PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
AT THE INAUGURATION OF THE 119th REGULAR SESSION
Monday, February 23, 2004
Mr. Paul Durand, Chairman of the Permanent Council of the OAS; Mr. Enrique Lagos, Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs of the OAS; distinguished representatives of the Organization’s member states and observers; esteemed colleagues; ladies and gentlemen:
I have the honor of addressing you in my capacity as the President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at this inaugural ceremony for our 119th regular session. I am pleased to be accompanied on this occasion by my colleagues: First Vice-President Clare K. Roberts, Second Vice-President Susana Villarán, and Commissioners Evelio Fernández, Freddy Gutiérrez, Florentín Meléndez, and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.
I would like to begin by thanking the member states for supporting the Inter-American Commission’s work. The cooperative spirit we have found among the OAS members has undeniably strengthened the protection of the human rights enjoyed by the inhabitants of our Americas.
This is the first session since four new members were elected at the General Assembly in June of last year. I would therefore like to use this opportunity to extend my warmest welcome to our new colleagues, who will be contributing their energies to the work this Commission has done over the past 45 years.
The Commission has an intense program of activities planned for the regular session that begins today. As is customary, we will dedicate most of our efforts to studying and deciding on reports dealing with individual petitions and cases involving different nations of the hemisphere that are currently at the stages of admissibility analysis, friendly settlement, merits, or decision regarding referral to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. During the second week of its three weeks of meetings, the Commission will be holding more than 50 hearings on cases and petitions currently at those different stages. We will also receive, at hearings, a range of individuals, organizations, and member states’ representatives, who will present information on the human rights situation in the hemisphere, in either a general fashion or with reference to some specific right or issue within the Commission’s jurisdiction.
The Inter-American Commission has embarked on a process of reflection, beginning with a study of the current human rights situation in the hemisphere and an analysis of the different options available for strengthening the inter-American system as a basic mechanism for responding to the region’s burgeoning needs in this regard. In previous years, an analysis has been offered of the different problems involving human rights policy and practice in the hemisphere, recognizing the strengths and the challenges still pending. From the vantage point of our experience with human rights work, we today recognize new challenges; among these are ensuring the currency of the rule of law in our countries and upholding the effective protection of economic, social, and cultural rights.
Thus, as we have already stated, democracy and the rule of law are necessary conditions for attaining full currency and respect for human rights within democratic societies. According to the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the essential elements of representative democracy include, among other things, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; access to power and its exercise in accordance with the rule of law; the holding of regular, free, and fair elections, based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations; and the separation and independence of the branches of government. Also fundamental to the exercise of democracy are transparency in government activities, probity, government accountability, respect for social rights, free speech, and freedom of the press. (Inter-American Democratic Charter, Articles 4 and 5.)
As we have already said, there can be no doubt that the world has radically changed since the events of September 11, 2001. However, many things remain unchanged, such as the exclusion of much of the Hemisphere’s population from effective enjoyment of their economic, social, and cultural rights. The countries that make up the Organization of American States represent the world’s most unequal region: exclusion from the benefits of progress, the failure to satisfy basic needs, and shortcomings in education make large segments of society especially vulnerable to structural adjustments and imbalances within the economy. The Inter-American Commission thus notes that economic and social crises have a particular impact on the most vulnerable sectors and diminish standards of living in many of our countries – in some instances, with worrying repercussions on the functioning of state institutions and the rule of law.
Faced with that situation, the system must reflect on how to respond more efficiently. Our reflection, which began some time ago by studying the Commission, will continue by addressing the Inter-American Court; it plans to include all the system’s stakeholders, including the member states, academia, and representatives of civil society. We are looking for a strategic approach to the system’s future, taking on board the different stages of development found in the member states and their distinct realities, with the aim of helping to strengthen the protection of human rights, with emphasis on the conceptual definition of the rule of law and on the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights. The cooperative mindset that we have encountered in the member states thus indicates that we need to take joint actions in drawing up national human rights plans, for example. Our decisions on individual cases and thematic and country reports point in the direction of assisting states in the task of improving their protection of human rights.
