Washington D.C., April 2, 2003


Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,

Distinguished Representatives of member states and observers of the Organization,

Ladies and gentlemen:


As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights I am pleased to present the Commission's Annual Report for the Year 2002 to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council.  I have with me today Dr. Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and members of the professional staff of the secretariat.


The report that we are submitting today to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs was approved by the IACHR at its 117th regular session held during February and March of this year.  The report was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of Resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-O/78) of the General Assembly, and in observance of Article 57 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure.  This report reflects the general activities of the Commission under the presidency of Dr. Juan Méndez.


During the year, the Commission paid particular attention to acts of international terrorism.  In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there has been much collective thinking about legitimate means for preventing and solving such crimes and for prosecuting those responsible for them, and also about the scope of strategies designed for preventing them.  The legitimacy of these efforts at prevention and prosecution is necessarily linked to the proposition of the democratic state itself, and it precisely is for this reason that such steps must be taken in full respect for established limits, consistent with the principles of a constitutional state and the tenets of international law.  Anti-terrorist initiatives, however exceptional the circumstances justifying their adoption and their magnitude, must be addressed in full respect for international law and for international human rights law.  This is an area where member states of the OAS must take care to preserve the balance between their duty to protect the civilian population and democratic institutions and their obligation not to disregard the security of their citizens and their obligation to administer justice with all due guarantees and without arbitrary measures.


In December 2002, the Commission published its Report on Terrorism and Human Rights, in which it examined the prevalence and the respect for fundamental rights in the face of anti-terrorist initiatives legitimately adopted by member states, in light of the standards of international law, and more than four decades of experience.  In its report, the Commission articulated a number of fundamental principles concerning the necessary relationship between combating terrorism and protecting human rights in national emergencies.  My predecessor, Commissioner Juan Méndez, gave you a comprehensive statement on this matter.


The anxiety that has been generated by the threat of terrorist violence, and concerns about the prospects for stopping it, as well as the war now underway in Iraq, have tended to distract the attention of the authorities and of at least a portion of public opinion from many of the endemic problems of an economic, social and cultural nature that affect the societies of our hemisphere, and in particular their most vulnerable sectors.  Yet as these problems persist and become worse, they are eroding citizen participation in the democratic process, undermining the concept of democracy, and weakening its effectiveness as an instrument of government and social harmony.  Moreover, they continue to exacerbate the prospects of violence and of more terrorist deeds.


The IACHR views with concern the continuing deterioration of democratic institutions.  Despite the periodic elections that take place in countries of our hemisphere, many of the region's democracies betray institutional weaknesses and have even been exposed to coups and attempts to overthrow the established constitutional order.  Fortunately, member states of the OAS are today unanimous in rejecting such attempts, by invoking instruments such as Resolution 1080 and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  The Commission is also concerned by the fact that the domestically imposed legal limits on the use of government force are in some cases dismissed or ignored, thereby undermining the rule of law and weakening institutional legitimacy.


Corruption, poverty and exclusion, and social, economic, ethnic and gender inequalities, contribute to legal insecurity, and therefore to instability.  This situation, which is made worse by the lack of effective access to justice, not only serves to perpetuate the ineffectiveness and impunity that characterize the functioning of the hemisphere's judicial systems, but also tend to exclude citizens from participation in the administration of justice, whether as operators or as active subjects.  When the justice system fails to afford protection for victims, people lose confidence in it, and this is particularly true for the most vulnerable groups, when they suffer discrimination and have no effective remedy for determining their rights.  These factors coincide with people's growing feeling of insecurity in the face of rising violence and crime and the tendency of some to take justice into their own hands.


In this hemispheric context, which in fact reflects realities of a global order, the mechanisms for protecting human rights must continue to play a fundamental role.  In this respect, the efforts of human rights defenders and justice workers with respect to promotion, prevention, control, denunciation and representation continue to be essential for enforcing the fundamental rights of our countries' inhabitants.  The work of human rights defenders and the organizations to which they belong serves to provide information and to publicize the situation of vulnerable groups and individuals who are the victims of violence, poverty, exclusion and discrimination, as well as excesses committed in situations of emergency, and thus ensures that complaints will find a response.  Because of such efforts, human rights workers and organizations at the national, regional and universal level are often the target of violence, and member states have begun, through the political bodies of the Organization and the IACHR, to examine their responsibilities for guaranteeing the safety of these workers and their freedom to conduct their activities.


