REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
STATUS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES
During its mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights,
the IACHR has been reviewing the status of human rights in the countries of the
hemisphere and has drawn up special reports on some of them. These reports have
been prepared on the Commission's own initiative, or on instructions from an
organ of the Organization of American States, and, in some cases, at the
spontaneous request of the country concerned.
The Commission feels that these reports, their later dissemination, and
discussion of them have helped to change the behavior of particular countries as
regards their observance of human rights, and in some cases, the reports have
placed on record that the behavior of a country is in accord with international
commitments it has undertaken in the field o human rights.
In recent years, the Commission has drawn up reports on 14 countries,
some of which, such as Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Suriname,
have been the subject of several reports.
Follow/ups on these reports have usually been included in the
Commission's annual reports to the General Assembly when warranted by the
State's behavior in the human rights area.
The Commission's Annual Report submitted to the eighteenth regular
session of the General Assembly included a chapter with sections on the status
of human rights in Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua,
Paraguay and Suriname from September 1987 to September 1988.
In the Commission's view, there are reasons to warrant the reviewing all
of those member countries again in this Annual Report.
In order to make the information available to it as complete as possible,
the Commission, on June 14, 1989, requested the countries mentioned to provide
it with any information they deemed appropriate, but particularly information on
how they had complied with the Commission's previous recommendations< on the
progress they had made and any difficulties they had encountered in effective
observance of human rights, and on the text of any statute enacted or case law
that might have affected the observance of human rights.
Where warranted, the Governments' responses and any other information
from various sources to which the Commission has had access have been taken into
consideration in drafting this chapter.
The following sections will cover the status of human rights in Chile,
Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Suriname, since
September 1988 up to the approval date of this report.
The Commission reiterates that the inclusion of these sections is not
designed to give an overall and complete description of the status of human
rights in each of the eight countries mentioned. The Commission's intent here is
rather to give an update covering the period of one year since the last general
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued to observe the
human rights situation in Cuba during the period covered by the present Annual
Report. What follows summarizes the most important developments noted during the
period as a supplement to the information provided by the Commission in its
seven special reports on this country and in the corresponding annual reports.
During this period there took place in Cuba a widely publicized trial
that culminated in the death sentence and execution of four officers of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces: General Arnaldo Ochoa, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia,
Major Amado Padrón, and Captain Jorge Martínez. The executions were carried
out on June 12, 1989, following sentencing by a military court for the crimes of
drug trafficking and the commission of hostile acts against third countries. It
was mentioned repeatedly during the proceedings that the officers had committed
high treason, which under the Cuban Constitution carries the highest penalty.
The decision of the military court was confirmed by the Supreme Court and the
Council of State, presided over by Fidel Castro.
Diverse and serious objections have been raised to these executions. It
has been pointed out, first of all, that the crimes for which the sentence was
imposed do not carry the death penalty in the Cuban Penal Code. Secondly, that
the celerity with which the trials were conducted, the publicity they received,
and the lack of outside observers at the trial raise well-founded doubts as to
compliance with fundamental guarantees of due process. The manner in which the
death sentence was carried out was aggravated by the failure of the authorities
to turn over the remains of the victims to their families.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as it reiterates its view
against the death penalty, must point out that in this case, moreover, such a
severe penalty was preceded by a trial which did not provide due process
guarantee, and the manner of the execution and the subsequent procedures are
offensive to elementary humanitarian sentiments.
During the period covered by the present Annual Report several events
occurred in Cuba connected with the activities of organizations and persons
dedicated to the defense of human rights. The Commission has received many
reports that mark a retrogression from the improvements that the Commission had
noted in earlier reports. Following is a summary of the information received.
It has been indicated that, despite the recognition accorded to the right
to freedom of association in the Cuban Constitution, the exercise of that right
is truncated by the generic limitation of article 61, which subordinates the
exercise of all constitutionally recognized rights to “the existence and aims
of the Socialist State” and to “the decision of the Cuban people to build
Socialism and Communism.” This generic limitation is formalized by articles
208 and 209 of the Cuban Criminal Code, which punishes by one to three months
and three months to one year of imprisonment, respectively, those who become
members of unauthorized associations and those who head them. The same
restrictions apply to the exercise of the right of assembly.
