Remarks by the IACHR President

Presentation of the 2013 Annual Report by the President of the IACHR to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States

Washington, D.C., April 23, 2014

Honorable Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs; Ambassador Diego Pary (Permanent Representative of Bolivia)

Distinguished Representatives of the Member States;

Distinguished Permanent Observers of the Organization;

Representatives of civil society organizations;

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am honored to present to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council the 2013 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Accompanying me here today are the Commission´s Executive Secretary, Emilio Alvarez Icaza, the Assistant Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed; the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero; and members of the Executive Secretariat staff.


The report I am presenting was adopted by the Inter-American Commission in accordance with the guidelines established by the General Assembly and with Article 58 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The activities recounted in this report were conducted under the presidency of Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco, whose able leadership I wish to publicly acknowledge today. On the Commission’s behalf, I would also like to thank Commissioners Dinah Shelton and Rodrigo Escobar Gil, both very distinguished jurists, for the invaluable contributions they made during their terms at the Commission, which ended in 2013. I also would like to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights of our Executive Secretary and all the Secretariat’s staff.

The independence and autonomy of the IACHR are essential to performing its mission to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.  The Commission also recognizes the importance of transparency in performing those functions. The six chapters of the Annual Report are aimed at providing accessible, comprehensive and relevant information to all users of the System on our work and resources.  This Report was also prepared within the context of the Commission’s Strategic Plan with its objectives to promote compliance with decisions, ensure accessibility to victims, run the petition system with efficiency, stay current on the human rights situation in the region, respond to needs of groups historically marginalized, promote human rights, encourage universal ratification of the regional human rights instruments, publicise the work being done, and procure the resources necessary to effectively discharge the mandate. The Annual Report is not only a mechanism of accounting for what we do, it is a substantive report on the human rights situation in the Americas and an important way in which the Commission identifies and continues a conversation about best State practices and analyses regional challenges in the Americas.

Reformed Rules of Procedure and Overview of Chapters

The Annual Report for 2013 is the first to be prepared under the guidelines of our reformed Rules of Procedure, which changed substantially on August 1, 2013. Those reforms took place in the context of an open and constructive dialogue and strengthening process in relation to the IAHRS from 2011 to 2013, led by the Permanent Council and the Commission.

The form, scope and substance of this report reflect the breadth of the Commission’s activities to protect and promote human rights; they also reflect change and development in the way the Commission carries out its mandate with limited resources. I wish to highlight a few key aspects of this year’s Report:

  • Chapter I gives a broad overview of the Commission’s activities as usual, but in Chapter II, which looks at the Petition and Case System and Precautionary Measures, there is a major change. As you will recall, with the entry into force of the reforms to the Commission’s Rules of Procedure in August of 2013, the Commission began adopting reasoned resolutions explaining the criteria for granting, modifying and lifting precautionary measures.  The reforms to the Rules of Procedure seek to enhance juridical certainty while securing accessibility and flexibility for victims. The reforms codify the objective criteria used by the Commission for granting precautionary measures: urgency, seriousness and irreparability; and the resolutions set out the parameters used by the IACHR in determining the requisites of urgency, seriousness and the irreparable nature of each specific case. Accordingly, for the first time the summaries of the precautionary measures granted after that date include a link to the full resolution prepared by the Commission. 
  • Chapter III is new: it is a chapter devoted to the activities of the Thematic Rapporteurships.  While Chapter II looks at protection through the case system and precautionary measures, Chapter III gives greater visibility to the ongoing work of the seven members of the Commission as rapporteurs to protect and promote human rights in the region through thematic reports, working and promotional visits, supervision of cases, requests for information and recommendations to States, and press releases.
  • Chapter IV, for the first time, provides an annual overview of the human rights situation in the hemisphere. This is the new section IV.A. Special reports on the situation in certain Member States are found in section IV.B. The section reflects the Commission’s careful application of the criteria, methods and procedure identified in the reformed Rules of Procedure. Implicit in the chapter, is a new mechanism that allows the Commission to more diligently monitor the situation of a country listed in section IV.B and support efforts by the State to address it through an on-site visit and a report following that visit that makes recommendations for improvement.
  • The new Chapter V is designed to address follow-up to recommendations made in reports already adopted. This will include reports adopted following onsite visits such as those I just mentioned. The Commission intended to follow up the Report on the situation of human rights in Jamaica adopted in August 2012 in this year’s annual report, but will do so in the 2014 report to ensure it has the broadest information available, based on consultations conducted this year.

