EVALUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS DURING IACHR REGULAR SESSIONS
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported on the activities carried out during its 124th regular session. The Members of the IACHR are Evelio Fernández Arévalos, President; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, First Vice President; and Florentin Meléndez, Second Vice President; and Commissioners: Clare K. Roberts, Freddy Gutiérrez Trejo, Paolo Carozza and Víctor Abramovich. The Executive Secretary of the IACHR is Dr. Santiago A. Canton.
The IACHR has learned of important progress recently on human rights matters: the decision by the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina nullifying the due obedience and “full stop” laws, as recommended by the Commission; extensive constitutional reforms in Chile to remove obstacles to equal political participation, also recommended by the Commission; the conclusion of agreements and important progress in friendly settlement processes involving Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico. There has also been progress in the human rights of women, with such developments as the adoption of the Family Violence Act in Chile and the ratification by Jamaica of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women, "Convention of Belém do Pará." A far-reaching national human rights program introduced in Mexico in 2004 is currently being implemented. Likewise, constitutional reforms were approved in Brazil to modernize the judicial system and enhance the judicial mechanisms available to ensure that human rights violations do not go unpunished. The Brazilian Government is also achieving important advancements toward racial equality. For its part, the Uruguayan Government has achieved concrete results in finding and identifying the remains of persons who were disappeared during the military dictatorship. Other States have recognized their responsibility, both before the Commission and before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
At the outset of 2006, it is evident that the challenges in the observance and promotion of human rights in our Hemisphere constitute a priority. The population of OAS Member States and their governments are still facing threats to their security derived from Terrorism, drugs, trafficking of persons, violence by gangs and common crime. Frequently, some of the responses to these threats do not sufficiently take into account the commitment to human rights and consequently those who are more vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies end up frequently affected by measures adopted by States. These problems become more complicated due to the reality faced by most of the population of the region, who suffer inadequate standards of living, malnourishment, lack of health and education, and because democratic institutions are still weak in most of our Hemisphere.
Most of the problems that were addressed during the Commission’s hearings, its discussion of cases and precautionary measures, and its the analysis of general situations, are also the focus of discussion in each of the Member States. The period of sessions of the IACHR was once again an open forum to define, evaluate and focus upon strategies to confront the human rights challenges in the Hemisphere.
A fruitful interaction took place during the hearings with Member States, essential actors in the inter-American system on human rights. In assuming freely their human rights obligations, the Member States of the Organization are called upon to comply with the duties of respect and guarantee of such rights. This positive relationship with the authorities of several countries of the region allows the IACHR to identify ways of making human rights effective for the inhabitants of the Hemisphere, and to cooperate within the framework of its functions in the analysis of plans and programs in its field of responsibility.
The sessions also provided an appropriate occasion to strengthen the exchange with the political organs of the OAS. A dialogue took place with Member States in a special session of the Committee of Juridical and Political Affairs (CJPA) of the Permanent Council of the Organization, and with the Judges of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The CJPA also hosted several sessions with the Commission’s thematic Rapporteurs in order to report on their specific activities in their respective areas of responsibility. The President of the Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Matters invited the President of the IACHR to report on the Commission’s budgetary situation. The Inter-American Commission considers it to be highly encouraging that its President received a unanimous response in support of the request for an addition to its 2006 budget, as well as adjustments to the 2007 budget that may allow it to carry out more efficiently its fundamental functions of promoting and protecting human rights in the Americas.
The Inter-American Commission highlights once again the commitment to the inter-American system of human rights demonstrated by Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. Indeed, his support has come not only in respect of matters pertaining to human and financial resources, but also through the recognition of the autonomy and independence of the IACHR in the new structure approved by the General Secretariat.
As usual, civil society in the region was well represented during these sessions. The exchange of information took place not only in the context of formal hearings and meetings, but also in several other engagements with Commissioners and the Executive Secretariat. Once again there was special mention of the essential role played by human rights defenders as the engine of the system, who allow the effective protection of human rights to reach people in the most removed places in the Americas.
In the course of the session, the Inter-American Commission continued its practice of holding meetings with the different regional groups. During this session, a working breakfast was held with Permanent Representatives of Member States of Central America, during which an exchange of information took place with respect to human rights in that subregion.
The Inter-American Commission discussed and approved a “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas”. The IACHR highlights in its report that the initiative of human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights constitutes a legitimate activity that helps with an essential obligation of the States, and therefore, it creates special obligations of protection from the States with respect to those who are dedicated to promote and to protect such rights.
The Inter-American Commission is particularly interested in citizen security and its relation with human rights in the Americas. This complex subject has given rise to numerous hearings in different periods of sessions, and at the same time it has come to the Commission’s attention through the individual petitions and cases system, precautionary measures, as well as in the agenda of working visits and in loco investigations. The IACHR decided to entrust to Commissioner Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro the elaboration of a hemispheric study on citizen security and human rights.
With respect to Colombia, during the 124th sessions the IACHR received information regarding the process of demobilization of illegal armed groups, the regulatory framework in this area, the violations of the cease-fire and the functioning of the recently created National Commission on Reparation and Reconciliation. The IACHR received Dr. Eduardo Pizarro, President of that National Commission, who presented information on the activities to be carried out. As pointed out by the IACHR, the process initiated to deactivate the armed conflict in Colombia requires measures to guarantee non repetition of crimes perpetrated against the civilian population, in violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law, including the investigation and reparation of the consequences of violence by means of l the proper mechanisms to establish the truth, to impart justice and to repair integrally the victims, in compliance with its international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the OAS Charter.
With respect to Cuba, the IACHR analyzed the human rights situation during the sessions concluding today. The Inter-American Commission considers that there has been no change in the conditions of detention suffered by persons who voice their dissent with the government. Also, no improvement has been observed noticed in terms of the systematic violation of the rights to freedom of expression and labor and union rights, or regarding the restrictions on the freedom of movement and residence of the inhabitants of the country. Permanent and systematic violation of fundamental rights of Cuban citizens have also persisted by virtue of restrictions on their political rights, freedom of expression and of dissemination of ideas. This situation is especially aggravated by the complete lack of independence of the Judiciary. The Inter-American Commission must again reiterate that the economic and commercial sanctions imposed on the government tend to aggravate the lack of effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by the Cuban people.
