INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
In view of the approaching retirement of Dr. Domingo E. Acevedo as Assistant Executive Secretary of the IACHR, the Commission, with the support of the Secretary General and of the Department of Human Resources of the Organization of American States, decided to conduct an international open selection process to fill the vacancy left by the departing Assistant Executive Secretary. The profile designed by the IACHR for this position was that of Director of legal services, and the respective requirements were established accordingly.
The Department of Human Resources published vacancy notice 145/97 together with candidate requirements. The notice was sent to all OAS permanent missions; OAS national offices in member states; human rights nongovernmental organizations active in the inter-American system; and the law faculties of various universities; as well as being disseminated internationally on the Internet.
By November 24, the competition closing date, 16 applications that met the requirements had been received. After thorough examination of the applications, the full membership of the Commission selected six finalists, whom it invited in order to have the opportunity to interview each of them personally, taking advantage of the fact that the IACHR had convened its 98th regular session.
After considering the different merits of the interviewees, the full membership of the Commission unanimously decided to choose Dr. Hernando Valencia Villa and to recommend his appointment to the Secretary General of the OAS, in order that he occupy the vacant position of IACHR Assistant Executive Secretary, whose main area of responsibility is to coordinate the legal activities of the Secretariat. The above appointment was approved by the Secretary General on March 10, 1998.
Dr. Hernando Valencia Villa, who will take up his new post on May 2 this year, has a doctorate in Legal Sciences from Universidad Javeriana Law School, together with a second doctorate from Yale Law School. He has a great deal of experience supervising legal personnel and is highly knowledgeable of the inter-American and European human rights systems. His capacity has also been demonstrated by his teaching activities in the Americas as well as in Europe; he also has a long list of publications in both Spanish and English to his name. Equally, his dedication to human rights is reflected by the efforts he has undertaken in the course of many years working with a variety of governmental and nongovernmental organizations on the domestic and international planes.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights would hereby like to extend a most cordial welcome to Dr. Hernando Valencia Villa, and wish him every possible success in his new duties as Assistant Executive Secretary of the IACHR.
Washington, D.C., March 16, 1998
Today, March 25, 1998, at 12:00 noon, at the headquarters of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Washington, D.C., the representatives of the Republic of Paraguay and the indigenous organization "Tierra Viva, assisted by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), met to formalize a friendly settlement agreement, by means of signing an Agreement, which will benefit 300 persons of the indigenous communities Lamenxay and Riachito (Kayleyphapopyet), both of the Enxet-Sanapaná people, which will terminate Case No. 11.713 before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. This agreement was reached at the initiative of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, representated by its Rapporteur for Paraguay, Dean Claudio Grossman.
The IACHR has the competence, pursuant to article 48.1.f of the American Convention to place itself at the disposal of the parties concerned "with a view to reaching a friendly settlement of the matter on the basis of respect for the human rights recognized in the Convention."
The friendly settlement proposed by the IACHR, consists of the acquisition, on the part of the Paraguayan State, of lands claimed by the petitioners, and the subsequent transfer of title to these lands, by the respective authorities, to the communities in question and their subsequent possession thereof. The size of the land claimed is 21,884,44 hectares and is located in the district of Pozo Colorado, Department of President Hayes, in the Paraguayan Chaco, some 311 kilometers from Asuncion, on the Pozo Colorado - Sta. Juanita road. This is the first friendly settlement agreement in the interamerican human rights system which restores legitimate land rights to an indigenous community in this hemisphere.
The agreement was the result of a complex process directed by the IACHR. For this purpose, Dean Claudio Grossman, Rapporteur of the IACHR for Paraguay, travelled to that country in July 1997, accompanied by the staff lawyer Christina Cerna, Specialist of the Executive Secretary of the Commission, where they interviewed the petitioners and their representatives, as wel as high governmental officials, such as Ing. Juan Carlos Wasmosy, the President of Paraguay and Ing. Agr. Julio Cesar Colman, the President of the Indigenous Institute (INDI), with whom they established the bases for the present friendly settlement agreement.
The Commission expresses its recognition to the Government of Paraguay for its willingness in resolving this cases by means of reparations, including resolving the land claims and the transference of the land to the indigenous communities Lamenxay and Kayleyphapopyet -Riachito- and the assistance necessary for helping these communities establish themselves in these territories. The Commission also expresses its recognition to the petitioners and those affected by the acceptance of the terms of the agreement in reference.
The Commission, lastly, manifests its satisfaction at this friendly settlement agreement and recognizes the efforts and willingness of both parties to conclude it and to give it effect.
Washington, March 25, 1998
It has come to the attention of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that on March 23 the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) put up a roadblock for nearly eight hours on the highway that connects Bogota to the eastern plains of Colombia. During the time that the roadblock was in place the armed dissident group stopped the traffic that was moving along that road, most of which was returning to Bogota after a long weekend, and detained several persons. The FARC subsequently released several individuals but held onto others. According to information that the Commission has received, the FARC have threatened to execute the persons they are holding captive.
