HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION EXPRESSES CONCERN
ABOUT RULE OF LAW IN THE AMERICAS
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today expressed its concern about the deterioration of the rule of law in some countries of the region, as well as the lack of full observance of economic, social and cultural rights. It also reiterated its concern about the vulnerability of human rights defenders in the Americas.
The Commission is made up of José Zalaquett, President; Clare K. Roberts, First Vice President; Susan Villarán, Second Vice President; and the Commissioners Evelio Fernández, Freddy Gutiérrez, Florentín Meléndez and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. The Executive Secretary is Santiago A. Canton.
At the end of the Commission’s 119th regular session, José Zalaquett referred specifically to the situation in five countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela:
The Commission received information about the visit by its Executive Secretary to Bolivia, which took place last February 16 to 20. The visit responded to an invitation of the Bolivian government and to a resolution of the National Congress, which recommended that the executive branch ¨request the presence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States in order to assist in the investigation¨ of the grave events that took place in October 2003, which took some 56 lives. During the hearings, both representatives of the Bolivian state and civil society expressed interest in having the IACHR conduct an on-site visit to Bolivia. The Commission considered these invitations and instructed its Executive Secretariat to begin the appropriate preparations.
With respect to Colombia, the Commission received information about the impact of violence related to the armed conflict on vulnerable groups, human rights defenders and journalists, and about legislative measures whose implementation can affect the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, limitations upon the remedy of tutela, and discussions to limit the powers of the Constitutional Court. In response to an invitation by the OAS Permanent Council, the Commission also analyzed possible ways of providing advice to the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OEA). During its sessions, the Commission decided to collaborate with MAPP/OEA within the framework of its functions to promote and protect human rights in the hemisphere and, in particular, in Colombia. The Commission will provide the Permanent Council with a document that will explain the possible means of its participation as well as the necessary resources.
The grave human rights situation in Cuba has not changed, according to information received by the IACHR, due to the general violation of public liberties, particularly the right to freedom of expression, and due to the systematic repression of dissidents and independent journalists. The Commission will continue to study the general human rights situation in that country, not only in its general reports, but also as it considers individual cases and petitions, and issues precautionary measures.
Concerning Haiti, the Commission continues to be extremely concerned about the state of human rights during the current crisis. The Commission received daily information of many killings and other violations of human rights. The Commission insists that the human rights of all persons must be respected in the process of restoring democratic institutions in Haiti. Human rights violators must be investigated, prosecuted and punished. The Commission also reiterates its call to all parties to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian aid is not hindered. In this time of crisis in Haiti, the Commission is particularly mindful of the condition of children, women and other vulnerable groups. It will continue to monitor the situation closely and looks forward to the full restoration of the rule of law and democratic institutions, in accordance with the Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights.
With respect to Venezuela, the Commission received information concerning the serious acts of violence that took place during recent demonstrations, held between February 27 and March 1, 2004, which resulted in at least eight deaths, 21 injuries and many arrests. Regarding this particular situation, the Commission reiterates its call for peace and the preservation of democracy and the rule of law, under the terms of the American Convention and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, noting that it is only through dialogue and respect for the democratic system that the Venezuelan people will find a solution to this difficult situation. The Commission also received information concerning the proliferation of quasi-police groups that operate on the margins of the law in various states in Venezuela; the impunity surrounding the investigations of cases related to human rights violations; and the fragility of the judicial system caused, in part, by the fact that some 80% of the judges have provisional status. Finally, the Commission received information concerning the situation of indigenous peoples in mining zones in the southern part of Venezuela. The Commission will publish its report on the human rights situation in Venezuela on March 18.
The Commission considers unacceptable the Venezuelan government’s attempt to question the impartiality of its Executive Secretary with respect to that country. The attempted recusal of Dr. Canton sought by the Venezuelan government has no grounds or legal basis. The Commission expresses its confidence in the high moral and professional qualities demonstrated by Dr. Santiago A. Canton in the performance of his duties as Executive Secretary.
In other matters, the IACHR expressed its concern about comments made in recent months by high-level authorities of some states in relation to organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights. The Commission’s experience indicates that official comments questioning the work of human rights defenders can generate a grave risk to the life, personal integrity and work of activists and human rights defenders.
Washington, March 12, 2004
The complete press report can be found on the Web (www.cidh.org).
