D. Activities of the rapporteurships
Rapporteurship on the rights of indigenous peoples
37. For the organs of the inter-American system, protection of and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples is a matter of special importance. In 1972, the Commission maintained that, for historical reasons and under ethical and humanitarian principles, the states had a sacred obligation to provide special protection to the indigenous peoples. In 1990, it established the position of special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples to bring attention to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who, in their vulnerability, are especially subject to human rights violations, and to strengthen, promote, and systematize the Commission’s work in that area.
38. Since the 1980s, the Commission has regularly addressed the issue of the human rights of indigenous peoples in its special reports, its case system, reports on admissibility, reports on the merits, reports on friendly settlements, the precautionary measures mechanism, and complaints and requests for provisional measures lodged with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
39. The Commission has indicated the necessity of demanding special protection of indigenous peoples’ territorial rights, given that their effective enjoyment requires protection not only of an economic asset but also of the human rights of a community that bases its economic, social, and cultural development on its relationship to the land. In the 1993 Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, the Commission said:
From the standpoint of human rights, a small corn field deserves the same respect as the private property of a person that a bank account or a modern factory receives.
40. During 2005, the Commission’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has also continued to collaborate in the processing of petitions and requests for precautionary measures received by the Commission concerning the rights of indigenous peoples, in which an increasing number of collective complaints had been noted relating to alleged violations of the right to life, to personal integrity, to community property, and to cultural identity for indigenous peoples. In addition to the work before the Commission, the Rapporteurship participated in several hearing in cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights including the Indigenous Community of Yakye Axa Case and the YATAMA Case in March 2005 and the case of Alfredo López Álvarez in June 2005.
41. The Rapporteurship highlighted in this respect the fact that in the past years, the inter-American human rights system has developed a line of progressive jurisprudence through its decisions, giving shape to the diverse collective rights of indigenous peoples, and establishing special methods for reparations in cases where the victim is an indigenous person. It emphasized, in 2005, the following decisions of the Court on matters referred to it by the Commission: provisional measure in the case of the Sarayaku indigenous community, dated June 15, 2005; judgment on the merits and reparations in the case of the Moiwana Community v. Suriname, dated June 15, 2005; judgment on the merits and reparations in the case of the Yakye Axa indigenous community v. Paraguay, dated June 17, 2005; judgment on the merits and reparations in the case of YATAMA v. Nicaragua, dated June 23, 2005; and ruling on the provisional measure in the case of the Kankuamo indigenous community, dated July 5, 2004.
42. The Commission has also supported the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples process from its inception. Therefore, the Rapporteurship continued to assist the OAS Working Group responsible for preparing the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In this respect, the Commission welcomed the ongoing efforts of Member States in preparing the draft and the progress that had been achieved, with respect both to substantive points of the text and to strengthening the participation of representatives of indigenous peoples. In 2005, the Rapporteurship participated in three Working Group meetings, the Fifth meeting from February 7 to 9, 2005 in Washington, D.C., the Sixth meeting from October 10 to 14, 2005 in Antigua, Guatemala, and a special meeting on February 10 and 11, 2005 in Washington, D.C.
43. Further, during 2005 the Rapporteurship on Indigenous peoples participated in the Commission’s visits to Colombia in June 2005, Guatemala in July 2005, and Mexico in August 2005, where it met representatives of indigenous communities in those states and gathered information relevant to the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. The Rapporteurship also participated in a variety of conferences and seminars addressing the rights of indigenous peoples, including delivering a presentation on the issue of the rights of indigenous peoples and the inter-American human rights system at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in January 2005 and a seminar on Justice and Indigenous Peoples organized by the Fundación para el Debido Proceso Legal (DPLF) and the Centro de Derechos Humanos y Asesoría a Pueblos Indígenas (CEPHAPI) under the auspices of the State Commission for Human Rights and the Sun-Secretariat for Human Rights of the government of Oaxaca in November 2005.
