SPEECH OF CLARE K. ROBERTS,
PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
ON THE INAUGURATION OF THE 122ļ REGULAR PERIOD OF SESSIONS
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Your Excellency, Ambassador Manuel CŠceres, President of the Permanent Council of the OAS, Your Excellency, Ambassador Luigi Einaudi, Acting Secretary General, distinguished representatives of the member States of the Organization, and observers. Esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:
I have the honor to address you in my capacity as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on the occasion of this ceremony to mark the inauguration of our 122ļ regular period of sessions. It is my pleasure on this occasion to be accompanied by my colleagues, Susana VillarŠn, First Vice-President, Paulo Sťrgio Pinheiro, Second Vice-President, Josť Zalaquett, our immediate past President, and Commissioners Evelio FernŠndez, Freddy Gutiťrrez and FlorentŪn Melťndez. We are also accompanied by Mr. Santiago Canton, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, and by members of the staff of the Executive Secretariat.
I have the honor of assuming the Presidency of the Commission, having been elected by my fellow Commission members, during the present period of sessions. I would, on this occasion, like to make reference to the work of the Commission over the past year, under the Presidency of my predecessor Josť Zalaquett. I also wish to recognize his excellent leadership of the Commission during a difficult period.
I would like to begin by mentioning a few important advances in the area of human rights that we have seen in the region: the launching of a comprehensive national human rights program in Mexico; the approval of constitutional reforms in Brazil aimed at modernizing the judicial system and amplifying the judicial mechanisms available to combat impunity for human rights violations; the successful carrying out of a referendum in Venezuela in spite of the conditions of extreme polarization; the efforts undertaken by Chile, Argentina and Paraguay to investigate and punish those responsible for serious human rights violations; the recognition of international responsibility by both Guatemala and Peru in cases concerning serious human rights violations before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ; the signing of a friendly settlement agreement on cases of forced disappearance that took place during the civil war in Honduras; the reaffirmation in the United States of the right to enjoy a judicial remedy or review in the case of the detention of citizens or persons classified as enemy combatants in the framework of the war on terrorism; the consideration being given in Jamaica to legislative changes concerning the application of the death penalty; and the possibility in Colombia of reopening criminal investigations based on decisions of international organizations, as well as the judicial confirmation of the need to comply with precautionary measures issued by the Commission.
At the same time, we are faced with many pending human rights challenges in the region, where we continue to confront such longstanding problems as impunity in respect of human rights violations (for example, torture and extrajudicial executions); arbitrary detention; the insufficient development of the judiciary of the majority of the countries of the region, and the attacks in some countries on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; inhuman conditions of detention in prisons; and a repressive mentality, often supported by public opinion, that offers the ďstrong handĒ as the means of counteracting rising crime in the region, without duly addressing the causes of the problem.
The region continues to be affected by crises of a political, economic and social nature in many countries. These problems reveal the institutional fragility of the rule of law and the precariousness of the process of democratic consolidation in the hemisphere. In some instances, popular demonstrations sparked by economic and social conditions have been met with police responses characterized by an excessive use of force, further polarizing political divisions.
At least 221 million people, that is, 44% of the total population of Latin America live in poverty. Of these, 97 million live in conditions of extreme poverty or indigency. In this same sense, Latin America continues to be the region with the worst indicators in terms of income distribution. This economic situation, the high poverty indicators, and profound inequalities in the region constitute obstacles that impede the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as having a negative impact on the efficacy of many civil and political rights.
Further, crime and citizen insecurity have reached alarming proportions in a number of countries. The insecurity generated by the high levels of crime and growing inequality has in some cases provoked an increasing reliance on repressive police methods. In this context, the use of torture and excessive force by the security forces remains a source of deep concern in a number of countries of the region.
In this context of pending challenges, the inter-American human rights system has the necessary tools to collaborate with States in working toward societies characterized by ever-increasing respect for human rights, and by the existence of the systems of freedoms that go along with a democracy. For this, we need political support, independence, autonomy and appropriate resources.
In relation to political support, the Commission benefits from the constant and sustained support of the vast majority of member states. One sign of this is the important process of reflection on the system that has been taking place within the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, and the consistent resolutions of the General Assembly concerning the strengthening of the system.
With respect to our independence and autonomy, the troubling situation of a few months ago, in which the then-Secretary General issued an executive order setting out a new structure for the General Secretariat of the OAS, and which affected the independence and autonomy of the Commission, was a matter of public knowledge.
Fortunately, the Acting Secretary General, Ambassador Luigi Einaudi, has issued a new Executive Order that has remedied the situation. Certainly we recognize and thank His Excellency Ambassador Einaudi, the Member States and the members of civil society who supported the Commission in a delicate moment that tested its capacity to fulfill the important mandate assigned to it by the Member States of the OAS.
The fundamental problem faced by the Commission relates to its human resources and budget capacity. We constantly receive more petitions, and constantly have additional mandates. The petition system provides a very concrete example. The number of petitions presented has steadily risen, in 2003 the Commission received 1080 petitions, and in 2004 that number rose to 1329. Comparing the petitions received in 2000 with those received in 2004, the number has actually doubled. However, in inverse proportion, we have less personnel and a reduced budget. The crisis situation is such that, for the first time in its history, the Commission was forced to make the decision of canceling its period of sessions scheduled for October of last year. The period of sessions finally took place by means of an extraordinary allocation of resources received at the last minute. We are presently facing those same budget limitations, placing in question whether we will be able to carry out the second period of sessions scheduled for the fall of this year.
The Commission is certainly aware of the financial crisis the OAS currently faces. At the same time, the percentage of the OAS regular budget that is assigned to the Commission is 3.8%. We respectfully reiterate our requests for a prompt remedy for the unsustainable situation the Commission faces.
Turning to the key issue of the strengthening of the regional human rights system, I want to reiterate the importance of achieving universal ratification of the regional human rights treaties. Another priority in this regard is achieving greater compliance with the decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court. With respect to compliance with Commission and Court decisions, it is important to highlight that we have seen important improvements in this regard. The situation, however, is far from ideal, and the need still exists for Member States to fully assume their role as collective guarantors of the system.