The Commission has stated on previous occasions that generally accepted international standards absolutely prohibit in any armed conflict murder or any other act of violence against members of the civilian population not participating directly in the hostilities, as well as hostage-taking and arbitrary deprivation of freedom. The Commission ratifies its pronouncement on this occasion and vigorously condemns any violation of those international legal provisions committed against any individual.
The IACHR again stresses that the most wide-ranging currents of opinion recognize essential values of respect for human dignity, even in conflict situations. The IACHR, with absolute independence and objectivity, has constantly, consistently, and uniformly held this very position, both when dealing with the states of the hemisphere, and, where necessary, with respect to the actions of non-government groups. It is a matter of public knowledge that this has been so in situations that have arisen in various OAS member states, Colombia included.
For these reasons, via this communiqué, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the group holding several persons abducted at the roadblock put up by the FARC on March 23, to respect their lives, security, and health, and to proceed to release them immediately.
Washington, D.C., April 1, 1998
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has learned that on March 25, 1998, the Argentine Congress approved the rescinding of laws No. 23,492, enacted on December 24, 1986, also known as "the terminal point"; and No. 23,521, enacted on June 8, 1987, also known as the "line of duty." Law No. 24,952, which set aside those aforementioned laws, was enacted on April 15, 1998.
The laws thus rescinded had ended all criminal proceedings brought against agents of the State, who were presumably responsible for serious violations of human rights committed during the military dictatorship that governed Argentina from March 24, 1976 to December 10, 1983, thereby eliminating the possibility of further legal action on those grounds. As a result, the IACHR received numerous complaints from victims, family members, and nongovernmental human rights organizations who argued that those laws were incompatible with legal obligations voluntarily assumed by the Argentine State in the area of human rights.
On the basis of these facts, the IACHR decided to issue Report No. 28/92 of October 2, 1992, adopted during its 82nd session, which concluded that the Argentine State was responsible for violating the human rights enshrined in many provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights inasmuch as Laws Nos. 23,492 and 23,521 deprived the victims and their families of the right to obtain a judicial investigation in a court of criminal law to determine the parties responsible for such offenses and punish them accordingly.
The Commission notes with great satisfaction the decision of the Argentine Government to repeal the aforementioned laws. This is a gesture that vindicates the efforts of all who seek to uphold the principles of truth, justice, and the rule of constitutional, democratic law, rather than impunity. The IACHR considers that the repeal of these laws may serve as a model for other countries of the Hemisphere that have undergone similar experiences.
Washington, D.C., April 24, 1998
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rightas has learned with dismay and disbelief that Monsignor Juan José Gerardi Conedera was assassinated on April 26, 1998. Monsignor Gerardi was the coordinating bishop of the Interdiocesan Project "The Recuperation of Historical Memory." Just 48 hours prior to the attack, he and other bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala had presided over the public presentation of the report Guatemala: Nunca Más (Guatemla: Never Again), which documents and analyzes grave human rights violations that occurred during the internal armed conflict in that country.
Initial reports indicate that, at approximately 22:00 hours, Monsignor Gerardi returned to his residence after visiting a family member, and was attacked at the door by an unidentified individual. According to spokespersons for the Catholic Church, the attacker hit him on the head with a block of cement, disfiguring him.
Monsignor Gerardi dedicated his life to understanding, mutual respect, human rights and peace. The Commission had various opportunities to receive his clear views and benefit from his impartial and constructive vision. He was the founder and General Coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishopric of Guatemala, and since 1984, had been Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala. He was bishop of Las Verapaces from 1967 until 1976, when he was named bishop of El Quiché. In the early 1980's, he was obliged to spend two years in exile in Costa Rica.
The IACHR expresses its condolences to all of the Guatemalan People, in particular the Catholic Church, as well as to the entire American community in the face of the irreparable loss resulting from the savage and cowardly assassination of Monsignor Gerardi. The IACHR repudiates and profoundly regrets this brutal crime, and emphatically condemns these grave violations of the right to life, and to freedom of thought and expression. Recalling that Monsignor Gerardi was one of the most energetic and committed defenders of human rights for all, the Commission considers it important to underline the necessity of respect for the right to life, integrity and dignity for all persons.
The assassination of Monsignor Gerardi represents an attack against the peace process, and must not be allowed to cloak itself in impunity. The Commission considers it indispensable that the competent authorities take the necessary measures, promptly and effectivelyt, to investigate and clarify these abominable facts and impose the corresponding condemnation and sentence upon those determined to bear responsibility, in accordance with the rule of law.