I must reiterate that the integrity and effectiveness of the protection that the system offers to the hemisphere's inhabitants will depend primarily on the efforts of member states to adopt the domestic legislative provisions required by the system and to achieve universality for that system by ratifying the American Convention and other human rights instruments, as well as accepting the jurisdiction of the Court.  The system’s effectiveness indeed depends on fulfilling the duty of states to adapt their domestic legislation to their international obligations, and to have that legislation duly interpreted and enforced by organs of the state, in particular the judiciary; and finally, on compliance with international commitments and the recommendations and decisions of the Commission and the Court.


During the past year the IACHR continued to address these hemispheric challenges, among others, in pursuit of its mandate to promote and protect human rights.  The Commission continued its work on the situation of especially vulnerable groups, through its Special Rapporteurs for rights of the child, women, indigenous people, and migrant workers, which are reflected in Chapter VI of this Annual Report.  The IACHR has paid particular attention to the situation of people of African descent, through its promotional efforts as well as through its studies of the general human rights situation in member countries, and in individual cases and precautionary measures.  The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has also continued its important work of promotion and advice, as reflected in the study for the year 2002.


As in the previous decade, the issue of migrations occupied a prominent place on the political agenda of many countries of the Americas in 2002, reflecting the growing flow of migrants that the hemisphere has for various reasons experienced.  In addition to the region's long-standing traditional migration flows, political and economic crises in various places have increased migration pressures throughout the Americas.  Such pressures, together with security concerns following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have led to a considerable increase in controls and, in many cases, to harsher treatment of migrant workers and their families, who are singled out for special administrative treatment in many countries.


Pursuant to its mandate from the IACHR, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Migrant Workers and Their Families undertook a series of activities during the past year, including three thematic visits to member countries of the OAS, Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.  It also participated in a number of promotional efforts: among other things, it drew up a program for Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in the Americas, it conducted workshops and discussion groups on the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, it participated in conferences and forums on migration issues, and it established and strengthened institutional links with intergovernmental agencies and entities of civil society working on behalf of migrant workers in the region.


With respect to the Special Rapporteur on Women's Rights, this report includes the conclusions of the IACHR from the first thematic visit by the Special Rapporteur.  This took place in February, at the invitation of the Government of President Vicente Fox, to examine the situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.


In its work plan for the present year, the office of the Special Rapporteur will focus primarily on the issue of women's access to justice, with particular emphasis on the causes of violence against women and the difficulties in overcoming them.


In examining the situation of women's rights in the region, the Special Rapporteur has reported that initiatives at the local, national and regional level to deal with human rights violations where the cause or consequence is gender-related have succeeded in establishing some basic norms that are key to the issue of discrimination and violence against women.  The principal challenge now facing us is the continuing gap between those norms and the everyday experience of women in the Americas.  On this point, the Special Rapporteur has stressed the problem of impunity, which tends to perpetuate gender-related violations of human rights.  Impunity in such cases undermines the very system of guarantees and creates a climate that promotes repeated violations, to the detriment of human dignity and the most fundamental rights.  The Special Rapporteur urges member states to redouble their efforts at ensuring due diligence in investigating, prosecuting and punishing acts of discrimination and violence against women, pursuant to the Convention of Belém do Pará, which has been ratified by nearly all member states, and the other instruments of the system.  With respect to this obligation, it is essential that states should afford victims prompt access to effective justice.


As you will be aware, the Inter-American Development Bank and the OAS signed a Technical Cooperation Agreement in 2001 for strengthening the IACHR's Office of the Special Rapporteur for Rights of the Child, and this has been operating successfully.  The project has produced a compilation of international and regional instruments relating to the human rights of children, and a systematization of inter-American doctrine and case law entitled "Children and Their Rights in the Inter-American System for Protection of Human Rights".


As well, a number of promotional visits and workshops are being conducted on the human rights of children and on the mechanisms that the inter-American system of human rights provides for their protection.  Several such workshops were held in 2002, and more are planned for 2003 in Paraguay, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Mexico.  They are targeted at government officials and at defenders of children's' rights.  These activities have achieved wide publicity for the system's various mechanisms.  During its 116th regular session in Washington D.C., the IACHR held a public hearing attended by representatives of UNICEF and various regional organizations working for children's' rights.