With respect to the strengthening of the system, I would also recall that, as most of you know, the Commission has undertaken a process of reflection about its institutional role and the most effective responses to the current challenges in achieving a greater protection and respect for the human rights of each and every man, woman and child in the region. As part of this process, we will be sharing our conclusions with the member states and representatives of civil society.
I am particularly pleased to mention that the efforts at creating a Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of People of Afrodescendants and gainst Racial Discrimination are about to bear fruit.
With respect to the present period of sessions, the Commission has planned an intense program of activities. As customary, we will dedicate the larger part of our work to the study and review of reports on individual petitions and cases pertaining to different countries in the hemisphere. The matters being considered include 30 reports dealing with the admissibility stage of the proceedings and 14 concerning the merits stage. During the second of the three weeks of the sessions, the Commission has organized more than 40 hearings on individual cases and petitions and on the human rights situation in the hemisphere, covering general issues or specific subjects pertaining to the mandate of the Commission. Further, the Commission is presently finalizing its Annual Report setting forth the work accomplished during 2004, as well as planning the activities to be carried out throughout 2005. I would add that, in addition to our work related to our period of sessions, the Commission is also working on a number of cases that will be dealt with by the Inter-American Court during the period of sessions it will initiate on February 28, 2005.
I thank each and every one of you for your continued support of the Commission, for your presence on this occasion, and now officially open the 122˚ period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.
ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
DR. CLARE K. ROBERTS
THE 2004 ANNUAL REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN
RIGHTS TO THE COMMITTEE ON JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE
PERMANENT COUNCIL OF THE
April 15, 2005
Mr. Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,
Distinguished representatives of member states and observers to the Organization,
Ladies and gentlemen,
As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ďCommissionĒ), I am pleased to present the Commissionís Annual Report for the year 2004 to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council. Joining me today are our Executive Secretary and professional Secretariat staff.
The report that we are submitting today to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs was approved by the Commission at its 122nd 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. The report reflects the general activities of the IACHR under the presidency of Dr. Jose Zalaquett. I will complement the presentation of this report with a powerpoint presentation including details about the individual petition system and the financial condition of the Commission.
Within a climate of achievements and challenges in human rights protection, the Commission continued to represent during 2004 an important forum for the defense of democracy and advancement of human rights in the hemisphere. During 2004, the Commission continued reflecting on ways to strengthen the Inter-American System as an effective mechanism to counter the increasing challenges and needs of the region in this area. The Commission recognizes that there are new challenges to confront, foremost among which, are the observance by the States of the rule of law and the effective protection of economic, social, and cultural rights.
Human rights situation in 2004
During 2004, there were positive advances in key areas for the protection of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law. Notable achievements include the launch of a comprehensive national program to address human rights concerns in Mexico at the public policy level; the adoption of constitutional reforms to eradicate impunity for human rights violations in Brazil; and the organization of a referendum in Venezuela, despite conditions of extreme political polarization.
Among the promising trends in 2004 were the continuing efforts to curb impunity for serious human rights violations committed in preceding decades. Major highlights were the prosecution of former dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile for the atrocities committed during the military dictatorship and the publication of an in-depth report that covers incidents of political imprisonment and torture during said dictatorship; the elimination of various legal obstacles that impeded the judicial prosecution in cases of ďdisappearancesĒ and other human rights violations in Argentina; the creation of a Truth Committee in Paraguay; acknowledgments of international responsibility for serious human rights violations by Guatemala and Peru in cases pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; and the signing of a comprehensive friendly settlement in cases of forced disappearance that occurred during the civil war in Honduras. A number of important legal developments also took place during 2004, such as the reaffirmation in the United States of the right to judicial review when citizens or persons classified as enemy combatants are arrested for terrorism charges and the possibility of reopening criminal investigations based on decisions of international organizations.
Nevertheless, these positive developments have taken place in a context where political, economic and social crises predominate in several countries, which threaten the rule of law and the process of strengthening democracy in the hemisphere. Deteriorating economic and social conditions in various countries have provoked mass popular demonstrations that have often been met with excessive use of force by the police, and in many cases, intensified the political instability. Haiti was involved in a grave institutional crisis amid rising political violence, as the prevailing economic conditions continued to deteriorate. In Ecuador, the removal and dismissal of a number of Supreme Court magistrates, judges of the Constitutional Tribunal and of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has raised deep concerns about the effective functioning of institutions that are key to the rule of law and the respect for the principle of separation and independence of powers. Corruption, still a region-wide phenomenon, continues to impede the construction of democratic and transparent societies. Further, the vast majority of the States have not addressed the causes and consequences produced by social exclusion and discrimination based on ethnicity, class, race, and gender. In the same vein, the Commission notes that high poverty rates and the extensive inequality prevailing in the region continue to limit the effective enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, and negatively affects the observance of many civil and political rights.
Likewise, crime and citizen insecurity reached alarming proportions in various countries during 2004. In many countries, the insecurity generated by the high rates of crime and the growing inequality led both the governments and the general public to demonstrate a higher tolerance for repressive methods used by the police. In this context, torture and excessive use of force are tools commonly used by the security forces in many countries in the region.
Given this reality and context, it is necessary for the Commission to reflect on how to respond more effectively to the problems mentioned. This process of reflection was already initiated by the Commission, and continued during 2004, motored by an extraordinary period of sessions in Mexico that benefited from the presence of judges from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as important representatives from government agencies and civil society organizations across the region. The Commission wants to specially thank the government of Mexico for the invitation to hold this extraordinary period of sessions. The process has been driven by certain basic premises, among these, the need to build consensus around strengthening the Inter-American System of human rights protection through a participatory approach that includes each and every actor associated with the system and the strengthening of effective mechanisms within the Commission, such as the thematic rapporteurships. The Commission understands, furthermore, that this reflection process should include an analysis of its promotional and political role in the future and define how to respond to situations of serious human rights violations in a quick and effective fashion.