REPORT ON THE 119th REGULAR SESSION OF THE IACHR
1. Today, March 12, 2004, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concludes its 119th regular session. In compliance with its Rules of Procedure, this being the first period of sessions in 2004, the IACHR elected its board of officers: José Zalaquett, President; Clare K. Roberts, First Vice-President; and Susana Villarán, Second Vice-President. Also members of the IACHR are Commissioners Evelio Fernández Arévalos, Freddy Gutiérrez, Florentín Meléndez, and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. The Executive Secretary of the IACHR is Dr. Santiago A. Canton.
2. During this period of sessions, the IACHR adopted 38 reports on individual cases and petitions. During the week of March 1-5, a total of 59 hearings were held regarding individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific human rights situations. The IACHR again thanks those people who attended and participated at these hearings – both those who did so on a personal basis or as petitioners, and those who came as representatives of OAS member states. With their presence, all these participants help fortify the work of protecting the human rights of the hemisphere’s inhabitants. Worthy of note in this regard was the participation of high-ranking government officials – including ministers and under-secretaries of state, and prosecutors and attorneys general from several countries – in a clear demonstration of their States’ openness toward dialogue.
3. On different occasions, the IACHR has noted its concern regarding the weakening, in some of the region’s countries, of the rule of law, which is an essential prerequisite for the full enjoyment of human rights. During this regular session, the IACHR received information about the rule of law situation in several countries of the region. On this occasion, specific reference will be made to Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela.
4. The IACHR received information about the visit its Executive Secretary made to Bolivia on February 16-20. This visit was made in response to an invitation from the Bolivian government and a resolution by the National Congress recommending that the executive branch “request the presence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States in order to assist in the investigation” of the serious incidents that occurred during October 2003, in which some 56 people lost their lives. At the hearings, representatives of the Bolivian State and members of civil society alike expressed an interest in having the IACHR conduct an on-site visit to Bolivia. The IACHR studied these invitations and instructed its Executive Secretariat to begin the relevant preparations.
5. With regard to the human rights situation in Colombia, the IACHR received information about violence associated with the armed conflict and the impact it has had on vulnerable groups, such as the country’s indigenous peoples, communities of African origin, and displaced persons, about the conditions faced there by journalists, about ties between the security forces and outlaw groups, and about the continuous violation of basic human rights principles and international humanitarian law by the participants in that conflict. The IACHR again notes its particular concern about the situation of human rights defenders who continue to see the legitimacy of their work questioned by ranking state officials and who still face constant threats and attacks on their lives and persons. In this connection, we are also concerned about the introduction of legislative measures that, if enforced, could affect the enjoyment of fundamental human rights by the country’s inhabitants: these include the granting of powers of a judicial nature to the security forces, the restriction of tutelage remedies, and discussions about curtailing the authority of the Constitutional Court.
6. The IACHR also considered the invitation extended by the OAS Permanent Council in resolution CP/RES.859 (1397/04), “Support to the Peace Process in Colombia,” to act as an advisor to the Mission to Support the Peace Process in that country (MAPP/OAS). To quote that resolution, the advice provided is intended to “ensure that the role of the OAS is fully consistent with the obligations of its member states with respect to the effective exercise of human rights and international humanitarian law.” The IACHR analyzed this mandate from the Permanent Council and resolved to work with the MAPP/OAS mission within the constraints of its responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights in the hemisphere and, in particular, in Colombia. The IACHR will forward to the Permanent Council a document explaining the possible forms its involvement may assume, together with the resources it will need.
7. With regard to Cuba, the information received by the IACHR indicates that the prevailing grave situation has not changed: generalized violations of public freedoms, particularly the right of free expression, and the systematic repression of dissidents and independent journalists still take place. This led to the arrest of more than 80 people in March 2003, who were then convicted in unusually swift proceedings and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. The IACHR was told about deplorable detention conditions in Cuba, affecting hundreds of prison inmates. The IACHR will continue to study the general human rights situation in the country, not only in its general reports, but also by means of individual cases and petitions and through precautionary measures.
8. With respect to Haiti, the IACHR remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation during the current crisis. The IACHR has received information on a daily basis about numerous executions and other human rights violations. The IACHR insists that the human rights of all individuals must be respected while democratic institutionality is reestablished in Haiti. Violators of human rights must be investigated, tried, and punished. The IACHR also reiterates its exhortation that all the parties ensure that the provision of humanitarian assistance is not affected. At this time of crisis in Haiti, the IACHR is particularly aware of the situation of children, women, and other vulnerable groups. The IACHR will continue to monitor the situation closely and it hopes that legality and democratic institutionality, in accordance with the terms of the Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights, will return soon.