In its effort to strengthen, promote and systematize its work on the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Commission established a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1990.  Since 2000, thanks to contributions from the Danish government's program for human rights in Central America (PRODECA), a project has been underway for "strengthening the capacity of the Inter-American system for the defense of human rights of communities, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups affected by the conflicts in Central America", under which the Commission has formed a specialized team, consisting currently of a lawyer and a fellowship trainee, to support the work of the Special Rapporteur.  During 2001 an opening was created under the "Rómulo Gallegos" fellowship, aimed specifically at young indigenous lawyers from Central America interested in broadening their experience and knowledge of human rights and indigenous law.


With the reinforcement of its professional staff, the IACHR was able in 2002 to make significant progress in processing petitions and cases submitted to it, relating to indigenous peoples and individuals.  Indigenous peoples, their leaders and defenders also acquired a better understanding of how to gain access to the inter-American system of human rights, and this has resulted in a significant increase in the number of complaints about violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples relating to their ancestral lands, political rights, discrimination etc.  At the same time, civil society has become more aware of the breadth and depth of the inter-American jurisprudence on the rights of indigenous peoples.  The IACHR is currently processing more than 70 petitions or cases relating to those rights.


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared a report on the Status of Freedom of Expression in the Americas, which is part of the Commission's Annual Report.  During the year 2000, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was replaced for the first time: after evaluating candidates in a public competition, the IACHR appointed Eduardo Bertoni to the post, which he took up in May 2002.  This is the fifth Annual Report prepared by the Office of the Special Rapporteur since its creation in 1997, and, as before, it is divided into six chapters.


Chapter I of the report considers the mandate and powers of the Special Rapporteur, as well as activities conducted during 2002.  Chapter II contains a description of certain aspects of the status of freedom of expression in countries of the hemisphere.  With a view to promoting comparative jurisprudence, Chapter III summarizes inter-American case law and domestic case law of member states.  Chapter IV represents a first attempt to address the issue of "freedom of expression and poverty", looking at the mechanisms by which poor people can access public information, the legitimate use of community-based communications media, and the exercise of the right of legitimate expression and public assembly.  Chapter V, on "Laws on Desacato (Insult) and Criminal Defamation", stresses the need to repeal the crime of desacato, and discusses the scant progress that countries of the hemisphere have achieved in this area since the last reports on the issue in 1998 and 2000.  Chapter VI makes recommendations to states in terms of investigating assassinations, kidnappings, threats and intimidation against social communicators, and prosecuting those responsible; repealing desacato laws and laws on criminal defamation and libel, and promulgating laws that guarantee broad access to information.


Finally, the report notes that, in terms of freedom of expression and information in the Americas, assassinations and attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and people in general who make use of this right continue to pose a severe problem.  In an alarming number of cases such crimes go unpunished.  The report also points to the persistence of practices designed to restrict the freedom of expression, whereby individuals who speak out critically about matters of public interest are charged with the crimes of desacato or libel.  These circumstances do little to generate an atmosphere in which freedom of expression can flourish.


Summary of the 2002 Annual Report


The Annual Report is divided into three volumes, of which the first two relate to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  The third volume, as explained, contains the report of the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.


Following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2002 Annual Report is devoted to an assessment of the human rights situation in the hemisphere, and the major obstacles to the enjoyment of those rights.  Chapter II offers a brief introduction to the origins and legal foundations of the Commission, and describes the main activities accomplished by the IACHR during the year.  In this respect, it highlights the activities conducted during the Commission's two regular sessions, and one special session.  It also reviews activities conducted with other organs of the inter-American system, and with regional and universal institutions of a similar nature.  Among these we may mention visits to Commission headquarters by the United Nations Rapporteurs for Racial Discrimination, Torture and Indigenous Peoples.  In particular, I would like to call attention to the practice of holding annual meetings of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court for dealing with issues of common interest, so as to improve the functioning of the regional human rights system.  The Commission and the Court maintain a mutually beneficial relationship of cooperation in pursuit of their respective mandates.


