Annex to the Press Release Issued at the Close of the 147th Session
April 5, 2013
Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 147th regular session March 7-22, 2013. The IACHR is made up of José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Chair; Tracy Robinson, First Vice-Chair; Rosa María Ortiz, Second Vice-Chair; and Felipe González, Dinah Shelton, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, and Rose-Marie Belle Antoine. The Executive Secretary is Emilio Álvarez Icaza L.
During the 147th session, the Commission held hearings and working meetings, and approved reports on individual cases and petitions. The hearings and reports reflect some of the structural human rights problems that persist in the region. These have to do with respect for the right to life and humane treatment; guarantees of due process and judicial protection; the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights; and the situation concerning the rights of children, migrants, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, women, persons deprived of liberty, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons, among other issues.
On March 8, 2013, the Inter-American Commission signed a cooperation agreement with the Inter-American Association of Public Defenders (AIDEF, for its acronym in Spanish). Under the agreement, in those cases in which alleged victims do not have legal representation before the IACHR and lack sufficient financial resources, the IACHR may ask AIDEF to designate a public defender who is a member of the association to handle the person’s legal representation before the Commission pro bono. The case must be in the merits phase to qualify for this legal assistance. In other words, the complaint has to have been declared admissible or the IACHR has to have communicated its decision to examine the admissibility and merits of the case together. This agreement marks a significant step toward improving access to the Inter-American Commission and ensuring that the lack of financial resources does not represent an obstacle for victims of human rights violations who are seeking justice in the inter-American system.
Working Meetings on Precautionary Measures
As part of its periodic follow-up of precautionary measures, the Commission held six working meetings on precautionary measures it had granted or for which it had requested information from the State; these involve Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. The Commission also held several closed-door meetings with beneficiaries and civil society organizations, among others, on how the precautionary measure mechanism is working in different countries of the region. It also held technical working meetings with representatives of the States of Ecuador, Mexico, and Guatemala to discuss precautionary measures as a whole in those countries.
With respect to these working meetings, the IACHR notes the States’ cooperation role, as implementation of precautionary measures is arranged by agreement reached with the beneficiaries and their representatives. In this regard, the Commission stresses the progress reported in the implementation of precautionary measure PM 104-12/Argentina, concerning individuals being held at “Prison units 46, 47, and 48 of the Buenos Aires Province Penitentiary Services.” In the meeting, the importance of the precautionary measures having been granted was noted; the measures have led to the establishment of a dialogue process—which includes the petitioners, nongovernmental organizations, and various State institutions—to address the structural problems that continue, to this day, to jeopardize the lives and personal integrity of prisoners in those facilities.
In the context of the working meetings on Colombia, the IACHR received information on various challenges involved in advancing the investigations into the facts that led to the adoption of precautionary measures to protect communities of African descent and an organization of human rights defenders. On that point, the Commission would like to call to mind that the absence or potential ineffectiveness of investigations can, over time, contribute to perpetuating serious, urgent situations that pose a risk of irreparable harm to individuals. Under these circumstances, States have an obligation to investigate the events that warranted the granting of precautionary measures in order to eliminate the risk to the beneficiaries of the measures.
Reprisals Against Individuals who Participate in Hearings and Working Meetings
The Inter-American Commission expresses its deepest concern over the fact that some of the individuals who appear at IACHR hearings and working meetings have been subject to threats, reprisals and actions to discredit them, on the part of both private individuals and, in some cases, high-level State officials. Specifically, the IACHR received information according to which, after the hearing “Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression in Ecuador,” which took place on March 12, 2013, high authorities from Ecuador discredited the persons and organizations that presented information in such hearing, during the program “Enlace Ciudadano” (Citizen Link) which was broadcast on April 16, and in a TV emmission on April 19. The Inter-American Commission considers unacceptable any type of action a State might undertake that is motivated by the participation or actions of individuals or organizations before inter-American human rights bodies, in the exercise of their rights under the Convention. The Inter-American Commission condemns these acts and reminds the States that Article 63 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure establishes that the States "shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission," and that the States "may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission."
Death Penalty in the Americas
For the first time in its history, the IACHR held a hearing requested by a group of States. The hearing, on the death penalty in the Americas, was requested by Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and the Dominican Republic, and it is part of a regional and international momentum in favor of abolishing the death penalty. The States participating in the hearing 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. They also urged States to comply with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR for individuals sentenced to death, and to ratify the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty. They also stressed the importance of the IACHR report The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition. The Inter-American Commission welcomes this type of initiative undertaken by the States and reiterates its commitment to the gradual elimination of the death penalty in the inter-American system.
Extrajudicial Executions and Forced Disappearances
The Commission received alarming information about forced disappearances in the Americas. Civil society organizations from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru presented information indicating that cases of forced disappearance in the region are invisible, perpetrators are not investigated and punished, and efforts to find individuals who have disappeared are ineffective. With respect to Mexico, the civil society organizations cited a figure recently released by the Mexican government indicating that 26,121 individuals had been reported as disappeared during the previous government. In another hearing, on the Dominican Republic, the Commission received information on alleged extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances, and on the lack of information on the progress and results of investigations. It also received information to the effect that extrajudicial executions in Colombia had increased by 64 percent from 2002 to 2008, and that from August 2010 to August 2012, 85 of these crimes had been reported. The organizations participating in the hearing suggested that these executions constitute crimes against humanity, but they are not investigated as such.
The Commission expresses its deep concern over the information it received indicating that the phenomenon of forced disappearances persists today and that it remains invisible. This stems from the absence or ineffectiveness of State public policies in this area, and in some cases from denial that the problem exists. Of particular concern to the Commission is the ineffectiveness of searches for disappeared persons and the impunity with which most of these cases remain. The IACHR urges the States to adopt urgent measures to investigate and punish these grave crimes, as well as to implement effective public policies to prevent them.
In these sessions, the Commission continued to receive troubling information about citizen security in the region. Specifically, it received information indicating that El Salvador has a homicide rate of 71 per 100,000 inhabitants. With respect to the Dominican Republic, the Commission received information about alleged excesses committed by members of the police, through the application of an “iron fist” policy. According to civil society organizations, deaths perpetrated by law enforcement rose to 12 percent of all violent deaths last year, and were the third cause of death in the country in the past five years. The Commission was also informed that violence is on the rise in Honduras, with an average of two massacres per day and a homicide rate of 86 persons per 100,000. The organizations also indicated that civilian deaths at the hands of police and members of the military had gone up in Honduras, and that murders of women had increased by nearly 250 percent between 2005 and 2012. They also reported that attacks are continuing on campesino groups in Bajo Aguán that are defending the area’s natural resources. In terms of Guatemala, the number of violent deaths continues to be high, though it declined in 2012, to 5,155 victims. The civil society organizations said military forces were substituting for police, or acting in conjunction with them, to carry out tasks related to citizen security. Finally, with regard to Mexico, the Commission received information about human rights challenges stemming from increased participation of the armed forces in citizen security. From December 2006 to November 30, 2012, the National Human Rights Commission reportedly received 7,441 complaints related to human rights abuses by the armed forces.
The Inter-American Commission has repeatedly expressed its concern over the participation of the armed forces in professional tasks that, by their nature, belong exclusively to the police. It has also indicated that, given that the armed forces lack proper training for control of citizen security, it is up to a civilian police force, one that is efficient and respectful of human rights, to combat insecurity, crime, and violence in the country.
Also, worrisome information was received on the existance of legislation in Peru that allows agreements between the Director of the Civil National Police and private companies. These agreeements allow the police to work in the security of those companies, in exchange for a salary from it.