With respect to Ecuador, the inauguration of a new government in April 2005, as well as the initiatives adopted since, constitutes a positive sign towards the reestablishment of institutions. However, mention must be made of the delicate situation that continues to affect the country in areas that are fundamental for the protection of human rights, such as an independent judiciary that functions properly. In this regard, the process of appointment of the magistrates of the Supreme Court, which was carried out so as to ensure a transparent selection and international verification, is an important step, particularly because it resulted from an internal democratic dialogue. The IACHR also welcomed the appointment of the members of the Constitutional Court. In addition, the Commission also highlights the interest of the new government in promoting popular participation and consolidating democracy, which are all relevant factors considering that in October 2006 the country will undergo an electoral process for President and Vice President of the Republic, as well as for Members of Congress. However, the IACHR must express its preoccupation for the instability that negatively affects the enjoyment of human rights in the country.
With respect to Haiti, the Commission received information concerning the general political and human rights situation in the country as well as specific information on the status of economic and social rights. In these respects, the Commission was encouraged by the February 7, 2006 election of René Préval as Haiti’s new President and is hopeful that the second round of Parliamentary elections will take place expeditiously and in accordance with applicable international standards. Notwithstanding these positive political developments, the Commission continues to receive information indicating that the security situation in the country remains unstable, that a majority of the Haitian population continues to be denied economic and social rights in such areas as food, water, health, and education, and that the justice system remains gravely under-resourced and dysfunctional in many respects. In this regard, during its session the Commission released its report concerning the administration of justice in Haiti, in which the Commission concluded that the justice system in Haiti is gravely deficient in almost all respects and that reform of the justice system must be a priority for Haiti’s new government with the support of the international community.
With respect to Venezuela, the IACHR expresses its concern for criminal actions initiated against members of human rights organizations for charges of conspiracy against the republican form of government which are based upon the fact that they have received international cooperation funding to develop their work. Further, and in light of statements made by state representatives during hearings before the Commission disqualifying the work of human rights defenders, the IACHR calls for the Venezuelan authorities to assure that no human rights defender is subjected to harassment and intimidation based on his or her work. The Commission expresses once again its recognition for the work of promotion and protection carried out by the human rights defenders of the hemisphere, and reiterates that they cannot be harassed because of their work and for using the instruments and instances provided by the inter-American system. In addition, the IACHR expresses its concern for the laws and judicial actions that limit freedom of expression and access to information in Venezuela, particularly given information received in the first months of 2006 with regard to criminal actions pursued against Ibeyse Pacheco, Marianella Salazar and José Ovidio Rodríguez (“Napoleón Bravo”) by State officials for the crimes of slander, defamation and contempt.
The IACHR selected Dr. Ignacio Álvarez as its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. Dr. Álvarez, a citizen of Venezuela, has been working as a human rights specialist in the IACHR since 1998 and holds a law degree from the “Andrés Bello” Catholic University of Caracas, specialized studies in procedural law from the Central University of Venezuela, and a master’s degree in international law from American University’s Washington College of Law.
During the sessions, the Commission carried out an intense program of activities. As is customary, the greater part of the Commission’s work was dedicated to the study and review of reports on individual petitions and cases pertaining to different countries in the hemisphere. The matters considered include 27 reports on admissibility, 15 reports on the merits, 8 reports on friendly settlement and 16 decisions to archive. The IACHR held 61 hearings on individual cases and petitions and on the human rights situation in the hemisphere, which covered general issues and specific subjects pertaining to the mandate of the Commission. Further, the IACHR planned the activities to be carried out throughout 2006.
Finally, the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a joint working session in which they analyzed important subjects for the harmonic operation of the inter-American organs of protection.
Washington, D.C., March 17, 2006
REPORT OF THE 124th REGULAR SESSIONS OF THE IACHR
ANNEX TO PRESS RELEASE 07/06
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presents its report on the activities carried out during its 124th regular sessions. The members of the IACHR are Evelio Fernández Arévalos, President; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, First Vice President; Florentín Meléndez, Second Vice President; and Commissioners Clare K. Roberts, Freddy Gutiérrez, Paolo Carozza, and Víctor Abramovich. The Executive Secretary of the IACHR is Dr. Santiago A. Canton.
During this session, the IACHR approved 53 reports on individual cases and petitions. From March 3 - 13, 2006, it held 61 hearings on individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific situations relating to human rights. The presence of representatives of OAS member States, and others who attended in their personal capacity or as petitioners, contributes significantly to strengthening the work of protecting the human rights of the inhabitants of the hemisphere. The Inter-American Commission appreciates and expresses its thanks for this attendance and participation. In this sense, it particularly notes the participation of high-level government authorities, including government ministers and undersecretaries, as well as the attorneys general and prosecutors of several countries, as a demonstration of their respective States’ willingness to dialogue with the IACHR and civil society.
I. GENERAL REPORTS
A. Report on the administration of justice in Haiti
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights published its report on the situation of the administration of justice in the Republic of Haiti. Its report, entitled: “Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges Ahead for Haiti and the International Community,” evaluates the current status of the administration of justice in Haiti in light of its obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. The Inter-American Commission report concludes that the justice system in Haiti is gravely deficient in almost all respects and systematically fails to protect the fundamental human rights of the Haitian people. It also emphasizes that efforts to address Haiti’s present and serious political, economic, and social problems will not succeed without urgent reforms to strengthen the administration of justice and the rule of law in Haiti, and will require ongoing, coordinated, and sustained support from OAS member states and other members of the international community.
The report analyzes three main areas of the administration of justice in Haiti: law enforcement, the court system, and the system of detention centers and prisons. Among other conclusions, the report finds that Haiti’s national police force suffers from grave shortages of officers and resources, lacks a clear and enforced hierarchy of command and control, and is tainted by corruption and human rights abuses. The court system is plagued by inadequate resources and training as well as outdated laws, resulting in chronic and unacceptable delays in the judicial process and systemic impunity for serious human rights violations. The conditions in the country’s prisons and other detention facilities fall far short of minimum international standards, including special protections for minors. In light of these and other fundamental deficiencies, the Inter-American Commission calls upon the international community to expedite the delivery of funds pledged to Haiti in 2004 and to take the measures necessary to ensure that their justice initiatives lead to lasting changes.
The release of the report is particularly timely in light of the recent election of René Préval as Haiti’s new president following a particularly violent and unstable period in the country’s history. As President Préval takes office, the Commission urges his government to make reform of the justice system a critical priority.
B. Report on Human Rights Defenders
Pursuant to the mandate established by the OAS General Assembly in Resolution AG/RES.1818 (XXXI-O/01) of June 5, 2001, the Commission discussed and approved a “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas.“ In its report, the IACHR emphasizes that the initiative of human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights is a legitimate activity that helps with an essential obligation of States and, therefore, creates special obligations of protection by the states with respect to those who are dedicated to promoting and protecting such rights. The report finds that, despite the importance of the work of human rights defenders and significant efforts of OAS member states and international entities to protect them, in many parts of the Hemisphere the defense of human rights is undertaken with difficulty or in adverse and in some cases, dangerous, contexts.