Chapter I

I would like to now turn briefly to Chapter I. In recounting the Commission´s activities during the three periods of sessions and the information received during the over 100 hearings held during those sessions, the report confirms the persistence of serious structural human rights problems in the region.

The Commission received troubling information indicating that human rights defenders continue to be targets of murders, threats, and harassment, along with acts of violence at protest demonstrations and the criminalization of their activities. With regard to persons deprived of liberty, the Commission received information of utmost concern on the excessive use of pretrial detention and the use of solitary confinement, as well as on detention conditions in Cuba.  The Commission continues to closely monitor the situation of the detainees held by the United States at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.

In several hearings, the Commission received troubling information about the right to freedom of expression in various countries. Attacks on journalists, laws that violate the right to freedom of expression, the lack of regulatory frameworks that recognize community radio stations, and the closure of media outlets through administrative or judicial processes are some of the problems the Commission heard about during its sessions.

In several thematic hearings, the Commission received deeply troubling information about barriers to the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights. The Commission heard repeatedly about the interrelation between the right to live free from discrimination and the exercise of economic and social rights for various groups, including women, indigenous persons, Afro-descendants, and LGBTI persons among others. The Commission also received troubling information about a lack of access to maternal health care for poor women and the negative impact on women’s health of laws criminalizing abortions.

During the 149th regular session, a number of new issues and challenges were raising during the hearings, including the use of unmanned drones in the region; communications surveillance carried out through the use of new technologies; the impact of transnational corporations and extractive industries on the enjoyment of human rights; and the responsibility of States, that are bases for transnational mining companies, in relation to the human rights effects of mining in the region.

In 2013, for the first time in its history, the IACHR held a hearing requested by a group of States. Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and France (in its capacity as Permanent Observer), called on those States in the region that have not yet abolished the death penalty to consider doing so, or to declare a moratorium as a step prior to abolishing it. Also for the first time in the history of the IACHR, a hearing provided simultaneous interpretation into sign language for the hearing-impaired and easy-to-read texts for persons with intellectual disabilities. The Commission is committed to striving to increase access to hearings for persons with disabilities.

Chapter I also recounts the working visits conducted by one or more members of the Commission. In that sense, the Commission visited Suriname, Argentina, Honduras, Canada and Guatemala. The Commission also conducted an on-site visit to the Dominican Republic from December 2-5, 2013. The preliminary observations offered by the Commission in the press release issued at the close of the visit were subsequently presented by Commissioner Rosa Maria Ortiz during a session of the Permanent Council of the OAS held in February.

In December 2013, the Commission adopted its Report on Truth, Justice and Reparation, a fourth report on the situation of Human Rights in Colombia, which was issued as a result of the on-site visit made to that country in December 2012.  The Commission is grateful to the Member States that have invited it to visit and particularly to those that have issued standing invitations. These visits serve a vital function in the Commission’s mission of promoting and protecting human rights in the hemisphere.

During 2013, the Commission participated in many activities in coordination with other national and international human rights mechanisms. In the report we recount nearly 40 such activities during 2013 with, among others, OAS bodies, UN agencies, UN special rapporteurs, and other regional systems. I wish to draw attention to two events held by the Commission regarding the friendly settlement mechanism, which is a valuable way of resolving human rights violations with the full participation of victims and securing non-repetition. One is the First Inter-American Conference on Human Rights and the Exchange of Best Practices on Friendly Settlements, held in June in Antigua, Guatemala; and the other is the First National Seminar on the Friendly Settlement Mechanism, held in October 14-15, in Mexico City, Mexico.

Chapter II

Chapter II is the most extensive chapter because of the very detailed information it provides on the Commission’s decisions on complaints of human rights violations in the Member States and on precautionary measures.

