Remarks by the IACHR President

Speech by Commissioner Tracy Robinson, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at the close of its 150th Sessions

Washington, D.C., April 3, 2014

Amb. Jacinth Lorna Henry-Martin, President of the Permanent Council,
Amb. Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General
Amb. Hugo de Zela Chief of Staff;
Permanent and Alternate Representatives of Member States;
Permanent Observers;
Representatives of civil Society organizations;
Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
Executive Secretary and Assistant Executive Secretary of the Commission, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Secretariat staff, fellows and interns;
Ladies and gentlemen:

It is my great pleasure as President, and behalf of my colleagues, to welcome you today to these proceedings to commemorate the closing of our 150th Session of the IACHR which began on March 20th. Here with me are my colleagues Rose-Marie Antoine, First Vice President; Felipe Gonzalez, Second Vice President; and Commissioners José de Jesús Orozco, Rosa María Ortiz, Paulo Vannuchi, and James Cavallaro.

I think it is a sign of a robust relationship between Member States and the IACHR that this is but one of a number of moments over the last two weeks that the Commission has had the opportunity to sit with the representatives of Member States. We highly value your presence and welcome you again.

I wish to recognize Amb Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General and to offer the floor to him.

As you know we have had a very busy and intense two years as Member States, civil society, victims and other actors interested in the system engaged in a process of dialogue facilitated by the Commission, about how to improve our procedures and effectiveness, while preserving our autonomy and institutional strength. This process demanded prudent and distinguished leadership, and we have benefitted from the absolute best of both over the last two years. On behalf of the Commissioners, I would like to express my recognition of and debt to our outgoing President José de Jesús Orozco, for his unstinting commitment to the Commission and very able leadership during this period as President.

On March 20, two weeks ago, a new Board was entrusted with responsibility for leading the work of the Commission. We are grateful for the support of our colleagues and of the dedicated staff of the Executive Secretariat, and look forward to a productive 56th year of promoting and protecting human rights in the region along with all the users of inter-American system. This is also the first session of a new composition of the Commission, as we are joined by commissioners Vannuchi and Cavarallo and we have affirmed our commitment as a Commission to undertake the ever important functions of protecting and promoting human rights in all of the Americas.

During over half a century of institutional existence, the Commission has been called to protect human rights in extremely serious situations affecting countries of the Americas. Currently, democratic processes have been strengthened and consolidated in many States. However, the effective enjoyment of human rights for all persons, in every place of the Americas, is still far from a reality.

Today still, as the Commission has repeatedly observed, depending on who you are, your history, where you live or are moving from or to, or what you do, or the crisis or conflict of that moment your human dignity may not be acutely recognized, your right to define your own life project not respected, or your efforts to protect the human rights of others systematically undermined. The situation of indigenous people, persons of African descent, lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, and intersex persons (LGBTI) persons, persons with disabilities, women, children and adolescents, internally displaced persons, refugees, victims of trafficking and other forms of violence and exploitation remain of grave concern to the Commission. Human rights defenders continue to be the target of killings, attacks, threats, and other acts of harassment. As a general matter, the structural conditions for justice and securing human rights remain critical and the Commission must also underscore that an independent judiciary is essential for the investigation and punishment of human rights violations, as well as to preserve the institutional framework fundamental in an effective democratic system.

At the same time, we the Commission continues to see and welcome many advances and good practices implemented in countries of the region. These are works in progress rather than final accomplishments and they offer growing pathways to justice and freedom for all inhabitants of the Americas, that the Commission wishes to encourage.

We had a very full agenda, as usual, during this 150th sessions of the Inter-American Commission. We held 55 hearings and 32 working meetings, a historic number. The day of working meetings is aimed at facilitating implementation of precautionary measures, compliance with recommendations, and friendly settlement procedures. The Commission also much appreciates the measures adopted by States and in collaboration by petitioners toward advancing compliance with recommendations and to the effectiveness of precautionary measures, key elements to the enjoyment of human rights. Our new colleagues, one of whom chaired 11 and another 8 of working meetings, have had, I am afraid, a brutal initiation. But along with their firm commitment they have already demonstrated capacities we highly value: openness to conciliation and dialogue (Vanucchi) and a sensible approach to doing justice (Cavallaro).

We have also during this period we also met with representatives of Member States, including with those from CARICOM, and civil society. We adopted decisions with respect to petitions, cases, precautionary measures, as well as other matters comprised in our mandate. These include a decision to establish a Special Rapporteurship on Economic Social and Cultural Rights by the end of 2015.

During our week of hearings and working meetings we received information and testimonies on a range of issues situations that fall within the mandate of the IACHR. I wish to note two hearings focused on the fight against impunity for violations of the past, as well as reparation programs for such violations, and, for the first time, hearings on the sexual and reproductive rights of persons with disabilities, and the impact of drug policies on human rights. We wish to thank the over twenty states and civil society that participated in the hearings which also received oral arguments on the merits in three cases. Hearings remain an important forum to address the main human rights issues in the region.

As you know, one great challenge we must overcome to strengthen the Inter American Human Rights system is the lack of human and financial resources to properly process and resolve the ever-increasing volume of petitions, cases, and precautionary measures; and to effectively discharge our monitoring functions, and act in a timely fashion on the mandates given to this organ by the political bodies of the OAS. We would like to highlight the important efforts made by the Secretary General, to maintain or improve our situation in terms of resources, despite the complex financial situation in the OAS, region and the world. The Commission especially thanks Member States for the financial contributions they have made, as well as international agencies and organizations from the Americas and outside the region that have supported the Commission. The Commission continues to call on Member States to take the measures to ensure that the inter-American system is fully funded by the States of the region, as set forth in several General Assembly resolutions.

Strengthening of the inter-American human rights system requires, at the front end, a collective commitment from States demonstrated by the universal ratification of regional human rights treaties. At the other end, we must achieve greater levels of compliance with the decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court. Many member states have made substantial advances in recent years in protecting human rights but we would ask that states deepen their commitment at both ends in undertaking their role as collective guarantors of the system.

I thank each of you for your continued support of the Commission, and for your presence on this occasion. I now officially close the 150th session of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.