To express its support for the Guatemalan people at this sorrowful time, and its respect for the memory of Monsignor Gerardi, the Commission will be respresented at the memorial service by its Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana.
Washington, D.C. April 27 19998
1. May 8, 1998 saw the conclusion of the 991st Special Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter the "Commission" or the "IACHR"), held in Caracas, Venezuela, at the invitation of the Illustrious Government of that country in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Organization of American States (OAS), and of the adoption of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Participating in the session were Prof. Carlos Ayala Corao, Chairman; Prof. K. Goldman, First Vice Chairman; Dr. Jean Joseph Exumé, Second Vice Chairman; Amb. Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Dean Claudio Grossman and Dr. Hélio Bicudo. Also participating were the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Amb. Jorge E. Taiana; Assistant Executive Secretaries, Dr. David J. Padilla and Dr. Hernando Valencia Villa; and attorneys Christina Cerna, Milton Castillo, Mario López Garelli, Denise Gilman, and Raquel Poitevien. The Commission was provided administrative support by Mrs. Gabriela Hageman, Mrs. Nora Anderson, and Mrs. Rosario McIntyre.
2. During its stay in Caracas, the Commission met with Dr. Rafael Caldera, President of Venezuela. The Commission also held meetings with senior Venezuelan government officials: Dr. Cecilia Sosa, President of the Supreme Court and other magistrates; Dr. Pedro Pablo Aguilar, Speaker of the Congress and Dr. Ixora Rojas, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies; Dr. Miguel Angel Burelli Rivas, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Dr. Asdrúbal Aguiar, Minister of the Secretariat of the Presidency and Chairman of the National Commission on Human Rights; Dr. Hilarión Cardozo, Minister of Justice; Dr. José G. Andueza, Minister of the Interior; and Dr. Iván Darío Badell González, State Attorney General.
3. As is its custom, the Commission met with various human rights nongovernmental organizations, which described in general and specific terms the human rights situation in the country.
4. The IACHR held its opening session at the Palacio de las Academias and, on Wednesday, May 6, was received by a joint session of the Congress, where the Chairman of the IACHR delivered the keynote address commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Charter of the OAS and of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. On May 7, the Commission was received by the collective membership of the Supreme Court, at whose seat the Commission held a seminar in the afternoon. On Friday, May 8, the Commission concluded its visit by holding a forum on the inter-American system of human rights at the Ateneo de Caracas.
5. The IACHR examined individual petitions concerning human rights violations for which the respective member states of the OAS are allegedly responsible. The Commission adopted decisions of a public nature in the following cases:
- Walter David Bulacio (Report No. 29/98, Case 11.752 - admissible), Argentina;
- Trevor Fisher (Report No. 30/98, Case 11.643 - admissible), Bahamas;
- Juan Pablo Olmedo Bustos et al (Report No. 31/98 - admissible), Chile;
- Anselmo Ríos Aguilar (Report No. 32/98, Case 11.507 - inadmissible), Mexico;
- Clemente Ayala Torres et al (Report No. 33/98, Case 10.545 - admissible), Mexico;
- Loren L. Riebe et al (Report No. 34/98, Case 11.610 - admissible), Mexico;
- Delia Revoredo et al (Report No. 35/98, Case 11.760 - admissible), Peru;
- Wenceslaus James (Report No. 36/98, Case 11.814 - admissible), Trinidad and Tobago;
- Anthony Briggs (Report No. 37/98, Case 11.815 - admissible), Trinidad and Tobago.
- Rolando Hernández Hernández (Report No. 1/98, Case 11.543), Mexico.
6. In accordance with Article 63(2) of the American Convention, the Commission decided to request the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to adopt provisional measures ordering a stay in the executions of five persons condemned to death in Trinidad and Tobago, until the IACHR adopts a decision on the merits of the respective petitions:
- Wenceslaus James (Case 11.814);
- Anthony Briggs (Case 11.815);
- Anderson Noel (Case 11.854);
- Anthony García (Case 11.855);
- Christopher Bethel (Case 11.857).
7. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 48.1.b of the American Convention, the IACHR decided to order the following cases closed:
- Case 11.270 (Sebastián Mopardo), Argentina.
- Case 11.669 (Norberto La Porta), Argentina.
- Cases 10.997, 11.036, 11.039, 11.056, 11.081, 11.085, 11.089, 11.090, 11.162, 11.164, 11.174, 11,176, 11.195, 11.196, 11.199, 11,235, 11.387, 11.501, 11.586, 11.616, 11.687, 11.717, 11.749, 11.798 (24 in total), Peru
8. The IACHR started the recruitment search and selection process that will lead to the appointment of an IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, who will be in charge of preparing activities and reports in relation to that issue and submitting them to the Commission for consideration.