In its report, the Inter-American Commission identifies the main patterns of acts or omissions that impede or hamper the work of human rights defenders, in particular: extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances; attacks, threats, and harassment; the characterization of human rights defenders as “enemies” and “legitimate targets” by parastate groups; defamation campaigns and criminal lawsuits to discredit their work; intrusions into the home and other arbitrary or abusive interference in the offices, correspondence, and telephonic and electronic communications of human rights organizations; intelligence activities targeting human rights defenders; restrictions on access to information held by the State and habeas data actions; arbitrary administrative and financial controls imposed on human rights organizations; and generalized impunity in the investigation of attacks on human rights defenders. In light of these patterns, the Commission offers a series of observations to the states party to advance in the promotion and protection of work to defend human rights and of those engaged in such work.
II. REPORTS ON INDIVIDUAL PETITIONS AND CASES
The IACHR undertook the study of numerous individual petitions and cases claiming violations of human rights protected by the American Convention, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other Inter-American instruments.
The reports approved by the IACHR reflect some of the structural human rights problems that persist in the region. Among other matters, they refer to respect for the right to life and personal integrity, due process guarantees and judicial protection, the rights of children, indigenous peoples, and women, and economic, social and cultural rights.
The reports approved included 27 cases that were declared admissible, 3 declared inadmissible, 15 reports on the merits, 8 reports on friendly settlement, and 16 cases that were ordered closed. Once the parties have been notified, the Inter-American Commission shall publish the list of cases in which the decision is of a public nature, and they will be available on its website.
From March 3 – 13, 2006, the IACHR held 61 hearings on individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific situations relating to human rights in different states and regions. The agenda for these sessions was extended to include one extra day as the Inter-American Commission received a higher number of requests of interest to it. The audiences on individual cases and petitions dealt with issues of admissibility, merits, friendly settlement, and monitoring.
A. General situation in OAS member States
The IACHR held hearings on the general human rights situation in several countries in the region. At those hearings, it received general information on the situation in Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.
With respect to Bolivia, the state presented copies of the National Plan for Human Rights 2006-2010 and expressed the commitment of President Juan Evo Morales Aima’s new administration to human rights and its intention to address the issues contained therein. The IACHR received an assessment from the requesting organizations as well as from the State on the human rights problems facing Bolivia. These problems included poverty and discrimination; the lack of a coordinated State policy on human rights; the need to adapt domestic law in keeping with international human rights standards; procedural delays in cases involving human rights violations; failure to comply with judgments and precautionary measures issued by the bodies of the system; obstacles to access to justice faced by indigenous peoples, women, and indigent people; persistent gender-related violence and the failure to investigate the attendant complaints; the growing problem of trafficking in boys, girls, adolescents and women; irregularities in the land reform process; the impact on health and personal integrity of environmental pollution caused by mining and oil companies in the departments of Oruro, Potosí, Chuquisaca, Tarija, and Cuyabá. In addition, and mindful of the concerns raised at previous hearings about the “captive communities” of the Guaraní people in the Bolivian Chaco, the requesters indicated that despite public condemnation of this critical situation, these populations continue to live in slave-like conditions and, to date, no penalty has been imposed on those responsible for the situation or the officials who, despite being aware of the situation, have failed to take any action whatsoever. Finally, the State reported the government’s willingness and interest in having the Commission visit the country with a view toward the contribution such a visit could make in the development of the Constituent Assembly.
With respect to Colombia, during its 124th regular sessions the Commission received information on the demobilization of illegal armed groups, the regulation of its normative framework, violations of the ceasefire, and the functioning of the recently established National Reparations and Reconciliation Commission [Comisión Nacional de Reparación y Reconciliación]. During the hearing, the president of that National Commission, Dr. Eduardo Pizarro, presented to the IACHR a report on the activities to be carried out. As the IACHR has pointed out, the process undertaken to deactivate the actors in Columbia’s armed conflict requires measures that ensure the non-repetition of the crimes perpetrated against the civilian population in violation of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the clarification of, and reparations for, the consequences of the violence, through appropriate mechanisms to establish the truth of what transpired, administer justice, and make integral reparation to the victims pursuant to its international obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and the OAS Charter.
With respect to Guatemala, the IACHR received information on government human rights policy; compliance with precautionary measures; the justice situation; difficulties in the investigation of human rights cases; and the situation of the penitentiary system. The IACHR appreciates the actions taken by the State of Guatemala to comply with its recommendations, friendly settlement agreements, and with the judgments issued by the Inter-American Court; it also appreciates its efforts to reform the penitentiary system in accordance with the challenges set forth in the 2001 IACHR country report concerning internal and external security, the classification and separation of prisoners and detainees, prison conditions, health, and rehabilitation opportunities. The Commission also appreciates the Government of Guatemala’s efforts, in conjunction with civil society, to establish the Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Groups and Clandestine Security Organizations in Guatemala [Comisión de Investigación de Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad en Guatemala (CICIACS)] and urges the legislature to approve that initiative as soon as possible. The Commission received information on the national police archives discovered in 2005 and urges their protection, as they will be of vital importance for the clarification of grave human rights violations committed during the armed conflict. In this regard, and concerning the public nature of administrative actions, the Commission observes with concern the continued practice of citing state secrecy under Article 30 of the Political Constitution to restrict access to public records. The Commission reiterates the position of the Court that, in cases of human rights violations, the State authorities cannot resort to mechanisms such as official secret or confidentiality of the information, or reasons of public interest or national security to refuse to supply the information required by the judicial or administrative authorities in charge of the ongoing investigation or proceeding. Based on the information provided at the hearings by the State and by the requesters, the Commission observes with concern the military justice reform bill currently under discussion in the Congress and points out that its approval would constitute a serious reversal for human rights and go against the spirit of the Peace Accords. The Commission also observes with concern the persistent structural impunity that leads to a lack of effective justice in dealing with the crimes committed in Guatemala during the armed conflict and at the present time. In this sense, it notes the continued misuse of the amparo remedy to delay the administration of justice in cases involving human rights abuses committed in Guatemala. As a result, the Inter-American Commission urges the State of Guatemala to regulate that practice to ensure that it is not tolerating or contributing to unjustified delays in the resolution of cases pending before the Guatemala judiciary.