This process of reflection begins, paradoxically, with one of the system’s endemic and increasingly urgent problems: budgetary constraints. The Inter-American Commission has enthusiastically received the different mandates handed down to it by the General Assembly and the Summits. We do note, however, that these must be accompanied by an allocation of resources that is commensurate with the new responsibilities. Within this process of mutual collaboration with the member states, the Commission requires an increase in funds, to allow it to properly perform all its assigned tasks.
One of the major challenges facing the Commission and the hemispheric community is how to respond, swiftly and effectively, in situations involving serious human rights violations. Although chief responsibility during institutional crises lies with the OAS’s political bodies, the Commission is a specialized body with duties in the field of human rights and, as such, must wield the tools available to it and protect the people of the Americas when their rights are violated. The Commission is therefore closely monitoring the particularly critical situations prevailing in some of the region’s states, and it will offer some public remarks at the end of this session.
In particular, we will discuss the invitation extended to the IACHR for it to assess the mission in support of the peace process in Colombia that was recently set up by the Permanent Council. We will also closely follow the situation in Haiti. We repeat out call for a peaceful solution to the crisis that has already cost more than 50 lives and for a resolution, in accordance with international law, of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding.
It would be remiss of me to conclude this address without expressing concern about recent statements made by high-level authorities in certain states over the past months with regard to organizations that work to defend human rights. The Commission has also seen that, in these cases, there has also been a clear tendency toward ignoring the recommendations issued by the Commission and the Court in connection therewith. The IACHR’s extensive experience indicates that official pronouncements questioning human rights defense work can generate serious threats to the lives, persons, and activities of human rights defenders and activists. Declarations of this type can be interpreted by groups on the fringes of legality as invitations to commit acts of violence and intimidation against members of human rights organizations and, additionally, they seriously affect the legitimacy of those organizations. The Commission reminds the member states that they must help ensure the conditions necessary for human rights organizations to discharge their duties, which are of vital importance to the full currency of the rule of law. The General Assembly of the Organization of American States has thus repeatedly expressed its support for the work of human rights defenders at the national and regional levels and it has condemned acts that, either directly or indirectly, could hinder or impede their work in promoting and protecting human rights in the Americas.
Taking stock of the past few years and considering the possibility that this meeting may well be the last under our current Secretary General, I would like to make particular mention of two issues: first, that the strengthening of the inter-American system in recent years has been largely facilitated by the absolute independence guaranteed to the Commission by the Secretary General – an independence that found determined support within the member states. Secondly, I would like once again to note one important element in that independence, which is the funding needed to perform its duties. The Inter-American Commission, between 1997 and 2003, saw the number of complaints it receives double; in addition, at the last General Assembly alone it received 12 new mandates. This, unfortunately, must be seen in conjunction with a reduction in its regular budget and cutbacks in the number of staff positions.
Under those circumstances, the Secretariat of the Inter-American Commission has continued improving its management methods and all its staff members have continued to work with maximum dedication. I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude for the commitment, excellent performance, and professionalism of both the Executive Secretary and all the team members who labor tirelessly to better protect the human rights of the peoples of the Americas.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished representative of the Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen representing the member states, esteemed colleagues and workmates:
We face multiple challenges that require new approaches and creativity for identifying mechanisms whereby we can shore up the rule of law and economic, social, and cultural rights in our countries. We must, however, resist the temptation of seeing in every challenge an opportunity for discarding the conquests we have secured in the field of human rights through the work and efforts of many years. I would thus like to emphasize that the states’ duty of upholding the international juridical order has not changed and must not change. So, the responses to the problems we face must be found not outside those international mechanisms but rather within them, since they contain the requisite tools for responding to the needs of security and, additionally, to the needs of justice. The rule of law is a basic pillar of a just society, one that sees the essence of human dignity in overcoming poverty and in the full recognition of human rights.
I declare the 119th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to be open.