Rapporteurship on the rights of women
44. For the past two years, the work program of the Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women has been designed to address a priority challenge for the rights of women throughout the Hemisphere: how to ensure women can effectively access justice, particularly women who have been subjected to violence and discrimination. The priority nature of this challenge has been amply demonstrated in the Rapporteurship’s thematic work, as well as through the case system and country reporting of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, (“Commission” or “IACHR”). It is also underlined in the current priority challenges identified by Member States of the Organization of American States, (“OAS Member States”), experts and representatives from civil society. The Rapporteurship’s work program has taken as its point of departure that prompt access to effective judicial protection and guarantees is the first line of defense for the protection of basic rights, and has taken as its challenge that victims of discrimination and violence based on gender are often unable to obtain such access, leaving their rights unprotected.
45. With the support of the government of Finland, the Rapporteurship has engaged during 2005 in an information-gathering process to identity the main achievements and challenges for women to effectively access 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. This process has included all relevant sectors, especially the government, the administration of justice, civil society, international agencies and the academic sector, among others, and women from different ethnic, racial, socio-economic and professional backgrounds. The activities that have been implemented are the circulation of a questionnaire to OAS Member States and experts from civil society, international agencies and the academic sector and the organization of five expert consultations, in Washington, DC (April 19-20), Peru (August 1-2), Costa Rica (August 11-12), Argentina (September 12-13) and Jamaica (September 29-30), at the regional and subregional levels. The Rapporteurship is currently preparing a report reviewing the main findings and conclusions of this process, that will include specific recommendations for OAS Member States concerning measures that can be taken to improve women’s access to justice and improve regional compliance with their regional human rights obligations.
46. During the regional and subregional meetings, the participants explored in-depth the subject of access to justice, from different angles, including violence against women and discrimination, gender discrimination within the administration of justice, results and lessons learned from studies on the subject, the level of impact of international and regional legal instruments, the need for a multisectoral approach to achieve an effective and real access, and the use of the Inter-American system as a second avenue for victims. The experts identified and reviewed the existing barriers to women’s access to justice including those that are institutional, budgetary, geographic, cultural, linguistic and economic, and comprehensive and multi-disciplinary strategies to eliminate them.
47. As part of this information-gathering process, the Rapporteurship also completed a visit to Colombia in June to evaluate the impact of the armed conflict on Colombian women and to collect information about the legislative, policy and institutional measures that have been adopted by the State to protect the rights of women. During her visit, the Rapporteur visited Bogotá, Valledupar and Quibdó, where she met with government officials and with victims and their relatives, civil society organizations and intergovernmental agencies involved in protecting and promoting the rights of women.
48. The Rapporteurship confirmed that Colombian women live in a context of armed conflict that severely limits the exercise of their fundamental human rights.
49. The testimonies received show that women in different sectors of Colombia are victims of multiple forms of violence and discrimination by the armed actors. The suffering of indigenous and afrodescendent women is worsened by the social differences and the stigmatization that the communities they belong to have historically suffered.
50. Despite notable efforts from the part of the Colombian government to enact public policies to address the specific needs of women in the armed conflict, there is an absence of an integral public policy that takes into account the specific impact of the armed conflict on the human rights of women. This context of impunity promotes the treatment of women as spoils of war by the armed actors. The Colombian State is obligated to apply due diligence to prevent, sanction and eradicate the violence and discrimination against women that is aggravated by the armed conflict, even though the conflict presents challenges to that response. The observations, conclusions and recommendations of the Rapporteurship will be included in a special report to be presented before the plenary of the Commission.
Summary of preliminary findings of project on access to justice
51. During the regional and subregional meetings more than 100 experts from the Americas reviewed the issue of access to justice from a human rights perspective, as an obligation that requires implementation and monitoring mechanisms at the national level. They identified a number of barriers that women still face to adequately access justice in the Americas, including those that are institutional, budgetary, geographic, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial and economic. The Rapporteurship confirmed that access to justice is a very complex problem that requires actions beyond the sphere of justice, including the health and education sectors, among others.
52. Some of the achievements that were identified by the experts and were noted by the Rapporteurship were in the area of legislation, public policies and institutions. The majority of States in the Americas have adopted legislation and policies that seek to protect the rights of women to live free from violence and discrimination. Furthermore, a number of institutional mechanisms and state programs have been created at the national and local levels to monitor and implement existing laws and public policies.