9. With reference to Venezuela, the IACHR has received information about the serious violent incidents during the demonstrations that took place between February 27 and March 1, 2004, which left at least eight people dead, 21 injured, and countless more under arrest. As regards this particular situation, the IACHR repeats its call for the reestablishment of peace and for the preservation of democracy and the rule of law as set forth in the American Convention and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, since only through dialogue and respect for the democratic system will a solution be found to the difficult situation that the Venezuelan people face. The IACHR has also received information about the proliferation of quasi-police groups acting on the margins of the law in several Venezuelan states, about the impunity surrounding investigations into cases of human rights violations, and about the fragility of the judicial system, the result, in part, of the fact that 80% of the country’s judges hold only provisional appointments. Finally, the IACHR has received information about the situation faced by indigenous peoples in the mining areas in the south of Venezuela. The IACHR will release its report on the human rights situation in Venezuela on March 18, 2004.
10. During this period of sessions, the IACHR spent two days reflecting on the inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights. Progress was made with the analysis of several matters related to how the Commission could better perform its functions, and the IACHR will shortly invite other hemispheric agencies and stakeholders to participate in this process of refection.
11. Brazil’s Minister of Human Rights, Dr. Nilmário Miranda, attended a hearing on the human rights situation in that country that was requested by his government in order to share information on its progress and plans with respect to human rights.
12. The IACHR also received Minister Mercedes Brítez de Buzó, the head of Paraguay’s National Secretariat for Children and Adolescents, who provided information on her country’s progress with regard to the rights of children and young people. That meeting was held as a part of the follow-up on the recommendations handed down by the IACHR in its last report on Paraguay’s human rights situation.
13. The IACHR continued to exchange information and work in conjunction with United Nations bodies on human rights issues. It met with Dr. Francis Deng, the UN Secretary-General’s Representative on Internally Displaced Persons, Dr. Edna Roland Santos, the UN Secretary-General’s appointee for monitoring the Plan of Action of the World Conference against Racism, and Dr. Doudou Diene, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on racism and xenophobia.
14. With a view to the continued strengthening of its dialogue with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states, the IACHR held a plenary meeting with the Permanent Representatives to the OAS of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. At the meeting they exchanged opinions and information about the human rights situation in the region and about possible initiatives for cooperation.
15. As is its custom, during this period of sessions the IACHR met with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Dr. César Gaviria. During the time Dr. Gaviria has been at the head of the OAS General Secretariat, the inter-American human rights system has been strengthened, particularly in its independence and autonomy. During this regular session the IACHR also met with Amb. Paul Durand, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OAS and Chair of the Permanent Council; on that occasion the ambassador was thanked for his clear and resolved support for the work of protecting and promoting human rights in the region and ideas were exchanged regarding the evolution of the inter-American system.
16. Under those circumstances, the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR has continued to improve its management methods and it continues to work with maximum dedication. The IACHR applauds the commitment and excellent performance of both Executive Secretary Dr. Santiago Canton and all the members of the professional and administrative staff who work to better protect the human rights of the people of the Americas. Consequently, the IACHR rejects the request for Dr. Canton’s recusal lodged with the General Secretariat of the OAS by the Venezuelan State’s agent for inter-American and international human rights issues, made public on March 5, 2004. Furthermore, the Commission deems unacceptable the accusations of clear bias with which the Venezuelan government has attempted to question the actions of the IACHR’s Executive Secretary in connection with that country. The Commission believes that the Venezuelan government’s bid to recuse the Executive Secretary of the IACHR lacks all merit and, similarly, all legal basis, since such a mechanism is not provided for in any of the inter-American system’s instruments. Finally, the IACHR expresses its confidence in the high moral and professional qualities displayed by Dr. Santiago A. Canton in discharging his duties as Executive Secretary.
