1.          In the year 2000, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued to carry out its task of promoting and monitoring the observance of human rights in the member states of the Organization of American States.  Part of the work done this year is reflected in the contents of this Annual Report, which is being submitted to the Thirty-First Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly.


          2.          On this occasion, the Commission wishes to begin its report by placing emphasis on the individual and collective obligation to overcome the social, racial, and ethnic marginalization that besets the peoples of the Hemisphere.  Estimates by the international organizations indicate that approximately 80 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live below the poverty line, making it impossible for them to meet their daily needs for food, clothing, shelter, drinking water, sanitation, and electricity.  In addition, millions of men, women, and children in our region lack equitable access to education and health care, which affects their opportunities for personal development and participation in all spheres of national life.


          3.          The member states, both individually and through mutual cooperation, should implement positive measures aimed at guaranteeing dignified living conditions, equal opportunities, and full participation in decision-making as basic objectives of the integral development of the inhabitants and societies of the Hemisphere.  In this regard, they should provide special protection for and encourage the development of those who are especially vulnerable, in particular children, the disabled, women, indigenous peoples, and migrant workers and their families.  The member states should provide special protection to these persons or groups of persons, creating or strengthening legal and institutional mechanisms aimed at combating discrimination in light of the standards established in the system.


          4.          Hundreds of thousands of children who live in the region are forced to work in adverse conditions for their right to human development and education, and their personal security and health are directly compromised by violence and extreme poverty.  In many cases they are victims of illegal and degrading practices such as slave labor, sexual exploitation, and recruitment as combatants in situations of armed conflict.  It is imperative that the member states fully and definitively step up to the challenge of protecting children and take positive actions to guarantee the safety, health, and education of the children who live in the Hemisphere.


5.                 Persons with physical or mental disabilities are among those who are often affected by discrimination and the lack of effective legal protection for fundamental rights such as equality of the person, personal dignity, humane treatment, and liberty.  The Commission notes that persons who suffer mental disabilities are especially vulnerable, and, in keeping with the international standards reflected in various international instruments, such as the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities, the member states should ensure that the medical and social treatment protecting their personal dignity and all other fundamental rights.


          6.          The Americas are home to some 400 native ethnic groups with their own culture, language, and way of life, ranging from small forest-based groups to highly-organized peasant societies in the Andean countries.  The indigenous population of the hemisphere, which numbers over 40 million, is often victimized by severe impoverishment and violations of fundamental human rights both inside and outside of their communities.  Millions of indigenous women, men, and children of the Americas are necessary actors for the full development of the national identities and cultures, and their economic, political, and social contribution is essential for the full working of democracy and for national and regional development.


          7.          Respect for the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples is a challenge with particular historical, geographic, and social dimensions.  It is the challenge of building national unity based on the consolidation of multiculturalism and harmony in our societies, and respect for diverse forms of social organization, development, and individual and collective well-being that do not necessarily coincide with the systems protected by the legislation that applies to the community as a whole.  This process involves making reparation for the dispossession of lands, territories, and resources so as to enable indigenous peoples and communities to exercise the right to development in keeping with their own traditions, needs, and interests.  In this regard, the member states should be called on to move forward with the approval of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[1]


8.                 In keeping with what was expressed by the heads of state and government of the hemisphere at the Second Summit of the Americas, the question of migrant workers and their families today constitutes one of the more significant issues in the progressive universalization of the system of international relations; it is an issue that requires a multilateral approach.  At the same time, the vulnerable situation of these persons, due to the linguistic, racial, and cultural differences they encounter in the states where they work, is among the concerns of the IACHR.  The Commission attributes fundamental importance to the need for the member states to promote and guarantee the fundamental rights of migrant workers and their families in their domestic legislation, in keeping with the international standards on this subject.