Justice for Grave Human Rights Violations from the Past
The IACHR considers it a positive development that for the first time in Haiti’s history, Jean-Claude Duvalier has appeared before a court in connection with the grave human rights violations perpetrated during his regime (1971-1986), and that for the first time, victims have had an opportunity to testify in court and be recognized as parties in the judicial proceeding. The IACHR encourages the State of Haiti to provide any necessary support for the national courts to be able to carry out their functions independently and impartially, with maximum respect for the guarantees of due process.
Further, the IACHR views as an important development the recent prosecution of former general and former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and former general José Mauricio Rodríguez, his onetime chief of military intelligence, for genocide and crimes against humanity. This is the first genocide trial to be brought in Guatemala. The IACHR encourages the State to provide adequate security guarantees to the witnesses, judicial authorities, prosecutors, other justice operators, and the relatives of the victims, and to use all measures at its disposal to handle the case diligently. In addition, the IACHR notes that the Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of a military commissioner and four former patrolmen in the Plan de Sánchez Massacre, as well as the judgment against former military man Pedro Pimentel Ríos in the case of the Dos Erres Massacre. The Commission recognizes the work of Guatemala’s Prosecutor General; since taking office in December 2010, she has seen that public officials are prosecuted for their participation in grave human rights violations.
In terms of Uruguay, the IACHR is deeply concerned about the setback represented by the Supreme Court decisions of February 22 and March 8, 2013, which found proceedings stemming from Law 18.831 to be unconstitutional. The 2011 law aimed to reestablish the State’s ability to prosecute crimes of State terrorism committed until March 1, 1985, and it defined them as crimes against humanity, in accordance with the international treaties to which Uruguay is a party. The Commission views with deep concern the considerations expressed in the decision regarding statutory limitations in criminal law. These considerations constitute a grave risk to the rights to truth, justice, and reparation to which victims of the dictatorship are entitled, and openly disregard the combined case law of the bodies of the inter-American human rights system to the effect that legal concepts such as statutory limitations do not apply to grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This decision shows that there is no legal certainty whatsoever in Uruguay concerning the elimination of the effects of the Expiry Law of the Punitive Powers of the State as a mechanism of impunity for the grave crimes committed during the dictatorship.
Situation of Human Rights Defenders
During the hearings held in the 147th sessions, the Commission was informed about murders, threats, and acts of harassment that continue to be carried out against human rights defenders, as well as acts of violence at protest demonstrations and the criminalization of human rights activities. The IACHR also continued to receive information about States’ failure to adopt effective protection measures for human rights defenders who are in situations of serious risk, and the lack of effective implementation of the precautionary or provisional measures handed down by the bodies in the inter-American human rights system.
With regard to the right to life, the Commission was informed about murders of human rights defenders in several countries. Specifically, the IACHR continued to receive information about the murders of Benjamín Lezcano, a leader of the farmworkers organization Coordinadora Campesina “Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia,” and Vidal Vega, a leader of the Campesinos sin Tierra (Landless Peasants) movement and president of the Comisión de Familiares de Víctimas de la massacre de Curuguaty (Commitee of Relatives of Victims of the Curuguaty Massacre), both of whom were killed in Paraguay. The IACHR issued press releases about their murders on February 28, 2013, and December 4, 2012, respectively. In addition, the IACHR received information about the murder of the indigenous leader Yukpa Sabino Romero, who was killed on his way to an election event in the state of Zulia, in Venezuela, and who had undertaken an important struggle to defend the collective rights of the Yukpa people. The IACHR calls to mind that it is the State’s obligation to actively investigate crimes of this nature and to punish those responsible. Moreover, the Commission urges the States to take all necessary measures to guarantee and protect the rights to life, integrity, and security of human rights defenders, particularly groups of defenders facing special risks, such as campesino and indigenous leaders.
During the hearings, the IACHR also received information concerning several States in which acts of violence have reportedly continued to occur in the context of protest demonstrations. The IACHR received information indicating that States such as Peru were using emergency declarations in the areas where there were protests, authorizing the intervention of the armed forces and causing violations of the protestors’ rights through an abusive use of force. On this point, the IACHR reiterates that states of exception or states of emergency should be applied only under exceptional circumstances, in case of war, public danger, or some other emergency that threatens the independence or security of the State. However serious the situation of public order, including a country’s crime level, it does not constitute a military threat to State sovereignty. Thus, controlling disturbances that may arise in a country due to protest demonstrations should be a task for the police, whose function is geared toward public security, not State security.
The IACHR continued to receive information about the increase in indirect measures that seek to limit the exercise of the right to defend human rights in several countries, through the use of criminal law to criminalize human rights defenders by charging them with such offenses as “incitement to rebellion,” “terrorism” or “sabotage,” and “expressing approval of crime.” In addition, the IACHR received troubling information about actions taken to discredit or disparage human rights defenders or to criminalize work they are doing in defense of the environment, women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of LGBTI persons.
The IACHR is particularly concerned about information it received indicating that public officials, acting “in their capacity as private individuals,” are bringing criminal actions for “slander” or “defamation” against human rights defenders, in retaliation for the legal actions that the defenders, in the course of their work, have brought against the institutions to which these officials belong or against the individuals in their official capacity.
On another matter, the IACHR continued to receive information on obstacles impeding the independence and impartiality of justice operators in the region. With respect to Guatemala, civil society organizations provided information about obstacles faced by some judges, prosecutors, and public defenders who are handling cases involving serious human rights violations and who have received written threats or have been stalked. The IACHR stresses the importance that the State of Guatemala offer security guarantees so that justice operators can continue their work in conditions of independence and impartiality, in order that the State can continue to move forward in ascertaining the truth and punishing those responsible for the grave violations committed during the internal armed conflict.
Finally, the Commission continued to receive information on countries such as Colombia and Mexico about the obstacles that human rights defenders face in gaining access to specific protection measures when they are at risk, as well as on States’ failure to effectively investigate threats and attacks. The IACHR reiterates that the best way to protect human rights defenders is to effectively and seriously investigate the sources of risk and punish those responsible for acts of aggression and attacks. The IACHR reiterates that in all cases, protection measures should always be determined in consultation with the beneficiaries.
Situation of Persons of African Descent
During this period of sessions the Commission held two hearings relating to Afro-descendant women, on Brazil and Colombia.
According to information received by the Commission, women of African descent comprise the majority of domestic workers in Brazil. This low economic status in combination with race and gender considerations exposes Afro-Brazilian women to multiple areas of structural discrimination. The petitioners alleged that this has led to inadequate human rights protection in areas such as labor rights. The Commission was also told that in the area of health, black women in Brazil have the highest rate of maternal death, as a result of complications during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. The Commission also received information on the high incidence of child labor in the Afro-descendant population. Acknowledging that the State has taken public policy steps to address this situation, the Commission, however, remains concerned that the State’s policies and programs do not sufficiently focus on the underlying issues of structural racism. In this regard, the Commission urged the State to take not only remedial, but preventative steps to reduce the multiple vulnerabilities of Afro-descendant women.
In another hearing, the Commission received information on human rights abuses being suffered by Afro-Colombian women, such as murder, sexual violence, physical torture, dismemberment, sexual slavery, enforced disappearances, death threats to women and their families, particularly their children, expropriation, and deterritorialization, among others. These abuses are reportedly occurring primarily within the context of violence on the part of illegal armed groups, forced displacement, and political violence. The petitioners also mentioned threats against women who reported cases of sexual violence seeking justice. The IACHR welcomes the State’s commitment to address the situation that confronts Afro-Colombian women, and its willingness to engage with affected Afro-Colombian communities, with a view to implementing a multifaceted plan of remedial action. However, the Commission continues to be concerned about the huge disparities between the policy intention of the State and the concrete realities being faced by Afro-descendant women. With reference to the onsite visit to Colombia in December 2012, the Commission urges the State to take a more urgent approach in grappling with the structural and historic inequities that continue to beset Afro-Colombians in general, and Afro-Colombian women in particular.