17. At the same time, the IACHR notes its concern regarding recent statements made by high-ranking officials in some member states discrediting organizations that work to defend human rights. In those cases, there has also been a clear tendency toward noncompliance with the recommendations issued by the Commission and the Court. The IACHR’s extensive experience indicates that official pronouncements questioning human rights defense work can generate serious threats to the lives, persons, and work of human rights defenders and activists. Declarations of this kind can be interpreted by groups on the fringes of legality as invitations to act violently against or intimidate members of human rights organizations, and they can also seriously undermine those organizations’ ability to operate. The IACHR reminds the member states that they must help ensure the conditions necessary for human rights organizations to discharge their duties, which are of vital importance to the full currency of the rule of law. In that regard, the General Assembly of the OAS has repeatedly expressed its support for the work of human rights defenders in the national and regional spheres, and it has condemned actions that, either directly or indirectly, hinder or obstruct their efforts to promote and protect human rights in the Americas.
18. In recent years, the friendly settlement mechanism provided for in the instruments of the inter-American system has greatly increased in relevance. In particular, the IACHR applauds the collaborative mindset displayed by several member states in pursuing friendly settlement agreements and in complying with recommendations, with the creative participation of the victims and petitioners. At the 119th regular session, an active disposition toward beginning talks or working for agreements of this kind was shown at hearings and working meetings involving representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. That notwithstanding, the IACHR reiterates its concern about the reluctance still shown by some States to create mechanisms for monitoring recommendations and judgments from the Inter-American Court, in order to abide by the international commitments they have assumed.
19. During this period of sessions, the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women organized a special celebration on March 8, International Women’s Day. In anticipation of the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, the women of the Americas are offered congratulations for the progress they have made in raising the profile of their right to freedom from discrimination and violence. The Convention of Belém do Pará makes a fundamental contribution in this regard, by requiring States to pursue due diligence in order to prevent, punish, and eradicate violence against women, in their homes and in their communities, or at the hands of state agents. In their current work, the IACHR and the Rapporteur are emphasizing the right of women to access to justice, in particular women who are victims of violence. The IACHR is grateful for the generous donation it recently received from the government of Finland for a project in this area.
20. The human rights challenges in the region are many, and they require new approaches and creativity, particularly for protecting and promoting the rule of law and economic, social, and cultural rights. However, the IACHR notes that in paying attention to those challenges, we must not neglect the achievements made with regard to human rights over the past many years. Thus, responses to problems must be found within the international mechanisms, which contain the tools required for responding to the needs of security and justice. The rule of law is a basic pillar within a just society, one that recognizes that people’s dignity is based on overcoming poverty and ensuring full respect for human rights.
21. As part of the organization of its work, at the start of this first regular session of the year the IACHR appointed rapporteurs for specific topics and countries.
– Dr. José Zalaquett: Rights of indigenous peoples, Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay, and Trinidad and Tobago.
– Dr. Clare K. Roberts: The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Haiti, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Suriname.
– Dr. Susana Villarán: Rights of women, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.
– Dr. Evelio Fernández Arévalos: Chile, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Honduras.
– Dr. Freddy Gutiérrez: Rights of migrant workers and their families, El Salvador, Peru, Panama, and Uruguay.
– Dr. Florentín Meléndez: Rights of persons deprived of freedom, Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.
- Dr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro: Rights of children, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the United States, and Venezuela.
22. The office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is to be held by Dr. Eduardo Bertoni, an officer of the Executive Secretariat appointed by the IACHR.
II. REPORTS ON PETITIONS AND INDIVIDUAL CASES
23. The IACHR studied numerous petitions and individual cases alleging violations of human rights protected by the American Convention, the American Declaration, and other Inter-American instruments, and it adopted reports on 38 individual cases and petitions.
24. The reports adopted by the IACHR reflect some of the structural human rights problems that still afflicting the region. They deal, inter alia, with the right to life and to humane treatment, with guarantees of due process and judicial protection, with the rights of children, indigenous peoples, and women, and with economic, social, and cultural rights.
25. The IACHR notes with satisfaction the adoption of three friendly settlement reports, and it urges the States and the victims’ representatives to continue with their efforts to reach friendly settlements in those cases and petitions currently subject to that procedure.
26. During this session, the IACHR adopted reports on the merits of five cases. These reports will be conveyed to the appropriate member states, in compliance with Article 50 of the American Convention or Article 43 of the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure.
27. The following list indicates those cases in which the IACHR’s decision has been made public:
28. During the week of March 1-5, 2004, the IACHR held 59 hearings on individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific human rights situations in different member states and regions. The hearings on individual cases and petitions addressed questions relating to admissibility, merits, friendly settlement, and follow-up. In dealing with precautionary measures, the IACHR received information about their implementation and about the continued existence of serious and urgent conditions. The following paragraphs list all the hearings that took place at the 119th regular session:
A. Hearings on general human rights situations
29. The IACHR received information about the general human rights situation in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia (four hearings: two general, one regional, and one on the rule of law and how it stands from the social and democratic angles), Cuba, Guatemala (two hearings), Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela.
