Organization of American States



February 25, 2002


Video in Spanish version:

-Enrique Lagos, Subsecreario de Asuntos Jurídicos de la Secretaria General de la OEA
-Embajador Balsco Peñaherrera, Representante Permanente de la Ecuador y Presidente del Consejo Permanente
-Juan Méndez, Presidente de la CIDH
Video / 40'06"   


            The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) opened its regular session today, pointing to "some progress" in human rights in Latin America but noted "a serious backward step in many instances." 

Commission Chairman Juan Méndez inaugurated the 114 session at the Organization of American States (OAS) Headquarters, citing such progress as the entrenchment of democratic regimes in the Hemisphere, a more organized civil society sector and the progressive development of international law.   But he argued that longstanding problems remained, such as impunity with regard to human rights violations (torture and extra-judicial executions); judicial branches that are underdeveloped in most countries of the region; and threats to the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in certain countries. "A significant part of Latin America lives in extreme poverty—a situation that generally violates all individual human rights," Méndez explained. 

            Turning to current problems facing the region, the IACHR Chairman said the OAS human rights agency remains "very concerned about the situation in Colombia and is keeping it under observation."  Saying he hopes the Colombian peace process will be resumed, Méndez called on all the parties involved in the conflict to respect the pertinent rules of international humanitarian law and human rights. 

            The Commission continues to monitor the human rights situation in Cuba and Haiti, he noted as well, adding that in recent years notable progress has been made in setting inter-American standards for human rights protection.  He conceded that limited financial resources remain a basic hindrance to the work of human rights institutions, and called on the Permanent Council to provide the Commission with more financial and human resources so it can "continue to fully implement the mandate given it by the member states themselves." 

On the recent resignation of Peru's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Diego García Sayán, as a Commission member, the Chairman said nominations to fill the vacancy will be announced, "so as to restore the Commission's full membership as soon as possible." 

OAS Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs Enrique Lagos, speaking on the Secretary General's behalf, characterized human rights as "a top priority for the Organization of American States."   He described the exchange being undertaken in the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs on bolstering the inter-American system as "very positive." 

            Meanwhile, the Permanent Council Chairman, Ambassador Blasco Peñaherrera of Ecuador, touched on the need to defend and support the Commission as a technical and autonomous body as it carries out its functions, with an emphasis on its role as an OAS advisory body.  He also urged the member states to make every effort to implement the Commission's recommendations. 

            Peñaherrera further proposed "collective, concerted and dynamic action that is frank and vigorous" to tackle international terrorism.  He observed that, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, this problem could assume a significant proportions. 

            The Human Commission remains in session until March 15, and will hold 56 hearings on cases before it.  The session will also consider such issues as precautionary measures, friendly settlements and the general human rights situation in a number of member countries.