During the period covered by this report, the Commission conducted two on-site visits to Haiti and one to Venezuela.  It also made a working visit to Argentina, which is mistakenly referred to as an "on-site visit" in the copies of the report that you have received.  The final printed version, and the version that will appear at our web page, will show this correctly as a working visit.  In addition, the Commission concluded its visit to Guatemala last week.  Our thematic and country rapporteurs also conducted promotional and working visits throughout the year.  The IACHR is processing information received before, during and after those visits for preparing its report on the human rights situation in those countries.  On behalf of the Commission, I want to express special thanks to governments for their cooperation in achieving the objectives set out during the visits in 2002.


Chapter III is undoubtedly the keystone of the IACHR's work, since it contains the Commission’s analyses and decisions on complaints of violations that affect people's fundamental human rights.  This Chapter, the longest in the report, contains decisions adopted on petitions and individual cases presented to the Commission and processed in accordance with the rules of procedure.  I would also stress the growing importance that the Commission is giving to achieving friendly settlement of petitions and individual cases: this year's report includes four decisions of this kind.  At the same time, the IACHR is pursuing negotiations for friendly settlement of dozens of cases in various countries.  The disposition of the parties to enter into dialogue and seek creative solutions constitutes a promising portent for the system’s further evolution.


In the period under analysis, a total of 58 reports were published, including 38 cases declared admissible; six reports on petitions declared inadmissible, three reports on friendly settlement; and 11 reports on merits.  In these reports, the Commission has continued to deal with structural issues in the hemisphere such as violations of due process, extrajudicial executions, abuse of military jurisdiction, and impunity.  The IACHR has also ruled on issues that are coming to our attention with increasing frequency, such as the rights of women, the freedom of expression, and the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.  These cases reflect the growing juridical complexity of cases that the Commission is called upon to decide, as well as the Commission's efforts to improve and strengthen its arguments and justifications.  Thus, the Commission seeks not only to resolve cases and petitions in a juridically sound manner, but also to engage in promotion through juridical determination of the scope of the obligations assumed voluntarily by member states of the Organization.  Finally, in its reports, the Commission has continued to clarify a number of procedural questions, particularly on the issue of the admissibility of petitions, such as legitimate standing for initiating complaints, the temporal validity of the American Convention, and exceptions to the rule of exhaustion of domestic remedies, among others.  The Commission hopes in this way to contribute to legal security in our system, by setting rules and standards that the Commission faithfully observes.  The IACHR points out that the approval for publication of a report on the merits of an individual case serves to some extent to offer compensation to the victim of a violation of human rights, where justice could not be obtained through the organs of domestic jurisdiction.


I would like to call your attention to some significant figures concerning the system of individual petitions.  In 2002, the IACHR received 4,656 individual complaints.  Of this total, 3,635 related to the rights of persons affected by the banking measures (the "corralito”) imposed in Argentina.  It should be noted that the annual average was 609 petitions between 1997 and 2001, and so the year 2002 represented an increase of more than 700 percent in the number of complaints received.  Even if we leave aside those complaints relating to the so-called corralito, the IACHR received 1,021 complaints in 2002, or 40 percent more than the average of the previous five years.  These circumstances have exerted tremendous pressure on our executive secretariat, which has responded to the situation quite efficiently and has managed to keep the number of petitions in processing within historic averages.


This section also includes 91 precautionary measures granted or extended by the IACHR, for which there was activity during this period.  The Commission has continued its practice of reporting on precautionary measures requested of member states, through its own initiative or at the petition of a party, pursuant to Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, in cases where this is necessary to avoid irreparable harm to individuals.  The Commission has also engaged in greater direct communication with petitioners and the authorities.


Chapter III has a section on the status of compliance with IACHR recommendations in individual cases.  The OAS General Assembly, in resolution AG/RES. 1890 (XXXII-O/02) on the Evaluation of the Workings of the Inter-American System for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights with a View to Its Improvement and Strengthening, urged member states to make their best efforts to follow up on the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (operative point 3.c), to continue to take appropriate action in connection with the Annual Reports of the Court and the Commission, in the framework of the Permanent Council and the General Assembly of the Organization, and to study possible means to address the state of compliance with the judgments of the Court and the observance of the recommendations of the Commission  by the member states of the Organization (operative point 3.d). Both the Convention (Article 41) and the Statute of the Commission (Article 18) give the IACHR explicit power to request information from member states and to produce such reports and recommendations as it deems appropriate.  Specifically, the IACHR Rules of Procedure that came into force on May 1, 2001, provide (Article 46) that the Commission “may adopt the follow-up measures it deems appropriate, such as requesting information from the parties and holding hearings in order to verify compliance with friendly settlement agreements and its recommendations”.  As well, the General Assembly approved Resolution AG/RES 1894 (XXXII-O/02), Observations and Recommendations on the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and invited the Commission “to consider the possibility of continuing to include in its Annual Reports information on the follow-up of its recommendations by the states [and] to review, with a view to their improvement, the criteria and indicators on that subject in the report for this year”.