The wealth of information in this Chapter demonstrates the overwhelming size of the Commission’s portfolio. In 2013, the Commission received and registered over 2000 petitions, the largest number in the last decade. The Commission continues to dedicate great attention to the need to shorten the initial evaluation period and prioritize the first reply to a petitioner and, where relevant, notification to the concerned State. Of the petitions reviewed in 2013, 17% were accepted for processing and 83% were not accepted for processing.

This Report indicates that Commission has approximately 1753 cases in the admissibility and merits phases at the end of 2013. The second part contains all the reports adopted in 2013: a total of 111 reports that include 44 admissibility reports, 9 inadmissibility reports; 6 on friendly settlements; 38 decisions to archive; and 3 merits reports, in addition to the 11 cases that were presented to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights during the year.

During 2013, the Commission received 400 requests for precautionary measures. Also, during 2013, the Commission granted 26 measures and decided not to grant 64.  In 255 instances the Commission requested information from the petitioners, and in 59 requested information from the State concerned in order to make its decision.   

The analysis in Chapter II.D of States’ compliance with the recommendations contained in the reports on individual cases has been published in the Annual Reports since 2000. Approximately 62 per cent of these cases met our criteria of partial compliance while only 18 per cent could be said to have been fully complied with. Compliance with the Commission’s decisions is fundamental. In Chapter IV, the Commission notes the effect that specific implementation mechanisms tend to have in improving State compliance with the decisions of the IAHR bodies.  The Commission encourages States to adopt and develop implementation mechanisms to more specifically address their compliance with measures related to non-repetition, investigation, and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations, areas where there tends to be less effective compliance than with monetary recommendations.

Chapter III

Chapter III of the Annual Report is a very important new addition, outlining as it does the activities undertaken in 2013 by the seven members of the Commission across nine thematic areas. During 2013 Commissioners and/or staff members of the Commission visited half of the Member States of the OAS: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Suriname, United States and Uruguay. Rapporteurs, as you can see from the report, participated in many regional promotional activities, with attendants from an even wider cross section of nationals from Member States. These visits facilitate the promotion of inter-American human rights standards, provide opportunities to monitor specific situations, enable dialogue and cooperation with victims, civil society, Member States, and international organizations. Protection and promotion are integrated mandates at the Commission.

During 2013, the Commission also approved these seven thematic reports:

  • Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Honduras
  • The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas
  • Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators. Towards Strengthening Access to Justice and the Rule of Law in the Americas
  • Friendly Settlement Procedure Impact Report
  • Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact in the Americas: Recommendations for the Full Respect of their Human Rights
  • Report on Pre-trial detention in the Americas
  • Report on the Human Rights Situation of Migrants and other Persons in the Context of Human Mobility in Mexico

Chapter IV

As I already mentioned, Chapter IV reflects the significant changes introduced through the 2013 “Reform of the Rules of Procedure, Policies and Practices.”

In the first part of this section, which provides an overview of the human rights situation derived from the IACHR’s monitoring work, the Report lists all the 103 press releases and 48 requests for information issued by the Commission over the course of 2013. Secondly, Chapter IV.A spotlights four issues of concern in the hemisphere in 2013: the right to personal liberty; freedom of expression; independence of the judiciary (considered across the region in the new report on Justice Operators); and the right to nationality and non-discrimination. Examples are provided from specific countries to illustrate the concerns of the Commission.

Finally, in Chapter IV.A, the Report examines the progress and challenges in relation to the universal ratification of inter-American human rights treaties and the incorporation of inter-American standards into domestic law, as well as review of mechanisms for compliance with international human rights conventions and effective enforcement of related decisions and recommendations. Ratification furthers the integration goals of the OAS and ensures that all citizens of the Americas enjoy the full protection of their rights. On August 30, 2013, the IACHR published a questionnaire for the purpose of obtaining inputs from the users of the inter-American Human Rights System. I take this opportunity to thank the nine Member States that submitted their observations: Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Suriname and Uruguay, as well as those nongovernmental organizations, representatives of offices of human rights ombudsmen or other State entities whose mandates include the defense of human rights, scholars, and individuals, who presented a total of 38 reports.