Situation of Indigenous Peoples
During the sessions, the IACHR continued to receive troubling information about the situation of many indigenous peoples in various countries of the Americas, such as Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru.
Based on the information it received, the IACHR expresses its deep concern over the continuing violation and disregard of the territorial rights of indigenous peoples in several countries of the region. This comes despite the fact that there are inter-American standards specifying that OAS Member States have the obligation to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands and natural resources are respected and guaranteed. This situation continues to lead to situations of violence and land dispossession.
In particular, the IACHR received troubling information about the serious situation facing the Rarámuri and Tepehuán peoples in the Sierra Tarahumara in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, having to do with their lack of title to their ancestral territories; the systematic dispossession they reportedly suffer at the hands of third parties due to their lack of protection and their semi-nomadic way of life; and the development of extractive, logging, and tourism projects without any process of prior, free, and informed consultation being carried out. Because of this, according to information provided by the traditional indigenous authorities, the Rarámuri and Tepehuán peoples live in conditions of extreme poverty and are having serious problems due to contamination of their water sources and shortages of water and food, added to which is their lack of access to justice and to culturally appropriate health and education services. While the IACHR appreciates the information presented by the State of Mexico on existing programs designed to respond to food needs, in view of the seriousness of the situation faced by the Rarámuri and Tepehuán peoples, the Commission calls on the State to deploy efforts that would make it possible to effectively guarantee their rights through comprehensive measures adopted in agreement with these indigenous peoples.
Other situations of utmost concern to the IACHR include the illegal occupation of more than one third—in some cases, reportedly close to 90 percent—of the legally recognized territories of indigenous peoples in Costa Rica; the apparent flaws in the process of consultation with the indigenous peoples who live in the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) in Bolivia concerning the construction of the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway; and the sale of close to 25,000 hectares of Ayoreo ancestral territory that belong to the Cuyabia indigenous community and communities living in voluntary isolation in Paraguay, a sale reportedly made by the Paraguayan Indigenous Institute (INDI) to benefit a private individual. The IACHR welcomes the steps being carried out by the Paraguay Supreme Court to investigate and punish these actions.
On another matter, the IACHR was informed about ongoing, serious violations of the right to life and to the physical and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples, communities, and persons in Colombia. For example, between 2009 and 2012, 348 indigenous persons were reported to have been murdered and some 27,000 displaced. The Commission reiterates its deep concern, which it expressed during its onsite visit to Colombia in December 2012, about the fact that many indigenous peoples in Colombia are in the process of disappearing. According to the information received, in addition to the 35 indigenous peoples that the Constitutional Court identified (in its Judicial Decree 004 of 2009) as being in danger of physical and cultural extinction, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) reported that 31 indigenous peoples, representing more than 62 percent of those that exist in Colombia, have populations of fewer than 500 persons. According to the information presented, in the ancestral territories of these indigenous peoples, there are links between armed activity, both legal and illegal, and the presence of extractive industries, which is creating situations in which people are being forcibly displaced and uprooted from their territories. The IACHR welcomes the information provided by the State on progress being made in working with the indigenous authorities to develop Safeguard Plans. Nevertheless, it calls on the State to adopt effective measures that will make it possible to overcome the risk that these indigenous peoples will disappear, bearing in mind that the existence of development and investment projects or extractive concessions does not help the situation; to the contrary, it increases the risk to their physical and cultural survival.
Moreover, the IACHR continued to receive information about the suppression of protests and public demonstrations that are carried out by leaders, authorities, and members of indigenous peoples in the defense of their rights. Specifically, the Commission was informed about the prosecution of 140 indigenous leaders in the department of Cauca, Colombia, as well as about retaliatory actions or threats against indigenous leaders in countries such as Costa Rica and Guatemala.
The Office of the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also appreciates the information provided at the hearing on sexual orientation and ancestral diversity among indigenous peoples, as this will help enrich its work on the indigenous worldview.
The IACHR received extremely troubling information about serious challenges being faced by the National Compensation Program in Guatemala, which was created in 2003 to implement the compensation of victims of the internal armed conflict, in compliance with the commitments included in the Peace Accords of December 29, 1996. In view of the information it received, the IACHR calls on the State of Guatemala to take the necessary steps to ensure that this program can continue, as well as to ensure the effective implementation of measures to guarantee that victims of the armed conflict receive comprehensive reparation that is culturally and gender-appropriate.
Situation of Children and Adolescents
The Commission was informed about the practice that currently exists in some U.S. states of incarcerating minors under 18 years of age in adult prisons, with no effective separation between the groups. The organizations at the hearing indicated that there are between 100,000 and 250,000 children who are tried as adults and incarcerated in adult prisons; it is impossible to be certain about the exact number given the lack of centralized information. The petitioners said that it is up to the federated states to determine the age of criminal responsibility, and in some cases that can begin at 7 or 12 years of age. At least 25 of the U.S. federated states allow children to be tried and convicted as adults, and to serve their sentences in adult correctional facilities. This practice places the children at permanent, serious risk of being subject to physical abuse by adult inmates. In addition, the Commission was informed about the apparent criminalization of conduct that would not be considered a crime if it were committed by an adult. Information and testimony presented during the hearing indicated that children in adult institutions are sexually assaulted, punished with solitary confinement, transferred to facilities far away from their families, and punished with food restrictions. The organizations emphasized that juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons do not have access to the services they need for their stage of development, such as educational programs, psychological care, health services, and adequate nutrition. In addition, the levels of suicides and cases of self-wounding are reported to be high. The Commission was informed that adult facilities do not have rehabilitation programs that promote the social reintegration of children, and that the levels of recidivism among these children are higher when compared with those of children held in specialized juvenile facilities. The petitioners indicated, as well, that the juvenile offenders are at risk of physical abuse, arbitrary treatment, and the possibility of being subjected to solitary confinement, as occurs in some prisons in Michigan. For its part, the State indicated that, in fact, most of the federated states incarcerate children with adults and that there are disturbing situations involving violations of the physical integrity of children in adult prisons.
With respect to this situation, the IACHR underscores emphatically that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights specifies that juveniles who are prosecuted or convicted should be segregated from adults and accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status. This provision is binding upon the United States of America, as it is a State party to that treaty. The Commission reiterates that under international human rights law, a “child” is anyone under 18 years of age, and that the effective separation of children from adults in correctional facilities is a basic, essential measure which is grounded in treaty law and with which States must comply. The Commission is aware that, based on the political structure of the United States, states have the authority to organize their own justice systems. However, it is not valid to appeal to this circumstance to justify the continuation of a situation that is so serious and that runs contrary to binding obligations taken on by the State. The IACHR reiterates that completely abolishing the practice of incarcerating children and adults in the same facility is an imperative of international law. In this regard, the Commission recognizes the progressive steps forward promoted by government agencies at the federal level, but it cautions that these are insufficient and urges the State to identify and urgently implement a federal mechanism that would classify anyone under the age of 18 years as a child, to keep that person from being tried as an adult or incarcerated with adults.
In the hearing on human rights and solitary confinement in the Americas, Juan Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, recalled that international law prohibits the use of solitary confinement on children, as by definition it constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The Rapporteur presented very disturbing information about how this measure is applied to children in different countries of the region to “soften them up,” “protect” them, or provide “corrective discipline.” The IACHR urges the States to absolutely prohibit the placement of children in solitary confinement.