9. The Special Rapporteur shall have the following duties and responsibilities:
To prepare an annual report on the situation of freedom of expression in the Americas and present it to Commission for its consideration, approval, and inclusion in the IACHR Annual Report to the OAS General Assembly.
To draft special and thematic reports requested by the Commission.
To gather all information necessary for the above-mentioned reports.
To organize other activities of promotion assigned by the IACHR, which includes but is not limited to presentation of documents at pertinent conferences and seminars; instruction of officials, professionals, and students about the Commissions work in this area; and preparation of other printed promotional materials.
To bring immediately to the attention of the IACHR, via its Secretariat, any serious situation that merits the adoption by the Commission of precautionary measures in urgent cases to prevent irreparable injury to human rights.
To provide information on the processing of individual cases relating to freedom of expression when requested by the Commission.
To supervise directly administrative auxiliary personnel assigned to the Rapporteurs Office, subject to the supervision of the IACHR Executive Secretariat.
To discharge any other duties or responsibilities that the Commission may assign it.
10. As previously announced, one or more Commission members will be in charge of coordinating the activities of the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. They will receive the assistance of a Working Group, which will be composed of the Executive Secretary and three other persons from various sectors involved in this area.
11. The Commission also considered a preliminary draft report on the general situation of human rights in Colombia, preparation of which began in the wake of the on-site visit to that country from December 1 to 8, 1997.
12. The IACHR further analyzed aspects concerning preparations for the upcoming on-site visits to Peru and Guatemala scheduled for this year in response to invitations from the respective Governments.
13. On May 7, 1998, a seminar organized by the IACHR and the Supreme Court was held for judges, magistrates, and prosecutors. This academic activity centered on the Commissions individual petitions system. The seminar examined, inter alia, the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the case law of that organ and of the IACHR.
14. The Commission also organized a seminar on the inter-American system of human rights. Participating in the event were nongovernmental organizations, law schools, and lawyers organizations. The event, which took place on May 8, 1998, was held at the Ateneo de Caracas, and received the support of various Venezuelan human rights NGOs.
15. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the Commission considered holding a special event consisting in an assessment of the human rights situation in the Americas in reference to major issues and the inter-American system. The above event would take place at the OAS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in the fourth quarter this year.
* * * * * *
The Commission would like to thank the Government of Venezuela for the invitation it extended to the Commission and for making it possible to hold in Caracas the session concluding today. The Commission is also particularly grateful to the Venezuelan officials it had the opportunity to meet, and to all the functionaries that contributed to the successful organization, conduction, and conclusion of this session. The Commission also thanks the NGOs, as representatives of civil society, for cooperating with the IACHR in various activities.
Caracas, Venezuela, May 8, 1998
On March 6, 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested the consent of the Government of Panama for Dr. Hélio Bicudo, the member of the IACHR designated as the Commissions delegate in the matter of case 11.325 before the Inter-American Court, relating to employees dismissed by the law of December 25, 1990 and Dr. Manuel Velasco, Leading Expert in Human Rights of the IACHR Executive Secretariat, to travel to Panama City, with a view to holding a private interview with the 270 persons involved in that case as victims. The visit, originally planned for April, was finally scheduled to take place from May 9 to 11. On March 12, 1998, the Government of Panama granted the consent requested.
The following institutions, which had acted as petitioners and co-petitioners in the case while it was being processed by the IACHR, were also notified of the meeting: the Panamanian Committee for Human Rights [Comité Panameño por los Derechos Humanos] (at its request now withdrawn from the case), the Institute of Water Resources and Electrification Workers Union [Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto de Recursos Hidráulicos and Electrificación] (SITIRHE), and the Center for International Law and Justice [Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional] (CEJIL).
Although many of the 270 persons invited to the meeting live outside Panama City, the Commission was able to contact most of them and the meeting was held as planned on May 10 this year, at 10:00 a.m. in the Diamante Room of Hotel El Panama, Panama City. The above meeting was attended by victims from the following institutions: INTEL 37; IDAAN 16; Port Authority 12; Port Vaca Monte and Head Office 3; IRHE 98; Education 1; INRENARE 4; Ministry of Public Works 7; and Cementos Bayano 7. In all, 185 victims came.
As forewarned, entry to the meeting was strictly limited to persons appearing as victims in the process. The rest of the persons who wished to enter but did not come under this category, including the leaders of the unions to which the victims belong, were explained the personal nature of the meeting and were again newly informed of the Commissions intention to hold, in addition, an institutional coordination working session open to all the unions concerned. Such a meeting did indeed take place after the meeting with the victims.
The Commission hopes to continue maintaining close, direct relations with the victims in this case, as well as with the trade unions with which they are connected.
The Commission would like to extend its gratitude to the persons and institutions interviewed for their active participation and cooperation, and to thank the Government of Panama for the facilities provided to that end.
Panama City, May 11, 1998