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May 11, 2000


          Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, distinguished representatives of member states of the Organization and observers, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Executive Secretary of the IACHR, ladies and gentlemen: 

          In my capacity as Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I have the pleasure to present to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council the Annual Report of the Commission for 1999.  I would also like to present the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Dominican Republic and the Report on the Situation of Human Rights of Asylum Seekers within the Canadian Refugee Determination System. 

On this occasion, it is a pleasure to have in our midst Dean Claudio Grossman, First Vice-Chairman of the Commission and Commissioner Robert Goldman.  Also present are Ambassador Jorge Taiana, Executive Secretary of the IACHR, and Drs. David Padilla and Hernando Valencia-Villa, Assistant Executive Secretaries. 

          The report being provided to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs was approved by the IACHR during the 106th regular session held last February and March.  The document was drafted based on the guidelines stipulated in General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-O/78), and in accordance with the provisions of Article 63 of the Regulations of the IACHR.  I think that I should indicate that this report covers the general activities of the Commission, conducted with great dedication and skill under the chairmanship of Commissioner Robert Goldman. 

          Synthesis of the 1999 Annual Report 

The report is divided into three volumes.  The first two volumes contain six chapters and the third contains a report from the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. 

          The Commission decided to change the usual structure of the first chapter of its Annual Report.  Chapter I of the 1999 Annual Report is devoted to an assessment of the human rights situation in the Hemisphere and the main challenges to the exercise of these rights.  The IACHR highlights the progress made in the area of democratization, although it also points to the deficiencies that are thwarting the full establishment of democracy, such as the political and institutional crises confirmed in several states during the period.  Another source of concern is the violation of the fundamental human rights that affect life, freedom, and personal integrity. 

          In the view of the IACHR, the adoption of measures to improve the administration of justice in the Hemisphere is critical, and in particular, it notes its concern over the impunity surrounding human rights violations involving state agents, as well as the use of military courts in such instances.  Among the serious problems that affect justice, the IACHR report mentions budgetary shortfalls, lack of training of judicial personnel, as well as a proliferation of threats against judges, persons in the Office of the Public Prosecutor, and employees of the judicial system. 

          Because of its impact on the protection of all other rights, the Commission is closely monitoring reports on hostage-taking and all kinds of attacks on human rights ombudsmen.  In that regard, the IACHR has had to avail itself of the different mechanisms of protection set forth in the guidelines governing the mandate to protect persons affected by that situation, and has also addressed this matter in its general reports on the human rights situation in several states of the Hemisphere. 

          The Commission also continues to receive reports and information regarding attacks and acts of aggression against journalists.  As it has done on several occasions, the IACHR reiterates its concern over the climate of intimidation created by the failure to investigate attacks on journalists or other acts that curb freedom of expression.  It is always useful to point out that the complete exercise of this right is very important to the strengthening of democracy in the region. 

          In its report, the IACHR devotes attention to the problems of social, racial, or ethnic marginalization, which are not being adequately addressed by the states of the Hemisphere.  In this regard, it is noted that the principle of non-discrimination is one of the main pillars of the inter-American system.  Also serious are the many threats facing the children of the Americas as a result of poverty, violence, and sexual exploitation and their use as fighters in situations of armed conflict.  The Commission is also evaluating the current status of the rights of indigenous populations, as well as the rights of migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere. 

          In varying the traditional structure of its Annual Report, the Commission is seeking to present an initial chapter evaluating the human rights situation in the Hemisphere, and, based on this, to make a series of recommendations to OAS member states regarding the right to life, physical integrity, and personal liberty of their inhabitants; the adoption of measures necessary to strengthen the Judiciary; guarantees that enable human rights ombudsmen to perform their duties free of hostility and danger; ensuring the full exercise of the right to freedom of expression; ratification of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (“Protocol of San Salvador”); repeal of discriminatory regulations; and the effective protection of the rights of children, indigenous populations, and migrant workers and their families.  The IACHR hopes that these recommendations would be deserving of the full attention of the OAS member states. 

          Lastly, the IACHR mentions in this chapter the importance of strengthening the inter-American human rights system by increasing the material and human resources of the organs of protection.  Naturally, these measures must be accompanied by faithful compliance with the international obligations of OAS member states in the area of human rights.  In that regard, the Commission reiterates its willingness and desire to continue to work cooperatively with states and civil society representatives with a view to the full exercise of human rights in the Americas. 