Moreover, this reflection exercise must lead to overcoming one of the endemic and urgent problems that plagues the Commission: budgetary limitations. Over the years, the Inter-American Commission has responsibly assumed the various mandates assigned to it by the General Assembly and Summits of the Americas, which recognize and reaffirm its legitimacy and its important role for the States. There is an urgent need to identify measures that lead to increased funding and resources in order for the Commission to continue fulfilling its mandate and assigned tasks.
Lastly, the Commission considers that, in order to ensure effective and comprehensive completion of its functions and mandates, it must have complete independence and sufficient autonomy in administrative, financial and political matters, which is indispensable for an international organization.
Structure and Summary of the 2004 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 Commissionís Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
Following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2004 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 Commissionís two regular sessions and one special session. As I mentioned before, during the period between the regular sessions of the Inter-American Commission, a joint session was held with judges representing the Inter-American Court and with personnel of its Secretariat, in Mexico City, during its 120th special session. On that occasion, a number of questions of interest to both bodies were addressed, referring in particular to consideration of ways to strengthen the Inter-American system of human rights, a reflection process that the Commission has continued involving the participation of other actors in the hemisphere.
Chapter II also describes the on-site and special visits and promotional and other activities undertaken by the Commission throughout the year and the Commissionís activities related to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and during the regular session of the OAS General Assembly in June 2004 in Quito, Ecuador.
Members of the Inter-American Commission and representatives of its thematic rapporteurships undertook a number of visits throughout the year. At the invitation of the member states concerned, the Commission undertook visits to Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua. The Inter-American Commission also visited Colombia at the invitation of the OAS Permanent Council to provide advisory services to the Mission to Support the Peace Process in Colombia (MAPP/OAS Mission). The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women visited Guatemala at the invitation of the government of President Oscar Berger, where it held meetings with high-level government authorities, civil society organizations and the academic sector to collect information on the situation of womenís rights and violence against women. The Rapporteurs on Children and on the Rights of Detained Persons and the United Nations Childrenís Fund undertook a joint visit to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras where they gathered information about the situation of boys, girls and adolescents involved with gangs and the living conditions of persons deprived of freedom. I would like to take this opportunity to express the Commissionís thanks to the governments of the corresponding states for their cooperation in achieving the objectives set out during the visits in 2004.
In connection with certain visits conducted prior to and during 2004, the Commission published several reports concerning the situation of human rights in particular member states. On March 18, 2004, the Commission released its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, which examines the issues of administration of justice, the role of the armed forces and the police, the state of freedom of expression and the consequences of political polarization in Venezuela following the coup díetat of April 11, 2002 and the reinstatement of President Hugo Chavez on April 14, 2002. On March 22, 2004, the Commission presented its report Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges Facing Democracy in Guatemala. The report analyzes the current state of administration of justice and the rule of law in Guatemala and makes recommendations to the Guatemalan State, covering issues such as access to justice, security for citizens, the current status of freedom of expression, and the status of human rights defenders, indigenous people, women and children. On December 29, 2004, the Commission published its Report on the Process of Demobilization in Colombia, as a follow-up to the visit of the Commissionís Rapporteur and the Executive Secretary at the invitation of the OAS Permanent Council, as described earlier.
Furthermore, throughout 2004, members of the Commission and the Secretariat participated in numerous international conferences, workshops and training sessions on the international protection of human rights and related topics. The Commissionís Rapporteur for Haiti visited and participated in seminars in St. Kitts and Nevis, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to advise the Working Group of the OAS Permanent Council charged with preparing a draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and issued a recompilation of the publication Jurisprudence on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Inter-American System. The Special Rapporteurship on Children concluded its strengthening program, developed jointly with the Inter-American Development Bank, by conducting eleven workshops in various countries in the Hemisphere and the publication of a text entitled The Rights of the Child in the Inter-American System for Human Rights.
The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families continued to actively participate with the working group of the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs responsible for developing an Inter-American program for the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants. The Special Rapporteur on Detained Persons participated in numerous conferences including the Second World Congress against the Death Penalty in Montreal, Canada in September and visited a number of jails in several countries in our hemisphere.
I want to make special mention of the inter-disciplinary course on the Inter-American Human Rights System for government officials, in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in San Jose, Costa Rica. The Commission would like to take this opportunity to thank the Member States and the representatives who participated in this training exercise. We will continue with this effort with a follow-up course for Caribbean Member States. As you know, this initiative is building from our training workshops for members of the Permanent Missions, organized by our Secretariat in Washington, DC.
Throughout 2004, the Commission also continued its work relating to the situation of human rights defenders in the region. On the occasion of December 10, 2004, Human Rights Day, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peopleís Rights and the Executive Secretary of the Commission issued a statement commending the European Union for adopting its Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders as an important protection tool for activists who are promoting human rights at great personal risk and recognizing the main challenges to be resolved concerning the protection of defenders around the world. The Commission also participated in numerous exchanges with civil society and with the States and continued training the defendersí units of Member States. It recognizes the creation in Brazil of a working group to elaborate a national program to protect human rights defenders. The Commission is also working very closely with the defendersí unit of the African System.
In conclusion, the Commission has fulfilled all of the mandates assigned to it by the General Assembly and the Summit of Americas. However, many of these activities were undertaken by the Commission through voluntary contributions and outside sources of funding, due to continuing shortfalls in the Commissionís regular budget. In this respect, we once again wish to emphasize the need for Member States to fulfill their commitment to augment the Commissionís regular budget so that it may continue to meet its expanding responsibilities and mandates.
Chapter III, the longest in the Report, contains the Commissionís decisions on complaints of human rights violations in the member states of the Organization. The Chapter also includes pertinent statistics concerning the Commissionís work, summaries of precautionary measures adopted or extended by the Commission during 2004, and an overview of follow-up on the Commissionís recommendations in decisions published since 2001.
