 28, 1998


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Nº 17/98




The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has named Argentine attorney Santiago A. Canton as special rapporteur for freedom of expression. The creation of the new position received the backing of the hemisphere’s presidents and prime ministers at the April 1998 Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile.

The Commission made the appointment during its 100th regular session, taking place in Washington, D.C. Canton was the unanimous choice among several qualified candidates, according to the Commission.

"Santiago Canton has demonstrated a great ability both in the legal arena and in the field of public information, as well as a genuine concern for human rights, making him the ideal choice for such an important position," said Venezuelan jurist Carlos Ayala Corao, the Commission’s president.

The rapporteur will be charged with monitoring, promoting and protecting freedom of expression in the Americas. Among other things, he will prepare annual status for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and for the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). He will have complete independence to carry out his duties and will monitor and analyze accusations, threats or abuses related to freedom of expression.

The Commission decided to create the position of special rapporteur in response to the growing number of serious violations of press freedom in many OAS member countries.

"Without a doubt, one of the challenges we must resolve in the strengthening of democracy in the region is how to create a climate for freedom of expression," Canton said after his appointment was announced. "With hundreds of journalists killed, many more persecuted and the absence of an adequate response to this problem, it is clear that much remains to be done in this area."

Santiago Canton earned his law degree from the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1985. He has a master’s degree in international law from American University and has also studied at the Academy of International Law, based in The Hague, Holland. He served for five years as director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Washington, D.C.-based National Democratic Institute. In that position, he designed and led democratic development programs throughout the hemisphere, and participated in numerous radio and television programs in the Americas. In January 1998, he was named by OAS Secretary General César Gaviria to head the Department of Public Information. The date on which he will assume the new post will be announced soon.

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Nº 18/98


1. The 100th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the ?Commission? or the "IACHR?) concluded on October 13, 1998. Participating at the session were the following members: Prof. Carlos Ayala Corao, President; Prof. Robert K. Goldman, First Vice-President; Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, Second Vice-President; Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía; Dean Claudio Grossman; Dr. Hélio Bicudo; and Sir Henry Forde.


2. During the session, the Commission approved and published a report on the overall situation of human rights in Mexico, based on information and documents received before, during, and after the on-site visit it made to that country in July 1996 at the invitation of the Government (see IACHR press release No. 16/98). This was the first on-site visit by the Commission to Mexico, and the first general report on human rights issued by the Commission on that country. The Commission has noted the positive reactions to the report expressed by the Mexican State as well as by several nongovernmental human rights organizations. The complete text is available at the IACHR Internet website:


A.    Reports

3. The Commission studied numerous individual complaints of human rights violations allegedly committed by OAS member States. The IACHR adopted a total of 36 reports on the merits of the respective cases. Also, the Commission decided to publish the following reports:

i. Inadmissibility

- Gilbert Bernard Little (Report No. 85/98, Case 11,472), Costa Rica;

- Gustavo A. Gómez López (Report No. 82/98, Case 11,703), Venezuela;

- Oscar Vila Masot (Report No. 87/98, Case 11,216), Venezuela.

ii. Admissibility

- Héctor Hugo Boleso (Report No. 39/98, Case 11,774), Argentina;

- Corumbiara (Report No. 77/98, Case 11,556), Brazil;

- Favela Nova Brasilia (Report No. 78/98, Case 11,566), Brazil;

- Carlos Prada and Edelio Bolaño (Report No. 84/98, Case 11,710), Colombia;

- Carlos Molero Coca and others (Report No. 53/98, Case 11,182), Peru;

- Pedro Huilca Tecse (Report No. 55/98, Case 11,768), Peru;

- Haniff Hilaire (Report No. 43/98, Case 11,816), Trinidad and Tobago;

- Anderson Noel (Report No. 44/98, Case 11,854), Trinidad and Tobago;

- Anthony García (Report No. 45/98, Case 11,855), Trinidad and Tobago;

- Reinaldo Figueredo Planchart (Report No. 81/98, Case 11,298), Venezuela.

B. Friendly settlements

4. In the exercise of the functions assigned under Article 48(1)(f) of the American Convention, the IACHR pursued friendly settlement proceedings already under way in individual cases and initiated negotiations for new proceedings of this kind. Specifically, agreements proposed by the Commission were signed by the Chilean State and the petitioners in Cases 11,715 (José Manuel Contreras San Martín, José Alfredo Soto Ruz, and Víctor Eduardo Osses Conejeros) and 11,856 (Aukiñ Wallmapu Ngulam Mapuche Organization – Council of All Lands). The Commission notes the good faith of the State of Chile and of the petitioners in entering these agreements. The Commission will assess the progress made in the friendly settlements during its next regular session.