The limitations on the exercise of the right of association have been
reflected in the lack of recognition by the Government of organizations for the
defense and promotion of human rights, which had lately brought their activities
into the open. At present, special attention has been given to the Cuban
Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the Pro-Human Rights
Party of Cuba, and the Marti Committee for the Rights of Man, the three
organizations which comprised the Human Rights Organizations Coordinating Body (Coordinadora
de Organizaciones de Derechos Humanos), though these are not the only
independent organizations concerned with human rights matters, During the period
covered by this Annual Report, the Commission requested that the Government of
Cuba recognize these associations and their right to engage in their activities
This lack of recognition has been used by the Government to arrest human
rights activists who attempt to exercise the right of assembly and other
internationally recognized rights. In the period covered by this Report the
following persons who attempted the peaceful exercise of their human rights were
On March 29, 1989—a few days before the visit to Cuba of Soviet leader
Mikhail Gorbachev—the following members of the Pro-Human Rights Party were
arrested: David Moya Alfonso, María Elena Otero, Samuel Martínez Lara, Carlos
Pablo Segrera Martín, Gloria Soto Díaz, Gila Stuart de Céspedes, Raúl Núñez
de Céspedes, and María Ester de Céspedes, who were taken to a police station
in Havana together with Audrey Miguel Stuart de Céspedes, a 10-year old child.
The four women and the minor were set free that night and the eight men
were tried in a Municipal Court on March 30, 1989, without benefit of
counsel—nor was any public defender provided—for under Cuban legislation no
defense counsel is required in proceedings at the municipal level. The arresting
officers seized a typewriter, carbon paper and other materials used to publish
the periodical Franqueza, which is not licensed to circulate.
Weeks later, during Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Cuba in April 1989, 21
human rights activists who had planned a peaceful demonstration in Havana were
taken into custody. Seven of these were placed under arrest: Samuel Martínez
Lara, Ernesto Alfonso Rivas, Pedro Alvarez, Hiram Abi Cobas—who reportedly
suffered a heart attack and was taken to a hospital—Evita Cruz Rodríguez and
David Moya of the Pro-Human Rights Party, and Roberto Bahamonde, of the Cuban
Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation. According to information
received, these people were held incommunicado in Revolutionary National Police
stations 5 and 15 without access to counsel.
On April 7, 1989, these detainees were given the following sentences in
the Havana Municipal Court: Samuel Martínez Lara, 9 months of imprisonment;
David Moya, 9 months of imprisonment; Roberto Bahamonde, 3 months; Hiram Abi
Cobas, 4 months, suspended because of illness; and Evita Esther Cruz Rodríguez,
3 months of imprisonment, suspended because of illness. They were not notified
of these sentences until the end of April, the trial was closed to the public
and to members of their families, and no witnesses came forward on behalf of the
The Commission is also informed that on April 15, 1989, when Professor
Elizardo Sánchez, President of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and
National Reconciliation, was in the lobby of the Habana Libre hotel for an
interview with a visitor from CLAT, he was arrested by agents of the Ministry of
the Interior and set free that night. While under arrest Professor Sánchez was
insulted and warned to leave Cuba. Because of the acts of the government agents,
the interview with the trade union official could not take place.
On August 6, 1989, at about 5 a.m., Prof. Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz
was arrested in his own home by some twenty State Security officers, who seized
various United Nations, Amnesty International, and Americas Watch publications.
They also detained Hiram Abi Cobas, of the Pro-Human Rights Party, who suffers
from a serious illness, as previously indicated, and Hubert Jérez Mariño,
President of the Martí Human Rights Committee.
At this writing, these human rights activities have been held in the
Villa Marista State Security Prison since August 6 without any formal charges
having been filed against them in court. According to information supplied to
the Commission, the three were being held in isolation cells with the lights on
around the clock, unable to exercise and without access to reading material. The
only official reference to their arrest has been an article in Granma linking it
to statements made by them to journalists in connection with the trial of
General Ochoa and his codefendants, which apparently prompted the charge against
them of the crime of “spreading false reports against international peace.”
The Commission regards the harassment of human rights activists as a
severe retrogression from the slight trend toward a degree of flexibility it had
noted in the behavior of the Government of Cuba in the area of human rights. The
Commission hopes that this behavior will be rectified and that the human rights
organizations will be accorded all guarantees for the meritorious work they are
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has observed with
particular interest how the situation of human rights in Chile has evolved
during the period covered by this annual report. This section summarizes the
findings of these observations and presents the pertinent information, so as to
update the four special reports on Chile presented by the Commission and the
information contained in the corresponding sections of its annual reports.
The Commission must begin by pointing out that, during the period covered
by this annual report, the UN Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights were published in the Official Gazette.
Though these covenants were ratified on February 10, 1972, and enacted as
Chilean laws on November 30, 1976, were not published in the Official Gazette
and, therefore, did not enter into force. The conventions to prevent and punish
the use of torture, of the United Nations and the Organization of American
States, were also published.