On another subject, the organizations participating in the regional hearing on the rights of children in the context of migration in the Americas pointed out that migrant children are especially vulnerable at every step of the process—before they leave their country of origin, during the journey, and once they reach their destination. The organizations provided information about the numerous types of abuse children suffer in transit at the hands of organized crime and also on the part of State authorities. Problems include the lack of adequate attention to the needs of children in temporary detention stations for migrants, including the lack of legal advice and representation, the lack of psychological care in the process of reporting assaults, and the deportation of children with no consideration given to their family relationships or their best interests. In addition, it was reported that in countries of origin or transit, such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico, there is a lack of migrant centers that specialize in care of children; an almost total lack of care for children who are deported; and the tendency to deport unaccompanied children without proper guarantees. It was reported that in the United States, the destination country, there is a failure to properly evaluate the grounds for granting asylum to children who report having been threatened by gangs or “maras” in their countries of origin; this has led to the repatriation of children, some of whom were later murdered. In addition, information was provided on the expulsion of migrant parents without proper safeguards to protect children and their best interests. The organizations indicated, for example, that there were cases in which the parents were expelled from the country with no warning while their children were at school, and situations in which the parents are detained and expelled, leaving children alone or in care institutions. In this regard, they underscored the urgent need to work with children who have been repatriated, who in many cases end up in the hands of criminal gangs, which fill the void caused by the lack of family connections or adequate public institutions that could help them reintegrate into society. The IACHR noted the importance of having this regional information, and announced that it will monitor this situation closely. The Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child is working on a report on children’s rights and organized crime.
The organizations that participated in the hearing on school-based violence against children in the Americas indicated that the region has a high prevalence of different types and manifestations of school-based violence. These have not been properly identified by the States and therefore the States do not have the tools they need to address them. The IACHR pointed to the seriousness and complexity of the problem of violence in schools, and called to mind the State’s obligation to prevent all types of violence and to ensure children’s right to a life free of violence, taking into consideration the opinion and involvement of the children themselves.
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
A number of the thematic hearings on various subjects held during these sessions revealed significant dimensions of economic, social, and cultural rights which are causes for deep concern. For example, in hearings on human rights and criminalization of abortion in South America, information was received that there is a troubling pattern of rights to justice and due process intersecting with economic rights to health and livelihood. This is because a high percentage of the women and young girls who turn to illegal abortions or who come into conflict with the law accused of violating abortion laws was as a result of poverty and the ineffective access to basic rights to health.
The Commission also heard that indigenous peoples in the LGBTI community were not only discriminated against, but also did not have adequate treatment or medical services for HIV.
In addition, information was received from hearings underscoring established linkages between discrimination and unequal treatment of certain communities in situation of vulnerability and their ability to enjoy economic and social rights, such as the right to work, to health, and the right to land. On Afro-descendants in Brazil and Colombia, for example, the hearings demonstrated intersections between their civil and political rights to be free from discrimination and economic and social rights. Similar parallels were observed in relation to indigenous peoples and women generally. In many instances these violations are exacerbated by situations of armed conflict and prioritization of extractive industries.
The Commission also received information regarding Paraguay, indicating that numerous public officials were dismissed from their duties without just cause, being that some officials were pregnant or in breastfeeding situation. Also, reference was made to deterioration in government health services. Regarding the situation of restavek in Haiti, the Commission received information indicating that there would be about 300,000 children between 5 and 17 years, doing housework in slave conditions. In this regard, it was suggested that they work all day, they would be in a situation of malnutrition, without access to education, and that in some situations would be victims of sexual exploitation. Meanwhile, state representatives reported the implementation of a series of programs on poverty.
In addition, information was received regarding migrant workers in United States under the status of an H-2 visa, indicating they would be in inadequate working conditions, without access to health care and decent housing conditions.
During these sessions, the Commission received troubling information about the situation of economic and social rights in Central America. With respect to Honduras, the organizations participating in the hearing reported that wage inequality among female and male workers in the same industry is 23.4 percent, and that many people work 12-hour days without extra pay. The Commission was also informed that Guatemala, where only 2 percent of the population owns land, ranks at number 116 on the United Nations human development index. The minimum wage reportedly does not cover even 9 percent of the basic food basket for a family and there is a 58 percent difference between men’s and women’s wages. The country ranks fourth in the world in the index of chronic malnutrition, with the highest percentage in the areas where indigenous populations live. With respect to El Salvador, the civil society organizations indicated that, out of a total 1,580,199 households in the country, 576,511 live in poverty, and 176,493 of these households live in extreme poverty. Information was also presented about dispossession, environmental damage, and negative health impacts to the population due to the construction of hydroelectric projects in El Salvador. As to wage inequality between men and women, the petitioners indicated that the difference in El Salvador is 18 percent for similar employees within the same industry.
Situation of Women
Throughout this period of sessions, the Inter-American Commission received information of concern in the context of various hearings related to different facets of the protection of the rights of women throughout the Americas. Information was provided linked to the situation of risk related to the human rights of some of the most marginalized groups of women in the hemisphere; the threats faced by women who work in the defense of human rights; legal and practical obstacles linked to the guarantee of women’s sexual and reproductive rights; and the prevailing impunity and obstacles to access justice that women still face when they are victims of physical, psychological, and sexual violence.
The Commission is very alarmed about the information received in the context of multiple hearings verifying the persistently widespread nature of violence against women in the Americas. The Commission received information regarding the prevalence of violence against women and girls in Nicaragua, including the growth of the problem of trafficking; forms of sexual violence perpetrated against women in the framework of the armed conflict in Colombia, and how the problem of violence affects Afro-descendent women in general; the alarming numbers of murders of women in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and the different forms of sexual violence suffered by women in Haiti. The Commission also received information pertaining to the high rates of disappearances and murders of aboriginal women and girls throughout Canada; the historical layers of ethnic, racial, and sex discrimination that disproportionately expose aboriginal women and girls to violence; the social and economic disadvantage of aboriginal women and girls; and failures in the adoption of adequate prevention and protection policies to address these alarming problems.
The Commission also received detailed information from the States in question identifying noteworthy efforts in the adoption of legislation, public policies, programs, and services to address the pernicious nature of the problem of violence against women, in all its dimensions and forms. Nevertheless, gaps in and shortcomings in the implementation of the current legal and policy frameworks, women’s fear and distrust of State authorities, and social tolerance of the phenomenon of violence against women, continue to challenge women’s access to justice and exacerbate the problem of impunity.
Even though the Commission commends the efforts undertaken by States to address these problems, it underscores their duty to act without delay to prevent, investigate, sanction, and offer reparations for these acts. This entails addressing the different layers and dimensions of the problem of violence against women and its humiliating effect on them; tackling discrimination, poverty, and exclusion as root and sustaining causes of this problem; and adopting a range of measures to ensure that these acts do not remain in impunity when they reach the administrative of justice system. The Commission also stresses that the involvement of women and the civil society organizations they represent in government interventions is key to their effectiveness.
The Commission is particularly concerned with the invisibility of the most marginalized sectors of women in the formulation of legislation, public policies, programs, and services oriented to advance gender equality in the Americas. Information was shared in the context of the hearings about human rights problems suffered by Afro-descendent women in Brazil, including the multiple forms of discrimination suffered by domestic workers, who face racism, poverty, and high rates of maternal mortality. In the case of Colombia, information was shared about the disproportionate impact of the armed conflict in the lives of Afro-descendent women, in particular those displaced, unemployed, and those affected by poverty. The Commission recognizes the efforts advanced by the States to address the specific needs of Afro-descendent women in the realms of legislation and public policies, and promotes the adoption of measures to guarantee their appropriate implementation, incorporating the participation and views of Afro-descendent women, and in consistent dialogue and consultation with them. The Commission also highlights the indivisibility and close interrelationship between the guarantee of women's economic, social, and cultural rights, and those civil and political in nature; factors which States must take into account in the adoption of legislation and public policies designed to address gender equality concerns.
