REMARKS BY COMMISSIONER PRESIDENT ROSE-MARIE BELLE ANTOINE
PRESENTATION OF THE 2014 IACHR ANNUAL REPORT TO THE COMMITTEE ON JURIDICAL AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS OF THE OAS PERMANENT COUNCIL
Washington, D.C., May 7, 2015
Honorable President of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie (Permanent Representative of Jamaica)
Distinguished Representatives of OAS Member States;
Distinguished Permanent Observers of the Organization;
Representatives of civil society organizations;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is an honor to present to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council the 2014 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. With me today are Emilio Alvarez Icaza, Executive Secretary of the Commission; Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, Assistant Executive Secretary; Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression; and members of the Executive Secretariat staff.
The 2014 report was adopted by the Inter-American Commission in accordance with the guidelines established by the General Assembly and with Article 58 of the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure. I would like to recognize Commissioner Tracy Robinson, who as President led the Commission during the activities included in this report. On behalf of the Commission, I would also like to thank Commissioners Paulo Vannuchi and James Cavallaro, whose valuable contribution in the first year of their mandate with us is most appreciated. I also acknowledge my other colleague Commissioners, Jesus Orozco, Felipe Gonzales and Rosa-Maria Ortiz, who not only worked directly on these issues and activities, but spearheaded many of them. All of the Commission’s Members remained dedicated to the important task at hand. Last but not least, I am very pleased to acknowledge the dedication of the staff of the Secretariat, wisely led by our Executive Secretary, and the quality of their work.
Overview of chapters
The Annual Report for 2014 reflects the range of activities of the Commission to protect and promote human rights. For me, the presentation of this Report is somewhat bittersweet. On the one hand, I feel justifiably proud of the sterling work that this Commission that I have the honor to lead today, continues to do for the noble cause of human rights and justice and am happy to highlight it. On the other hand, I am acutely aware that some believe that aspects of our reporting can appear confrontational and judgmental, even though they are not intended to be. I appreciate that states are presented with difficult situations of governance. I want to reassure you that we approach this task of reporting in good faith and with much debate and interrogation. We continue to assess and reassess the best ways to fulfill our mandate to report to you. Ultimately, our objective is to guide, encourage and even inspire.
Let me turn to some of the main aspects of this Report:
The new interactive multimedia system has three sections. In the first one, the user can choose one of the OAS Member Countries, all 35, or any group of countries, and see the statistical data from 2006 to 2014 for petitions received, decisions on processing, reports approved on admissibility, inadmissibility, merits, friendly settlement, and archiving, cases sent to the Court and requests for precautionary measures received and granted. In the second section, the user can analyze comparative data among countries by year, while the third section, is directed at seeing the whole picture of the Commission’s activities on petitions, cases and precautionary measures.
The Commission hopes that this system will contribute to greater transparency and to improved access to the information regarding our system of petitions and cases and our protection system. This system allows us to present complex information in an easy and friendly manner that enables any interested party to immediately generate graphics with the specific data they are looking for, as well as download it and share it.
Chapter II also contains the reasoned resolutions regarding precautionary measures; the issuance of these resolutions began in August 2013 when the amended IACHR Rules of Procedure entered into force. These reforms, which sought to enhance juridical certainty while securing accessibility and flexibility for victims, codify the objective criteria used by the Commission for granting precautionary measures: urgency, seriousness and irreparability. The resolutions on precautionary measures set out the parameters used by the IACHR in determining the requisites of urgency, seriousness and the irreparable nature of each specific case. Accordingly, the summaries of the precautionary measures granted after the Rules entered into force include a link to the full resolution prepared by the Commission.
With respect to Cuba, the IACHR finds that restrictions on political rights, as well as on the rights to association and freedom of expression, along with the lack of Independence of the judiciary and restrictions on freedom of movement, are all factors that have led to a situation of permanent violation of the human rights of the population of Cuba. During 2014, the information available to the IACHR indicates that the general human rights situation has not varied. The above-referenced violations persist, along with severe repression aimed at human rights defenders and restrictions on their work. Also, the IACHR has learned of instances of discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons and against personas with disabilities in Cuba. In this section, the IACHR welcomes the restoration of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but at the same time reiterates its concern about the negative impact on the human rights of the inhabitants of Cuba caused by the economic and commercial embargo imposed by the United States against that country. The Inter-American Commission underscores that this does not exempt the State of its international obligations under the American Declaration.