With respect to Haiti, the Commission received information on human rights policy and in particular on respect for economic and social rights. On this subject, the Inter-American Commission welcomed with satisfaction the conclusion of the February 7, 2006 elections electing René Préval as the new President of Haiti. The IACHR is optimistic that the second round of parliamentary elections will proceed rapidly and within the applicable international parameters. Notwithstanding these positive political developments, the Commission received information that security conditions in the country remain unstable, that the majority of the Haitian population is still deprived of basic economic and social rights such as access to food, water, health, and education, and that the justice system continues to be deficient and dysfunctional in many respects. In this regard, during its recently concluded sessions, the Inter-American Commission issued its report on the administration of justice in Haiti. In its report, the Commission finds that the justice system in Haiti is gravely deficient in almost all areas and that the new government of Haiti should make justice reform a critical priority, with the support of the international community.
With respect to Mexico, a general hearing was held at which civil society representatives had the opportunity to express their main human rights concerns in that country. In attendance were organizations of the “All Rights for All” [Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos] Human Rights Network, who pointed out that this year marks the tenth anniversary of the IACHR’s in loco visit to Mexico. They also took the opportunity to review the recommendations that are still pending and the work of protection in individual cases. They highlighted the achievements of the Fox administration in its international human rights policy, as well as the freedom of information law at the domestic level. Among the matters that remain pending, however, were justice system reform, the prosecution in civil courts of military personnel accused of human rights violations, and the effective exercise of labor human rights. The Commission also held a hearing attended by a delegation of the Mexican State, representatives of human rights organizations from the state of Oaxaca, and the Due Process of Law Foundation, which led to a fruitful exchange of information about the human rights situation of women in that state. Specifically, information was received on the human rights situation of indigenous women in Oaxaca and efforts by the state at the legislative, public policy, and institutional levels to correct the shortfalls in the areas of violence and discrimination. The human rights organizations reported on human rights violations against indigenous women associated with land conflicts, political participation, the right to health, and the lack of justice in a context of systematic discrimination and violence against indigenous women. The government, for its part, informed the IACHR about a series of legislative, public policy, and institutional achievements to address the particular situation of women in that area, including a legislative reform package on the specific needs of groups based on their gender, age, geographic location, and level of disadvantage, as well as the Interfamily Violence Law. The Rapporteur for Mexico stressed the IACHR’s interest in continuing to work intensively with that country on individual cases as well as from a general and thematic standpoint, to which end, the possibility was raised of organizing a working visit in 2006.
With respect to Peru, the hearings dealt with the presentation of the National Human Rights Plan, follow-up on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (CVR)], Peruvian military criminal justice, and complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation in that country. At the first hearing the Vice Minister of Justice of Peru, Jaime Reyes Miranda, presented the contents of the National Human Rights Plan, which entered into force last December 11, 2005, to strengthen national mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights and to ensure that domestic law and practice conform to the obligations derived from international human rights and humanitarian law norms that are binding on the Peruvian State. The Inter-American Commission appreciated the broad consultation process undertaken in the context of preparing the Plan which, according to the figures provided, included a total of 2,802 institutions, of which 610 were representatives of public institutions (22%) and 2192 were civil society representatives (78%). In addition to the delegation of the Peruvian State, civil society was also represented at the hearing. At its conclusion, the Government of Peru and the IACHR signed a technical assistance agreement on the implementation of the National Human Rights Plan of Peru 2006 – 2010.
At the hearing on follow-up of the recommendations of the CVR, the requesting organizations discussed the degree to which those recommendations had been fulfilled, especially with regard to justice, reparations, and institutional reform. The Commission received information on the security of human rights defenders, victims, witnesses, and others involved in the investigations and prosecutions undertaken pursuant to the facts established in the CVR report. The IACHR was particularly struck by information stating that, as prosecutions have moved forward, the threats and other forms of harassment have intensified against justice system personnel, witnesses, victims, and legal representatives.
Regarding the situation of military criminal justice, the National Human Rights Coordinator and civil society organizations informed the IACHR on the alleged incompatibility of the law on the organization, functions, and competence of the specialized jurisdiction in military and police penal matters (Law 28.65) and the Military Penal Code [Código de Justicia Militar Policial] (Decree 961) with the standards adopted by the consistent jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the IACHR on the restrictive and exceptional character that military jurisdiction should have in a democratic society. In this regard, the Peruvian State informed the IACHR of various rulings handed down by the high courts against the aforementioned legal codes, as well as the unconstitutionality suits brought by the Bar Association [Colegio de Abogados] of Lima and the Attorney General of the Nation before the Constitutional Court. The IACHR will remain attentive to the decision of the Peruvian Constitutional Court, which had urged the Legislative Branch to adapt the Peruvian military penal justice framework in keeping with the Constitution and with the international human rights treaties ratified by that country.
In addition, the Commission received information on the situation of discrimination based on sexual orientation in Peru, especially with regard to various discriminatory and violent practices against gays and lesbians in the workplace, in public, and in businesses. In this regard, the Commission took note of the petitioners’ request that it recommend that the Peruvian take positive measures to eradicate socio-cultural practices and discourse contrary to the free expression of gender-related identities, attitudes, and practices that are not heterosexual, in keeping with the provisions of the National Human Rights Plan.
With respect to Venezuela, the IACHR expresses its concern over criminal suits brought against certain members of human rights organizations charging them with conspiracy against the republican form of government for having received international cooperation funds for their work. Moreover, in response to the concerns raised at the hearings before the Commission about remarks by government officials to discredit the activities of human rights defenders, the IACHR calls on the authorities of the State of Venezuela to ensure that no human rights defender is targeted for harassment or intimidation as a result of his or her work. The Commission expresses once again its recognition of the work of human rights promotion and protection carried out by human rights defenders in the hemisphere and reiterates that these people cannot be harassed because of their work, much less for making use of the tools and institutions available through the inter-American system.
The IACHR also received information about laws and legal actions restricting freedom of expression and access to information in Venezuela and the situation of asylum-seekers in that country. It is particularly concerned by information received in the early months of 2006 that government officials have filed criminal charges against Ibeyse Pacheco, Marianella Salazar, and José Ovidio Rodríguez (“Napoleón Bravo”) for the offenses of slander, libel and contempt [vilipendio (desacato)]. The Commission reiterates its position that the criminalization of speech directed at public officials, or at private individuals involved of their own volition in matters relevant to the public interest, constitutes a disproportionate penalty inasmuch as the fundamental principle governing a democratic system renders public officials more exposed to public scrutiny and criticism.
B. Other general hearings
There was also a hearing on the state obligation to investigate and prosecute human rights violations that constitute crimes against international law. According to the civil society organizations, pursuant to inter-American treaties and the authorized interpretation of those treaties by the Inter-American Court, and considering the nature erga omnes of the obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish human rights violations, it is clear that all OAS member states have the obligation to adopt the measures necessary to ensure that grave human rights violations that constitute crimes against international law do not go unpunished, and that the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of such crimes are conducted in accordance with inter-American standards. In their presentation, they underscored the importance of ensuring adherence to regional standards on clarification of the facts, punishment of the perpetrators, the imposition of penalties proportionate to the gravity of the offense, and especially, adequate and integral reparation to the victims and their families. It should be recalled that the IACHR adopted Resolution 01/03 on the prosecution of crimes against international law, which calls on states to take measures to consider crimes against international law as offenses that give rise to extradition and to grant the extradition of any person accused of having committed a crime against international law or to proceed with his prosecution.
The Inter-American Commission received information on the situation of people affected by mandatory minimum sentences in the United States. At the hearing, government experts on the judiciary and the legislative branch and experts from civil society organizations presented reports on the discriminatory impact of mandatory minimum sentences and on current legal and legislative measures against this practice; they offered several recommendations on the ways in which the Commission could address this issue.
With regard to the justice situation in Nicaragua, information was received on the progressive deterioration of the administration of justice system, which has been exacerbated by recent reports of corruption, politicization, and political party interference in the courts. In particular, the organizations mentioned that Nicaraguan administration of justice has been affected by sweeping legal and institutional changes pursuant to an agreement between the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) and the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC). Therefore, the organizations proposed that the Commission carry out an on-site visit to evaluate the human rights situation and to prepare a report on the administration of justice in Nicaragua, prior to November 5, 2006, the date of the next national elections.
At the hearings, the Inter-American Commission also received information on economic, social, and cultural rights in Brazil, presented by several rapporteurs from the National Rapporteurs Project. The rapporteurs informed the Inter-American Commission about the specific issue that each is addressing at the domestic level pursuant to his or her respective mandate.
C. Thematic hearings
The Inter-American Commission’s program included hearings to address specific issues relating to its mandate or to analyze the situation of the rights of individuals belonging to particular groups.
The IACHR received information from several human rights and women’s rights organizations on the issue of “feminicide or femicide,” in different parts of the Americas. This problem involves the murder of women, often accompanied by sexual abuse and other signs of physical mistreatment, based on their gender. In particular, the information refers to deficiencies in the response of the States of Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala to effectively prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish these incidents. The participants underscored the need to establish and improve statistical and qualitative information systems and records on incidents of violence against women, and the urgent need to create mechanisms for standardizing such systems and to implement measures so that they adequately reflect the national and local situation, including information broken down by gender, age, race and ethnic group, among other variables.
The IACHR also received information on the critical and precarious situation of displaced women in Colombia and the need for public policy to address the specific needs of this group of women. It heard a presentation on the disproportionate impact on women of the phenomenon of displacement in terms of numbers and consequences, and the high number of women heads of household, which surpasses that of the population in general. The recommendations received included incorporating a gender focus and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in the monitoring and evaluation of existing public policy on displacement, and adopting the necessary measures to ensure the exercise of women’s sexual and reproductive rights and assistance for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
The IACHR conducted a hearing at the request of the Republic of Argentina to address the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in Buenos Aires Province. Participants included representatives of the Center for Legal and Social Studies [Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales] and the Provincial Memory Committee [Comisión Provincial por la Memoria]. They provided information on the conditions of confinement in the province’s jails and police stations [comisarías] and the process currently underway to follow-up on the ruling issued by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation ordering a series of measures to correct serious deficiencies. The IACHR appreciates this ruling, which creates a jurisdictional framework to ensure that the State implements the reforms required under the Constitution and the American Convention, and it believes that the process of periodic reporting and monitoring, which includes the participation of civil society representatives, is a critical tool in the quest for solutions.
The Commission also received information on the general status of the rights of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. The participants described the economic and political context in the region and its impact on members of indigenous peoples, as well as the problems they face in the conservation of their territories, health, education, and access to justice. They mentioned, in particular, the situation of indigenous women. They underscored the lack of respect for the freedom of determination of indigenous peoples due to the lack of consultation when public works, such as hydroelectric dams, mines, or tourism projects, are to be carried out on their own lands. They emphasized too that the States fail to consult with them in the negotiations of regional treaties and projects that affect their lifestyle. Lastly, they mentioned international initiatives to defend the rights of indigenous peoples, but lamented that, despite such initiatives, they continue to fall victim to discrimination and exclusion, which become tangible in their day-to-day lives through government public policy, social relations, production models, and development cooperation. As an example, they emphasized that in some countries such as El Salvador, the existence of indigenous peoples is not recognized. The petitioners requested the IACHR to prepare a regional report on the situation of indigenous peoples.
The Commission also held a thematic hearing on the situation of individuals deprived of their liberty in El Salvador. At the hearing, the Inter-American Commission received information on the impact of the “hard hand plan” [plan de mano dura] to fight crime, particularly in terms of the impact of higher penalties on the prison situation. According to reports, this policy exacerbates the problem of treating the penalty as a mechanism for ongoing repression rather than resocialization. They also stated that the most recent reforms implemented not only included abusive measures against detainees, but also established preventive detention as the general rule for any type of offense, regardless of its legal character. The State pointed out at the hearing that most of the criminal law reforms were established in the framework of a penitentiary board with participation by different sectors. The State also pointed out that overcrowding also is a problem in other Latin American countries and specifically stated that the main causes of the problem in El Salvador were the massive deportations of a high number of people with criminal records, insufficient funding for prison infrastructure, social violence, the high incidence of gangs and organized crime.
The Chilean State presented information during a hearing on the situation of individuals deprived of their liberty in that country. The Chilean authorities described various initiatives to reduce and eliminate, over the coming years, the endemic crowding problem afflicting detainees.
Three hearings dealt with the situation of migrant workers and their families. The Commission heard testimonies concerning human rights in the natural disasters in the hemisphere, including the effects of government actions following the natural disasters of hurricanes Katrina and Mitch on the population of latino migrant workers, a group comprising some 20-30,000 people. It was reported at the hearing that, in situations of natural disasters, migrant workers and other minorities frequently are at a disadvantage and are victims of human rights violations, including the lack of basic needs and services, threats of deportation, and denial of labor protection. According to the presenters, for example, following hurricanes Katrina and Mitch, the migrant population was deprived for six months of assistance from the United States government including food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. The presenters also noted that migrant workers were forced to work 7 days a week for 10 to 14 hours per day, and experienced, in some cases, the failure to pay overtime and deplorable conditions in which they were exposed to asbestos, toxic and human waste, and dangerous chemicals without the necessary protective clothing.