ADDRESS BY THE SECOND VICE-PRESIDENT OF
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
DR. SUSANA VILLARÁN
PRESENTATION OF THE 2003 ANNUAL REPORT
OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS TO THE COMMITTEE ON
JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE
March 29, 2004
Mr. Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,
Distinguished representatives of member states and observers to the Organization,
Ladies and gentlemen,
As Second Vice-President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and on behalf of its President, José Zalaquett, I am pleased to present the Commission’s 2003 Annual Report to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs (CAJP) of the Permanent Council. Joining me today are our Executive Secretary and professional Executive Secretariat staff. Allow me to reiterate the fundamental importance that the Commission attaches to ongoing, frank, and meaningful free-flowing dialogue with the member states and with the Organization’s political bodies. When the Commission appears before the CAJP to present its Annual Report, it has always endeavored to be represented by its President or by a member of its Board of Officers. On this occasion as well, we attempted as far as possible to maintain that tradition. Unfortunately, for health reasons Dr. Zalaquett could not be present at the March 18 meeting. For this reason, he asked the Commission’s First Vice-President, Commissioner Clare K. Roberts, to represent the Commission, who was at that time able to accept. However, on the afternoon of March 16, Commissioner Roberts informed us that, for urgent reasons beyond his control, he would also be unable to travel to Washington. I was then asked if I was available, but for work-related reasons and given my prolonged absence from the country, I was likewise unable to appear on March 18.
Accordingly, pursuant to the terms of reference set out in the numerous conventional, statutory, and regulatory provisions governing the Commission (Article 40 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 21 of its Statute, Article 12.f of its Rules of Procedure) as well as Article 35.f of the Rules of Procedure of the Permanent Council, which specifically allows an area director, in this case our Executive Secretary, to represent the Commission should its president be unable to attend, the President of the Commission asked Dr. Santiago Canton to represent the Commission at the CAJP meeting. The CAJP Secretariat was also duly notified of these circumstances of force majeure.
In light of these events, the President instructed the Executive Secretary to express regret to the permanent representatives of the Member States during the March 18 CAJP meeting for the involuntary absence of Dr. Zalaquett or another commissioner and to deliver the speech that had been prepared previously.
This was not our Executive Secretary’s first appearance before the CAJP. On multiple occasions, Dr. Canton, like his predecessors, has made presentations to the CAJP and to other OAS organs, without the practice having been called into question by the member states. During the CAJP Chair’s current term, Dr. Canton has made presentations on Resolution AG/RES. 1926 (XXXIII-O/03), “Human Rights and the Environment in the Americas” (CP/CAJP-2102/03); Resolution AG/RES. 1927 (XXXIII-O/03), on a study of the rights and care of persons under any form of detention or imprisonment (CP/CAJP-2096/03); and on progress made in the preparation of the comprehensive report on the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas, pursuant to Resolutions AG/RES. 1842 (XXXII-O/02) and AG/RES. 1920 (XXXIII-O/03), “Human Rights Defenders: Support for the Individuals, Groups, and Civil Society Organizations Working to Promote and Protect Human Rights in the Americas” (CP/CAJP-2105/03).
I hope that this clarifies the President’s unavoidable absence from the March 18 CAJP meeting and the legal and factual reasons for the Executive Secretary’s attendance. We sincerely regret that our Executive Secretary was not permitted to present these explanations on March 18 and we hope that there will be no change in the practice, established over past years, of having members of the Secretariat make presentations, which facilitates the fluid dialogue that we all desire.
The report we are presenting to you today was prepared in accordance with OAS General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-O/78) of 1978 and Article 57 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The Commission approved its Annual Report for 2003 on December 29, 2003, and the report reflects the Commission’s activities for calendar year 2003 under the presidencies of Commissioners Marta Altoalguirre and José Zalaquett, respectively. I wish to thank Commisioners Altoalguirre and Zalaquett for their leadership. I also wish to express my most sincere gratitude to Commissioners Robert Goldman, Juan Méndez, and Julio Prado, whose terms of office ended last year, for their invaluable contribution to the cause of human rights in the Americas, as reflected in this report. At the beginning of the year, four new commissioners joined the Commission: Evelio Fernández, Freddy Gutiérrez, Florentín Meléndez, and Paulo Sergio Pinheiro. Over its more than 40 years of existence, and with its 53 commissioners, the Commission has been characterized by its staunch defense of human rights in the Americas, thus acquiring the credibility, legitimacy, and image that has made our inter-American system for the protection and promotion of human rights a success.