53. Nonetheless, a number of challenges were raised regarding the implementation of existing legal and public policy commitments and the persistent need for actions to eradicate socio-cultural patterns that promote violence and discrimination. In regards to legislation, public policies and institutions, some areas that will be explored in-depth by the Rapporteurship in its report will be the harmonization between international and national legislation, the content of existing legislation and public policies and their implementation, capacity-building efforts for administration of justice officials (judges, prosecutors, police, lawyers and forensic doctors, among others), the effectiveness of existing budgetary allocations and institutions to concretize existing commitments and the specific situation of rural women. Other recurring issues pertain to the area of diagnosis and prevention of violence and discrimination, particularly in regards to the absence and scarcity of data-collection systems, protocols and prevalence studies about these issues and the lack of indicators and systems to monitor the real application and impact of laws and public policies. The Rapporteurship also received extensive information about women who suffer different levels of discrimination based on their ethnicity, race and social class, such as indigenous and afrodescendent women, and how these factors are generally absent in the design of public policies and legislation.
54. The Rapporteurship plans to issue a number of recommendations designed to assist OAS Member States in complying with their human rights obligations in the sphere of access to justice for women. The recommendations will be covering the areas of law reform and harmonization, the design of multisectoral public policies, the training of public officials, the public response to multiple forms of discrimination against women, the involvement of men, addressing the issue in societies at different socio-political stages, sustained actions to eliminate socio-cultural patterns that promote violence and discrimination, and the improvement of data-collection systems, indicators and monitoring mechanisms of these incidents, among other areas.
55. The Rapporteurship has confirmed through this information-gathering process that the next challenge in the protection of the rights of women and their effective access to justice is that legal and policy achievements translate into concrete results for women. To achieve this goal, collaboration and commitment from a variety of actors and entities is needed. Among these, the Rapporteurship highlights the importance and efforts of the States, civil society organizations and networks, regional and international agencies, the academic sector and the media, among other sectors.
56. Besides its work on access to justice, the Rapporteurship continued offering technical support to in-house attorneys in the processing of petitions and precautionary measures. Additionally, on International Women’s Day, the Rapporteurship issued a press release to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action and the entry into force of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (the “Convention of Belém do Pará”), instruments that reaffirmed gender equality and the human right of all women to live free from violence. The Rapporteur reiterated her commitment to promote the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality in the region, through the use of the instruments offered by the Inter-American System of Human Rights.
57. The Rapporteurship also participated in a number of activities organized by partner agencies in several capacities including the Latin American Summit of Magistrates organized by the Gender and Justice Program of ILANUD, capacity-building workshops for administration of justice officials in Uruguay organized by the World Bank, an International Women’s Day Panel organized by the Inter-American Development Bank and a panel about violence against women in Guatemala organized by the Washington Office on Latin America. The Rapporteurship was also invited to speak and offer technical assistance to the development of a model law to address domestic violence designed by a series of agencies and sectors, including, the Pan-American Health Organization, the United Nations Populations Fund, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, the World Bank, the Inter-American Commission on Women, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Inter-American Parliamentary Group, among other entities. Finally, the Rapporteurship participated in a panel organized by the World Bank on the link between violence against women and equitable development, together with the Rapporteur from the United Nations on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Yakin Ertürk and the President of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz.
Rapporteurship on the rights of children
58. During 2005, the Rapporteurship for Children continued its activities in support of the rights of children in the hemisphere, both in its head office, as well as in visits and activities in various countries.
59. Among the different violations of human rights that affect the children in many countries of the region, the IACHR has emphasized the “extreme poverty, murders, violations of personal integrity, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment, stigmatization and discrimination”, as well as “the use of children in armed gangs, tortures, sequestrations, abuses, aggressions and sexual exploitation, abandonment, dealing, trafficking and physical punishment”.
60. The IACHR has also expressed its concern for the tendency in current public policy to address the matters related to children and adolescents who are in conflict with the law only from the perspective of public safety across the institutions of the States.
61. The activities of the Rapporteurship for Children in the year 2005 included holding a seminar in Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, in March, 2005. As part of the seminar, there was a fruitful exchange between the members of the IACHR with regard to the future activities of the Rapporteurship for Children.
62. Moreover, in March, 2005, the IACHR sent its first case with respect to child soldiers to the Inter-American Court of Human rights. The case of “Gerardo Vargas Areco” was about a child who died after being shot at during an obligatory military service in Paraguay. The Rapporteurship for Children moved the said case forward through its various phases, by keeping in mind that besides providing justice in the specific case, the sentence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights would surely establish important applicable precedents for all the countries of the hemisphere with respect to this subject.
63. In June, 2005 the Rapporteurship participated in a Consultation for Latin America, conducted in the framework of the Study of the Secretary General of the United Nations on the topic of Violence against Children that was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the said event, the Ministers, and the high ranking national and international authorities on the subject of human rights met in Buenos Aires and formulated the “Declaration of Buenos Aires on Violence against Children and Adolescents”. The Rapporteurship had an important role to play in the preparation of the draft copy of the said Declaration.
64. In September, 2005 the Rapporteurship participated in and presented a paper at the VII Latin-American Conference of Ministers and High Officials Responsible for Children and Adolescents, which was held in León, Spain. The above mentioned conference provided important inputs for the Latin-American Conference of the Heads of State and Government which was held in Spain in October, 2005.
65. Also, during 2005, the Rapporteurship for Children organized and supported the hearings on the rights of children before the IACHR, including, among others, hearings on the corporal punishment of children; on the situation of gang members in Central America; and on the situation of children in Paraguay and in Brazil. The Rapporteurship also asked the IACHR to grant precautionary measures in favor of children, and it provided its opinion about dozens of precautionary measures cases and individual petitions presented to the IACHR that involved the rights of children.
66. In addition, in 2005, the Rapporteurship presented a project to the Inter-American Development Bank regarding the strengthening of the activities of the Rapporteurship, which during 2006 and 2007 will enable it to initiate additional activities.
Rapporteurship on the rights of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas
67. In 2005, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, Florentín Meléndez, participated in numerous promotional, investigative and advisory activities in executing the mandate of the Rapporteurship. Moreover, the Rapporteurship stated his concern regarding the conditions and treatment of persons in detention in numerous facilities and countries throughout the Hemisphere.
68. In particular, the Rapporteurship issued press releases related to extremely grave instances of violence that repeatedly occurred in various detention facilities in the Hemisphere, where hundreds of lives were regretfully ended. In some cases, the Rapporteurship requested information from the States regarding the measures that had been adopted in order to avoid the repetition of such violent acts. In fact, the press releases reminded the States of their responsibility to ensure the life and physical integrity of persons deprived of liberty. In the Rapporteur’s opinion, the serious structural problems of many penitentiary systems in the region, such as the precarious conditions of detention and particularly the high levels of overcrowding and mistreatment, constitute crucial factors in producing the violent episodes of 2005. As long as the authorities fail to adopt effective preventive measures to avoid and control the violence, human lives will continue to be wasted in violation of the international obligations of Member States.
69. The Special Rapporteur also traveled to numerous countries in the region, including Brazil and Colombia in order to analyze on-site the conditions of detention of persons held in detention in those countries. During his trip to Brazil, Special Rapporteur Meléndez carried out a visit to the Centro de Internação de Menores Infratores da Lei “Complexo do Tatuapé” of FEBEM in São Paulo, Brazil, on June 23, 2005 and presented a report on the State’s compliance with the precautionary measures granted by the ICHR in favor of children and adolescents detained in the aforementioned prison complex. The Special Rapporteur participated in working meetings with the petitioners of the precautionary measures (CEJIL and the Teotônio Vilela Commission), representatives of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secretariat for Human Rights and authorities of FEBEM. He also individually and collectively interviewed several detained children and adolescents.
70. The “Complexo do Tatuapé” holds approximately 1,600 children and adolescents. In 2004, twenty-eight riots occurred in various units of the complex, whereas in the first five months of 2005 fifteen riots took place there. The Rapporteur received information about the lack of investigation of the reasons that led to these riots, some of which were violent and resulted in the destruction of some units. Nevertheless, he notes that they might be related to escape attempts, and specifically to poor conditions of detention and mistreatment. On October 8, 2005, the IACHR presented a request of provisional measures to the Inter-American Court in order to have the Brazilian State protect the life and physical integrity of the children and adolescents detained in the “Complexo do Tatuapé.” These measures were granted by the Court in its Order of November 17, 2005, and reiterated by the Order of November 30, 2005.