9.                 The Commission shall continue evaluating the measures adopted to combat discrimination and eliminate the social marginalization that afflicts the inhabitants of the region in light of the provisions of the American Convention and its Additional Protocol in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, known as the Protocol of San Salvador.  It must be noted that this Protocol empowers the Commission to receive petitions on alleged violations of trade union rights provided in Article 8(a), as well as the right to education provided in Article 13.  The Commission calls upon the States that have not yet done so to join Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname y Uruguay, in ratifying this instrument.


          10.          Despite the strides forward in holding free elections in almost all the member states, in a significant number of countries of the Hemisphere the institutions continue to be plagued by weaknesses that hinder the rule of law, compromise the observance of the fundamental rights of the inhabitants, and generate a climate propitious for social crises that have a political and institutional impact.  This situation continues to put off the attainment of the stability needed to make possible the sustained social, economic, and cultural development of many peoples of the region.


          11.          The member states should improve their efforts to consolidate the rule of law in light of the standards of our regional system, avoiding fallbacks that have a detrimental impact on the legitimacy and legality of the institutions.  As in previous years, this Annual Report shows that many inhabitants of the Hemisphere continue to be victims of violations of their fundamental rights such as the rights to life, liberty, and personal integrity, which reflect abuses of authority by the security forces, and shortcomings and weaknesses on the part of the judiciary, the agents of the penitentiary services, and other civil servants.  In this context, the Commission is especially concerned by the states’ breach of their obligation to prevent violations or to make reparation, through the justice system, for the consequences of violations committed by their own agents.


          12.          In those countries of our region in which there is domestic strife, grave violations of international law continue, in addition to serious humanitarian problems such as those suffered by refugees and internally displaced persons, who are forced to leave their places of residence in order to avoid situations of extreme violence.  In such cases, the Commission wishes to reiterate the urgent need to fully observe international human rights law and the basic norms of international humanitarian law in order to prevent any act that may hinder the return to peace and national reconciliation.  In addition, whenever international crimes are found to have been committed, the member states must ensure the observance of the principle of individual criminal liability at the international level, and its complement, the principle of universal jurisdiction, in order to prosecute and punish the persons responsible.


          13.          The protection and guarantee of the fundamental rights of the persons of the Hemisphere depends on the urgent adoption of measures to improve the administration of justice.  As is apparent from the contents of this Annual Report, impunity and violations of due process of law continue to affect both the victims of human rights violations and citizens accused of breaking the law.  The Commission continues to be concerned about the delays and/or ineffectiveness in the prosecution of human rights violations involving state agents.  Impunity and the resulting distrust in the rule of law continues to be one of the most serious challenges facing our Hemisphere.  At the same time, delays in decisions in pending cases have a detrimental effect on the presumption of innocence for approximately 70% of the prison population, which, as the Commission has continued to document, is overcrowded and under the supervision of personnel who lack the proper training.  Moreover, the prison population lacks effective mechanisms for lodging complaints internally, or for outside supervision, in conditions that offend the right to humane treatment.


          14.          Despite the efforts made in several of the member states, the justice system is seriously compromised by structural shortcomings, such as inadequate budget, the inability of low-income persons to gain access, and the fact that state-appointed defense counsel are generally not able to perform their functions effectively.  In some cases, the lack of a judicial career has a detrimental impact on the suitability and stability of judges, which is reflected, for example, in their lack of knowledge of international human rights standards.  In addition is the proliferation of threats against judges, prosecutors, and witnesses, and the insufficiency of the measures of protection adopted by the state in respect to such threats, as well as the actions taken to combat the sources of such threats.


          15.          During the year 2000, acts of intimidation, disappearances, and attacks, in some cases deadly, have continued to be perpetrated against individuals and organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights.  The Commission must reiterate its grave concern with regard to the security of persons dedicated to the promotion, monitoring, and legal defense of human rights, and the organizations with which many of them are affiliated.  These individuals and institutions play a crucial role, both litigating cases linked to the observance of human rights and in the processes whereby civil society exercises oversight over democratic institutions. The member states have the obligation to adopt the necessary measures to protect the life, personal integrity, and freedom of expression and association of those who work to uphold respect for fundamental rights, in keeping with the collective commitment expressed in Resolution AG/RES. 1671 (XXIX-O/99) of the OAS General Assembly.