          Chapter II contains a brief introduction on the origins and legal basis of the Commission and discusses the main activities conducted by the IACHR during the period being analyzed.  In that context, emphasis is placed on activities conducted within the framework of the regular sessions (Nos. 102 and 103) and the two special sessions (104 and 105), the last of which was held in San José, Costa Rica.  Furthermore, this chapter discusses the activities conducted with other organs of the inter-American system, and with similar regional and world institutions.  In particular, I would like to underscore the practice of addressing matters of common interest at annual meetings of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, with a view to the enhanced functioning of the regional human rights system.  The Commission and the Court have a relationship of cooperation that is mutually beneficial to the fulfillment of their respective mandates.  Unfortunately, based on the report provided recently by Professor Antonio Augusto Cançado Trindade, Chairman of the Inter-American Court, it will not be possible to hold that meeting this year because of budgetary restrictions. 

          During the period covered by this report, the Commission conducted an on-site visit to Paraguay and a visit to Texas in the United States.  The IACHR is processing the information received before, during, and after the visit to Paraguay with a view to drafting the report on the human rights situation in that country.  The purpose of the visit to Texas in the United States of America was to observe immigration and asylum processes in that region.  On-site visits permit the Commission to have direct access to information for evaluating the general situation in a member state.  Moreover, during these visits, the situation regarding specific rights is observed and personal contact is established with different persons involved with the government and civil society.  On behalf of the Commission, I would, in particular, like to thank the Governments of the United States and Paraguay for their assistance in achieving the objectives set during the visits in 1999.  At the same time, it is my hope that we will receive cooperation and assistance from member states in conducting both the on-site visits planned for this year and in planning additional visits of the same nature. 

          Chapter III undoubtedly constitutes the crux of the work of the IACHR, since it contains the analysis and decisions regarding reports of violations of fundamental human rights.  This chapter, the most extensive of the report, contains the decisions adopted with respect to petitions and individual cases submitted to the Commission and processed based on the applicable guidelines.  The growing importance that the Commission attaches to the system of petitions and individual cases and to their friendly settlement should also be noted.  This year’s report includes four decisions of this nature.  At the same time, the IACHR is continuing negotiations aimed at the friendly settlement of dozens of cases in several countries of the region.  The willingness of the parties to hold talks and seek creative solutions is clearly a positive indication of the continuing development of the system. 

          During the period being analyzed, the Commission approved 26 reports that declared the admissibility of the cases in question.  It also declared a total of five reports inadmissible, inasmuch as they failed to meet the requirements set forth in the American Convention.  The reports mentioned, as well as the 30 decisions regarding the merits of the matters reported, also reflect the growing diversity of the reports of human rights violations.  The IACHR points out that the approval and publication of a report on the merits of an individual case offers, to some extent, reparation to a victim whose human rights have been violated and who could not obtain justice through the national legal system. 

          Chapter III also presents information on the proceedings of the Commission before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  During the period covered by this Annual Report, the IACHR submitted the following cases: José María Cantos (Argentina), January 10, 1999; Juan Pablo Olmedo Bustos et al. (Chile), January 15, 1999; Haniff Hillaire (Trinidad and Tobago), May 26, 1999; El Caracazo (Venezuela), June 7, 1999; José Carlos Trujillo Oroza (Bolivia), June 9, 1999; Constitutional Court (Peru), July 2, 1999; and Constantine et al. (Trinidad and Tobago), February 22, 2000.  I would like to note in particular the fact that Bolivia and Venezuela recognized their international responsibility in the respective cases that I have just mentioned.  The IACHR is very appreciative of these decisions, since they represent significant progress in strengthening human rights in the inter-American system.  Also, the Commission is continuing to process the other contentious cases and provisional measures before the Inter-American Court. 

          The illustrious members of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs will be able to see the activities of the IACHR in the chart appearing on pages 48 to 54 of the first volume of the report. 

          Also, the Commission has followed the guidelines indicated in its 1998 Annual Report for identifying member states whose practices in the area of human rights warrant special attention and inclusion in a special chapter of the Annual Report.  In that regard, Chapter IV of this year’s report analyzes the situation of human rights in Cuba and Ecuador. 