In the period under analysis, the Commission published a total of 65 reports, including 45 reports declaring petitions admissible, 9 reports declaring petitions inadmissible, 3 reports on friendly settlement, and 4 reports on merits. Over the same period, the Commission granted a total of 37 precautionary measures pursuant to Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure, to prevent irreparable harm to persons. Also during 2004, the Commission received a total of 1,329 individual complaints and initiated the processing of 160 of those petitions, resulting in a total of 1021 individual cases and petitions being processed by the Commission in 2004. In addition, the Commission referred a total of 12 cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. 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 Commissionís 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 Commissionís recommendations, the Courtís 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 Commissionís recommendations.
Chapter IV of the 2004 Annual Report contains analyses of the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, and Haiti. As I indicated previously, the information in the Annual Report pertains only to events during calendar year 2004. Since December 2004, 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, in Chapter V the Commission evaluates the measures taken to comply with the recommendations put forward by the Commission in its reports Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges of Democracy in Gautemala and the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, both published on 2003.
Concerning Colombia, the Commission recognizes the efforts made by the State in order to put and end to the violence generated by the armed conflict as an objective of fundamental importance for peace, stability and governance, shared by the government and the civil society. However the Commission must reiterate its concern regarding the impact of the armed conflict upon the civilian population and, in particular, vulnerable groups, such as the indigenous, afro descendent and displaced communities as well as the attacks and threats against human rights defenders, social and labor union leaders.
In spite of the commitment of some Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia leaders to cease hostilities and the demobilization in various areas of the country, paramilitary violence against civilians continues. In this respect the Commission must underscore that for the time being, the demobilization process has moved forward without the support of a comprehensive legal framework that clarifies the conditions under which persons responsible for committing human rights violations are to demobilize, or their relationship with the peace process and recommends the adoption of a comprehensive legal framework that establishes clear conditions for the demobilization of illegal armed groups, in accordance with the Stateís international obligations. This legal framework should provide for the situation of those who have joined processes for individual and collective demobilization to clarify their situation. Moreover, genuine mechanisms of participation should be put in place, in secure conditions, for the victims of the conflict, so as to ensure access to truth, justice, and reparation.
With regard to Cuba, the Commission notes in 2004 positive developments reported by specialized international human rights bodies, such as the high quality of the sanitation system, which has played a decisive role in reducing infant mortality and in increasing the life expectancy of the population, low illiteracy rates and the high percentage of women employed in the public sector. The Commission, however, continued to receive information about the serious human rights situation in the country, including the dire conditions of those detained, and the disrespect of key human rights such as those related to labor, freedom of association and expression, women, movement and residence, justice and due process protections.
According to information received by the Commission during its 119th regular session, people deprived of their liberty in Cuba are subjected to abusive conditions and are generally confined in overpopulated cells. On the other hand, the Commission received information during 2004 of 19 cases where the rights of workers and labor leaders had been breached, ranging from aggressive acts carried out by the National Revolutionary Police to the firing of leaders protected by the legally independent status of trade unions. The Commission was also informed of repression and human rights violations against women considered dissidents or government opponents. The Commission also notes that the Cuban State continues to refuse to recognize the right of its citizens to leave and return to the country and to disseminate all types of information and ideas.
In this annual report, the Commission reiterates its serious concern for the situation of human rights in Haiti. The year 2004 witnessed dramatic changes in the political landscape of Haiti, which included the departure of former President Jean Bertrand-Aristide at the end of February following a violent uprising, the installation of a transitional government in March, and the arrival of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in June. The Commissionís activities in Haiti in 2004 were necessarily influenced by these major developments, including a visit by the Commissionís Rapporteur for Haiti in September to meet with members of the transitional government and evaluate the human rights situation. Based upon its activities relating to Haiti this year, the Commission is still very concerned at the lack of protection and guarantees to the basic human rights of the population, exacerbated by the alarming security situation, the absence of a sufficiently trained and staffed national police force, impunity against past human rights abuses, and systemic violations of the rights of vulnerable groups, including women, children, human rights defenders, and journalists, and politically motivated violence. Formidable barriers to the protection of human rights in Haiti are the fundamental social problems that have consistently plagued the country such as extreme poverty, high illiteracy and malnutrition.
During its September visit, the Commission was encouraged by indications on the part of officials from the transitional government that human rights played a central role in their work. However, since that time the Commission has witnessed a further deterioration of the conditions in Haiti, owning mainly to an increase in violence by armed groups and gangs coupled with the failure of the government, with international assistance, to ensure the security of the population throughout the country. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation in Haiti and to offer its assistance to the government and its people in the coming year. The Commission also encourages the international community to continue supporting Haiti in the many challenges it faces, particularly in the context of the coming elections at the end of 2005.
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. In 2004, the Commission has noted and commends a number of gestures from the government of Guatemala as clear examples of the willingness to implement an effective human rights agenda. These efforts include President Oscar Bergerís statements at the anniversary of the presentation of the Report of the Committee for Historical Clarification on February 25, 2004, when he apologized, on behalf of the Guatemalan State, to victims of the domestic armed conflict, as well as acknowledging international responsibility in the cases of the Pan de Sanchez Massacre, the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and the execution of Jorge Capio Nicolle, among others.
With regard to progress made in the fulfillment of recommendations issued to the State in the 2003 report, it is important to highlight the efforts of the State and the Judiciary in the modernization and training efforts to combat impunity for present and past human rights abuses; in designing a national plan to combat violence and to improve the coordination of national security organs; the creation of a Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism against the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala; steps to improve the legal and institutional framework to overcome historic forms of discrimination and violence against women; and the improvement in the conditions for the exercise of freedom of expression, among others. At the same time, the Commission notes that some areas have not shown notable progress, such as the lack of personnel resources, infrastructure and equipment needed to carry out the National Civil Policeís task of preventing and investigating crime; the lack of progress in judicial investigations of the human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples during the armed conflict; the failure to investigate, try and punish those responsible for violence against women, despite the alarming growth in the number of murders; and continued assaults on journalists and a de facto monopoly in television, among other areas of concern.
On December 29, 2003, the Commission approved the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela. In that report, the Commission focused on issues relating to the administration of justice and human rights, civil society, state security, the right to life and to humane treatment, the freedom of expression and thought, and trade union freedoms. The Commission issued a series of recommendations intended to assist the Venezuelan State in its obligation to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights and freedoms protected by the American Convention on Human Rights for persons subjected to its jurisdiction. The analysis of compliance with the recommendations issued by the Inter-American Commission in its report on Venezuela reveals that the climate of violence and of political and social tension diminished during 2004. The Inter-American Commission recognizes the efforts made by both the State and by civil society to seek channels of dialogue within a framework of respect for the rule of law and for human rights. In addition, the Inter-American Commission welcomes the information provided by the State on initiatives taken to design and implement a public safety program that respects the parameters for guaranteeing and protecting human rights.
Nevertheless, the Commission remains concerned over the position adopted by the State with respect to the recommendations of the Commission, and its tendency to reject any questions on the grounds that they infringe on national sovereignty. Moreover, among the main aspects limiting the effective enjoyment of human rights are the continuing doubts about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; the impunity that results from the lack of serious and effective investigation of human rights violations, and the consequent failure to punish those responsible and to compensate the victims; the persistence of parapolice operating in various states of the country; and the approval of laws or judicial rulings that contravene the parameters of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. The Commission also expresses its deepest concern with the high percentage of provisional judges and prosecutors that have been appointed, a situation that seriously affects the right to an adequate justice system. The Commission also reiterates its concern regarding the situation of risk and stigmatization suffered by human rights defenders in Venezuela, as well as the climate of hostility faced by organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights.
The follow-up report consequently notes that many of the recommendations have unfortunately not been fulfilled and reminds the State of its obligations to comply in good faith with its international human rights obligations. The Commission offers its cooperation and assistance to the Venezuelan State, within the scope of its competence, to enhance compliance efforts.
Chapter V of the Commissionís 2004 Annual Report contains the Sixth Progress Report of the Commissionís Rapporteur on Migrant Workers and their Families, which outlines the main activities in this area in 2004. 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.
As with past annual reports, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared a 2004 report on the matter, which constitutes Volume III of the Annual Report. According to the mandate of the Commission, the report covers themes and activities that were priorities for the Rapporteurship during the year, including the evaluation of the status of the freedom of expression in the hemisphere, summary of the caselaw on freedom of expression of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and domestic caselaw of Member States, a report on access to information in the hemisphere, a report on the impact of the concentration of media ownership, a report on hate speech and the American Convention on Human Rights, and the issue of ďDesacato Laws and Criminal DefamationĒ. Also during 2004, the Office of the Special Rapporteur published a range of materials and books to promote freedom of expression in the Americas, including the book Access to Information in the Americas, under the auspices of PRODECA and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Lastly, the annexes to the Annual Report contain information concerning the current state of the human rights conventions and protocols on human rights adopted within the inter-American system, as well as copies of press releases issued by the Commission during 2004, and speeches delivered on behalf of the Commission.
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 Commissionís work are crucial to ensuring the genuine effectiveness of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. In 2004, 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 are of no consequence, 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 Commissionís work possible in 2004: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, United States, Mexico, Finland, the European Commission, France, Denmark, Spain, and Sweden.
Finally, I would like 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.
The Commission also today 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.
To conclude, let me now show you some slides that shed light on some of the topics presented today.
ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, DR. CLARE K. ROBERTS TO THE 35TH REGULAR SESSION OF THE OAS GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE HEMISPHERE
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
June 5, 2005
President of the General Assembly, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, distinguished representatives of Member States and Observers, ladies and gentlemen,
As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I have the honor of addressing you today concerning the situation of human rights in the Hemisphere. Accompanying me is the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Santiago Canton.
I would like to begin by congratulating newly-elected Secretary General Josť Miguel Insulza on the assumption of his post and to wish him every success in the execution of his mandate in the coming years.
On April 15, 2005, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted its Annual Report for 2004 to the OAS Permanent Councilís Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. This report has also been presented for consideration by the General Assembly.
In its report, the Inter-American Commission provided an assessment of the human rights situation in the Hemisphere and the main challenges to the exercise of those rights. As in past years, the regular meeting of this General Assembly provides a valuable opportunity for Member States to reflect on these matters, which are of utmost concern for all of us. In this regard, I can report on behalf of the Inter-American Commission that the human rights experience since the 2004 General Assembly has been mixed, with both important accomplishments and serious challenges.
On the one hand, we have seen positive advances over the past year in key areas for the protection of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law. These developments have included progress in efforts to curb impunity for serious human rights violations committed in preceding decades. In Chile, we witnessed the publication of an in-depth report that covers incidents of political imprisonment and torture during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Similarly, in Argentina, various legal obstacles were eliminated that had impeded the judicial prosecution of disappearances and other human rights violations committed during the military dictatorship, and in Paraguay a Truth and Justice Commission was established to provide a historical record of the Stroessner regime and to contribute to prosecutorial efforts in this regard. Guatemala, Peru and Colombia acknowledged responsibility for serious human rights violations in cases before the Inter-American Court. Other significant advances during 2004 included the launching of a comprehensive national human rights program in Mexico, the approval of constitutional reforms in Brazil aimed at modernizing the judicial system and amplifying the judicial mechanisms available to combat impunity for human rights violations and the successful carrying out of a referendum in Venezuela, in spite of conditions of extreme polarization. In addition, a number of important legal developments also took place during 2004, including the reaffirmation in the United States of the right to enjoy a judicial remedy or review in the case of the detention of citizens or persons classified as enemy combatants in the framework of the war on terrorism and the decision of the US Supreme Court that banned the death penalty with respect to murders committed by minors, the consideration being given in Jamaica to legislative changes concerning the application of the death penalty, and the ability in Colombia of reopening criminal investigations based on decisions of international organizations, as well as the judicial confirmation of the need to comply with precautionary measures issued by the Commission.