The Commission notes that several constitutional and supreme courts have been instrumental in accommodating domestic legislation to the State’s international obligations in the area of human rights. However, over the course of this year, the IACHR has observed a number of setbacks with respect to conventionality control of the legal effects of provisions that obstruct the investigation of serious human rights violations in some countries of the region. The Commission calls upon the Member States to take the necessary legislative or judicial measures to ensure that their authorities do not allow such serious human rights violations to go unpunished, and practice proper conventionality control of any domestic laws that pose obstacles to the observance of the States’ international obligations in that regard.

The second part of Chapter IV, IV.B includes the special reports that the Commission considers necessary regarding the situation of human rights in Member States and it analyses the situation in Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela.  The section has been prepared in accordance with the specific criteria and methodology specified in the reforms to the Rules of Procedure. These reports rely on the best possible information available and ensure that the State has an opportunity to respond to the detailed analysis and to provide additional information. Each special report records challenges and progress and offers specific recommendations to the State.

With respect to Cuba, the Commission draws attention to the restrictions on the political rights to association, freedom of expression, and dissemination of ideas, the lack of elections, the lack of an independent judiciary, and the restrictions on freedom of movement that over decades have come to shape a permanent and systematic situation of violation of the human rights of the inhabitants of that country. Over the course of 2013, the information available suggests that the general human rights situation has not changed and that severe repression and restrictions of human rights defenders persist. The Commission reiterates its concern about the impact of the economic and trade embargo imposed by the United States on the human rights of Cubans while emphasizing that this in no way releases the State from its international obligations under the American Declaration.

In relation to Honduras, the Commission received information during 2013 that points to the persistence of structural situations that seriously affect the exercise of fundamental rights. While acknowledging efforts on the part of the State to address specific issues, the Commission was especially concerned about the situation of citizen insecurity, the insufficient independence of the judicial and other branches of government, weaknesses in the administration of justice that are reflected in high levels of violence and impunity, as well as discrimination and marginalization of certain segments of society. In the aftermath of the 2009 coup d’état, there continues to be, in the Commission’s view, fragility in democratic institutions. The Commission is committed to supporting the State in strengthening the protection of human rights.

In the third section, on Venezuela, the Commission recognizes efforts made by the State to reduce social inequality. This special report draws attention to the continuing concern about a core institution of a democracy—the independence of the judiciary.  The report also points to concerns about the integrity of the criminal justice system, obstacles that human rights defenders encounter in performing their work and the infringement of freedom of expression.  The Commission deeply regrets the denunciation of the American Convention on Human Rights that came into effect in 2013. In the context of its competence under the OAS Charter and the American Declaration, the Commission welcomes the participation of the State in hearings, as well as in its other mechanisms.  However, the Commission strongly encourages Venezuela to review its decision which strips its inhabitants of a mechanism to protect their human rights, and limits the resources they have to defend themselves in the context of human rights violations.  

Chapter VI

The grave challenges facing the Commission in terms of staffing and financial resources are well-known and clearly laid out in Chapter VI of the Annual Report. The decision to modestly increase the allocation to the Commission from the General Fund is an important show of support for the defense and promotion of human rights, given that the overall budget of the Organization absorbed a reduction of 4.6% over the previous year. The Commission wishes to express its thanks to the Member States and to the Secretary General.
Despite this increase to its annual Regular Fund allotment, the IACHR continues to have to rely on external funding to respond to the increasing demand for its services throughout the Hemisphere. I especially wish to thank all the Member States, Permanent Observers and other agencies for the contributions made in 2013. More generally, I would like to thank the Member States for the support they have given the Commission in its efforts to duly discharge its mandate.


Mr. Chair, distinguished representatives and observers, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: the OAS Charter describes the historic mission of the Americas as that of offering to all human beings a land of liberty and a favorable environment for the development of their personality and the realization of their just aspirations. In protecting and promoting rights, the Inter-American Commission has accompanied Member States in that regional mission for over half a century and we also join with the Inter American Court in that mission.  In this 2013 Annual Report, you see reflected the Commission’s alertness to recommendations made by States about the IAHRS and you should equally recognize our call to the States to further build and strengthen the system through compliance with recommendations and decisions of the system’s organs, ratification of Inter American human rights instruments and the allocation of the resources and support necessary for the Commission to discharge its mandate.