Panama City, June 5, 2007 – The President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Dr. Florentín Meléndez, today presented the 2006 IACHR Annual Report before the 37th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in Panama. During his speech, Dr. Meléndez asked the States to make greater efforts to improve the levels of compliance with the recommendations and decisions of the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights and to ratify the treaties related to this issue. Likewise, he stressed the need to increase the IACHR’s regular budget. He also highlighted the most significant items addressed in the IACHR’s Annual Report, including the chapter that analyzes the human rights situation in the member States that were specially targeted by the Commission during 2006: Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.
With regard to Colombia, Dr. Meléndez stated that obstacles in the process of demobilizing illegal armed groups and in the enforcement of the applicable legal framework and that the IACHR showed concern about the “lack of clarification regarding most massacres, disappearances and threats against human rights defenders and social leaders”. Dr. Meléndez stated that having completed the demobilizing phase of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC) in 2006, Colombia now faces the challenge of effectively breaking up the paramilitary groups and bringing the perpetrators of the crimes to trial. He also stated that the IACHR acknowledged the efforts made by the State and the society to reach pacification and to decrease the number of human rights violations.
With regard to Cuba, Dr. Meléndez stated that the IACHR received information on the precarious conditions of those deprived of their liberty for being government dissidents and on the practice of repudiating political opponents. This situation is made worse by the lack of independence of the judiciary. “The restrictions on political rights and freedom of expression have amounted for decades to a permanent and systematic violation of fundamental rights”. He also restated the negative impact of the economic sanctions placed on the population and stressed the need to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo. The IACHR’s report recognizes that despite the serious hindrances caused by the embargo, Cuba has made significant progress in the area of human development, general elementary education, gender equality and health for its inhabitants.
With regard to Haiti, Dr. Meléndez stated that the IACHR observed a lack of protection and fundamental guarantees for the population, which especially impacts women, children, human rights defendants and journalists. Besides, he expressed the IACHR’s concern about the deterioration of the security situation and the high levels of violence, which were aggravated since mid-2006 “due to the proliferation of armed gangs organized over several areas of the territory and the inability of the police force to effectively and adequately respond to this phenomenon and the atmosphere of impunity in that country.” The IACHR acknowledged the efforts made by the State to ensure favorable conditions for the conduction of presidential elections in early 2006. Likewise, the Commission appreciates the initiatives launched by the current Haiti authorities to solve existing problems.
About Venezuela, Dr. Meléndez expressed the Commission’s concern regarding the “absence of concrete measures by the Venezuelan Government to make possible in loco visits by the Commission” to this country with the purpose of fulfilling its duties and mandate. The Commission also showed concern about the lack of citizenship security, the lack of independence of the judiciary, the precarious conditions of those deprived of their liberty, the high levels of prison violence, and the situation of freedom of expression. Regarding this issue, Dr. Meléndez stated that the IACHR received information “on issues that have had an impact on the freedom of expression, including murders, acts of violence, mounting prosecution of journalists and other actions that could constitute indirect restrictions to freedom of expression, as the actions taken by the authorities to review concessions to the media due to reasons that may include their editorial line”. He stated that the IACHR acknowledges the authority of the Government to administer the radioelectric spectrum but it specifies that this authority “shall be exercised taking into account the State’s international obligations, including the duty to guarantee the free expression of ideas and thoughts of any kind, without adopting indirect restrictions to freedom of expression on the basis of an editorial line”. On the other hand, Dr. Meléndez stated that the IACHR verified in 2006 “the significant and peaceful participation of Venezuelan citizens in presidential elections”.
With regards to the relation between the IACHR and the States, Dr. Meléndez pointed out that there are problems of non-compliance of the IACHR’s recommendations and urgent protection measures, although such measures are “legally, politically and morally binding”. He stated that this challenge could be overcome if States “creatively and with political will, adopt legal mechanisms or procedures to facilitate their compliance.” The Commission also asked the State members to extend an “open and permanent invitation” to the IACHR to visit their territories at any time and without restrictions, as in the case of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Paraguay and Guatemala.
The IACHR’s President also urged the States to ratify those treaties on human rights that have not yet been ratified. “Several States have not yet ratified any human rights treaty, which is a matter of concern because it indicates that they have not shown the ability or the will to overcome the possible obstacles for their entry into force”, Dr. Meléndez said. In this regard, he indicated that by the end of 2006 there had been 119 ratifications, but that 126 are still pending.
Dr. Meléndez also requested that the General Assembly increase the financial resources allocated to the IACHR. “An increase in the Commission’s regular budget is urgent to enable that the Commission effectively fulfills its mandate. The amounts allocated should meet the real needs of the Commission”, he pointed out. He added that, so far, the Commission has dealt with the steady increase in the number of individual petitions received thanks to funds donated by special agencies, European Governments and member states. However, he said that according to the IACHR, “it should be the OAS, and not the external cooperation, the source of financing for the Commission”.
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