Washington, D.C., December 12, 2002



Chairman and Members of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,


I am very pleased to address you today in order to present for your consideration the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Report on Terrorism and Human Rights.


Terrorism and the violence and fear it perpetuates have been a prevalent and distressing feature of the modern history of the Americas, and one with which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is all too familiar. The three terrorist attacks of unprecedented proportion perpetrated simultaneously in the United States on September 11, 2001 confirm that terrorism remains an on going, serious and expanded threat to the protection of human rights and to regional and international peace and security, a threat that demands immediate and thorough consideration by the international community, including the organs of the Organization of American States.


Among the issues discussed in the media and elsewhere since September 11, 2001 have been questions concerning what measures should be taken to combat terrorism and how fundamental human rights apply to those measures. This has included debate over what means are most appropriate for detaining, investigating, prosecuting and punishing those suspected of terrorist activities. In this context, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as the organ of the OAS responsible for promoting the observance and protection of human rights in the Hemisphere and to serve as a consultative organ of the Organization in these matters, adopted a resolution on December 12, 2001 in which it decided to prepare a comprehensive report on terrorism and human rights, to assist member states in adopting anti-terrorism laws and regulations that accord with international law. The OAS General Assembly, in a resolution adopted on June 4, 2002 during its thirty-second regular session, welcomed the Commission’s decision to prepare a report on terrorism and human rights and requested that the Commission present the report to the Permanent Council for its consideration, if possible, in 2002. 


After twelve months of extensive and careful deliberations, the Commission is pleased to present you with its final report. In preparing the report, the Commission drew upon its longstanding experience in dealing with human rights protections in the face of terrorism. In addition, it convened a panel of international experts during its regular sessions in March 2002 to obtain timely and specialized information on the issue of terrorism and human rights, and invited OAS member states and pertinent non-governmental organizations to submit written observations on this topic.


Throughout its report, the Commission articulates several core principles concerning the role of human rights in opposing terrorism. The Commission indicates in no uncertain terms that governments of the Americas are obliged to take the measures necessary to prevent terrorism and other forms of violence and to guarantee the security of their populations. At the same time, the Commission declares that states remain bound by their international human rights obligations at all times, subject only to suspensions or restrictions that are specifically permitted under international law when the life of the nation is threatened. The Commission categorically rejects any notion that international law is irrelevant or inapplicable to the post-September 11 campaign against terrorism. In this respect, the Commission commends OAS member states for including in the recently-adopted Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism a provision, Article 15, by which they explicitly confirm their commitment to full respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms in the campaign against terrorism.


The report also acknowledges that terrorist violence may occur in times of peace, in states of emergency, and in situations of war, and therefore considers states’ obligations under both international human rights and the law of armed conflict. The report considers standards of protection under these regimes of law in six main areas: the right to life, the right to humane treatment, the right to personal liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of expression, the rights to judicial protection and non-discrimination, and the protection of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and other non-nationals.


The report emphasizes, for example, that detainees must never be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, through conditions of detention, methods of interrogation or otherwise. Closely connected with this proscription is the requirement that the treatment of detainees be subjected to appropriate oversight mechanisms as prescribed under applicable regimes of international law, in times of peace and in times of war. The report stresses that persons charged with and tried for terrorist-related offenses must, in all situations, be afforded fundamental due process protections, including the right of a defendant to prompt notification in detail of the charges against them, the right to be assisted by counsel without delay, and the right to a public trial. Moreover, the report urges member states to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in all circumstances and subject only to permissible restrictions and derogations, as an informed public can be an effective tool in monitoring and preventing abuses by public authorities during situations of terrorist threat. The situation of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other non-nationals is afforded specific attention by the Commission, as these persons are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations in the development and execution of counter-terrorist measures. Finally, the report emphasizes the need for states to comply in all circumstances and situations with the absolute prohibition of discrimination of any kind, including discrimination based upon race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition. The report concludes with a series of specific recommendations for OAS member states to give effect to the Commission’s conclusions.


In its resolution adopting and opening for signature the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, the OAS General Assembly proclaimed that “the fight against terrorism must be undertaken with full respect for national and international law, human rights, and democratic institutions, in order to preserve the rule of law, liberties and democratic values in the Hemisphere, which are essential components of a successful fight against terrorism.” The Commission is hopeful that the results of its study will assist OAS member states and other interested actors in the inter-American system in fulfilling this crucial responsibility.


Thank you.