N° 16/07




and respect for human rights


Washington, March 15, 2007 – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges states to foster national and regional public debate and reflection on their obligation to provide security for their citizens in a framework of full respect for fundamental guarantees and freedoms.


The IACHR considers that there is a pressing need for states to reflect on this matter and to adopt effective measures and public policies to guarantee the safety of the population and respect for human rights. To that end, the IACHR has embarked on a regional study that will provide guidelines to OAS member states on how to meet their obligation to protect the inhabitants of the Hemisphere, especially the victims of crimes and human rights violations. The research for that study will be preceded by ample debate and consultation, coordinated with the General Secretariat and civil society organizations specializing in citizen security and human rights.


The relation between citizen security and human rights has been and continues to be a priority issue for the IACHR, which it addresses through the cases it processes, precautionary measures, and working visits to, and investigations in, the member states.  Its annual report, adopted at its 127th period of session, again registered in 2006 an increase in the number of actions threatening public security.


During that period of sessions, as in previous ones, the IACHR held a number of hearings on the subject and received information regarding the public safety situation in different countries and on the incompatibility of hard line repression and the obligation to protect human rights. In the hearings on this matter, the organizations requesting them suggested that in most countries of the region the critical status of citizen security systems had further deteriorated. They argued that this had given rise to strong social demands for concrete solutions, and that the authorities’ responses had been characterized, in most cases, by a lack of crime prevention measures, by the imposition of repressive measures, harsher sentences, and more severe prison conditions: a mixture that had led to the collapse of the penitentiary and prison system in many countries of the region. According to the organizations requesting the hearings, those hard line policies have not succeeded in curbing crime, while they have in fact damaged democratic institutions and weakened respect for human rights.


Furthermore, during the same period of sessions, several hearings examined the citizen security situation in three countries in the region. They reviewed security policies implemented by governments and revealed the consequences of such measures as assigning law enforcement to private security guards–a practice that shifts the State’s responsibility to private individuals–and having the army perform police functions.  It was argued that the police reacts to what is perceived to be criminal activities, but which sometimes are not, so that excesses are committed, including secret detentions or attentions based only on suspicion, abuse of authority and mistreatment of detainees. At another hearing, information was provided regarding the extrajudicial execution of young people stigmatized for having indigenous characteristics, being poor, or for belonging to gangs. Those executions were alleged to be part of a deliberate plan to eliminate certain groups, as part of a plot, falsely described as “social cleansing,” and that the authorities either participate in it or acquiesce.


Faced with these facts on the ground, the IACHR will continue to give priority to citizen security, one of the main issues affecting human rights in the region.


For further information regarding the IACHR, go to: