Doc. 9 rev. 1
16 October 1981
Original: Spanish












          In its tenth regular session, the General Assembly of the OAS adopted Resolution 510 (X-0/80) concerning the Annual Report and Special Reports of the IACHR which, inter-alia, urged those governments of the member states that have not yet done so to adopt and put into practice the necessary measures to preserve and safeguard the full exercise of human rights, especially in those cases that concern the status of individuals detained without due process, the disappearance of persons, the return of exiles and the lifting of state of emergency (resolutive paragraph 3); it also recommended to the member states that, bearing in mind Chapter VI of the Annual Report of the Commission, they continue to adopt and apply measures and legislative provisions for preserving and maintaining the full exercise of human rights in accordance with the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (resolutive paragraph 4);; likewise it reiterated the need to avoid and, where appropriate, to put an immediate end to serious violations of fundamental human rights, especially the rights to life and to personal security and freedom, and also reaffirmed that summary execution, torture, and prolonged detention without due process are violations of human rights (resolutive paragraph 5); and it recommended to those member states that have not yet done so that they reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government, in which the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of the will of the people, in accordance with the particular characteristics and circumstances of each country (resolutive paragraph 6).


          In light of these recommendations, the Commission has carefully observed the situation of human rights in all the member states of the Organization, and it regrets to inform the General Assembly that, as a general rule, its recommendations have not been taken into consideration by many governments of the member states of the OAS.


          It is true that some states have experienced progress in the observance of the human rights recognized in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man by considerably diminishing the violations that characterize the conduct of the governments of those states in the field of human rights or, as in the case of other states, by having enacted measures for a rapid re-establishment of a democratic regime. Likewise, as has been noted in the previous chapter, some governments have adopted legislative measures which, according to their criteria, tend to protect human rights more effectively. It is also important to note that during the period covered by this report, Mexico acceded to the American Convention on Human Rights, and Peru, Venezuela and Honduras recognized as binding the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Nevertheless, the situation has not improved in most of the states which have been subjects of previous special reports by the Commission, and in some cases it has deteriorated due to the generalized and even institutionalized governmental repression.


          It is the opinion of the Commission that during the period covered by this report, the principal manifestations of violations of human rights have been summary executions; the lack of clarification of the situation of those persons that have disappeared after detention; the continuation or enactment of states of emergency which grant broad powers to chiefs of state for an unlimited or prolonged period of time and which inhibit the judicial power from fulfilling its natural functions; detention without due process, usually accompanied by torture; expulsion of political dissidents from their national territory without due process; the limitation of the exercise of freedom of expression and information; the denial of political rights; and the attempts made against institutions working in the field of human rights.


          Each of these situations shall be analyzed separately, attempting in each case to point out some representative examples that may illustrate the situation described by the Commission.


          At the same time that the Commission deals with these violations of human rights, it also wishes to reiterate an opinion expressed in its previous annual report, that effective protection of human rights should also extend to economic, social and cultural rights; this position is also taken in the above mentioned Resolution 510 of the General Assembly.


          Finally, in this section the Commission would like to call to the attention of the General Assembly new areas in which measures could be taken to give greater effect to human rights. Among those, the Commission shall address certain problems concerning refugees and the incorporation into society of sectors or persons that are presently marginalized, such as those who are physically or mentally handicapped.




          During the period covered by this report, the most serious violation of human rights concerning the right to life, took the form of summary execution. Such executions occur primarily, although not exclusively, in El Salvador and Guatemala.


          In the context of the climate of generalized violence prevalent in these two countries, there occurs, in alarming numbers, what the Commission calls illegal or extrajudicial executions.


          In most cases such executions were directly committed by security forces which act with impunity outside the law, as well as by paramilitary groups which operate with the acquiescence or tacit consent of the governments.


          As a general rule, such consent has indicated that governmental authorities do not carry out adequate and effective investigations to determine those responsible for these crimes.


          The Commission has repeatedly emphasized the obligation of governments to maintain public order to protect the life and the security of its inhabitants. With such objectives in mind, the Commission has expressed that governments must prevent and suppress energetically all incidents of violence, regardless of where they may originate, even if it is necessary to suspend temporarily the exercise of certain human rights.


          However, unnecessary as it may seem to reiterate, the right to life may never be suspended. Governments may not use, under any circumstances illegal or summary execution to restore public order. This type of measure is proscribed by the constitutions of the states and the international instruments that protect the fundamental rights of persons.