Accompanying these advances, however, have been serious threats and setbacks to the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and the consolidating and strengthening of democracy in the Hemisphere. These obstacles have grown out of an environment characterized by deteriorating economic and social conditions in various countries, corruption in the public and private spheres, increases in crime and citizen insecurity, and the marginalization of sectors of our societies through social exclusion and discrimination. Several situations have been of particular concern to the Commission. In Bolivia, for example, a situation of social and institutional unrest has imperiled the conduct of democratic governance. The Commission has expressed concern about the deterioration of democracy and calls upon the member states to ensure the continuation of the democratic process and full respect for human rights as stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. In Ecuador, the removal and dismissal of a number of Supreme Court magistrates, judges of the Constitutional Tribunal and of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the massive demonstrations that led to the resignation of President Gutierrez have raised deep concerns about the effective functioning of institutions crucial to the rule of law and the respect for the principle of separation and independence of powers in that country.
In Chapter IV of the Annual Report, the Commission included Cuba, Colombia and Haiti as the countries that have been the subject of the Commissionís special attention. In Cuba, although some persons were liberated over the past year after arbitrary detentions, there has been no significant change in the situation of systematic repression against dissidents, human rights defenders and independent journalists. Generalized violations of public freedoms persist, especially with respect to the right to political participation and freedom of expression. Regarding Colombia, the Commission must reiterate its concern respecting the impact of the internal armed conflict upon the civilian population and, in particular, vulnerable sectors such as the indigenous peoples and afro descendant and displaced communities. The Commission is particularly concerned about the attacks and threats against human rights defenders. Regarding the demobilization of paramilitary groups, this process has moved forward despite complaints on the violation of the agreed cessation of hostilities and the lack of an appropriate legal framework clarifying the conditions under which those responsible for the commission of crimes are to demobilize. While the support of the international community is an asset to the demobilization process, such support ought to be reassessed to ensure that the three key aspects of truth, justice and reparations for the victims of the conflict are at the core of this effort. Haiti has continued to suffer a grave political and economic crisis under its transitional government and its judicial system remains critically weak and ineffective. Moreover, the situation of violence and insecurity has intensified over the past several months notwithstanding the presence of an armed United Nations stabilization mission. In this respect, I would like to mention that on Friday, June 3, 2005 the Commission released its preliminary observations on its visit to Haiti in April 2005, which discuss these and other pressing issues facing Haiti today.
In light of these developments, the Commission has engaged in an ongoing process of reflection, internally and with governments, civil society and other interested parties, as to how the inter-American human rights system can respond more effectively in addressing hemispheric problems in the promotion and protection of human rights. Three matters are particularly crucial to the future reinforcement and effectiveness of the system: universal participation in human rights instruments and mechanisms; compliance with the decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court; and the need for increased financing and resources.
On universalization, the Commission has consistently emphasized the need for all Member States to participate fully in the instruments and procedures of the inter-American human rights system by ratifying the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights and other relevant legal instruments. As the Commission has observed on previous occasions, in a hemisphere rapidly moving toward commercial and economic integration, human rights must not be left behind.
Equally important is compliance by Member States with decisions of the Commission and the Court. This situation is far from satisfactory and, to the extent that it is not remedied, will continue to hinder the full potential of a system for the protection of individual human beings that states themselves created. In this connection, the Commission once again urges that the necessary measures be taken to enable states to act as the collective guarantors of the system.
A third matter crucial to the effectiveness of the inter-American human rights system is the endemic and urgent problem of budgetary limitations. As the Commission has observed on previous occasions, it has throughout the years responsibly assumed the various mandates assigned to it by the General Assembly and Summits of the Americas. The assignment of the mandates recognizes and reaffirms the Commissionís legitimacy and its important role to the States. However, the Commissionís capacity to do so in the future has reached a crisis, and there is an urgent need to identify measures that lead to increased funding and resources in order for the Commission to continue fulfilling its mandate and assigned tasks. We cannot continue to operate without an increase in funding. Indeed, for instance, at present the Commission does not have sufficient resources in its regular fund to convene its second regular period of sessions in 2005.
In closing, I would like to express the Commissionís appreciation for the vital support given by outgoing Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi to the work of the Commission over the years and, in particular, for his unwaivering efforts to advance the difficult situation in Haiti, and to wish him good health and success following his time with the OAS.
We are living in crucial times in our beloved hemisphere. The great victories of the last decade in deepening the democratic process seem to have stalled in many countries, and receded in others; internal conflicts are still taking the lives of hundreds of our inhabitants, discrimination still affects millions of indigenous peoples and afro-descendants; women Ėmore than half of our population- are victims of violence and almost half of our population lives in poverty. These challenges, plus economic instability, the insecurity caused by crime, terrorism, and armed conflicts, and the destruction caused by natural and man-made disasters, continue to impede the full realization of human rights in our region, and it is only through a collaborative effort that we will overcome those challenges.
In this respect, we should be reminded of and guided by the fundamental human rights purposes for which the OAS was created. As proclaimed by Member States in the Preamble to the OAS Charter in 1948:
I invite you to work with the Inter American Commission in our common mission of ensuring that the people of our hemisphere experience peace and prosperity.
ADDRESS BY COMMISSIONER CLARE K. ROBERTS,
PRESIDENT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
AT THE OPENING OF THE COMMISSIONíS 123RD REGULAR PERIOD OF SESSIONS
October 11, 2005
Mr. Chairman of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, distinguished Permanent Representatives, distinguished Observers, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to address you in my capacity as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in this ceremony opening the Commissionís 123rd Regular Period of Sessions. I am pleased to be accompanied by my colleagues Susana VillarŠn, First Vice-President, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Second Vice-President, and Commissioners Josť Zalaquett, Evelio FernŠndez, Freddy Gutiťrrez and FlorentŪn Melťndez. We are also joined by Mr. Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary, and professional staff from the Executive Secretariat.