Consistent with its powers under the Convention and its Statute, and in light of the resolutions quoted, as well as Article 46 of its Rules of Procedure, the IACHR requested information from states about their compliance with recommendations made in the reports published on individual cases included in the Commission's Annual Reports for the years 2000 and 2001.  The table presented by the Commission shows the status of compliance with IACHR recommendations on cases decided and published in the last two years.  The IACHR notes that some of its recommendations involve successive stages of compliance, and that some of them will require a considerable time in order to be fully implemented.  The table therefore shows the current status of compliance, which the Commission recognizes is a dynamic process that may evolve continuously.  From this perspective, the Commission assesses whether recommendations have been fulfilled or not, rather than whether a start has been made at fulfilling them.  The IACHR has attempted to reflect observations made by representatives of different member states during presentation of the 2001 Annual Report.


In an effort to make the system more transparent, the Commission has decided to include on its web page all responses to our reports from states that have expressly requested their publication.  We believe that this mechanism will strengthen dialogue between states and the IACHR, and that it will foster greater public control over the inter-American system of human rights.  I am pleased to note that, in contrast to last year, we have been able in this Annual Report to report almost full compliance with the Commission's recommendations on several cases.  Yet there are many outstanding cases that are still awaiting full or partial compliance.  In this respect, member states should make their best efforts to comply with the Commission's recommendations in good faith.  We also have confidence that the Permanent Council and the Committee on Juridical Affairs will be able to establish a regular oversight mechanism on compliance with decisions of the Commission and the Court, so as to give effect to the principle of collective guarantees that underlies the inter-American system for the protection of human rights.


Chapter III also provides information on the Commission's actions before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  This section describes the provisional measures ordered by the Court at the request of the Commission in situations of extreme gravity and urgency, pursuant to Article 63(2) of the American Convention on Human Rights, and summarizes decisions of the Court and actions of the Commission in several contentious cases.


The Commission has also followed the criteria set forth in its 1998 Annual Report for identifying member states whose human rights practices deserve special attention and the inclusion of a special chapter in the Annual Report.  In this respect, Chapter IV of this year's report contains an analysis of the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.  Chapter V continues the practice of examining progress in carrying out previous recommendations of the Commission, in exercise of its role as the principal OAS organ for human rights.  This year, that chapter contains a follow-up report on Guatemala and with the recommendations in IACHR reports on the human rights situation in those countries.  I want to thank member states at this time for their response to the IACHR's request for information.


Volume II of the report concludes with the usual annexes reporting on the status of the regional conventions and protocols on human rights, as well as press releases and selected statements that the IACHR has published during the past year.




Mr. Chairman, representatives, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:


Before concluding, I want to express the Commission's gratitude for the increased funding that the Organization has recently approved.  Every year we come before you to explain the IACHR's financial needs.  The additional funding that we have received will allow us to pursue and reinforce the fulfillment of our mandates under the Convention and our Statute, and those received from the Summits of the Americas.  We hope that member states will continue to approve this additional funding in the future, and that this will apply to the IACHR as a whole.  We are also particularly grateful for the voluntary contributions of member states and permanent observers.


The constant search for mechanisms to strengthen participatory democracy creates new opportunities for member states to commit themselves to the organs of the inter-American system of human rights.  The Commission and the Court are, as member states would have them be, instruments for supporting development of "a system of personal liberty and social justice", which is the ultimate objective enshrined in the preamble of the American Convention on Human Rights.  Accordingly, the Commission renews its commitment to work with member states in fulfilling its mandate to defend human dignity through the protection and promotion of human rights.  On behalf of the Commission, I want to thank member states for the support they have given the Commission in its continuing effort to honor that common commitment to oversee the exercise of human rights for every person in our hemisphere.


Thank you very much.