During the hearings, the Commission learned of the situation created by migration law 285-04 in the Dominican Republic, approved by the National Congress in August 2004, as well as its proposed implementing regulations and their effect on the Haitian-Dominican population. At the hearing, the requesters asserted that several articles of the law promote discriminatory policies against Haitian and Haitian-Dominicans in violation of the relevant international standards, and should its regulations take effect, would institutionalize the violations to which these populations have been subjected. In addition, the petitioners reported on the problem of massive expulsions of the Haitian and Haitian-Dominican population, which are conducted without due process and in contravention of the right to non-discrimination. They pointed out that such policies especially affect the right to family, protection of children, and the rights to nationality, a name, and freedom of movement and residence. They also denounced that the repatriation policy affected boys and girls particularly and had the direct effect of their births not being registered in the Dominican civil register, since the repatriations have targeted pregnant or recently delivered women. They also reported that besides being deported, Haitian-Dominicans who are detained are subject to mistreatment, discrimination, and the lack of due process guarantees. Finally, the Commission heard about the precarious working conditions particularly affecting migrant agricultural laborers in border areas and women in domestic service, who earn salaries below the established minimum wage and who, due to their status, may be fired without being compensated for the services provided.
The IACHR was also informed about the human rights situation of migrant workers and their families in Costa Rica. The requesters reported that the migrant population faced myriad obstacles including problems of access to education, health, and social services, and described their precarious circumstances. During the hearing they also described the particular effects on the children of migrant workers in the context of the school system, where in many cases enrollment is contingent upon their parents proving that they are in the country legally. The Commission takes note of the concerns presented by the State of Costa Rica regarding the co-responsibility for this problem shared by the country of origin as well as the transit and receiving countries. At the hearing, the State invited the Special Rapporteurship on the rights of migrant workers and members of their families to visit the country.
Another hearing dealt with the situation of children and child labor in Latin America. According to the information received, at least 17% of Central American boys, girls, and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 17 years form part of the working population, the equivalent of 2 million minors. The organizations present expressed their concern over myriad human rights violations associated with child labor and requested the Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child to conduct a study on national and international law, institutional reform, and government investment for the prevention of child labor. Lastly, they requested the Rapporteurship to formulate recommendations to protect all minors from any form of work-related exploitation.
D. Hearings on cases and petitions
E. Hearings on precautionary measures
IV. WORKING MEETINGS
Of particular note was the working meeting on petition P161/02 of Paulina Ramírez Jacinto, Mexico. In that matter, the parties reached a friendly settlement agreement that included public recognition of the responsibility of the Government of Baja California and a significant series of reparation measures for the alleged victim and her son. The IACHR notes with satisfaction the good will and collaboration of the parties that made it possible to reach an agreement that concluded the matter through a non-contentious proceeding.
A working meeting was also held on Case 12.433 – Sonia Arce Esparza, of Chile. In that matter, the discussions continued regarding the bases for a friendly settlement agreement, following up on the meeting between the parties at the previous session. The IACHR recognizes the progress made in the dialogue on the matter through the active participation of the State and the petitioners.
The Inter-American Commission also welcomes the important progress made in the friendly settlement process relating to Case 10.205 - Germán Enrique Guerra Achuri, Colombia. At the working meeting, the petitioners of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission and the Colombian state formalized a friendly settlement agreement. The IACHR notes with satisfaction the agreement of the parties and expresses its willingness to monitor the process.
A series of working meetings were held concerning Peru. The first of these was on Case 11.084 Salinas Sedó et al, to examine progress in compliance with report 27/94. At that meeting, the petitioner and his representative described the State’s noncompliance on several points. The State, for its part, demonstrated its willingness to convene a working meeting prior to the second round of presidential elections to examine legal technical issues and arrive at an understanding with the petitioner. The IACHR welcomes the progress made and stresses that the conditions are conducive to continuing the discussions until the next visit to Lima in the coming months.
The Inter-American Commission received the parties in Case 12.033, Rómulo Torres Ventocilla, in which they signed a friendly settlement agreement, an event welcomed by the IACHR. In Case 11.062 – Petroleum Workers Union of Peru [Sindicato de Trabajadores de Petróleos del Perú], there was progress made in negotiating the particulars of a future friendly settlement agreement. A working meeting was also held on petition P532-98 Dismissed Workers of ENAPU S.A. [Trabajadores Despedidos de ENAPU S.A.], during which the Inter-American Commission noted with satisfaction the reinstatements that had been carried out and the framework for dialogue between the parties. It also applauded the State’s willingness to request that ENAPU reinstate five of the dismissed workers. Another working meeting dealt with petitions of magistrates and prosecutors who were not reconfirmed. The State expressed its willingness to reinstate the magistrates as long as there was a friendly settlement, mainly because there is a Supreme Resolution authorizing the signing of such solutions. They indicated that they had signed agreements with 52 magistrates and that they would continue evaluating the cases for the signing of such agreements. It was agreed that the State would communicate with the IACHR and with the petitioners within 30 days as to whether it would sign additional friendly settlement agreements. The IACHR recognized the State’s offer and welcomed its good will. With respect to the cases of the Joint Press Release of February 22, 2001, the Inter-American Commission proposed that meetings be held in its absence for the purpose of continuing the dialogue and that preparations be made for that institution’s visit to Lima in the coming months.
In relation to the human rights situation of pensioners, the Inter-American Commission received information on the situation of pensioners in Peru following the constitutional reform and its impact on the “Cédula Viva” pension regime. The IACHR noted with satisfaction the State’s agreement to enforce the petitions with a favorable judgment from the Constitutional Court.
Another working meeting dealt with request for precautionary measures No. 271/05 involving the La Oroya Community. At the meeting, the petitioners and the State presented vast amounts of information analyzing the grounds for said measures. The petitioners stated that it was not their intention to cancel the industrial works but urged that effective measures be taken for the inhabitants of the community, and especially for children and pregnant women. The IACHR indicated to the parties that it would undertake the study of the situation as soon as possible.
Executive Secretary Santiago A. Canton also participated in a working meeting with human rights defenders, which was attended by several civil society representatives in the Americas. The topics addressed included several problems that impede or adversely affect efforts to defend human rights in the region, ranging from threats and murders to undue restrictions and other forms of harassment.
During the sessions, the Commission received representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss issues of mutual interest to both institutions. It should also be noted that the ICRC made a substantial donation in the form of its recent publication, in three volumes, on rules and practices internationally accepted as customary in international humanitarian law. The IACHR expresses its gratitude for the kind gift to each of its members of the first volume of that publication on the rules relating to that subject.