The Commission is conscious that the construction of democratic societies based upon full respect for human rights depends fundamentally upon state authorities. For this reason, constant interaction between the Commission and the permanent representatives of Member States is one of its priorities. The dialogue has been particularly valuable in the context of CAJP, for which I reiterate the Commission’s willingness to cooperate.
Human rights situation in 2003
Among positive achievements in strengthening the rule of law in 2003 were the derogation of amnesty laws granting impunity to persons accused of serious human rights violations in one member state, the release of the final report reflecting the outstanding work of the truth commission in another, and advances in the extradition of individuals accused of serious international crimes. These and similar advances have played an important role in combating one of the greatest threats to fundamental rights and justice, namely, the impunity of state agents for serious human rights violations.
Further, among the promising trends during 2003 was the continuing cooperation between member states and bodies of the Organization of American States in the struggle against terrorism. In the wake of the adoption by the OAS General Assembly of the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism in June 2002 and the release by the Commission of its Report on Terrorism and Human Rights in December 2002, the OAS has continued to serve as a forum for dialogue and consultation on ways in which states can adopt anti-terrorism laws and regulations that are in accordance with their international human rights commitments. This process has included the Experts Meeting organized by the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs in February 2004. The Commission is confident that these initiatives will allow it to continue cooperating with the member states in these and other important areas.
During 2003, our Hemisphere faced numerous challenges, ranging from efforts to confront the global threat of terrorism, to measures aimed at further consolidating democratic governance and improving the social and economic situation of the population of our region. These challenges were, in turn, reflected in many aspects of the Commission’s work during 2003. Most notably, the Commission has witnessed with profound concern a continuing and progressive deterioration in the rule of law in several countries of the Hemisphere. This phenomenon has stemmed to a significant extent from the failure to consolidate within our region democratic institutions and a democratic culture sufficient to bring stability and unity to our societies. The structural weaknesses that continue to affect the process of democratization and the consolidation of the rule of law in the Americas are particularly relevant for the Commission because, without these elements, the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights is undermined and our communities remain under a continued risk of political and social crisis and instability.
The year 2003 also witnessed a continuation of threats to the lives and physical integrity of human rights defenders in various parts of the Hemisphere. As the Commission has emphasized on numerous occasions, those individuals dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights and the organizations for which they work are essential to the effective realization of fundamental guarantees and freedoms. Member states are obliged to adopt the measures necessary to protect the lives, physical integrity, and freedom of expression and association of human rights defenders, and thus support their work. Nevertheless, we have documented threats, disappearances, attacks, and killings that have continued to imperil their lives, physical integrity, and work.
The administration of justice in many member states of the region is another area that failed to show significant improvement in 2003. Judicial institutions in many states have continued to suffer from inadequate resources and a lack of effective access by all segments of the population, resulting in a dangerous feeling of impunity that often leads people to take justice into their own hands. In many instances, judges have continued to face instability in their positions, including removal without basic due process protections, and have been the object of threats together with prosecutors, witnesses, and others involved in the administration and pursuit of justice. Member states must take the necessary steps to respond to threats of this nature and to ensure the independence and effectiveness of their judicial institutions.
A fourth area in which the Commission identified shortcomings in 2003 is the absence of progress in guaranteeing economic, social, and cultural rights. The Inter-American Democratic Charter, among other instruments, recognizes that the promotion and observance of economic, social, and cultural rights are inherently linked to integral development, equitable economic growth, and to the consolidation of democracy in the states of the Hemisphere. Notwithstanding this acknowledgment, our societies continue to be beset by poverty and social exclusion. The Commission has therefore emphasized that the development of strategies for enhancing social inclusion must become a fundamental priority for member states, as must the granting of special protection to those in particularly vulnerable situations, including children, indigenous peoples, members of communities of African descent, and migrant workers and their families. Similarly, states must take the necessary measures to eradicate racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination in accordance with their international obligations.