          16.          In addition, the Report by the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression clearly notes that the journalists of the Hemisphere continue to be the targets of threats and deadly attacks.  The occurrence of acts of harassment, persecution, and reprisal against the investigative press or others who exercise their right to freedom of expression creates an atmosphere in which the effective exercise of this right is seriously diminished.  Regrettably, the Commission continues to receive reports that indicate that many of these acts remain in impunity.  The lack of effective investigation of the crimes committed against journalists and other acts that seek to restrain the freedom of expression indirectly has an intimidating effect on all other professionals who work with information, and on the citizenry in general, as it provokes fear of criticizing those who hold power or denounce abuses and unlawful acts.


          17.          The full exercise of the freedom of expression is a fundamental element in the strengthening of democracy in the region.  The Commission considers that the member states must decidedly take on the challenge of ensuring full respect for this right in all its forms, and, in particular, through the press.  The right of any citizen to disseminate political ideas or ideas related to the performance of the government and matters of public interest, through the press, merits the special protection of justice and the derogation of laws that provide for institutions such as desacato, in light of the international standards established by the organs of the inter-American system.  After a wide-ranging process of consultation with sectors of civil society specialized in the matter, the Commission approved the “Declaration of Principles on the Freedom of Expression” during its 108th session.  The Declaration, containing 13 principles, was prepared by the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression with a view to ensuring the most effective protection of this human right, which is fundamental for the consolidation and development of democracy.


          18.          The Commission takes this opportunity to make the following general recommendations to the states of the Hemisphere, and it hopes that they are useful as an instrument for meeting the objectives of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights:


I.          The Commission calls on the member states to adopt measures to ensure the observance of the social, economic, and cultural rights of the inhabitants of the Hemisphere, individually and collectively.  In addition, it urges those states that have yet to do so to ratify the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and thereby to expand the protection for those rights, to the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hemisphere.


II.          Discrimination persists in the Americas.  The Commission urges the member states to collaborate with a view to ensuring the success of the “World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” to be held in South Africa in 2001.  The Commission reiterates its call to the member states to derogate those laws that permit discrimination and to decidedly combat these practices in light of their international obligations.


III.          The Commission urges the member states to ensure the participation of women in all spheres of society.  Women’s participation at high levels of the different branches of government is still minimal.  The Commission encourages the six states that have yet to do so to ratify the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women.


IV.          The Commission urges the member states to fully and definitively meet the challenge to protect children and to take positive actions to ensure that persons under 15 years of age should not work, and to ensure their security, health, and education.  The work of those minors who do work should be subordinated to their education and development which, as a minimum, should include compulsory primary education at no cost, and should guarantee access to secondary education.


V.          The IACHR recommends to the OAS member states that they ratify the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the OAS General Assembly in 1999; and that they adopt, among others, legislative, judicial, and educational measures to promote and ensure respect for the international measures that protect the rights of persons with disabilities.


VI.          The Commission urges the member states to recognize the rights and just aspirations of the indigenous peoples of our hemisphere by adopting the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


VII.          The Commission recommends to the member states that they promote respect for and ensure the fundamental rights of migrant workers and their families in their domestic legislation, in keeping with international standards on the subject.


VIII.          The Commission urges the member states to adopt effective measures to protect the right to life, physical integrity, and liberty of their inhabitants and to ensure that violations are duly investigated and remedied.


IX.          The Commission urges the member states to adopt the measures necessary to ensure the independence and impartiality of judges, to administer justice in keeping with the standards of due process, and to strengthen their judicial systems so as to ensure the protection of justice for all persons under their jurisdiction.  The Commission calls on the member states to adopt the measures necessary to improve the situation of persons deprived of liberty in light of the minimal standards established in the American Convention and the American Declaration, and in international human rights law.


