No. 14/03





          Commissioner Marta Altolaguirre, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, today presented a message to the General Assembly of the OAS regarding the IACHRís 2002 Annual Report.  The delegation that accompanied her was made up of First Vice-President of the Commission, Josť Zalaquett; Executive Secretary, Santiago Canton; Special Rapporteur of the IACHR for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni; and professional staff of the Executive Secretariat.


          In her message, the President expressed the IACHRís concern over the progressive deterioration of the democratic institutional framework in the hemisphere, with many governments displaying serious institutional weaknesses; some have even been exposed to coup attempts or alterations in the constitutional order. She also made appealed for a collective analysis to be undertaken of the lawful means that can or should be used to prevent, determine the facts of, and adjudicate liability for terrorist acts, and on the contours of the strategies devised to prevent them.  She emphasized that the legitimacy of such efforts at adjudication and prevention is necessarily tied to the very purposes of democratic government.


          The President of the IACHR explained that the Commission continued its work in relation to the situation of especially vulnerable groups through the work of its special rapporteurships on the rights of children, indigenous peoples, and migrant workers. It has also paid special attention to the situation of Afro-descendants through its promotion work, its studies of the general human rights situation in the member States, the individual case system, and its precautionary measures.  The Rapporteurship on Womenís Rights, entrusted to Commissioner Altolaguirre, continued observing the status of the rights of women, particularly those aspects related to the violence that affects millions of women in the hemisphere.  She also referred to the important work done by the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, whose annual report is presented in an attachment to the overall Annual Report of the IACHR.


          The IACHR included in its 2002 Annual Report in a special analysis of Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela, countries which, due to their grave human rights situation, required special attention.  With respect to Colombia, she stated that the Commission is seriously concerned about the violence by the actors in the internal armed conflict, in violation of the fundamental rights of the civilian population, and in particular of the most vulnerable sectors, i.e. the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, the displaced, human rights defenders and social leaders, and women and children.  The President reiterated her appeal to the parties to the armed conflict to respect and enforce, through their command and control structures, the rules governing hostilities enshrined in international humanitarian law, with special emphasis on the norms that offer protection to civilians.


          With respect to Cuba, the President indicated that the Cuban State persists in its pattern of repressing civil and political rights.  She indicated that, in the view of the IACHR, the Cuban authorities have not displayed te political will to carry out changes aimed at building a democracy with full respect for human rights; and she expressed the serious concern of the Commission over the systematic persecution of political dissidents in recent months, the serious penalties imposed on many of them, and the execution of three persons after proceedings that did not include the guarantees of due process and which therefore were arbitrary.  President Altolaguirre offered her best wishes for the decisions of the General Assembly to impact on the preparation of a hemispheric strategy aimed at ensuring recognition and enjoyment of the fundamental rights of the inhabitants of Cuba.


          Commissioner Altolaguirre also alluded to Haiti and expressed her consternation at the profound structural weakness of the administration of justice there.  She highlighted that emblematic cases of human rights violations have met with impunity, despite some state initiatives to investigate them.  She also expressed concern over the limited success of efforts to disarm the population, and indicated that the widespread illegal possession and use of firearms and the repeated violent actions of certain armed groups and popular organizations is a constant threat to the security of all Haitians.


          President Altolaguirre also expressed profound concern over the budgetary situation affecting the Commission.  Although the IACHR values the increase in funds approved by the OAS in 2002, the budget for 2003 is not sufficient to fully carry out its conventional and statutory mandates and those stemming from the Summits of the Americas.  The IACHR understands the financial problems that affect the OAS, but must emphasize that the budget cuts affect the essential tasks of protecting and promoting human rights in the hemisphere.


          Finally, Commissioner Altolaguirre renewed the commitment of the IACHR to working with the member States to carry out its mandate to defend human rights by exercising its mandate to protect and promote human rights.  In the name of the Commission she expressed gratitude to the member States for their support, which enables the Commission to continue honoring the common commitment to ensure the effective observance of the fundamental rights of all the inhabitants of the hemisphere.




Santiago, Chile, June 10, 2003