C. Cases and proceedings before the Inter-American Court

5. Since its previous session, the IACHR has carried out a number of activities in the contentious cases it has lodged with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and in the proceedings for provisional measures now being heard by the Court. The Commission has also participated in proceedings relating to the request for Advisory Opinion OC-16. That request pertains to the applicability of the notification provision of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to the nationals of a State party to it, who are prosecuted in another State party for crimes subject to capital punishment.


A.    Freedom of expression

6. On October 5, 1998, the Commission appointed Dr. Santiago Cantón, an Argentine national, as rapporteur for freedom of expression (see IACHR press release No. 17/98). This choice was made unanimously, following consideration of several highly qualified experts from various OAS member States. The rapporteur will be responsible for monitoring the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and, in particular, for preparing annual reports on the topic for submission to the IACHR and the OAS General Assembly. The rapporteur will be fully autonomous, and will assist the Commission in examining complaints alleging violations of freedom of expression and harassment of journalists.

7. The Commission has also continued to address freedom of expression issues by way of its individual petition system, and has assessed the status of this human right in its on-site visits and its general reports on the situation of human rights in countries of the Hemisphere. It has also adopted precautionary measures in urgent cases.

B.    Rights of the child

8. The Commission decided to appoint a rapporteur for the rights of the child in the Americas, who would examine the status of children’s rights, carry out related activities, and propose effective measures to be taken by the member states. The rapporteur is Dr. Hélio Bicudo, who will report to the IACHR on his activities during the next regular session.

C.    Rights of migrant workers and their families

9. The IACHR also considered the progress report presented by the rapporteurs for migrant workers, Commission members Alvaro Tirado Mejía and Jean Joseph Exumé. It took note of the States and organizations that have replied to its questionnaire, and planned future activities to advance preparation of the final report on the situation of migrant workers and members of their families in the Hemisphere.

D.    Women’s rights

10. The Commission referred to the report on the status of women in the Americas, adopted at its previous regular session. Dean Claudio Grossman presented an update on that document, based on new information received. It was decided that the report would be published as a separate document in the near future and widely distributed.

11. Following its recent practice, the IACHR has included a special chapter on women’s rights in its report on the situation of human rights in Mexico mentioned earlier. The Commission will continue to examine complaints of human rights violations against women in its on-site visits, general reports, and processing of individual cases.

E.    Voluntary funds

12. At its 98th regular session, the Commission established voluntary funds for specific topics, which remain open to contributions from member states, observers, multilateral organizations, cooperation agencies, foundations, and private institutions. The Commission trusts that these voluntary funds will receive sufficient contributions to serve their purpose of furthering the full protection of the persons and rights involved.


13. At this session, the Commission held 60 hearings, addressing the situation of human rights in different member states of the Organization, and individual cases it is processing. At the hearings, the Commission heard representatives of the States, the victims of alleged violations, and their representatives.

14. The IACHR held a number of hearings to follow up on recommendations issued in its reports on individual cases. Such hearings were held with respect to the following case reports:

- 28/92 (Case 10,240 et al.) and 55/97 (Case 11,137 – Juan Carlos Abella et al., Argentina;

- 24/98 (Case 11,287 – João Canuto de Oliveira), Brazil;

- 11/96 (Case 11,230 – Martorell) and 36/96 (Case 10,843 et al. – amnesty), Chile;

- 11/98 (Case 10.606 – Samuel de la Cruz), Guatemala;

- 43/96 (Case 11,430 - General José Gallardo), 48/97 (Case 11,411 – Severiano Santiz Gómez et al., "Ejido Morelia"), and 49/97 (Case 11,520 – Tomás Porfirio Rondin et al., "Massacre at Aguas Blancas"), Mexico.

15. The follow-up of the IACHR’s recommendations is based on the authority conferred in Articles 33(a) and 41(d) of the American Convention. In addition, recent inter-American jurisprudence affirms that States are obligated to "make their best efforts to apply the recommendations," according to the principle of good-faith compliance with international treaties (Loayza Tamayo Case, judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, September 17, 1997, para. 80). The Commission will continue to evaluate compliance with obligations freely undertaken by the States when they ratified the American Convention, assisting the States in applying the recommendations issued in the general reports and in those on individual cases.