X.          The Commission urges the member states to adopt the measures necessary to protect the life, personal integrity, and freedom of expression of human rights defenders.


XI.          The Commission urges the member states to ensure that the legal framework under which the freedom of expression is organized in their territory is in line with the standards of the Declaration of Principles on the Freedom of Expression and the American Convention; to do away with indirect restraints and in particular the harassment of journalists and other persons who exercise their right to express themselves freely; and to ensure the protection of justice for the dissemination of information and effectively investigate and prosecute crimes against professionals in the area of information.


          19.          The Commission considers that the member states should assume the obligations and urgently address the challenges set forth in these recommendations in order to guarantee the human rights of the inhabitants of the region and to develop the institutions that are the basis for peace, prosperity, and the successful working of democracy as a form of government.


          20.          The Commission also takes this opportunity to mention the efforts made by the states and the results obtained during this first year of the new millennium, which have included acknowledgment of international responsibility before the Court and numerous friendly settlement agreements in individual cases.  These acts demonstrate the states’ interest in making reparation for the consequences of breaches of the provisions of the American Convention, the American Declaration, and other applicable instruments.  These efforts will continue to be monitored and evaluated by the Commission as it carries out its mandate of hemispheric supervision.


          21.          It should be noted that during the period covered by this Report, the recognition of the Inter-American Court’s contentious jurisdiction by the Republic of Peru was normalized after the removal of President Alberto Fujimori on grounds of “moral incapacity.”  As is a matter of public knowledge, in 1999 the then-Government of the Peruvian State claimed to withdraw its recognition of jurisdiction under Article 62 of the American Convention, in conditions that were declared inadmissible by the Inter-American Court.[2]  The Commission salutes the will displayed by the transition Government to honor its international commitments and cooperate with the organs of the system in the task of protecting the fundamental rights of its inhabitants.


          22.          During the year 2000, the member states have shown special interest in enhancing our regional system for the protection of human rights.[3]  The Commission made substantial reforms to its regulations based on a process of consultation with the member states, non-governmental human rights organizations, and other civil society actors in the Americas, as well as independent experts.  The Commission’s new Rules of Procedure, set to enter into force May 1, 2001, reflect the practice of recent years in relation to the processing of individual cases, and introduces reforms aimed at increasing the juridical security and transparency of the procedure.  In addition, the Commission has been following the reforms made to the Rules of Procedure of the Inter-American Court as regards the direct participation of victims in the litigation of cases before that body.


          23.          The Commission hopes that the interest of the member states in enhancing the system will be accompanied by the allocation of the material and human resources needed to enable the organs of the system to effectively carry out their mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in the region.


          24.          In any event, the Commission wishes to reiterate that the integrity and effectiveness of the protection afforded the inhabitants of the Hemisphere by the system depends first and foremost on the efforts of the member states to attain the universality of the system by ratifying the American Convention and the other instruments, and accepting the jurisdiction of the Court; implementing the obligation to bring their domestic legislation into line with the rights enshrined in the instruments adopted in the framework of the system, and their proper interpretation and application by their organs, in particular by the courts; and, finally, implementing the international commitments and the decisions and orders of the Commission and the Court.


          25.          Even though the challenges set forth here are complex and require serious and urgent measures, the states of the region have the vision, maturity, and capacity to move forward along the right path.  The Commission aspires to continue collaborating with them, and with civil society, in order to respond to these challenges and work together with a view to attaining full respect for human rights in the Hemisphere.



[ Table of ContentsNext ]

[1] Approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on February 26, 1997, during its 95th Regular Session.

[2] I/A CourtH.R., Case of the Constitutional Court, Judgment on Jurisdiction, September 24, 1999; Case of Ivcher Bronstein, Judgment on Jurisdiction, September 24, 1999.

[3] AG/RES. 1701, “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,” OEA/Ser. P AG/RES. 1701 (XXX-O/00), June 5, 2000.