In the same vein, the Commission received information during its 147th sessions about the situation of discrimination and violence faced by lesbian women throughout the Americas in both public and private settings. This is a group of women which is also largely absent from the legislation and policies adopted by States. The Commission was informed of the double discrimination they face on account of their sex and sexual orientation. It was also told that States have been slow to acknowledge the human rights of lesbians and that this has had grave consequences for their rights and duties as parents and the continued use of violence to discipline lesbians for gender non-conformity, especially in family settings. In this sense, the Commission recalls the obligation of States to address violence and discrimination broadly, considering all of their layers, dimensions, forms, and the women victims affected. The Commission reminds States that the principles and obligations contained in the Convention of Belém do Pará are applicable to violence perpetrated against lesbian women.
Lastly, the Commission also was informed of the situation of women deprived of their liberty in Bolivia. The Commission received information related to the serious socioeconomic conditions in the detention centers, including the lack adequate supplies of water, light, and food. These problems are compounded with the lack of policies to guarantee an adequate access to education and work for women in these detention centers. The Commission encourages the State of Bolivia to continue developing an adequate normative and regulatory framework to address these problems, incorporating a gender and human rights perspective.
The Commission also continued to receive information during this period of sessions about acts of violence, threats, harassment, and prosecutions faced by women who work in the defense of human rights throughout the Americas. The Commission is particularly concerned about the situation of women who work in the defense of sexual and reproductive rights, and those working on behalf of women traditionally absent from the public agenda, such as those deprived of liberty. The Commission recalls the obligation of States to organize their state structure to duly respond to violence against women who work in the defense of human rights. The duties of the State include the prevention, investigation and sanction of these responsible, including closely determining the responsibility of any state actors, and addressing the context of discrimination which promotes these acts.
During several hearings throughout this period of sessions, the Inter-American Commission also received information related to the negative impact on women of restrictive laws pertaining to abortion in countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru. The Commission was informed of how these laws contravene a range of women’s rights in the realms of discrimination, equality, life, health, integrity, privacy, and to be free from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.
The Commission received information stressing the link between these restrictive laws and the performance of unsafe and clandestine abortions, leading to high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity. It was also informed of the dilemma faced by women who often have to choose between seeking the health services they need and risking being denounced to the authorities for having committed a crime. The organizations present highlighted the systemic violations to due process guarantees that women face when they are indeed reported to the authorities. The information provided also underscored the pernicious and disproportionate impact of these laws on women who belong to the most vulnerable sectors of the population on account of their poverty, race, ethnicity, age, and educational background.
For example, in the case of El Salvador, the Commission received information in the context of a hearing indicating that between 2000 and 2011 at least 129 women have been processed for the crimes of abortion or for aggravated homicide. Most of these women are young, affected by poverty, have low educational levels, and are marginalized, facing noteworthy challenges in their access to emergency health services. Individual cases were presented in which women who had miscarriages were arrested and deprived of their liberty. More generally, information was provided of convictions of women for aggravated homicide after being denounced by their doctors to the authorities without sufficient elements of proof.
In regards to this very alarming human rights issue, the Commission reiterates the obligation of States to undertake a detailed review of all public laws, standards, practices, and policies whose language or their practical implementation can have a discriminatory impact on women’s access to reproductive health services; their duty to eliminate all de jure and de facto barriers that impede women’s access to the maternal health services they require, such as the criminalization of the same; and to take into account that restrictive laws tend to have a special effect on girls and women who are affected by poverty, have low-levels of education, and live in rural areas. The Commission also underscores the importance of recognizing therapeutic abortion as a specialized health service required by women, the purpose of which is to save the mother’s life when it is at risk owing to a pregnancy. Lastly, the Commission highlights the need to implement human rights training initiatives of doctors and medical personnel offering services related to the maternal health of women, regarding their human rights and specific needs.
The Inter-American Commission would like to conclude recognizing the ongoing efforts adopted by States throughout the Americas to address the different forms of discrimination, violence, and other human rights violations described above. The Inter-American Commission highlights as an example information received in the context of a hearing related to Argentina, about innovative capacity-building programs imparted by the Office of Women of the Supreme Court of Justice, to train different justice officials on gender issues. The Commission encourages States to share information related to these efforts in the context of hearings, and to socialize them with other States throughout the Americas, in order for them to be replicated. This is paramount to successful compliance with the Convention of Belém do Pará, and other regional and international treaties such as the American Convention and CEDAW.
Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty
During these sessions, the Inter-American Commission held two region-wide thematic hearings in the context of the situation of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas: one on holding individuals in solitary confinement and the other on the relationship between judicial independence and the use of pretrial detention. In addition, hearings were held on the situation of children incarcerated with adults in the United States and the situation of persons deprived of liberty in Cuba and at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo.
In the hearing on the solitary confinement of inmates, Juan Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, defined this practice as the physical and social isolation of individuals who remain confined to their cells between 22 and 24 hours a day. He indicated that when this form of confinement lasts more than 15 days, the harmful psychological effects tend to manifest themselves, and these can be irreversible. The symptoms of prolonged isolation can include anxiety, depression, rage, cognitive disorders, distortions of perception, paranoia and psychosis, and self-inflicted wounds. The Rapporteur reported that despite the proven harmful effects, the prolonged isolation of inmates is a widespread practice in many countries of the Americas, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the United States, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. With respect to the situation in the United States, the Commission was informed that approximately 80,000 inmates are currently held in solitary confinement, sometimes known by different names. On average, at least 30 percent of individuals held in solitary confinement in the United States have mental illnesses. The IACHR agrees with the Rapporteur and emphasizes that, based on the fact that the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment may not be abrogated and is universal, the OAS Member States must adopt strong, concrete measures to eliminate the use of prolonged or indefinite isolation under all circumstances, and stresses that this practice may never constitute a legitimate instrument in the hands of the State. Moreover, the practice of solitary confinement must never be applied to juveniles or to persons with mental disabilities. In another hearing, the IACHR received information about the situation of children incarcerated with adults in the United States; this subject is addressed in the section on the rights of children.
On another subject, in the hearing on pretrial detention and judicial independence in the Americas, it was suggested to the IACHR that judges responsible for deciding whether to hold individuals under criminal investigation in preventive custody tend to come under pressure from other State authorities—from the judiciary itself, through disciplinary processes or other mechanisms tied to job stability, as well as from the media. The lack of conditions that would guarantee and protect the judicial independence of judges responsible for handing down pretrial detention measures has a serious impact on respect for basic rights such as the presumption of innocence, due process, and the right to personal liberty for a significant and growing number of people in custody in the Americas. The IACHR believes that the excessive use of pretrial detention runs contrary to the very essence of the democratic rule of law.
In the hearing on the situation of persons deprived of liberty in Cuba, it was indicated that this country has one of the highest incarceration rates in the region, with an average of 531 individuals in custody for every 100,000 inhabitants, which adds up to nearly 60,000 inmates distributed across the country’s more than 250 prisons. According to information provided to the IACHR, individuals who are incarcerated in Cuba are constantly subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Many are physically beaten, hung up or made to hold uncomfortable positions, placed in prolonged isolation in punishment cells in sub-human conditions, deprived of water and food as a method of punishment, or transferred deliberately to places far from home. Prisoners are also subjected to arbitrary cancellation or postponement of visits; lack of basic medical attention and degrading treatment on the part of medical personnel; provision of rotting food; theft of food by prison authorities; lack of potable water or water for washing; serious overcrowding in some prisons; isolation, psychological pressure, and deprivation of water for prisoners who decide to go on hunger strikes; and the application of different methods of torture during interrogations. This widespread situation of repression, aggression, and arbitrary treatment of prisoners, along with the lack of judicial protection and complaint mechanisms, has led to frequent suicides among prisoners and self-inflicted attacks including mutilations, castrations, wounds, and the self-injection of feces. The State of Cuba, for its part, has opted to maintain its policy of refusing to provide information related to the human rights situation in the country.
In the hearing on the situation of detainees at the Guantánamo Naval Base, the Inter-American Commission received specialized information on the serious psychological and physical damage inmates suffer due to the high degree of uncertainty about their future. In fact, the lack of certainty about whether they may eventually be released or transferred, after more than a decade of indefinite detention—in which the government has refrained from releasing even those inmates who have been authorized to be transferred because they do not represent a threat to national security—is a constant source of anxiety, stress, and depression among the Guantánamo detainees. These symptoms, as it has been documented, cannot be properly treated at that prison. These disorders have also produced physiological effects in inmates, including cardiovascular problems, asthma, and diabetes. They have also led to hundreds of suicide attempts, self-wounding, and hunger strikes, which continue to this day. The State, for its part, reiterated its intention to close the prison at the Guantánamo Naval Base; however, it maintained its position of justifying the indefinite detention of the Guantánamo prisoners, especially those of Yemeni nationality, and arguing that military commissions are appropriate.
The Commission again urges the United States to close the Guantánamo Bay facilities without delay and proceed to prosecute or release the detainees. In addition, the IACHR reiterates that the United States must determine the legality of the deprivation of liberty of the persons being held there; observe the principle of non-refoulement; investigate and effectively punish acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment committed against the detainees; and allow the Inter-American Commission and other international human rights bodies to carry out monitoring visits to the detention facilities at the Guantánamo Naval Base. By the same token, the Commission reaffirms that any deprivation of liberty must strictly comply with the law that authorized it, with international human rights law, and, when applicable, with international humanitarian law. Therefore, the IACHR reiterates that, even under extraordinary circumstances, when the detention of persons who have not been charged is prolonged beyond a reasonable time period, this constitutes a serious violation of the right to humane treatment.
In a hearing on the human rights situation of women deprived of liberty in Bolivia, the petitioning organizations indicated that 80 percent of female inmates have been indicted; that is, they are being held in pretrial custody. This is due, the petitioners said, to structural weaknesses in the administration of justice, the shortage of public defenders, and the obstacles that hamper access to substantive measures contemplated under the law. The petitioners also pointed out other troubling situations, such as the lack of effective separation of men and women in mixed prisons, and the lack of gynecological and obstetric medical care in women’s prisons. The Inter-American Commission takes note of the legislative measures mentioned by the State, including the recent Prison Rules of Procedure, and urges the State to put into practice the rights, provisions, and policies spelled out in the Constitution and other laws and regulations in effect. The State, for its part, recognized the need to adopt measures for judicial reform, which are in the process of being studied.
In addition, the Commission was informed that the prison population in Venezuela is now up to 48,262 individuals, nearly 70 percent of whom do not have a final judgment. Despite the increase in its prison population, the Venezuelan prison system’s housing capacity remains at 16,539 slots, which means overcrowding is at a critical 192 percent. The Commission also learned that in 2012, 591 people were killed and 1,132 injured in Venezuelan prisons. The rate of homicides in prisons is 124 for every 10,000 inmates.
Situation of Migrants, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Internally Displaced Persons
In a hearing on statelessness and human rights in the Americas, the Commission received information on a series of situations in which individuals and groups are stateless or at risk of becoming so in the countries where they were born or where they currently live. Exact information about the number of stateless persons in the Americas is unavailable, since most countries in the region have not implemented procedures to determine statelessness. Among the main factors that cause statelessness or create a risk of statelessness in the hemisphere are the application of discriminatory laws and practices; legal gaps in nationality laws; the arbitrary deprivation of nationality; the fact that nationality can be questioned or undetermined; limitations in conferring nationality on children born abroad; vacuums in civil registries and systems for identity documents; and the lack of nationality as a result of State succession and restrictive administrative practices, for example having to do with the issuing of documents establishing nationality. The IACHR welcomes the recommendations on preventing and reducing statelessness offered by the organizations that requested the hearing. The Commission would especially like to reaffirm the need for those OAS Member States that have not yet done so to ratify the American Convention on Human Rights, the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The Commission also urges the OAS Member States to adopt any measures that may be necessary so that their nationality laws guarantee the right of all persons under their jurisdiction to have a nationality and to implement procedures to determine statelessness. It is also important to note that civil registration is a crucial step to prevent and reduce situations that lead to statelessness or to the risk of statelessness in the Americas.
The Commission received information on the part of nearly 40 Dominican and international civil society organizations on ongoing actions that undermine the right to nationality of Dominican persons of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, as well as on the discrimination they have suffered for decades. The organizations called attention to the statement made by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in March 2013, in its concluding observations on the Dominican Republic, in which it expressed concern over the refusal of the Dominican authorities to issue duplicates of birth certificates, identity documents, and passports to Dominicans of Haitian descent; the fact that it has been impossible for young people who turned 18 as of 2007 to have access to an identity document, due to the retroactive enforcement of Migration Law No. 285-04; and the refusal to issue birth certificates to children of Dominicans of Haitian descent. According to CERD, these situations lead to situations of statelessness. In addition, these situations leave children completely vulnerable. The organizations also reported on repressive actions that had been taken the night before the IACHR hearing on the right to nationality of Dominicans of Haitian origin in the Dominican Republic. These actions were reportedly taken against a group of young people from the organization Movimiento Reconoci.do, who were demonstrating peacefully by holding a three-day vigil in front of the Central Electoral Board (JCE). The young people were reportedly detained arbitrarily and later released. This comes on the heels of other instances of repression and harassment against those who claim their right to be recognized as Dominican nationals. Injunctions for protection (amparo) had been filed in response to the earlier incidents, for which the judiciary had issued contradictory rulings. In the cases in which the decisions have been favorable and the courts have ordered documents to be issued to those affected, the JCE has failed to comply with the decisions. For its part, the Dominican State informed the Commission that it was not in agreement with the IACHR hearing having been convened, given that this was the third hearing on this topic in recent years and the subject had already been widely discussed. As to the withholding of birth certificates and the failure to issue identity documents, the State’s representative stated that this was due to certain irregularities that had existed in the past in its civil registry system and that it was also important to take into account that, under international law, States have discretion in matters pertaining to migration issues and the granting of nationality. As for the failure to implement amparo rulings favorable to the interests of the plaintiffs, the State held that the JCE had not disobeyed the court but had appealed the cases to higher courts, which had not yet issued rulings. Lastly, the civil society organizations asked the Commission to carry out an onsite visit to the Dominican Republic, and the State reiterated the invitation it had made to the Commission to carry out the visit.
With regard to measures on human trafficking in the United States, the State asserted that significant progress has been made in recent years. In particular, it indicated that the approval of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 launched a new era in terms of enforcing human trafficking laws and providing services to victims. However, the petitioners indicated that despite this progress, there are serious problems related to prevention, protection, and prosecution. The hearing received specific information on the trafficking of workers by labor recruitment agencies using visas that are issued to work in the United States; the lack of prosecution of cases in which trafficking of persons is done through work visas; the impact that implementation of current immigration legislation in the United States has on victims of human trafficking; restitution for victims of trafficking; and anti-trafficking initiatives by the State. The State delegation noted that the government’s annual report on trafficking in persons has made it possible to better understand the issue, and talked about efforts the State has made through various agencies to prosecute cases of human trafficking.