          Cuba has been included in this chapter due to the fact that it is run by a government that was not freely elected in accordance with internationally accepted practices, which constitutes a violation of the right to political participation enshrined in Article XX of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.  The report on Ecuador included in Chapter IV contains an analysis of the serious institutional crisis in that country, which affected the free exercise of several rights guaranteed by the American Convention.  The 1999 Annual Report of the Commission has followed the practice of not including in Chapter IV reports pertaining to states for which special reports are being prepared or have been approved on the human rights situation during the period in question, pursuant to Article 62 of its Regulations. 

          In 1998, the Commission decided that the Annual Report for that period would include a special chapter dedicated to follow-up to the recommendations made in its special reports on the human rights situation in a member state, prepared pursuant to Article 62 of its Regulations.  Chapter V of the 1999 Annual Report continues the practice of analyzing progress in the implementation of recommendations made earlier by the Commission, in the exercise of its authority as the principal human rights organ of the OAS.  On this occasion, this chapter contains reports on compliance by Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico with the recommendations contained in the reports of the IACHR on the human rights situations in these countries, approved in 1997, 1999, and 1998, respectively. 

          Chapter VI contains special studies on three specific subjects. The first is a progress report on the situation of migrant workers and their family members in the Hemisphere.  This is a matter of great interest to the IACHR, of which it has become aware over the years during its on-site visits to the states of the region, in reports on human rights violations, and in general or individual hearings.  It should also be noted that this topic has been included on the hemispheric agenda, in particular in the Santiago Declaration.  The report presents, first, the principles developed by the organs of protection of the inter-American human rights system on the subject of migrant workers, based on the fundamental principles of equality and non-discrimination.  The main part of the text of the report follows, and is made up of the responses provided by member states to the questionnaire submitted by the IACHR in order to evaluate the situation of that group.  To the states that have not yet done so, the IACHR avails itself of this opportunity to ask them to complete the form on the human rights situation of migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere, so that it can have the information needed for a report that addresses the topic in the most accurate and up to date manner possible.  Lastly, the progress report mentions the activities conducted by the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Migrant Workers. 

          The chapter goes on to recommend elimination of the practice of recruitment and participation of children in armed conflict.  The recommendation was formulated within an international legal framework that guarantees special protection for children, and is aimed at nullifying any regulation that permits the voluntary or mandatory recruitment of adolescents under the minimum age permitted in international instruments, as well as the adoption of measures to prosecute and sanction state or civil agents who recruit minors or their participation in armed conflicts.  Furthermore, the IACHR recommends that states adopt different measures to remedy the effects of this type of practice on children and adolescents, and establish mechanisms for awareness-building and public education related to this improper practice.  It also makes the same recommendations to all persons involved in armed conflict (states, paramilitary groups, and armed dissident groups) and to children and adolescents, so that they may be aware of their rights and obligations in this area.  In this context, I think it should be noted that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights recently submitted a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the participation of children in armed conflicts. 

          Lastly, in Chapter VI, the Commission includes a study regarding what are called “affirmative action measures,” aimed at promoting the political participation of women, from the standpoint of compatibility with the principles of equality and non-discrimination.  The study, drafted on the basis of a document prepared by the Inter-American Commission of Women, concludes that affirmative action measures are compatible with the principles mentioned above. Furthermore, the IACHR points to the need for additional measures by the states of the Hemisphere to achieve full observance of the right of women to political participation, in accordance with international regulations on the matter.         

Volume II of the report ends with the usual annexes providing a status report on the conventions and protocols of the regional human rights system, press releases, and selected speeches disseminated by the IACHR in the past year. 


The Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression 

          I will now move on to the third volume of the Annual Report for 1999, which contains information from the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR for Freedom of Expression for that period.  During its 106th session, the Commission discussed and approved this report, which has been included as one of the volumes of the Annual Report, as was done in the previous year. 