As far as the right to life is concerned, the Commission observed a
significant decline in the number of violations of this right attributed to
government agents. However, excessive violence continues to characterize many
police activities, and has resulted in a number of deaths. A complaint was
received to the effect that on December 31, 1988, Mr. Salvador Cautivo Ahumada
was killed in Arica, as he was painting political slogans on a wall. According
to human rights organizations, on July 17, 1989, Laura Méndez Vásquez was
killed while participating in a land take-over. The deceased was unarmed and,
according to witnesses, did not adopt an aggressive posture vis-à-vis the
With respect to personal integrity, the Commission has received
information from human rights agencies to the effect that there has been a
significant reduction in complaints of violations of this right. They reported
receiving 27 complaints during the period covered by this annual report.
The reports received by the Commission coincide in that the situation of
human rights in Chile has improved since the plebiscite held on October 5, 1988.
On the other hand, the Commission must point out that where the right to
justice is concerned, the behavior of the Chilean institutions is still at
variance with the most elemental rules upon which the respect for human rights
is based. More than 95% of the people deprived of their freedom because of
situations of a political nature are being judged by military tribunals, for
crimes defined in laws enacted by the military regime or in earlier laws that
were later amended by that regime. In its special report on Chile of 1985, the
Commission referred at length to the most serious irregularities that are
typical of these military tribunals, in which detained persons remain
incommunicado for long periods and in which there is no presumption of
innocence. These irregularities continue to occur.
The persecution of human rights organizations by these courts was clearly
demonstrated by the pressure exerted on the “Vicaría de la Solidaridad,”
which was compelled to hand over its files on medical services. In the period
covered by this annual report, 15 staff members of that prestigious human rights
organization were subjected to lengthy interrogations.
The bias of the military tribunals was once again in evidence when a
military judge. General Carlos Parera Silva, sentenced Roberto Garretón, an
attorney with the “Vicaría de la Solidaridad”, to 541 days' imprisonment
because of an article he published in “Mensaje” magazine, while Captain
Pedro Fernández Dittus was given a suspended sentence of 300 days imprisonment
for his role in the fatal burns inflicted upon Rodrigo Rojas de Negri and the
severe burns inflicted upon Carmen Gloria Quintana.
We should recall that the Commission adopted a resolution in the case of
Rodrigo Rojas and Carmen Gloria Quintana. In this resolution, the Inter-American
Commission considered that the Government of Chile was responsible for the
violations of the rights of these people and recommended that it proceed
“expeditiously to determine the responsibility of the perpetrators of so
reprehensible an act and to subject those persons to proper punishment to avoid
the future recurrence of such condemnable crimes.”
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has upheld all of the decisions of the
military tribunals, even the definitive stay of proceedings ordered by the Court
of Appeals in Santiago in the case heard by Judge Carlos Cerda concerning the
disappearance of 10 people in 1976.
As to the exercise of political rights and of related civil rights, the
Inter-American Commission has observed a marked improvement in the period
covered by this report. Although the right to freedom of expression was
significantly curtailed during the campaign leading up to the plebiscite of
October 5, 1988, the exercise of that right has improved considerably.
In this plebiscite, the citizens of Chile exercised their right to vote
to decide whether General Augusto Pinochet should continue as President of Chile
for another eight years. Out of a total of 7.236,241 registered voters, 43%
voted YES, in favor of the Government's position, and 54.7% voted NO, in favor
of the opposition. Under the Constitution, this outcome signifies the holding of
general elections for President and parliamentarians, which have been called for
December 14, 1989.
As a result of the plebiscite held on October 5, it became necessary to
amend the Constitution of 1980. To that end, the opposition parties of the
“Concertación por la Democracia” and the Government held a prolonged series
of talks until a consensus was reached on the amendments to be introduced. On
July 30, 1989, a second plebiscite was held, in which these amendments were
approved by an overwhelming majority. The most important of these are the repeal
of Article 8 of the Constitution, which established a series of discriminatory
provisions based on ideological reasons; the shortening of the presidential term
of office, from eight to four years; abrogation of the authority of the
President to expel Chilean citizens from their country and to deny them their
right to return when a state of emergency is in effect; the increase in the
number of senators; the change in the membership of the National Security
Council, and the incorporation of human rights treaties into the Constitution.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights believes that, generally
speaking, the amendments introduced in the Constitution represent some progress
toward the goal of achieving effective protection of human rights, the status of
which improved considerably after the plebiscite of October 5, 1988. These
constitutional amendments will be eventually followed by other amendments
calculated to fully reinstate the rule of law. In the opinion of the Commission,
these juridical measures should be complemented by reforms in the Judiciary, so
as to give it greater autonomy and efficacy than it has had up to now, and by
further strengthening the system of representative democracy. One of the central
elements of this system is the subordination of the military sector to the
civilian authorities elected by popular vote, the system being the most
effective means of promoting the observance and protection of human rights.