Gender-based discrimination persists, and there has been no decline in violence against women despite the norms and instruments established by states to prevent it. This year, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Convention of Belém do Pará, we must redouble our efforts to bring about its full implementation and ensure for all women of the Hemisphere lives that are free from violence.
Structure and Summary of the 2003 Annual Report
The Annual Report is divided into three volumes, the first two of which relate to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the third of which contains the report of the Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2003 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. In the opening of my presentation, I highlighted several of the matters addressed by the Commission in Chapter I of its Annual Report.
Chapter II offers a brief introduction of the origins and legal foundations of the Commission and describes the main activities carried out by the Commission during the year. In this respect, the Chapter highlights the activities conducted during the Commission’s two regular sessions. It also describes the on-site visits made by the Commission, as well as the special visits and promotional and other activities undertaken by the Commission throughout the year and the Commission’s activities in relation to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and during the regular session of the OAS General Assembly in June 2003 in Santiago, Chile.
Members of the Inter-American Commission and representatives of its thematic rapporteurships undertook numerous visits and promotional initiatives. At the invitation of the member states concerned, the Commission undertook on-site visits to Guatemala and Haiti, as well as special visits to Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Barbados, Paraguay, El Salvador, and Peru. In addition, various Commission rapporteurs, some of whom are mentioned below, made multiple visits. I would like to take this opportunity to express the Commission’s thanks to the governments of the corresponding 15 states for their cooperation in achieving the objectives set out during the visits in 2003.
The Commission’s special rapporteurships also undertook numerous initiatives concerning the promotion and protection of fundamental rights in the Hemisphere. Throughout 2003, the Commission’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child, with funding provided by the Inter-American Development Bank, continued to hold training seminars on the promotion and defense of the rights of children in numerous member states, including Colombia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. The Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and their Families undertook an on-site visit to Mexico in July and August 2003, participated in the proceedings concerning the Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion OC-18, and took part in numerous promotional activities. The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples undertook numerous promotional initiatives and continued its involvement in the promulgation by the OAS of an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In March 2003, the Commission published its report on the “Situation of the Rights of Women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: The Right to be Free from Violence and Discrimination,” prepared by its Rapporteurship on Women’s Rights, following its visit on February 11 and 12, 2002, at the invitation of the Government of Mexico.
The Commission thanks all states that invited it to engage in activities for the promotion or protection of human rights during 2003.
As with past annual reports, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared a 2003 report on the matter, which constitutes Volume III of the Annual Report. Also during 2003, the Rapporteurship released reports specifically on the situation of freedom of expression in Panama and Haiti.
The previous year, the Commission continued to convene meetings with representatives of member states from the Caribbean during its regular periods of sessions, with a view to strengthening dialogue with states of that region in the area of human rights.
In addition, in March 2003, the Commission convened a one-day Working Session on the Implementation of International Human Rights Commitments and Standards in the Inter-American System. This event involved the participation of more than 70 OAS member state and permanent observer representatives and 15 experts and provided a valuable opportunity for collaboration among the governments and institutions of the inter-American system to enhance the practical effect of international human rights protections in the region.
Many of these activities were undertaken by the Commission through voluntary contributions and outside sources of funding, due to continuing shortfalls in the Commission’s regular budget. At this time, 40% of the Commission’s funds come from sources outside the Hemisphere. In this respect, we once again wish to emphasize the need for Member States to fulfill their commitment to augment the Commission’s regular budget so that it may continue to meet its expanding responsibilities and mandates. We cannot continue to accept unfunded mandates.
Chapter III, the longest in the Report, contains the Commission’s decisions on complaints of human rights violations in the member states of the Organization. The Chapter also includes pertinent statistics concerning the Commission’s work, summaries of precautionary measures adopted or extended by the Commission during 2003, and an overview of follow-up on the Commission’s recommendations in decisions published since 2000.