71. The Colombian observation mission took place from the 13th to the 18th of November 2005, and was carried out jointly with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The Special Rapporteur initially visited the “El Buen Pastor de Bogotá” female penitentiary, which has over 1,000 female inmates. The Rapporteur also visited the “Palo Gordo” penitentiary in the municipality of Girón, Santander, where members of illegal armed groups, particularly of the self-defense and guerilla groups are imprisoned. The IACHR had ordered precautionary measures on behalf of 106 persons held in that prison, thus the visit aimed at verifying the State’s compliance with such measures. The observation ended with a visit to the “Vista Hermosa” penitentiary and police stations in Cali.
72. In the course of his visit to Colombia, the Rapporteur, Florentín Meléndez, identified some examples of good practices, such as the creation of inter-institutional committees of penitentiary follow-up in the departments; the establishment of human rights consuls and human rights committees, and the creation of working groups in the penitentiaries by the National Penitentiary Institute of Colombia (INPEC) in which the detainees and the personnel jointly participate; training on human rights for 18 counselors of INPEC under the technical support of the OHCHR; the creation and implementation of a day care center in the ”El Buen Pastor” female penitentiary for the inmates’ children; the implementation of certain educational, cultural, professional and sports activities in the detention facilities; and the approval of the Penitentiary Code (Law 65/93) which is compatible with the international human rights standards.
73. At the same time, Rapporteur Meléndez observed serious problems that affect the inmates in the facilities that were visited, such as overcrowding; lack of sufficient and adequate food; poor medical assistance; delays in the juridical assistance provided by INPEC and the judges regarding benefits and commutation of sentences; as well as structural and sanitary deficiencies. With regard to the police stations, the Special Rapporteur was especially concerned with extreme overcrowding, lack of infra-structure and above all the lack of food provided by the State.
74. During the visit to Colombia, Special Rapporteur Meléndez met with senior authorities of the Colombian government and civil society organizations. The Commission thanks the government for the cordial invitation for the first on-site mission of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty to Colombia, as well as acknowledges the great support and all the information provided by Colombian authorities in that occasion.
75. In addition, from June 22 to 24, 2005, the Special Rapporteur participated in a seminar organized by the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Teotônio Vilela Commission in São Paulo, Brazil, which was entitled “The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture: Implementation in Brazil and other federal and decentralized States”.
76. Further, in September 2005, the Special Rapporteur, together with the Secretariat of Human Rights of the Argentine Ministry of Justice, sponsored and participated in the “Workshops on the Best Practices in the Juvenile Criminal Justice” in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the same month, he participated in the seminar entitled “Constructing Transitional Justice in Latin America” in San Jose, Costa Rica, which was sponsored by the Latin-American Institute of the United Nations for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Delinquents (ILANUD) and the Brotherhood of International Prisons.
77. The Special Rapporteur also took part in the Academic Workshops on Prisons in Colombia that were organized by the OHCHR and the National University of Colombia, and took place from November 9 to 11 in Bogotá. Finally, on December 6, 2005, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty carried out a “Workshop on the Inter-American System of Human Rights”, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which was addressed to non-governmental organizations and sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.
78. It must be mentioned that the Special Rapporteur prepared a Draft Declaration of Principles on the Treatment of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas, which methodology of expert consultation was submitted to the IACHR for consideration during its 123rd period of sessions, in October 2005. This expert consultation process is currently in progress.
79. Lastly, Rapporteur Meléndez acted as the Commission’s Delegate in the public hearings before the Inter-American Court about the provisional measures in the Case of the Mendoza Prisons in Argentina, and in the Case of the children and adolescents imprisoned in the “Complexo do Tatuapé” of FEBEM in Brazil, which took place in San Jose, Costa Rica, on May 11 and November 29, 2005, respectively. The Special Rapporteur also acted as the IACHR’s Delegate in the public hearing of Case Damião Ximenes Lopes vs. Brazil before the Court, about the killing of a person with mental disability while under State custody at a psychiatric hospital, which occurred on November 30 and December 1, 2005.
80. The Rapporteurship is currently developing a detailed questionnaire to be submitted to the Member States in order to gather information regarding the situation of persons deprived of their liberty within each country, as well as the respective penitentiary regimens. The information so collected, as well as those obtained on-site during the various observation missions carried out by the Special Rapporteur and the feedback from civil society organizations in the region will form the foundation for the production of the first report on the penitentiary situation in the Americas.
