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September 29, 1998

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), formally opened its 100th regular sitting on Monday with its chairman, Venezuelan jurist Carlos Ayala Corao, calling on member states to put into practice the system of rights they proclaimed half a century ago when they signed the charter.

"We are here at this one hundredth session seeking, as at previous sessions, to quench the thirst of the peoples of the Americas for justice, people yearning for their inherent human dignity to be respected," Dr. Ayala declared as he reviewed the work undertaken by the IACHR over the last few months.

In his overview of the human rights situation in the hemisphere, the IACHR chairman said the Commission appreciated reforms being made to criminal procedural laws around the hemisphere. He warned, however, that "the state's responsibility could be compromised unless human rights violations--whether direct or indirect, or tolerated by state agents--were investigated and subjected to penalty under law, and with appropriate redress."

Mr. Ayala also expressed the human rights agency's concern at "impunity in the hemisphere stemming from unfair judgement of human rights crimes by military justice, which should only be disciplinary action to safeguard strict military order within the armed forces."

Noting that the Commission had placed a great deal of importance on the need for judicial officers to be independent, autonomous and career-based, Dr. Ayala said judges must be committed to human rights and au fait with the instruments of the inter-American system and jurisprudence of its organs.

Delegates to the formal opening of the 100th session heard from OAS Secretary General César Gaviria, who said that through their investigations, reports, and judgements, and by operating independently of the governments and the various OAS bodies, both the Inter-American Human Rights Court and the Commission "have shown themselves capable of defending the basic freedoms and rights of all the peoples of the Americas, no matter who the abusers are."

The OAS chief said it was crucial for all member states to subscribe to the human rights protection system. "This is very clearly set forth in the action plan from the Summit of the Americas in Santiago where we were urged to promote the signing and ratification of international human rights instruments and compliance with them."

During the current session, which ends on October 14, the commissioners will hold 61 hearings to take up cases pending or the general human rights situations in the countries of the hemisphere, before taking decisions on individual cases, cases before the Court, plans for upcoming visits to Peru, Haiti and the United States and special issue reports, especially on the appointment of a special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

The other members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are Robert Goldman, Jean Joseph Exumé, Alvaro Tirado Mejía, Claudio Grossman, Hélio Bicudo and Henry Forde.

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