In the period under analysis, the Commission published a total of 65 reports, including 37 reports declaring petitions admissible, 10 reports declaring petitions inadmissible, 11 reports on friendly settlement, one compliance agreement report, and six reports on merits. Over the same period, the Commission granted a total of 56 precautionary measures pursuant to Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, to prevent irreparable harm to persons. Also during 2003, the Commission received a total of 1,080 individual complaints and initiated the processing of 115 of those petitions, resulting in a total of 987 individual cases and petitions being processed by the Commission in 2003. In addition, the Commission referred a total of 15 cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, more than twice the number referred in 2002. All of this was accomplished as a result of the tireless efforts of a small number of Executive Secretary staff and the Commission members. These circumstances place considerable pressure on the Executive Secretariat, as it attempts to manage this increasing case load while at the same time handling the Commission’s growing mandates in other areas, with a budget that remains constant or even diminished in real terms.
The strength of the inter-American human rights system depends on compliance with the Commission’s recommendations, the Court’s decisions, and urgent protective measures. As shown on the chart in part D of Chapter III, various states have complied with them fully or in part. At the same time, there are many outstanding cases in which the states concerned have yet to fully implement the recommendations issued. In this respect, it is important to reiterate the requirement that member states do their utmost to comply in good faith with the Commission’s recommendations. I would also like to express the Commission’s hope that the Permanent Council will take measures to establish a regular oversight mechanism on compliance with the 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.
Further, the Commission has utilized the criteria set forth in its 1998 Annual Report for identifying member states whose human rights practices deserve special attention and inclusion in the Annual Report. Chapter IV of the 2003 Annual Report contains analyses of the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, and Venezuela. As I indicated previously, the information in the Annual Report pertains only to events during calendar year 2003. Since December 2003, however, there have been new and important developments concerning the countries discussed in Chapter IV, some of which I will highlight in my comments today. In addition, I should note that the Commission chose to include mere summary observations in Chapter IV, since we recently published reports on Guatemala and Venezuela, copies of which were distributed to you, and we are in the process of preparing or publishing comprehensive country reports on the human rights situation in the remaining states included in the chapter.
Concerning Colombia, the principal problem areas highlighted in the Report are the violence stemming from the armed conflict and its impact on the civilian population and vulnerable groups, the involvement of members of security forces in paramilitary groups, and the continuous violation of the basic principles of human rights and international humanitarian law by the actors in the armed conflict. The Commission also expressed concern regarding the situation of the human rights defenders, who not only continue to be the target of threats and attempts against their lives and physical integrity, but also find their work questioned by high-level officials. Additionally, the Commission expresses its concern with respect to the introduction of legislation, the implementation of which could affect the enjoyment of basic human rights. Following the adoption of the Commission’s 2003 Annual Report, the Commission was invited by the OAS Permanent Council to provide advisory support to the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OEA). During its 119th regular period of sessions in February and March 2004, the Commission analyzed how it could provide the support requested by the Permanent Council, and will report back to the Council in due course with an action plan and on the resources needed to carry it out. As indicated by the Commission’s President before this body several, it will not be possible to discharge the mandate without additional resources.
With regard to Cuba, the Commission has observed that the grave human rights situation in that country has not changed, due in large part to the general violation of public freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression, and to the systematic repression of dissidents and independent journalists. This has included the apprehension of more than 70 people in March of 2003, who were tried through summary proceedings and condemned to heavy penalties. The Commission has also expressed concerns regarding the execution of three individuals by the Cuban State following summary trials that lacked fundamental due process guarantees and during which inadequate conditions of detention prevailed.
Concerning Guatemala, in 2003 the Commission prepared its report entitled “Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges of Democracy in Guatemala” following its on-site visit to that State in March of that same year. In its report, the Commission sets forth its observations, conclusions, and recommendations on the human rights situation in Guatemala, particularly regarding the administration of justice and citizen security, as well as the situation of human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, women, children, and freedom of expression. The Commission concludes that the rule of law and democracy cannot be consolidated in Guatemala as long as there is an ineffective judicial branch that fails to investigate serious present and past human rights violations. The Commission also indicates that the Guatemalan system for the administration of justice must ensure effective access to justice for all, in an independent and impartial manner, and continue with modernization and reforms to improve its operations. Following the adoption of the Commission’s 2003 Annual Report, a new government was installed in Guatemala, and the Commission has begun to engage in a constructive dialogue with the new administration. Last week, in the presence of President Berger, the Commission presented its report “Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges of Democracy,” in a historic ceremony in Guatemala City. I wish to take this opportunity to express the Commission’s satisfaction with the political commitments made by President Berger to do his utmost to adopt our recommendations.