The IACHR received troubling information on a growing number of abuses said to be suffered by migrant workers who are participating in the H-2 guest worker program in the United States. According to the organizations, more than 100,000 migrant workers from around the world work in the United States every year in unskilled, low-wage jobs. Under the H-2 program, U.S. employers recruit these migrants for temporary work in agriculture, forestry, construction, and other similar industries. Workers are recruited from 58 countries, but the vast majority of them come from Mexico. The organizations reported that recruited workers are illegally charged fees, extended high-interest loans, and given false information on the terms of their hiring. The petitioners also provided information on the economic harm caused by recruitment fraud, on obstacles related to access to attorneys, and on human trafficking that leads to abusive recruitment practices. The organizations also offered recommendations on how to reform the H-2 program. They recommended legislative and administrative measures they said the government and its agencies in charge of the program should adopt to put an end to these problems.
Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Persons
During this period of sessions the Commission held three important and landmark regional hearings: the human rights situation of lesbian women; the human rights situation of intersex persons; and the human rights situation of lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, and intersex persons of diverse ancestry. In addition, it received information on the human rights situation of LGBTI persons in Colombia and Honduras. The IACHR acknowledges the developments in public policy and legislation to advance human rights for these persons in Colombia and Honduras, respectively, and encourages these States to continue strengthening their frameworks to enhance protection of the rights of these persons. However, the Commission is concerned about the situation of LGTBI human rights defenders in both countries, and calls on the States of Colombia and Honduras to conduct appropriate investigations on acts of violence and discrimination against LGTBI human rights defenders, and adopt effective measures to respect and guarantee their human rights.
The IACHR heard from a large group of organizations working on the rights of lesbian women about the systematic violation of their human rights, which stem from both their gender and sexual orientation. The IACHR received troubling information on diverse forms of violence committed by State agents and third parties aimed at punishing them. In particular, the Commission is concerned about the existence of centers for “curing” homosexuality, in which young and adult lesbian women are coerced or forced into these centers and subjected to all forms of violence, including physical and sexual violence. Finally, the IACHR received valuable information on the limitations and undue restrictions on custody of children and, in general, on the social prejudices linked to the sexual orientation of lesbian women that question and threaten their roles as mothers. Also, the children of lesbian women are often stigmatized and subjected to various forms of discrimination and violence. The IACHR calls on OAS Member States to adopt all measures to respect and guarantee the right of lesbian women to be free from violence and discrimination, whether committed in the private or public spheres.
Also, during the period of sessions, the IACHR convened of its own accord a hearing on the human rights situation of intersex persons in the Americas. The IACHR is concerned about the information it received regarding systematic and generalized human rights violations that intersex persons are subjected to, because their bodies differ from the standard female and male bodies. Intersex children are subjected to all types of medical interventions, without their informed consent or that of their parents, most of the time irreversible in nature, aimed at “normalizing” their genitals, in the attempt to make them look “more female” or “more male.” These interventions are rarely medically necessary and cause intersex children and adults great harm, including, but not limited to, chronic pain and life-long trauma, genital insensitivity, sterilization, and mental suffering, which is partly caused by the secrecy involving these procedures. The IACHR urges the States to adopt urgent measures to review these medical interventions for persons under 18 years of age, in the light of every person’s right to personal integrity, dignity, privacy, identity, autonomy, access to information, and sexual, reproductive, and health rights.
Finally, the IACHR held a hearing in which it received information on the diverse sexualities of indigenous persons and the human rights violations faced by them. The petitioners presented information on the negative impact of colonization on the ancestral sexualities and spiritualties of indigenous’ peoples. According to the information presented, colonization has resulted in the suppression of non-heteronormative sexualities of indigenous’ peoples, with devastating consequences, such as lack of acceptance, suicide, and self-harm. The petitioners presented troubling information on the current situation of the human rights of indigenous persons who are LGTBI and have diverse ancestral sexualities regarding, for example, protection from violence and lack of access to information on health services. Traditionally, the States have not adequately considered the indigenous’ peoples sexuality, and thus, access to adequate health care and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV prevention by States, has not necessarily been effective. This situation has an aggravated impact in terms of diverse ancestral sexualities. The IACHR calls on OAS Member States to include the specific needs of indigenous peoples with diverse sexualities in their legislations and public policies, and to adopt all measures necessary to protect and guarantee their human rights.
Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression
With regard to the community radio situation in Brazil, the IACHR received up-to-date information on the difficulties that community radio operators face in the country. Along these lines, the organizations that requested the hearing provided information about existing restrictions within the legal framework governing community radio in Brazil; the obstacles that operators of such stations face in obtaining licenses under non-discriminatory conditions; and the use of criminal law to hold accountable individuals who operate community radio stations without a license. For its part, the State indicated that there are various bills on this subject making their way through the National Congress; these are attempting to change some of the restrictions under the current legal framework, including decriminalizing the unlicensed use of the radio spectrum for community operators.
In a hearing on the community radio situation in Guatemala, indigenous organizations expressed their concern over the lack of an adequate legal framework that recognizes community radio stations and ensures they can have access to the electromagnetic spectrum and operate under equal conditions. They expressed their concern over the fact that it is impossible to have community radio stations that enable indigenous peoples to exercise their right to communication, and over the use of criminal law to prosecute those who run these types of community radio stations. They indicate that despite a judgment handed down by the Constitutional Court on March 14, 2012, and despite recommendations from international bodies and the introduction of several legislative initiatives, the legislative assembly has not addressed the legal vacuum that makes it impossible for them to operate radio stations in their respective communities. The State reported that the law in effect allows access to radio frequencies through public auction, under similar conditions for the whole population, and that even though the Constitutional Court urged the legislature to design a specialized legal framework, it did not find the existing law to violate the right to equal protection. The State noted that it has the authority to regulate the use of the radio spectrum in a way that prevents detrimental interference and respects the rights of all persons, and indicated that the legislative assembly is in the process of studying various alternatives in response to the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
In a hearing on freedom of expression in Peru, the IACHR was informed about Legislative Decree No. 1129, which establishes the secret nature of all documentation or information on matters related to security and national defense, as well as the obligation of all individuals to maintain the secrecy of all such information in their possession. In addition, the IACHR received information about legislative bill No. 1464/2012-PE, which would amend the Criminal Code to add the crime of “denialism” (negacionismo) of terrorism-related crimes. The petitioning organizations and representatives of the State disagreed over whether these provisions are compatible with Article 13 of the American Convention.
With regard to Ecuador, the Commission received information on situations that reportedly hamper freedom of expression in that country. Along these lines, the petitioning organizations talked about alleged attacks on journalists and members of the media; the closure of media outlets through administrative and judicial processes; the use of the crime of “operating clandestinely” against radio stations that are in the midst of ongoing administrative processes; the use of judicial proceedings to sanction journalists who reported on matters of public interest; the use by the State of blanket broadcasting to exercise the right of reply; and statements made by public officials to stigmatize journalists. The petitioning organizations talked about the current status of proposals to reform the Organic Comprehensive Criminal Code, which they alleged would expand both the prison sentences for the crime of slandering public officials, as well as the conduct defined as this type of crime. In addition, they reported on the apparent self-censorship that took place during the electoral period, in view of the fact that the new Organic Law on Elections and Political Organizations bans media outlets, during the 45 days of the campaign, from publishing any information that could interpreted as directly or indirectly promoting candidates or electoral ideas. The petitioning organizations expressed concern about provisions in the draft Organic Law on Communication and the draft Organic Law on Telecommunications and Postal Services that could have negative impacts on the exercise of freedom of expression. For its part, the State stressed the importance of everyone’s right to receive information that is true, verified, timely, pluralistic, and in context, as well as the importance of ensuring respect for other rights, such as the right to honor and the right of reply. The State emphasized that it had increased the minimum wage for journalists as of January 2013 and increased the number of media outlets in 2012, by granting more broadcast concessions. Finally, it reported that closures of media outlets in Ecuador are due to their having committed administrative or technical infractions and have nothing to do with their editorial stance, as established under the Radio and Television Broadcasting Law.