          As the Commission has said, states cannot employ state terrorism to combat subversive terrorism. The rule of law must be the guide which orients the conduct of those in power. An independent judiciary, with sufficient resources and power to punish abuses by the authorities and by private individuals, should be one of the fundamental elements to restore the lost value of the right to life.


          The Commission has also considered cases of deaths occurring on a smaller scale, in other countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay, under irregular circumstances, such as at the moment of detention, or when the detained persons were in jail. These cases are of concern to the Commission not only because they involve death or summary execution, but also because of the lack of investigation and punishment of those responsible.


          As was pointed out in the General Assembly of the Organization last year, the government cannot remain passive in the face of these events. Their duty and obligation when these events occur requires the use of all means at their disposal to investigate the occurrences and to impose the weight of the law on those responsible for the crimes.


          Likewise in this field, the governments should not use paramilitary groups which operate outside the Constitution and the law, and should instruct and train the regular security forces so that they may adequately contribute to the elimination of these pernicious groups.


          The phenomenon of illegal execution is further aggravated by the deplorable circumstances surrounding the deaths. In many instances, the bodies found show signs of brutal torture. Frequently the bodies are found naked, without any identification, sometimes burned, women usually raped and, the bodies bearing signs of having been subjected to prolonged torture that clearly was the direct cause of death.


          The Commission urges member states to put an immediate end to this serious practice of illegal executions carried out by security forces or para-military groups which operate with the consent of the government. To that end, in addition to the preventive measures that may be opportune, including those that may lead to an end to violence by peaceful and democratic procedures, it is necessary that thorough investigations are carried out by an independent judicial branch which has sufficient powers and that subsequently those responsible for these illegal executions be punished.




          In several annual reports, the Commission has stated its position on this serious violation of human rights. It has pointed out that there are many cases, in different countries, in which the government systematically denies the detention of persons, even though there is convincing evidence provided by the claimants to prove their charges that such persons have been arrested by the police or military authorities, and that, in some cases they are or have been kept in specific places of detention.


          In its previous reports, the Commission has expressed that this procedure is cruel and inhuman and that experience has shown that “disappearance” not only constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of freedom but also a serious danger to the physical integrity, the security and the life itself, of the victim. Likewise, it affects relatives and friends and creates serious mental disorders for children who have witnessed the detention. It has been the opinion of the Commission that the status of “disappeared” seems to be a comfortable expedient to avoid application of the legal provisions established for the defense of personal freedom, physical security, dignity and human life itself. In practice, this procedure nullifies the legal standards established in recent years in some countries to avoid illegal application of the use of physical and psychological duress against persons detained.


          For its part, the General Assembly of the Organization at its tenth regular session, in Resolution 510, concerning the annual report and special reports of the IACHR, referred to this matter in paragraphs 12 and 13 in the following manner:


         12. To emphasize the need to put an immediate end, in those countries in which it may occur, to any practice that leads to the disappearance of persons and also to urge that the necessary efforts be made to determine the status of persons whose disappearance has been reported.


         13. To recommend to the government, in connection with the preceding paragraph, that central records be established to account for all persons that have been detained, so that their relatives and other interested persons may promptly learn of any arrest that may have been made; to request that the arrests be made only by competent and duly identified authorities, and that the arrested persons be kept in premises designed for that purpose.


          Judging by the denunciations received, during the period 1980-1981, the use of this inhumane practice has apparently diminished, notwithstanding the cases the Commission has set forth and analyzed extensively in its special report on Guatemala.


          The Commission feels, together with other organizations working in the field of human rights, that it has contributed in a considerable way to reducing the proportions of this cruel and illegal procedure. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that the problem of disappearances after detention has not been overcome or completely solved until a clarification and a full report on the whereabouts and situation of the persons whose disappearance has been denounced. In this sense, the Commission would like to reiterate the recommendation made in previous reports to the Argentine and Chilean Governments, insofar as during this period there has been no information clarifying the numerous denunciations earlier presented to the Commission.


          Finally, in relation to this subject, the IACHR would like to insist that the structures which have permitted disappearances to occur still persist, as can be shown by detentions carried out by elements of the security forces with the acquiescence or consent of the government followed by a period in which the authorities, especially the police, deny detention, including as in some cases that have been brought to the attention of the Commission, in the responses that the authorities give to the judges responsible for deciding writs of habeas corpus.


          For example, in Argentina, Angel Antonio Romano was detained in San Francisco Solano, Province of Buenos Aires, on March 27, 1981, at five o'clock in the morning, by agents dressed in civilian clothes, who showed their police credentials. Romano's whereabouts were unknown for eight days, during which time the military police and civilian authorities denied his detention. On April 3, the Chief of Police of the Province of Buenos Aires, in the face of public denunciations, acknowledged the detention. There have been other similar cases in Argentina.


          Likewise, in Honduras, on September 12, 1981, Marco Virgilio Carías and Rogelio Martínez were detained in Ciudad del Paraíso and their detention was subsequently denied for 10 days; after having been tortured, they were abandoned in an isolated area.


          This conduct deserves special attention from the member states, since avoiding with impunity the application of the legal norms concerning detention may mean the transformation of these abusive tactics of subordinate individuals into a generalized practice. Likewise, this lack of an immediate acknowledgement of detention may lead to the disappearance of a person or to the practice of other abuses, which endanger the life, or physical integrity of the person detained. This is why the Commission feels the need to reiterate the statement contained in paragraph 13 of the Resolution of the General Assembly previously mentioned.




          Political and social conflict have led some American States to adopt measures such as the declaration of “state of siege”, “state of emergency”, “state of internal war”, “state of disturbance of the peace or internal security”, the application of martial law or the adoption of “prompt security measures”.


          The Commission recognizes that the defense of public order and the security of the state fully justify the attribution of extraordinary powers to certain organs of the central government to be exercised with the objective of preserving democratic institutions or the integrity and sovereignty of the state during the period that the emergency lasts.


          However, in practice in many instances these states of emergency have been enacted without the circumstances warranting it, as a simple means of increasing the margin of discretion of the exercise of public power. This contradiction becomes evident when the public authorities themselves state, on the one hand, that there is a climate of social peace in the country and, on the other, establish these exceptional measures, which may only be justified in the face of real threats to the public order or the security of the state. Even more serious is the enactment of these states of emergency for indefinite or prolonged periods of time, above all when they grant the Chief of State a broad concentration of power, including the inhibition of the judiciary concerning the measures enacted by the executive, which may lead, in certain cases to the denial itself of the existence of the rule of law.


          At the time of the approval of this report, several American states had decreed these measures of exception, although in different degrees and granting the Chiefs of State powers which vary from country to country. In Argentina, the state of siege has been in force for several years, since it was declared before the military takeover of 1976, during the government of María Estela Martínez de Perón, by virtue of decree 1368 of March 6, 1974. The Military Government has continued to extend it. The state of siege finds its basis in Article 23 of the Constitution which authorizes the suspension of Constitutional guarantees, including the right of the President of the Republic to arrest persons connected with those causes which motivated the declaration of the state of siege, or to transfer them from one place to another in the country, if they do not wish to leave Argentine territory.


          When the Bolivian government came to power on July 17, 1980, even though it did not declare a state of siege, the entire territory was militarized, bringing into force some military legislation. Such legislation has limited considerably public liberties. The state of siege which is in force today in Colombia was actually proclaimed in 1948, and has only been suspended on some occasions. In this way, it has become an almost permanent system, while the government argues that it is necessary to confront political violence. Its enactment finds its basis in Article 121 of the Constitution of 1886, which does not authorize the suspension or derogation of constitutional and legal provisions, although in practice, its systematic application has given rise to a regime of exception, which by the length of time that it has been in force, has affected the full exercise of human rights.


          Since coming to power in September 1973, the Chilean regime has enforced successive states of emergency. On March 11, 1981, together with the promulgation of a new constitution, the country was declared in a “state of danger of disturbance of the internal peace” for six months, which was extended for another six on September 11, 1981. The powers accorded by this state of exception are very broad, in conformity with temporary provision number 24 of the Constitution. In effect, this provision (whish shall be in force until 1989) authorizes the President of the Republic to adopt any of the following measures: “a) to detain persons up to 5 days in their own homes or in places that are not jails. If terrorist acts with serious consequences occur, this period may be extended an additional 15 days; b) to restrict the right of assembly and freedom of information, the latter with respect to the establishment, publication, or circulation of new publications; c) to forbid entry or to expel from the national territory those persons who advocate doctrines prohibited by the Constitution, those that are known or have the reputation of being activists committed to such doctrines and those that carry out acts contrary to the interests of Chile or who constitute a danger or threat to the internal peace; and d) to determine the compulsory location of certain persons in an urban locality in the national territory up to 3 months. These provisions add that these powers of the President of the Republic “shall not be appealable, except for reconsideration before the authority that applied the measure”, that is, the judiciary is prevented from intervening in areas that may permanently or indefinitely affect fundamental rights of a person, such as the right to live in his own country.


          In Grenada, the Constitution has been suspended since the New Jewel Movement took power on March 31, 1979. While it has not formally declared a state of emergency, the lack of legal constraints due to the suspension of the Constitution has permitted the enactment of some laws, such as People's Law Nº 8 which establishes a preventive detention tribunal that institutionalizes detentions without due process for those that the government considers are carrying out counter-revolutionary activities.


          A state of siege has been maintained uninterruptedly in El Salvador. On September 8, 1981, the Government Junta also extended martial law, which ostensibly restricts constitutional guarantees but which the Government considers necessary to confront the extremist offensive.


          In Haiti, under the presidency of both François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier, the legislative branch has adopted the practice of issuing at the end of its annual session, two decrees which confer full powers upon the Executive Power during the legislative recess and which suspend for an equal period of time the most important constitutional guarantees. In general, this parliamentary recess begins in the month of August and continues until April of the following year. During the period of recess, the Haitian people are deprived of their constitutional rights and the most fundamental human rights. This practice has continued in the last years and it has meant in practice the suspension of most of the guarantees recognized in the 1971 Constitution, which also recognizes in Article 1971 the state of siege, although these institutions as such have not been in fact the object of recent applications.


          In Nicaragua, even though the law of national emergency enacted in August of 1979, a few days after the revolutionary victory, was permitted to expire in April of 1980, certain laws have been subsequently promulgated which increased considerably the discretion of the Executive power, which permit abuses to be committed against political dissidents. Along these lines, the law of Maintenance of Order and Public Security of 1980, which has been applied to those accused of counter-revolutionary activities, merits special consideration. Recently, on September 9, 1981, the Nicaraguan government announced the enactment for one year of the “State of Social and Economic Emergency” designed to strengthen public finances, to prevent the flight of capital and increase productivity. Although the Commission is not in a position to issue an opinion on such matters, which regulate in great measure issues that fall exclusively within domestic jurisdiction, it cannot fail to point out that the imprecision and excessive generalizations in the definition of prohibited conduct in the state of emergency decree could result in an overbroad and arbitrary application of the decree.


          In Paraguay, the state of siege was enforced by Article 79 of the Constitution and considerably limits constitutional guarantees. Even though in the last few years the state of siege has been in force only in the Central Department of the Republic, which includes the capital of Asuncion, in practice, the situation is generalized to the rest of the country by permitting transfer to the capital of persons detained under the state of siege in other parts of the national territory.


          The state of emergency also continues in force in Uruguay, by virtue of the National Security Law published by the National Congress on July 10, 1972. This law, which continues in force, suspends certain constitutional guarantees concerning persons accused of subversive activities, and stipulates trials by military instead of civilian tribunals. Consequently, Decree 393/973 of June 1, 1973, provided for the indefinite suspension of several constitutional guarantees in accordance with the extended exercise of the emergency power, in accordance with Article 168, paragraph 17, of the Constitution of 1967. In addition, several institutional acts, published as of 1976, have institutionalized the state of emergency in Uruguay.


          As the Commission has repeatedly pointed out, if there are special circumstances that justify it, it is evident that the provisions established for periods of normalcy cannot be applied without serious risks for the preservation of public order and security of the state; but, at the same time, the application of norms of exception cannot, nor should not, have as the consequence the repeated violations of fundamental rights, as is unfortunately occurring in some of the countries mentioned above.


          The Commission is particularly concerned about two violations of human rights that have their origin in the power conferred by the state of emergency: detention without due process and the expulsion of nationals.




          From a quantitative point of view, detentions without due process constituted the largest number of violations of human rights committed during the period covered by this report and concerning which the IACHR received the greatest number of communications. Many of these communications allege that the detention was followed by torture.


          These violations of human rights were possible, in large measure, due to the states of emergency which permit excessive and arbitrary powers to detain without cause or due process those whom the authorities consider a threat to national security, even though they may be (as the Commission was able to determine from most of the communications received) lawyers working for the defense of human rights, trade union leaders, intellectuals or political dissidents, none of whom used or advocated violence.