In this Annual Report, the Commission reiterates its serious concern for the situation of human rights in Haiti. The Commission notes in this respect that in May and July 2003 it conducted several seminars and, in August, it completed an on-site visit that dealt mainly with the issues of administration of justice, impunity, and the rule of law. Based upon its activities in Haiti, the Commission has taken note of the severe economic hardship and protracted political crisis that have a dire effect on the human rights of Haitians. The Commission has also expressed its concern with respect to significant limitations on the independence of the Judicial Branch in Haiti, as well as reports of the existence in Haiti of armed groups who act unlawfully and with impunity, terrorizing the population. The Commission remains concerned regarding events over the past two months, following the adoption of its Annual Report, and will continue observing the situation closely in the hope that Haiti will see a full return to the rule of law and democratic institutions in conformity with the Democratic Charter and the American Convention.
With respect to Venezuela, the Commission has taken note of several problems in the area of human rights protection. In this regard, the Commission has identified certain matters that undermine the rule of law in Venezuela, including extreme polarization and periodic acts of violence between demonstrators from different groups, as well as the failure to fully implement the State’s new Constitution. Other areas of concern include the provisional status of numerous judges, which seriously undermines the autonomy and independence of the Judiciary, noncompliance with the Venezuelan State’s duty to prevent and investigate human rights violations and punish those responsible, and the Venezuelan State’s refusal to comply with the Commission’s decisions. On March 18, the Commission released its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela. The Commission reiterates its resolve to work with the Government of Venezuela and with civil society toward the full implementation of the recommendations contained therein.
Finally, Chapter V of the Commission’s 2003 Annual Report contains the Fifth Progress Report of the Commission’s Rapporteur on Migrant Workers and their Families, which outlines the main activities in this area in 2003. It reviews the case law of the inter-American system as well as policies and practices relating to the human rights of migrant workers and their families, and discusses the rapporteurship’s on-site visit to Mexico from July 25 to August 1, 2003.
The annexes to the Report contain information concerning the present state of human rights conventions and protocols adopted within the inter-American system, as well as copies of press releases issued by the Commission during 2003, speeches delivered on behalf of the Commission, and the Resolution on Trial for International Crimes, adopted by the Commission on October 24, 2003.
Mr. Chair, representatives, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, I would like to emphasize that the support of the Member States and their collaboration in the Commission’s work are crucial to ensuring the genuine effectiveness of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. In 2003, as in previous years, the Commission has submitted a comprehensive and detailed report concerning the situation of human rights in our Hemisphere. The pages of this report mean little, however, without a commitment on the part of member states and the political organs of our Organization to address the problems and challenges identified by the Commission. As the Commission has emphasized on numerous occasions, and as member states themselves have recognized, the inter-American human rights system is in dire need of additional resources. The absence of adequate funding for the mandates given to the Commission and to the Inter-American Court places the entire system in jeopardy, and it is therefore imperative that governments take concrete measures to ensure that the necessary resources are made available for both organs so that they may perform their duties effectively and independently. On this occasion, I would like to thank all countries that, by their contributions, made the Commission’s work possible in 2003: Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Finland, the European Commission, France, Denmark, Spain, and Sweden.
Finally, I would like to express the Inter-American Commission’s appreciation to the outgoing members, who completed their terms in 2003 and were responsible for the work reflected in this Annual Report. At the same time, I would like to welcome the new Commission members who have already joined in our efforts in positive and constructive ways. I also wish to express appreciation for the sense of professionalism and dedication of our Executive Secretary and the professional and administrative Secretariat staff for their tireless work in support of human rights. The Commissioners are proud of the professional work done by the Executive Secretariat, under the leadership of Dr. Canton, in extremely difficult circumstances and within the full extent of its capabilities, and give it our wholehearted support. In conclusion, I wish to express the Commission’s sincere appreciation to the Secretary General of the OAS, César Gaviria, for the support and the autonomy that he has invariably provided to the Commission during his term.