B. Hearings on national and regional topics and situations
30. As a part of its reflection on the inter-American human rights system, at one plenary session the IACHR received representatives from numerous civil society organizations, who offered their ideas regarding the challenges facing the system.
31. The hearings schedule also included an analysis of economic, social, and cultural rights. At one of its plenary sessions, the IACHR received a group of experts in this area, who discussed strategies and the regulatory framework for enforcing economic, social, and cultural rights within petitions and individual cases. With reference to national experiences, the IACHR was told about Brazil’s project involving national DESC rapporteurs.
32. Representatives from Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), together with human rights organizations, submitted information on the implementation of the recommendations contained in its report; this meeting took place with representatives of the Peruvian State in attendance and participating fully. In particular, the state representatives told the IACHR about the compensation initiative set forth in the National Peace and Development Plan promoted by Peru’s President. The IACHR underscores the fundamental contribution made by the CVR’s Final Report, and it applauds the actions of the Peruvian authorities in putting the corresponding recommendations into practice. In addition, it offers its encouragement for the further strengthening of human rights under the aegis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
33. With respect to the rights of children, hearings were held on problems relating to mara street-gangs in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, on the conditions faced by adolescent prison inmates in Nicaragua, and on investigations into the deaths of minor-aged children in Honduras. In connection with this, the IACHR notes its concern regarding certain legislative amendments that contradict the international parameters that afford children and adolescents special protection. At the same time, it underscores the need to tackle the phenomenon of violence toward children and young people through a combination of preventive measures and law-and-order policies.
34. The situation prevailing with respect to the right of free expression in the hemisphere was also analyzed under the aegis of the IACHR’s different mechanisms during this period of sessions. In particular, the Commission received information about freedom of expression in Colombia, Cuba, and Haiti, and about the situation faced by community radio stations and free expression in Mexico.
35. With reference to the right to personal liberty, one meeting was held on the current situation in Colombia and another on the conditions prevailing in Peru’s prisons. In addition, information was received about incidents of torture in Brazil, and another hearing addressed the problem of quasi-police groups in Venezuela.
36. In addition to the attention paid to current status of indigenous peoples’ rights in its processing of petitions and individual cases and of specific precautionary measures, the IACHR heard information about the situation faced by indigenous peoples as a result of mining activities in the hemisphere. It was also told about the situation of indigenous peoples in the mining region in the south of Venezuela.
37. Among the other issues that the IACHR addresses through its subject-specific rapporteurships, mention should be made of the hearings held on the situation surrounding women’s rights in Colombia, and the general situation of migrant workers in the hemisphere.
38. During the first week of March, the Commission received representatives from different regional organizations and member states who provided information about the status of trade union freedoms in Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico; another hearing was also held to deal with the same issue in the Central American region. The situation of human rights at work and within the social security system in Peru was also a topic at one hearing during this period of sessions.
39. Several regional-level issues were studied at this session, including one hearing on situation of democracy and human rights in the Andean region. In addition, one hearing was turned over to representatives of several Central American countries, who spoke about the situation faced by judicial officials in that region.
C. Hearings on cases and petitions
D. Hearings on precautionary measures
IV. INTER-AMERICAN COURT
40. As part of its work program, during this week the IACHR received a delegation from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, comprising its president-elect, Dr. Sergio García Ramírez, its vice-president-elect, Dr. Alirio Abreu Burelli, and its secretary, Dr. Pablo Saavedra Alessandri. This was an opportunity to exchange information about procedural issues and about strengthening the inter-American human rights system, particularly as regards the need to bring the OAS’s regular budget into line with the two bodies’ current working reality.
41. The IACHR has continued to present the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with pertinent documents dealing with the cases and provisional measures currently before the Court. During the period covered by this press release, the Commission referred no new cases or applications for provisional measures to the Court.
V. RATIFICATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTS
42. On February 11, 2004, the Colombian State deposited its instrument of ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities. The IACHR again urges all the OAS member states to ratify all the inter-American instruments, in order to make the system truly universal and to enhance international protection for the basic rights of all the inhabitants of the Americas.
Washington, D.C., March 12, 2004