I would like to begin my presentation by extending the Commissionís sincere congratulations to Josť Miguel Insulza for his election in May 2005 as Secretary General of the Organization of American States. This session will be the Commissionís first under Secretary General Insulzaís tenure and we look forward to working together in the coming years in advancing the human rights objectives of the organization. I would also like to take the opportunity of congratulating Ambassador Albert R. Ramdin on his election to the post of Assistant Secretary General. The Commission looks forward to working with Ambassador Ramdin.
I also take this opportunity to express the Commissionís deep gratitude for the work and commitment of two members of our Commission whose terms will expire at the end of this year, Susana VillarŠn and Josť Zalaquett. Both of these Commissioners have made invaluable contributions to the functioning and accomplishments of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and will be greatly missed. We have no doubt that they will continue to advance the cause of fundamental human rights in our Hemisphere and they are assured of our support in this challenge.
Before providing an overview of the Commissionís schedule for this session and its activities since its last regular session in February and March of this year, I would like to highlight several issues that are of particular concern to the Commission at this moment in the history of our Organization and our region. Perhaps the most pressing matter facing the Commission is the severe financial crisis that continues to hinder the work of many of the organs and institutions of the Organization of American States. For the Commission, the prolonged nature of this crisis has diminished its core resources and has resulted in a constant threat to its most basic activities. As one important example, uncertainty as to whether the Commission can afford to convene its regular periods of sessions has become the rule rather than the exception. The Commission simply cannot continue to endure these kinds of shortcomings if it is expected to function effectively. In this respect, while the Commission is grateful to the OAS General Secretariat and the Permanent Councilís Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Affairs for the additional funds necessary to convene this session, as was the case with the Commissionís 121st regular session in October 2004, the importance of finding a permanent resolution to these financial difficulties cannot be overemphasized. In order to properly plan and execute its basic functions as well as the numerous additional mandates given to it by the political organs of the Organization, the Commission requires certainty as to the resources that will be available for those purposes.
Beyond its precarious financial situation, the Commission also has concerns with respect to the present state of democracy and the rule of law in the Americas. Since the creation of the Organization of American States in 1948, Member States have acknowledged that representative democracy constitutes an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region. More recently, OAS Member States recognized through the Inter-American Democratic Charter that the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it. According to the Charter, essential elements of representative democracy include respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law.
As Member States are aware, threats to democracy and the rule of law can come in many forms. The most blatant is the military coup díetat, a phenomenon with which our region has had a long and unfortunate history. But threats can also arise from less direct but equally perilous sources, including measures that undermine the fundamental principle of separation of powers and the independence of the branches of government. This may occur, for example, where members of the judiciary are appointed or removed through extraordinary procedures or for improper motives, where the judiciary is not provided with adequate resources to perform its functions, or where judicial processes are the subject of inappropriate or unwarranted interference or its decisions are subject to revision. Threats to democracy and the rule of law may also arise from unchecked corruption within political institutions, lack of transparency or responsible public administration on the part of governments, or measures that undermine the pluralistic system of political parties or organizations or full respect for freedom of expression and of the press. It is through these and other means that a stateís democratic institutional process or its legitimate exercise of power can be put at risk.
Also critical to the consolidation of democracy is the promotion and observance of economic, social and cultural rights in the Hemisphere, as reflected principally in the regionís Additional Protocol on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the ďProtocol of San Salvador.Ē As acknowledged by Member States in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, democracy and social and economic development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and poverty, illiteracy, and low levels of human development are factors that adversely affect the consolidation of democracy.
Against this backdrop, the Commission has serious concerns with respect to the present state of affairs in the Americas, where conditions and events suggest that democracy and the rule of law is becoming increasingly imperiled. These include, for example, instances in which courts have been dissolved or judges have been appointed on a provisional basis, and where the procedures in the courts have been improperly used to address political issues. Corruption continues to impede the consolidation of democratic and transparent societies across the region, and human rights defenders, members of the media and others whose activities are critical to the exercise of democracy continue to the be object of threats and violence in many Member States.
The region also faces many challenges in the area of economic, social and cultural rights. As the Commission has observed previously, Latin America continues to suffer from the worst distribution of income in the world and inequality remains a dominant feature of Latin American societies in terms of income differences, access to services, and power and influence. In recent times, deteriorating economic and social conditions in various countries have provoked mass popular demonstrations that have often been met with excessive use of force by the police and in many cases have intensified the political instability. Further, the vast majority of the States have failed to take necessary measures to confront the causes and consequences produced by social exclusion and discrimination, which in turn amplify the threats to fair and effective participation by the citizenry in the essential processes of democratic governance.
In the face of these challenges, the Commission has continued to give priority to its role in monitoring the situation of democracy and the rule of law in the Hemisphere. In this connection and as part of its ongoing process of reflection, the Commission will deliberate upon ways in which it might better assist in preventing and resolving threats to the principles and institutions that constitute the basis for the inter-American system. At the same time, the Commission calls upon Member States and the OAS to remain vigilant in identifying potential threats to democratic institutions and the rule of law in the region and, where necessary, take appropriate collective measures to address those threats, consistent with the terms of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
With respect to the issue of economic, social and cultural rights in particular, the Commission notes that during the last regular session of the General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, Member States approved a resolution to enforce the reporting obligation of states under the Protocol of San Salvador and requested the assistance of the Commission in preparing possible progress indicators for each of the rights on which information is to be provided. Further, the central theme of the Fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina this coming November will be ďCreating jobs to fight poverty and strengthen democratic governance,Ē thereby providing another important forum for dialogue on economic, social and cultural rights. In this respect, the Commission is convinced that giving political priority to resolving problems in this area is a first crucial step to advancing economic, social and cultural rights in the Hemisphere and thereby reinforcing the consolidation of democracy, and the Commission looks forward to working with Member States on these initiatives. That said, I am compelled to reiterate our point that without sufficient and stable financial and other resources, the Commission will simply not be in a position to provide the support in this and other areas that Member States have requested.