V. RAPPORTEURSHIPS AND THEMATIC AREAS
The Rapporteur on this issue is Commissioner Clare K. Roberts, who represented the IACHR, in the Conference to Establish a Policy Agenda for Racial Equality in the Americas organized by the Inter-American Dialogue and the World Bank. At the session, Commissioner Roberts stressed the importance of ensuring the full and equal access to justice for Afro-descendents who fall victim to racial discrimination. On behalf of the Commission, the Rapporteur appealed for the development of a working agenda to adopt the legal, political, and other measures necessary to create a legal framework that would enable member states to effectively combat racial discrimination and ensure that Afro-descendents who are victims of discrimination due to their race or skin color obtain the reparations to which they are entitled. The Inter-American Commission has continued to provide technical assistance to the OAS Working Group to Prepare a Draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and all Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. The IACHR has stressed on many occasions the importance of adopting this instrument and the need to ensure that this main human rights body be granted supervisory powers relating to the new obligations assumed by the states. During these sessions, the Commission received information at different hearings on the general situation or on particular aspects of the lives of Afro-descendents in the United States, Honduras, Brazil, and Colombia. Issues of critical importance were pointed out at each one of these hearings. They included duly ensuring the effective enjoyment of property rights over traditional territories (Honduras), the equal and nondiscriminatory administration of justice (United States), ensuring the full and equitable enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights (Brazil), reducing the disproportionately negative impact on Afro-descendents of the effects of internal armed conflict (Colombia), or of natural disasters. The Rapporteurship, represented by professional staff of the Secretariat, participated in the meeting of the United Nations Working Group on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. On that occasion, the IACHR underscored the importance of adapting international law to the new manifestations and realities of racial discrimination. Finally, the Commission announced with immense satisfaction the creation of a fellowship for a young attorney of African descent to carry out a professional, one-year internship with the IACHR. The IACHR chose as its first fellow in this thematic area, Brazilian national Cleber Lázaro Costa.
The Rapporteur for the rights of women is Commissioner Víctor Abramovich, who was name at the beginning of the sessions. Highlights in terms of progress in the rights of women include the State of Jamaica’s ratification of the Convention of Belém do Pará last December 15, 2005, reinforcing that Convention’s status as the most ratified instrument of the inter-American human rights system, and the election of Michelle Bachelet as the first woman president of Chile. In the past two years, the Rapporteurship’s work program has focused on a priority for the rights of women on the continent: how to ensure women’s effective access to justice, particularly when they have experienced violence and discrimination. Since the previous sessions, the Rapporteurship has continued to gather information on the main achievements and on the challenges women face in gaining access to justice in the Americas. This consultation process has included the government sector, civil society, regional and international organizations, academics, and others. The Rapporteurship is currently preparing a report that sets forth and examines the findings and conclusions of this process, which will include specific recommendations for OAS member states on the measures that could be adopted to improve women’s access to justice and to achieve effective fulfillment of their regional human rights obligations. In addition to its work on access to justice, the Rapporteurship has continued to provide technical support to attorneys of the Executive Secretariat in processing petitions and precautionary measures.
C. Indigenous peoples
The Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples is Commissioner Paolo Carozza, who was named at the start of the current sessions. The Rapporteur met with the Working Group to Prepare a Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and with the indigenous leaders who attended various hearings before the IACHR. The bodies of the system for the protection of human rights have developed progressive jurisprudence recognizing the collective rights of indigenous peoples and establishing special forms of reparation. Nonetheless, the Inter-American Commission notes with concern the difficulties in complying with its recommendations, and the judgments and provisional measures handed down by the Inter-American Court with respect to decisions in cases in which the victim is an indigenous people. In this regard, the Commission urges the states to make a special effort to comply with decisions involving indigenous peoples because by doing so, they not only recognize, protect, and make reparations to a group of people, but also respect a special way of life because, as the Court has stated, “the culture of members of indigenous communities corresponds to a particular way of life of being, viewing, and acting in the world, that grows out of their close ties to their traditional lands and the resources found there, not only as their main form of subsistence, but also as an integral part of their cosmovision, religiosity and, ultimately, their cultural identity.” The Rapporteurship on the rights of indigenous peoples has continued to collaborate on the processing of petitions concerning the rights of indigenous peoples, has participated in visits to Guatemala, Colombia, and Mexico, and has continued to assist the Chair of the Working Group to prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission reiterates its recognition of the efforts made by OAS member states and representatives of the indigenous peoples of the continent in the draft negotiation process and applauds the achievements made. The IACHR also urges the adoption of the declaration because such a powerful instrument will enrich the body of inter-American human rights law and the regional system of protection, and will help strengthen the democracies of our countries.
The Rapporteur for Children is Commissioner Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. Since the last sessions, the Rapporteurship has advanced in its analysis of the status of the rights of children in Haiti, following its recent visit to that country together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In particular, the Rapporteurship has focused on grave human rights violations against Haitian boys, girls, and adolescents that have occurred in the context of the current violence in the country. In this regard, it is analyzing reports from various sources on murders, the use of children by armed groups, torture, kidnappings, abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, abandonment, trafficking, and corporal punishment. Also during these sessions, the Rapporteurship has advanced in negotiations of a funding proposal with the Inter-American Development Bank to strengthen activities in this thematic area, which it expects to sign shortly. The Rapporteurship also announced its interest in visiting Paraguay and received a favorable response from that State, which it will visit in April 2006. Finally, it should be noted that a suggestion was submitted to the full session of the IACHR to request an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court on the issue of corporal punishment of boys and girls.
E. Migrant workers and members of their families
The Rapporteur on this issue is Commissioner Freddy Gutiérrez. Pursuant to the Inter-American system’s mandate of promotion with an emphasis on the rights of migrant workers and their families, during 2005, the Rapporteurship on the rights of migrant workers and members of their family distributed a compact disc with a collection of thematic reports on the visits made and the jurisprudence developed by the inter-American system on this subject. Likewise, the Rapporteurship closely followed policy discussions and changes to legislation and migration controls in the region, particularly on human trafficking; and the impact of the war on terrorism on migration controls and on the situation of migrant workers in the region. In addition, the Rapporteurship has continued to collaborate on and examine petitions and requests for precautionary measures concerning migrant workers taken in by the Commission. With respect to the work plan for 2006, the Commission is obliged to report that from August 2005 to date, the Rapporteurship has had no additional funds to carry out its activities.