Rapporteurship on the rights of afro descendants and against racial discrimination
81. During its 122nd period of sessions, the Inter-American Commission created the Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination. The functions of Special Rapporteur were assigned to Commissioner Clare K. Roberts, President of the IACHR. The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of People of African Descent and Against Racial Discrimination was charged with dedicating itself to activities of stimulating, systematizing, reinforcing and consolidating the action of the Inter-American Commission on the rights of people of African descent and racial discrimination. The core objectives of the Special Rapporteurship include working with OAS Member States to generate awareness of the states’ duty to respect the human rights of afro-descendants and on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, to analyze the current challenges that confront countries of the region in this area, to formulate recommendations designed to overcome the obstacles and identify and share best practices in the region with respect to this matter, and to provide any technical assistance requested by member States in the implementation of the recommendations in national law and practice.
82. The region has made dramatic strides toward democracy in the past dozen years, but most of the region’s nations still confront an array of challenges that must be resolved to deepen and sustain democratic politics and the rule of law. Ending racial discrimination and finding ways to fully incorporate Afro-descendant citizens (who account for 30 percent or more of the region’s population) into national life are among the most pressing tasks facing governments in the region. The Commission, through its Special Rapporteurship will work to overcome these challenges.
83. On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Rapporteurship expressed that the promotion of equality and the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are essential for the realization of human rights and for the consolidation of the democracy and the rule of law in the hemisphere. The Rapportuership called for the full implementation of the Program and Plan of Action proceeding from the Regional and World Conferences against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Santiago de Chile and Durban respectively.
84. The Government of Brazil provided financial support to fund the first year of activities of the new rapporteurship. In recognizing this support, Commissioner Roberts stated that the Commission is extremely grateful to the Brazilian government not only for this contribution but also for its leadership in bringing the political discussion of this matter to the OAS and promoting concrete initiatives.
85. As part of his activities, from June 30 to July 7, 2005 the Rapporteur for Afro-Descendents undertook a working visit to Brazil in response to an official invitation of the Government of the Federal Republic of Brazil. During this visit, the Special Rapporteur participated in the First National Conference of Promotion of Racial Equality and met with authorities and different representatives of civil society, particularly the Brazilian Black Social Movement. The Special Rapporteur visited the Brazilian capital city of Brasilia, Salvador and São Paulo.
86. During the trip, Commissioner Roberts was informed how social discrimination in Brazil is subtle--formal policies prohibit discrimination on a racial, ethnic, or gender basis, yet discrimination against blacks persists. Both public officials and members of civil society organizations highlighted the social, economic, and political inequalities that the majority of Afro-Brazilians face. Commissioner Roberts had the opportunity of visiting some poor communities and in particular to see first hand the hardship of the life in a favela. The Rapporteur was also informed of the extensive changes that the Government of President Luiz Inacio Da Silva was undertaking in the area of promotion of racial equality.
87. In addition, during the month of August 2005, the Rapporteur participated in the creation of the Black Parliament of the Americas in San José de Costa Rica. Commissioner Roberts recognized during the meeting that enhanced political participation and representation are imperative to the advancement of African descendant movements throughout the region.
88. Further, during the Commission’s 123rd regular session, the Special Rapporteur made a presentation to the Working Group of the OAS Permanent Council’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs responsible for drafting a new Inter-American Convention against Racial Discrimination. In his presentation, Commissioner Roberts highlighted the importance that the Convention will have for a more effective fight against discrimination in the Hemisphere. The Executive Secretariat of the Commission is providing technical advise to the Working Group.
89. Also during the same session, the Rapporteur made a presentation to the Inter-agency Consultation about Race in Latin America, which, in addition to the IACHR, includes the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Department of International Development of the British Government, the Pan-American Health Organization, the Ford Foundation, and the Inter-American Foundation, as well as the Inter-American Dialogue, which serves as the Secretariat of the IAC.
90. The Commission also announced the open call for a fellowship dedicated to an Afro-descendent lawyer to work for one year with the Rapporteurship. This fellowship it is part of the promotional activities dedicated to train young afro-descendants lawyers that the Rapporteurship will conduct in the near future.