          As has been pointed out, in some states arbitrary detentions were even carried out without the support of any juridical norm, by the simple decision or consent of a public authority in face of the action of the security forces or para-military groups linked to these forces. This situation is, of course, much more serious.


          During the period covered by this report, there are several countries in which detentions without due process occurred with greater frequency or in which such detentions have been carried over from previous years.


          Even though during the last 12 months in Argentina, the number of detentions has been reduced based on the powers of the state of siege accorded to the President of the Republic, there continue to be about 700 people arrested without charge at the disposition of the Executive branch. All these persons have been detained for several years without due process, without trial and without the minimum guarantees inherent in due process. On the other hand, the Commission should emphasize that the system for period review of the cases of persons detained at the disposition of the Executive has permitted the release of many of the persons detained. According to information provided by the Argentine government, during 1980 and until the end of August of 1981, 742 detentions were terminated.


          In Bolivia, as a result of the coup of July 1980, thousands of persons were detained, and although most were subsequently set free, arbitrary detentions have persisted. The writ of habeas corpus has not been effective.


          According to the information and communications received by the Commission, hundreds of persons were detained or exiled in Chile during 1980-1981, in the exercise of the exceptional powers that temporary provision 24 accords to the Chief of State during the first three months following the proclamation of the new Constitution. In the city of Santiago alone, 158 persons were detained and 16 were exiled to inhospitable places in the interior of the country.


          By virtue of People's Law Nº 8, the Government of Grenada has detained a considerable number of persons without due process “for counter-revolutionary activities”.


          During the period covered by this report, dozens of persons have been arrested in Haiti, most of them intellectuals, journalists, or opposition politicians, without the procedures of due process.


          In Nicaragua, in addition to the former somocistas that were condemned without the guarantees of due process, (“roes somocistas”) as the Commission was able to verify in its Report on the situation of human rights in that country (OEA/Ser.L/V_II.45, doc.16, rev. 1, of November 17, 1978) and independently of their responsibility, in application of the law for the Maintenance of Order and Public Security, several political dissidents in opposition to the present regime have been detained.


          In Paraguay, although detentions have decreased in comparison to previous years, important political leaders of the opposition have been detained by virtue of the state of siege and, in addition, at least in three cases, the Commission has been aware that persons who had served their sentence for common crimes, have been detained again without the right of due process, in accordance with the state of siege, setting a very serious precedent with respect to the power of the judiciary.


          In Uruguay, even though arbitrary detentions have decreased, the Commission has continued to receive denunciations of detentions, based exclusively on the prompt security measures in force.


          Without analyzing at this moment those detentions carried out by security organs or para-military groups, without any legal basis whatsoever but carried out with the consent of the governmental authorities, and whose serious nature has already been pointed out in another part of this report, the Commission would like to reiterate at this point its opinion that the deprivation of personal liberty for prolonged or indefinite periods of time without due process or formal charges, violates human rights and implies the application by the Executive Power of real penalties which violates the right to liberty, justice and due process.


          Likewise, the Commission knows that these detentions practiced by the Executive Power and which are not subject to review by the judiciary, also implies the negation of the functions of the latter power, which constitutes an attempted violation of the separation of public powers which is one of the bases of any democratic society.


          For the same considerations expressed the Commission urges the member states of the OAS that the detentions carried out under the state of emergency be for brief periods and always subject to review by the judiciary, in cases of abuses committed by the authorities who have ordered them.




          The right of every person to live in his own country, to leave and return when he deems convenient has not been the object of controversy until quite recently. In fact, such an elemental right is recognized in every international instrument that protects human rights.


          Notwithstanding, in the last few years some states of the hemisphere have expelled nationals—something that was conceivable until very recently only as a penalty for a very serious crime and after due process—as a means of eliminating those political dissidents that the government considers a threat to its internal security.


          These expulsions have been administratively decreed, without any type of due process, and generally for indefinite periods of time, which further increase the cruelty and irrationality of the measure, by making this punishment even more onerous than that which applies to the commission of a crime, which is usually a specific penalty in its temporal application. Likewise, on some occasions these expulsions have been carried out without the approval of the state to which those expelled have been transferred, which is a violation of international law.


          Regrettably, without taking into account thousands of persons who were expelled earlier and who are barred from returning to their country, during the period covered by this report, there occurred several administrative expulsions of political dissidents in the American countries.     

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