F. Persons deprived of liberty
Commissioner Florentín Meléndez, Rapporteur on the rights of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas, made a presentation on the subject on March 2, 2006, before the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. At that time, he presented a preliminary assessment of the penitentiary situation on the continent, pointing out the good penitentiary practices detected in some countries. He also related the main activities of the Rapporteurship under his purview in the framework of its three-year work plan, including the normative development of the inter-American system through the adoption of an Inter-American Declaration of Principles; the preparation of a regional report on the situation of persons deprived of their liberty in the Americas; promotion and education on the rights of individuals deprived of their liberty; and systematization of information in the inter-American system on persons deprived of liberty and follow-up on fulfillment of IACHR recommendations on this subject. Since the last session, the Rapporteurship has conducted an observation visit to Colombia from November 13 to 18, 2005, jointly with the Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OACNUDH), to ascertain the prison conditions and respect for the rights of persons deprived of liberty. Subsequently, on December 6, 2005, the Rapporteurship conducted a Workshop on the Inter-American Human Rights System for civil society groups, held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, sponsored by the “Konrad Adenauer” Foundation of Germany. In his capacity as the IACHR delegate, Commissioner Meléndez has participated in public hearings on the provisional measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Case of Children and Adolescents Deprived of their Liberty in the “Tatuapé Complex”, Brazil, which were held on November 29, 2005. He also served as the IACHR’s delegate in the public hearing in the Case of Damião Ximenes Lopes vs. Brazil before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, held on November 30 and December 1, 2005, on the death of a mentally disabled person in state custody in a psychiatric hospital. In response to the prison situation observed in several countries of the region, and as a contribution by the IACHR to the normative development of protection, the Rapporteurship has prepared a Draft Declaration of Principles on the Protection of Persons Deprived of their Liberty in the Americas. The aim of this draft declaration is to promote the use of the principles recognized in different international instruments on the protection of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, as well as those emerging in the jurisprudence. The Rapporteurship currently is preparing a specialized questionnaire that will be submitted to the member states in order to gather information on the situation of persons deprived of liberty in their jurisdictions, and on their respective penitentiary systems. The information collected, as well as that obtained from observation visits conducted by the Rapporteurship and the information sent by civil society organizations in the region, will be used in the preparation of the first report on the penitentiary situation in the Americas.
G. Freedom of expression
The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is a permanent office with operational independence and its own budget, which was created by the IACHR and operates within its legal framework. During the current sessions, the Rapporteurship reported to the IACHR on matters inherent to its mandate, highlighting progress in the derogation of contempt [desacato] laws in some countries, progress in access to public information, and its concern over persistent acts of violence against journalists, especially in Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, and Venezuela. The Rapporteurship also reported that since the previous regular sessions of the IACHR, it has continued to carry out its promotion activities; the Rapporteur and attorneys of the Rapporteurship have participated in events in the United States, Mexico, Uruguay, and the United Kingdom. During this session, and after evaluating all of the nominations and interviewing the finalists, the IACHR decided to designate Dr. Ignacio Álvarez, of Venezuelan nationality, as the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Eduardo Bertoni announced his resignation from the post as the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the end of 2005.
H. Human rights defenders
During this session, the Inter-American Commission met with representatives of various organizations that provide information on the situation of human rights defenders in the hemisphere. The Unit for Defenders of Human Rights also held informal meetings with representatives of organizations in most of the countries of the hemisphere, during which it received current information on the situation of human rights defenders. The Commission continued to receive information on acts and omissions that impede or hamper the work of such individuals. Among such practices, the IACHR received information on the increase in public discourse discrediting the work of human rights defenders, and the creation and implementation of new laws restricting or criminalizing the funding of nongovernmental organizations merely for having received funds from international cooperation to support their work. The Inter-American Commission is concerned about this trend and appeals to member states to adopt urgent measures to ensure that law enforcement and justice institutions not be manipulated in such a way as to harass people engaged in legitimate activities. In this sense, the Commission calls on states to implement promptly the recommendations in the recently approved “Report on the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas.”
VI. WORK RELATED TO THE INTER-AMERICAN COURT
The IACHR considered during its sessions, the overall status of cases in litigation before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It also discussed some general issues concerning procedural aspects and analyzed the progress made in the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court. Currently, 16 cases are in process before the Inter-American Court, while 61 cases are in the supervision of compliance stage. In addition, 35 provisional measures are being processed before the court concerning various countries.
A. Joint meeting IACHR – Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Commission and the Court held their Joint Working Session for 2006. In order to follow-up on the issues discussed, the decision was made to create a Joint Working Group with the participation of members of both bodies of the inter-American system and their respective Secretariats.
B. Contentious cases
Since the previous sessions, the Inter-American Commission has referred four new cases to the contentious jurisdiction of the Court:
- García-Prieto Giralt (El Salvador)
- La Cantuta (Peru)
- Cantoral Huamani and García Santa-Cruz (Peru)
- La Rochela (Colombia)
VII. FINANCIAL SITUATION
The Inter-American Commission continues to be adversely affected by the severe financial crisis facing the. It is impossible to grasp the difficulties this body is facing without an overall view of the IACHR’s workload and its sustained increase in recent years. The number of petitions received alone grew from 26 in 1970 to 1,330 in 2005; from 1997 to 2003, the number of complaints received increased by 170%, and there is a sustained, cumulative increase of 10% annually. This means that in the past five years, the Commission has received over 7,500 new complaints, of which approximately 1,000 are in process at different stages of the process. Unfortunately, the budget increase has not been proportionate to the increase in petitions received. The Commission’s regular budget has remained virtually the same since 1996, the last year in which it was granted a substantial increase.
The IACHR wishes to thank Secretary General José Miguel Insulza for his efforts to resolve the serious financial crisis. The recent deliberations and decisions of the Thirtieth Extraordinary Session of the General Assembly on the budget of the Organization and the scale of contributions to the Regular Fund are crucial to ensuring that the Commission is able to effectively fulfill its increasingly broad mandate, and therefore, such efforts nourish hopes for a better financial future. In this same vein, it is encouraged by the expressions of support unanimously expressed by the member states at the recent session of the Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Matters of the Organization when the President of the Inter-American Commission presented the critical situation facing this body. The opportunity provided at the invitation of the Chair of the CAAP, Permanent Representative of Paraguay Manuel María Cáceres, is a gesture that the IACHR deeply appreciates.
The Inter-American Commission emphasizes once more the significant financial support provided by OAS member states: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, and Mexico. It likewise is grateful for the resources contributed by the Permanent Observer States such as Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, and Swede, and by institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission, Rights and Democracy, the Ford Foundation, and the McCormick Foundation. These contributions directly strengthen the inter-American human rights system in the American hemisphere.
Washington, D.C., March 17, 2006
 See IACHR Press Release Nº 05/06, “Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? IACHR Releases Report on the Administration of Justice in Haiti”, March 16, 2006.
 Inter-Am. Ct. of Human Rights, Myrna Mack Chang Case. Judgment of November 25, 2003. Series C No. 101, para. 180.
 See IACHR, Press release Nº 06/06, “Haití: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? IACHR Releases Report on the Administration of Justice in Haiti,” March 16, 2006.
 Inter-Amer. Ct of Human Rights. Case of the Yakye Axa Indigenous Community vs Paraguay. Judgment of June 17, 2005. Series C No. 125, para. 135.