In the hearing on freedom of expression in Cuba, held on March 11, 2013, the IACHR received information about multiple detentions, surveillance, attacks, and threats directed against media outlets and journalists. It was also told about criminal sanctions imposed on dissidents or opponents of the government on grounds of expression, specifically the fact that many of them are being held in pretrial detention. Along these lines, the petitioning organizations drew attention to the case of journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who has been in preventive custody since September 16, 2012, awaiting trial on charges of having shown contempt for a public figure (desacato). His detention came after he did an investigation into the deterioration of a donation of medicines at the International Airport and after he reported on a cholera outbreak in the eastern part of the country. According to the information provided, the existence of a legal framework that runs contrary to international standards on freedom of expression, the concentration of media outlets in the hands of the State, and the constant restriction, suppression, and criminalization of critical speech have perpetuated a climate of intimidation that makes it impossible to freely exercise freedom of expression, and have led to significant self-censorship of dissident voices. Moreover, the information received indicates that one of the main barriers people in Cuba face in terms of exercising free expression is their limited access to the Internet. Access is scarce and characterized by low connection speeds and high prices when compared to the average annual salary. The IACHR is concerned in light of the facts that were reported and once again notes that in Cuba there are no guarantees of any kind in terms of exercising the right to freedom of expression.
Other Information Received in the Hearings
Regarding Paraguay, civil society organizations alleged a pattern of violations to human rights, in particular regarding the rights to life, to judicial guarantees, to labor rights, and to the rights of indigenous peoples. Regarding the right to life, the organizations highlighted the situation of human rights defenders. They made reference to the killings of the peasant leaders Vidal Vega, Sixto Pérez and Benjamín Lezcano, in separate but similar circumstances. In addition, they alleged the existance of irregularities in the investigation of acts of violence registered in Curugaty in June 2012, which were mentioned as one of the causes in the impeachment of President Fernando Lugo. Also, the organizations offered information on unjustified lay-offs of public servants. Finally, information was presented on the selling of lands of indigenous peoples by a high State official. The State, on its part, offered information on the topics prsented and highlighted the restructuration of the Interinstitutional Commission responsible for the execution of the actions needed for compliance with international sentences and decisions (CICSI). The State and the organizations invited the IACHR to conduct an in loco visit to Paraguay.
With regard to Mexico, the Commission received troubling information about the increase in the use of a type of preventive detention (“arraigo”) and about the display in the media of people accused of committing a crime. The civil society organizations said that according to reports of the Attorney General’s Office, between January 2008 and October 2012, 8,592 persons were under put under “arraigo.” The State indicated that there is an ongoing review process about the “arraigo.” The Commission reiterates its concern over the existence of “arraigo” and urges the State of Mexico to eliminate it, according to the guarantees of liberty and due process established by international human rights standards. Regarding the display of persons in the media, the organizations indicated that this practice violates human rights such as judicial guarantees, presumption of innocence, honnor, personal integrity, and the right to privacy.
In addition, the State of Mexico presented information on the priorities of the new Government in the area of human rights. The representatives of the State highlighted the recently signed General Law of Victims, the Pact for Mexico, as well as some initiatives to reform the National Migration Institute and the Code of Military Justice. They also highlighted the initiatives to criminalize forced disappearances, to legislate on the use of public force, and to withdraw the reservation made to the interpretative declaration made by the State to the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, among others.
Regarding Nicaragua, the Commission received information from civil society organizations on the existance of several obstacles for the obtention of identity cards, which would have an impact on the right to vote and the exercise of the economic and social rights. The data presented in the hearing indicates that up to a third of the citizens between 16 and 21 years old do not have an identity card.
Regarding Colombia, information was received regarding constitutional reforms recently implemented regarding military criminal justice and transitional justice. The representatives of civil society criticized the reformed military criminal jurisdiction, specifically, that violations of human rights and to international humanitarian law would be reviewed in military jurisdiction; the creation of a Joint Commission in charge of the first investigative diligences, and the creation of a special tribunal of guarantees and of a special imprisonment regime for members of the Public Forces. Regarding the Legal Framework for Peace, they said that it establishes the withdrawal of the State from criminal prosecution, among other measures that encourage impunity. The State informed that at this time of “winds of peace,” these reforms allow legislative harmonizatin and these will be reviewed automatically by the Constitutional Court. In addition, it informed that the Reform of Law 975 of 2005 allows the streamlining of judiciary processes and that the transfer of the reparations scheme to the framework of the Law of Victims and Land Restitution contributes to a system of effective reparations.
Regarding Venezuela, civil society organizations informed about the situation of the three branches of Government in Venezuela, specially, about the lack of independence of the Judiciary and the Legislative Branch and the continued situation of transitoriety of magistrates of the Public Ministry. In addition, they informed about the situation of citizen insecurity and impunity, and the situation of human rights defenders, among other topics. In the hearing requested by the State on the situation of human rights in Venezuela, the representatives did not present any information on the topic. The Commissioners reiterated their interest for Venezuela to agree to a in loco visit by the IACHR.
In the hearing on the general human rights situation in Chile, two central topics were treated: the use of state force and structural discrimination. Regarding the use of state force, it was indicated that it is characterized by the increase of sentences, the ample and ambiguos criminalization, such as in the case of the anti-terrorism law, and the increase of the functions of the order and security forces, without the existence of control mechanisms and democratic limits. Regarding structural discrimination, it was indicated that the legislation in force does not include affirmative action and is insufficient to combat the many cases of structural or indirect discrimination. Specifically, these refer to the case of indigenous peoples, women, migrants, the elderly, and children.
On the activities developed during the 146 Period of Sessions
Reports on Individual Petitions and Cases
The IACHR continued to study numerous individual petitions and cases that allege violations of human rights protected by the American Convention of Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other inter-American instruments.
During the 147th session, the Commission approved the following friendly settlement agreements having deemed that the agreements reached by the parties are in line with the object and purpose of the American Convention on Human Rights:
Following is the list of the petitions and cases for which reports were approved during the 147th session. Once the parties have been notified, the Inter-American Commission will publish on its website the reports in which the decisions are of a public nature. In addition, the IACHR approved three merits reports, which are confidential.
Approved admissibility reports:
Approved inadmissibility reports:
Approved archive reports:
On March 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16, 2013, the Commission held hearings with respect to individual cases and petitions, precautionary measures, and general and specific human rights situations. The videos, audio recordings, and photographs of the public hearings are available on the IACHR website. In addition, the photos are available for download in high resolution through the IACHR account on Flickr, and the videos are available on YouTube (both on the OAS and the IACHR accounts). Their use is authorized, as long as appropriate credit is given to the OAS.
For the purpose of facilitating participation in its hearings, during these sessions the IACHR implemented a pilot project to use videoconferencing. Thanks to this technology, participants in hearings and working meetings who were not able to travel to Washington, for justified reasons beyond their control, were able to participate virtually.
The following hearings were held this period of sessions:
The following working meetings were held during the 147th session:
IV. Financial Contributions
The IACHR would like to express its special appreciation for the significant financial contributions made by countries within and outside the region, as well as by organizations and international agencies, foundations, and other entities. These donations make it possible for the IACHR to carry out a great many of its activities related to the mandates handed down by the OAS political bodies.
The IACHR particularly appreciates the contributions made in 2012 and so far in 2013 by the governments of the following OAS member countries: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, and Paraguay. The Commission would also like to thank the observer countries that support its activities: Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Holland, Ireland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and Switzerland. The Commission also values and appreciates the contributions it has received from the European Union, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Save the Children International, Plan International, and the University of Notre Dame. These donations contribute concretely to the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system in the Americas.