          As you are all aware, the Commission appointed a Special Rapporteur in this area in November 1998, in accordance with the functions and authority provided for in Article 41 of the American Convention and Article 18 of its Statute.  The Commission charged the Rapporteur with the task of providing assistance with the follow-up, promotion, and protection of freedom of expression in the Americas.  The Commission appreciates the support expressed by the Heads of State and Government in the Santiago Declaration of 1998 for the appointment of this Special Rapporteur, which was reaffirmed individually on several other occasions. 

          The report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression begins with a brief description of its mandate and authority, and goes on to list the main activities conducted by that office in 1999.  The main section of the report is dedicated to the evaluation of the situation regarding freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, and includes studies on legislation, as well as an analysis of that right with respect to women and the perspectives presented by the electronic communications media such as the Internet.  The situation with regard to freedom of expression is also analyzed, with emphasis being placed on the progress made and the serious problems that persist, such as the assassination of journalists.  The report ends with a series of conclusions and recommendations regarding member states, which I would like to bring to the attention of everyone, in the common interest of moving towards the effective and full protection of the right to freedom of expression in the Hemisphere. 


          Mr. President, representatives, dear colleagues and staff, ladies and gentlemen:

           We are at a critical moment, since we are faced with major challenges that pose a threat to the strengthening of democracy in the region.  The safety of citizens, which is a topic of special concern, is guaranteed first by civil police that protect citizens, and includes the strengthening of the administration of justice and the elimination of corruption or impunity, and lastly, a prison system that is aimed at the genuine rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners.  Also, in terms of remaining challenges, mention should be made of the observance of human rights regulations and international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflict, combating poverty and inequality, the protection of children, respect for freedom of expression, and an end to discrimination on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender-related grounds, as well as guarantees for human rights ombudsmen.

           We have taken note of the statements of the Heads of State of the Hemisphere in which they stressed that human rights form the bedrock of democracy. 

          Furthermore, in the area of the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system, we should point out that the IACHR requested comments on the process of reform of its Regulations from the ministers of foreign affairs of member states, nongovernmental organizations, and other civil society groups.  The suggestions received have been noted, including those of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Human Rights and the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs.  The Commission is willing to reform its Regulations during the special session to take place in Brasilia next June, on the invitation of the Government of Brazil, and will try to finalize this during its regular session in October of this year. 

In this regard, I would like to note the satisfaction of the IACHR with the recent draft resolution of the OAS General Assembly approved by the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, which urges member states, among other things, to adopt measures to implement the decisions or rulings of the Inter-American Court and to make every effort to implement the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission. 

          However, I must mention an issue of grave concern to the IACHR, namely, the budget cuts announced a few weeks ago by the OAS Assistant Secretary for Administration.  The Commission is fully aware of the serious financial difficulties that affect the Organization stemming from the fact that the quotas of member states are not paid on a timely basis.  Nevertheless, it would be highly contradictory for the work of the IACHR, recognized on many occasions by member states as being one of the highest priorities in the Hemisphere, to be affected by a general reduction in allocations within the Organization.  In fact, in February of 2000, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Human Rights recommended to the foreign ministers of OAS member States a substantial increase in the funds earmarked for the organs of the inter-American human rights system.  In keeping with this unequivocal show of support for the system, I would like to cite operative point 4 of the aforementioned draft resolution of this Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs to the Permanent Council of the Organization: 

To instruct the Permanent Council to seek to increase substantially, in the upcoming fiscal years, the funds allocated to the Inter-American Court and Commission, based on the recognition that the protection and promotion of human rights are one of the main priorities of the Organization. 

          A budget reduction would have a great impact on the operations of the IACHR and would be prejudicial to the fulfillment of its functions of protecting and promoting human rights as a principal organ of the OAS under the terms of the Charter.  Furthermore, it would be useful to bear in mind that the preamble to the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man states that “the international protection of the rights of man should be the principal guide of an evolving American law.”  With that in mind, it is my hope that the significant support expressed by the representatives of member states in that draft resolution is reflected in full access by the IACHR to the financial resources provided for in its program-budget for this year, as approved by the General Assembly.

          Lastly, on behalf of the Commission, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the support given to us by the member states and the Secretary General of the Organization in better performing our mission.  It is my hope that we will continue to work in an increasingly harmonious and effective manner, with the aim of guaranteeing respect for the human rights of all persons in the Americas, without any distinction whatsoever. 

          Thank you very much.