Turning to the Commissionís 123rd Period of Sessions, the Commission has an intensive program of activities scheduled for the next three weeks. As in past sessions, we will devote most of our work to studying and considering reports on petitions and individual case from various countries of the Hemisphere that are at one of the following procedural stages: admissibility; friendly settlement; consideration of the merits; publication; archiving; and decisions to refer cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Commission has also convened more that 50 hearings that will address individual petitions, cases and precautionary measures as well as the general situation of human rights in particular member states and specific rights and issues within the Commissionís competence. In addition, the Commission, together with American University and the International Service on Human Rights, will be holding a seminar to train human rights defenders on the inter-American system, similar to the training that the Commission previously organized for Member States.
I would also like to mention some of the activities and developments that have taken place in the course of the Commissionís work since its last regular session in February and March of 2005.
The Commissionís Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, with the support of the government of Finland, has engaged in an information-gathering process to identity the main achievements and challenges for women to obtain effective access to justice in the Americas, with the goal of designing practical recommendations to OAS Member States as to what legislative, public policy and institutional measures are needed to improve compliance with their obligations under international law. To launch this initiative, on April 19 and 20, 2005, the Rapporteurship organized a meeting of experts entitled ďThe Protection of Womenís Rights in the Inter-American System: an Analysis of Access to Justice,Ē at the Commissionís headquarters in Washington, D.C. in order to review the main achievements and challenges that women face to access justice in the Americas. The meeting was attended by 24 experts, representing a diversity of sectors, including government, the administration of justice, international and regional agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the academic sector, among others, as well as attorneys from the Commissionís Executive Secretariat.
As follow-up, the Rapporteurship organized four subregional meetings of experts in Peru, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Jamaica. The objective of these meetings have been to examine the major achievements and challenges that women face to access justice in the Andean region, Central America, the Southern Cone and the English-speaking Caribbean. The main goals of these meetings have included identifying and analyzing the key obstacles women face in obtaining effective access to justice in the region, collecting information about new strategies and best practices within the region to confront these obstacles, as well as information as to why certain promising strategies have failed to produce the desired results, and preparing an analysis including specific recommendations designed to assist the member states in achieving enhanced compliance with their obligations under regional human rights instruments to guarantee that women have effective access to judicial protection and guarantees. In addition, in June of 2005, the Rapporteurship completed a visit to the Republic of Colombia to evaluate the impact of the armed conflict on Colombian women and young girls and to collect information about the legislative, policy and institutional measures that have been adopted by the State to protect the rights of women.
Since the Commissionís last session, it also undertook two visits to the Republic of Haiti, the first from April 18 to 22, 2005 and the second from July 11 to 15, 2005. The aim of both visits was to obtain general information concerning the current situation of human rights in Haiti, particularly in light of pending elections in that country, and to build upon the Commissionís previous work in Haiti on the issue of administration of justice. During the visits, the Commission also conducted training seminars on the inter-American human rights system with officials and functionaries from various government ministries and agencies and with representatives of nongovernmental organizations. In June 2005, the Commission published preliminary observations its April 2005 visit and expects to consider a report on the administration of justice in Haiti during its present session.
In addition, from May 30 to June 1, 2005, the Commissionerís Special Rapporteur for the Rights of the Child, who also serves as the UN Independent Expert on the Secretary Generalís study on violence against children, traveled to Argentina to participate, together with UNICEF, in a regional consultation on violence against children. The meeting provided the Rapporteur with an opportunity to gather current information on the serious problem of violence against children, which will also be included in his report to the United Nations on the subject.
Further, from June 29 to July 7, 2005, I, in my capacity as the Commissionís Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons of African descent and against Racial Discrimination, undertook a promotional visit to the Republic of Brazil, the first such visit for the Rapporteurship since its establishment during the Commissionís 122nd regular session last March. During the visit, the Commissionís delegation traveled to Brasilia, Salvador and S„o Paulo, participated in the First National Conference on the Promotion of Racial Equality, and held meetings with authorities and representatives of civil society, especially of the Brazilian Social Movement for the rights of people of African descent.
In addition, from July 18 to 21, 2005, the Commissionís Vice-President and Rapporteur for Guatemala visited the Republic of Guatemala. Among her activities, the Rapporteur attended a public memorial for the victims of the massacre in Plan de SŠnchez and worked with victims, their representatives, and the Guatemalan State on some current cases and urgent precautionary measures before the Commission.
From August 25 to 31, 2005, the Commissionís Rapporteur for Mexico, who also serves as its Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, undertook a visit to the Republic of Mexico during which he visited Mexico City and, for the first time, the state of Oaxaca where he met with government officials as well as representatives of nongovernmental organizations. Among the objectives of the visit were observing the human rights situation in Mexico, including in particular the situation of indigenous peoples, receiving information about Mexicoís nation human rights program, conducting follow up meetings on cases and precautionary measures, and promoting knowledge of the mechanisms of the inter-American human rights system.
Also during the past six months, the Commission participated in hearings during three sessions convened by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and took part in numerous seminars and conferences across the region, among other activities.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, distinguished representatives and observers, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
The year 2005 has, to this point, been characterized by both successes and difficulties in the Commissionís efforts to promote the observance and protection of human rights in our region. Progress has been made through the ratification by some Member States of additional inter-American human rights treaties, several human rights complaints have been the subject of friendly settlements before the Commission, and we have witnessed constructive dialogue between the Commission and Member States in such areas as rights of women, indigenous peopleís rights, racial discrimination, and the situation of human rights defenders. In this respect, the Commission looks forward to its collaboration with the OAS Permanent Councilís Working Groups on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on the preparation of a Draft Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, as well as next weekís meeting of the Working Group to Prepare the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. At the same time, the difficulties facing the region remain formidable. Not only are the democratic institutions in several Member States in a weak and vulnerable condition, but, partly as a consequence, the protection of fundamental rights, including in particular those of vulnerable groups who face social exclusion and discrimination based upon such factors as ethnicity, class, race and gender, is inadequate and needs to be strengthened.
The Commission anticipates addressing these and other critical issues during its 123rd regular period of sessions and welcomes the participation of Member Sates, civil society and other interested persons and groups in this important process.