16. During its meetings, the IACHR studied matters related to preparations for on-site visits planned for the current year. At the invitation of the governments in question, the Commission will carry out on-site visits of a general nature to Peru, from November 9 to 13, 1998; and to Haiti, from November 30 to December 4, 1998. Also, the IACHR will continue its special on-site visits to various locations in the United States of America in connection with immigration and migrant worker issues. The Commission thanks the authorities of those countries for the cooperation provided so that the visits may be carried out successfully

17. The Commission also considered draft reports on the situation of human rights in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, to which on-site visits were made in December and June of 1997, respectively.


18. On October 12, 1998, the Commission held its joint annual meeting with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Inter-American Court was represented by its President, Hernán Salgado Pesantes; its Vice President, Antonio A. Cançado Trindade; judges Oliver H. Jackman, Alirio Abreu Burelli, Sergio García Ramírez, and Carlos Vicente De Roux; its Secretary, Manuel Ventura Robles; its Assistant Secretary Víctor Rodríguez; and Víctor Hugo Madrigal.

19. The Commission wishes to emphasize the importance of these annual meetings with the Inter-American Court in furthering the common agenda of protection and defense of human rights. During the meeting, various matters of mutual interest were addressed, such as the presentation of the annual reports of both bodies to the OAS General Assembly, follow-up on the discussion of victims’ representation before the Inter-American Court, and the role of the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR and the Secretariat of the Court vis-à-vis autonomous participation by victims in the reparations stage before the Court. Also addressed was the situation of provisional measures before the Court, the effects of the contentious jurisdiction of the Court on cases in which violations of the Convention are alleged, responsibilities of the Court and the Commission in monitoring compliance with judgments of the Court, and matters concerning the reports and legal briefs of both bodies. Finally, the members of the Commission and of the Court referred to procedural matters pertaining to evidence.

20. Also discussed at the joint annual meeting was the worrisome budgetary situation of both bodies. This situation affects the operations of the Commission and the Court, with a negative impact on the attention given to victims of human rights violations who bring their cases to the inter-American system.


21. The IACHR invited Ms. Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to visit its headquarters in November of this year for ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During that visit, cooperation and information-exchange initiatives consistent with the functions assigned to the two institutions by their governing instruments will also be addressed.

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22. The Commission will hold its next regular session from February 22 to March 13, 1999.

Washington, D.C., October 13, 1998


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Nº 19/98



At the invitation of the Government of Peru, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) begins on November 9, 1998 an on-site visit with the aim of observing the general human rights situation in Peru. The above visit will take place from November 9 to 13, 1998.

The IACHR is an intergovernmental organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) in charge of promoting the observance and protection of human rights in the hemisphere. The seven members of the Commission are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly for a term of four years. The Commission’s powers derive fundamentally from the American Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of the OAS, these being instruments that have been ratified by Peru.

The IACHR Delegation will be composed of its Chairman, Dr. Carlos Ayala Corao; its First Vice Chairman, Professor Robert K. Goldman; its Second Vice Chairman, Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé; and Commission Members Professor Hélio Bicudo, Dr. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, and Dean Claudio Grossman. The Commission will be accompanied by its Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and will receive technical support from its Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana; from Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David J. Padilla; and from attorneys Dr. Christina M. Cerna and Dr. Ignacio Alvarez. Mrs. Nora Anderson, Mrs. Olga Franco, and Mrs. Cecilia Adriazola will provide administrative support.

During its stay in Peru, the IACHR Delegation will hold interviews with government authorities, and meet various sectors of the population and civil society organizations, such as human rights NGOs, grassroots groups, church representatives, trade union leaders, alleged victims of human rights violations, and others. The Commission will also visit several prisons and travel to various regions of the country.

The Commission conducts its visit under the jurisdictional capacity established by the American Convention on Human Rights and the IACHR Regulations. Under that legal framework, the states parties undertake to furnish all necessary facilities for the IACHR to carry our its observation mission. The Commission further trusts that all sectors of Peruvian society will respect the mandate of the IACHR in order to enable it to carry out its observation of the human rights situation in Peru in complete freedom and safety.

 As usual on such visits, the IACHR, during its stay in Peru, is prepared to receive complaints from anyone alleging, either in person or through representatives, violation of their human rights. It will also receive pertinent information from anyone with cases being processed by the IACHR. To that end the IACHR Secretariat has an office available in the Sheraton Hotel, at Paseo de la República 170, Lima, which will be open from 09:00 to 14:00 from November 9 to 12, and from 09:00 to 11:00 on November 13.

The Commission is grateful for the cooperation and facilities provided in preparation of this visit by the Government of Peru, as well as by nongovernmental organizations, civil society institutions, and international organizations.

At the end of the visit the Commission will hold a press conference at 15:00, on Friday, November 13, 1997 at the Sheraton Hotel in Lima.


Lima, November 8, 1998