Unit for human rights defenders
91. Human rights defenders play a crucial role, both in litigating cases linked to the observance of human rights and in the processes whereby civil society exercises oversight over democratic institutions. Therefore, to a large extent, respect for human rights in a democratic country depends on the effective and adequate measures provided to protect the activities carried out by human rights defenders.
92. Regrettably, during 2005 the Commission received information concerning different countries indicating that situations persist in the Americas that directly or indirectly prevent or hamper the work of human rights defenders, such as murders, threats and harassment. The Commission is concerned regarding the increasing number of cases that denounce abuses of administrative and financial regulations to restrict the work of human rights defenders.
93. The Commission’s Unit for Human Rights Defenders continued to analyze and promote throughout 2005 the essential work that human rights defenders perform in protecting human rights in the Americas. In this respect, staff with the unit continued to meet with and receive information from representatives of different human rights organizations throughout the region and participated in the processing of petitions and requests for precautionary measures received by the Commission relating to human rights defenders.
94. The Unit also participated in several visits to countries in the Hemisphere in order to meet with and gather information from human rights defenders. Between May 25 and 27, 2005, the Unit participated in a Seminar on Human Rights Defenders in Oslo, Norway organized by Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. During the event, the Unit provided information on the Commission’s work in this area and exchanged views with the United Nations Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and the Personal Representatives of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
95. From August 31 to September 2, 2005, the Unit participated in First Meeting of Central American Human Rights Defenders in La Antigua, Guatemala. In addition to receiving information on the needs and complaints of the participating organizations, which represented organizations of eight countries in the region, the Unit made a presentation on the mechanism of precautionary measures and its importance for the protection of human rights defenders. The Commission emphasizes the importance of the creation of international networks to promote and support the work that human rights defenders carry out at national levels.
96. In addition, the Unit attended a “Methodological Seminar for Defining a National Program for Human Rights Defenders” held in the City of Brasilia, Brazil between November 28 and 30, 2005. The objective of the seminar was to share ideas and proposals for policies, strategies, programs and action plans designed to address the protection needs of human rights defenders in Brazil. The commission welcomes this initiative, on which it shall monitor opportunely.
97. Further, the Unit participated actively in the preparation of the visit by the Vice-President of the Commission, Susana Villarán, to the Republic of Guatemala held between July 18 and 21, 2005. During the visit, the lawyer in charge of the Unit interviewed representatives of organizations working in the areas of human rights and justice, indigenous leaders, faro workers, unions and journalists in order to gather information on the impact on these groups of the phenomenon of violence in Guatemala. During the visit the Commission perceived that the women and men who defend human rights are in extreme jeopardy. This problem is aggravated by the lack of adequate protective measures and the impunity with which the threats and attacks occur.
98. Between November 3 and 5, 2005, the Unit participated in the visit to the Republic of Haiti by the Commission’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Children and UNICEF. During the visit, the Unit held a capacity-building workshop on using the inter-American system, particularly the mechanism of precautionary measures, for the protection of human rights defenders. The Commision also observed the lack of protection provided to human right defenders at the zones de non-droit (areas where state security forces are not present).
99. One of the principal tasks of the Unit during 2005 was the completion of a Draft Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. In addition, the Unit has intensified its contact with civil society organizations in order to take the most rapid action possible in responding to cases of pressures and threats.
 See: Justice and Social Inclusion: The Challenges of Democracy in Guatemala (2003); Fifth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala (2001); Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Paraguay (2001); Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Peru (2000); Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia (1999); Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico (1998); Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Brazil (1997); Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Ecuador (1997); Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia (1993); Fourth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala (1993); Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Suriname (1985).
 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, 1993.
 See www.cidh.org (Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
 Please see the IACHR press release attached to the UNICEF No. 26/04, December 4, 2004: “Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and UNICEF express their worry for the situation of children and adolescents with respect to gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”
 Please see the IACHR press released attached to the UNICEF No. 37/05, November 5, 2005: “Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Regional Office of UNICEF for Latin-America and the Caribbean conclude a visit to Haiti”.
 Please see the IACHR press released attached to the UNICEF No. 26/04, December 4, 2004: “Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and UNICEF express their worry for the situation of children and adolescents with respect to gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”