As regards Venezuela, the Commission has concluded that during 2014 the enjoyment of human rights in that country has been affected by legal and administrative restrictions as a result of legislative changes during the last few years. Also, the IACHR observes that the lack of independence and autonomy of the judiciary with respect to political power is one of the weakest points of Venezuelan democracy. The Reports points to acts of violence against journalists and the media, statements by high-ranking political officers that have the effect of delegitimizing the work of human rights defenders, the use of the power of the State to criminalize human rights defenders, misuse of the judicial system to persecute pacific protest, and criminal prosecution of political dissidents. Finally, the IACHR has taken into account the high levels of impunity in Venezuela, the serious situation of citizen insecurity and violence in detention centers, among other elements that negatively affect the exercise of the right to life and personal integrity of the population of that country during this period.
In the follow-up report on Jamaica the IACHR recognizes important advances made by the State to address human rights issues, but continues to observe shortcomings and challenges in the implementation of the recommendations of its 2012 country report. Accordingly, the Inter-American Commission continues to closely follow up on matters pertaining to citizen security, violence at the hands of members of security forces and measures put in place to establish responsibilities. In this regard, the IACHR continues to be concerned about reports of persecution against members of civil society organizations as a consequence of their work in defense of human rights; the recent re-equipment of police detention establishments, as well as temporary detention centers to house juveniles, as well as continued acts of violence and discrimination against vulnerable groups, including LGBTI persons and persons living with HIV.
The Chapter V section on Colombia follows up on the recommendations of the IACHR in its “Truth, Justice and Reparations: Fourth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia”. The IACHR reiterates to the Colombian State the need to continue applying efforts to achieve compliance with the recommendations of the report that was adopted after the 2012 on-site visit, and also to preserve the advances in place. In this regard, the Commission recognizes that the State continues to implement important human rights public policies to face the complex reality of the conflict, as well as the impulse given by the government to measures for the attention of victims of violations, and for the protection of persons at risk, along with the significant investment in human and financial resources for these areas. The IACHR reaffirms its commitment to cooperate with the Colombian State in its search for solutions to the problems and challenges identified, and to continue providing assistance within the scope of its mandate in the process of implementation and follow-up of the measures applied by the State as part of its goal to effectively confront the obstacles faced by victims of human rights in Colombia, and to comply with its International obligations.
The Report gives a clue to the initiatives on the horizon for the Commission. These are not necessarily brand new directions, but perhaps a sharper focus on some persistent troubling areas.
One is the issue of race, a subject that as Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons of African Descent, has particular resonance for me. On assuming my mandate in 2102, I felt the need to examine, not only the situation of race in Latin America, a subject that had preoccupied the Commission, but to turn my lens on Race in North America. I was particularly interested in race and criminal justice and race and poverty. As fate would have it, the Trayvon Martin tragedy happened almost immediately after I joined the Commission. My Rapporteurship has pressed this issue of criminal justice and race, with targeted hearings and press releases. We could not have predicted the ongoing situation in the USA today, which is of grave concern to us, though we had a deep sense of the injustices that persist. In the interim, I held two academic sessions on the subject of Race in North America in Canada, collaborating with McGill University, Osgoode Hall and the African Legal Services Clinic. However, the attempt to formalize a Report on Criminal Justice and Race was not an easy task, the lack of funding being the first obstacle. While this problem is not entirely solved, I can announce today that we have now formally initialized this Report on Criminal Justice and Race in the U.S.
Another important new focus is the deepening engagement of the IACHR in the area of economic, social and cultural rights through its various mechanisms, as the reflection of an interest expressed by OAS Member States and other actors of the system. The Specialized Unit on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been leading this important work, with the next step being the establishment of a Special Rapporteurship on ESC Rights. Let me remind you that the Commission opened a special fund to raise financial resources to enable the creation of this Special Rapporteurship, and that there is a standing invitation to OAS Member States to make voluntary contributions to achieve this objective.
Mr. President, distinguished representatives and observers, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:
As we reflect on our activities for the last year, I would like to reiterate that the Commission is fully aware of the social, political and economic realities of the region, but also that the burden of responsibility for ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights, as well as for the consequences of their violations, resides in the State. We cannot fulfil our mandate properly without the cooperation and full engagement of States, as well as civil society organizations, victims and their families, and a wide range of persons and institutions. We look forward to continue to work with all of you, and with all these other stakeholders toward the common goal of ensuring that human rights are a reality in every corner of the Americas, for all persons, regardless of their race, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, economic status or any other distinction.
Thank you very much for your attention.