Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up its 149th Session

November 8, 2013

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held its 149th regular session from October 24 to November 8, 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 Longoria.

During this session, the Inter-American Commission was pleased to accept the invitation by the State of the Dominican Republic to carry out a visit to that country. According to the information the Commission has received, the implementation of the Constitutional Court’s recent decision in Judgment 0168-13 could deprive tens of thousands of people of their right to nationality, with the risk that they will become stateless. In light of that situation, the Inter-American Commission welcomes the State’s openness and its consent for this visit. The IACHR trusts that the visit can be conducted urgently, before the decision by the Constitutional Court is implemented. The IACHR is currently in talks with the authorities to set a date to carry out the visit as soon as possible.

During the session, the Commission held hearings and working meetings, and approved reports on individual cases and petitions. In 2013, the IACHR received 374 requests for hearings and held 114 hearings, both record numbers. The hearings held during the 149th session addressed a range of different human rights issues in 18 countries, and 10 regional hearings were also held.

The Inter-American Commission would like to draw special attention to the participation in its hearings of various agencies and offices of the United Nations, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez; the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue; the Regional Office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Inter-American Commission values and underscores the importance of this collaborative effort between the regional system and the international human rights system for the purpose of better protecting and promoting the effectiveness of human rights in the region.

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 right to freedom of expression; and the situation concerning the rights of children, migrants, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, women, persons deprived of liberty, persons with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, and intersex persons, among other issues.

During this session, the Commission held hearings that touched on new issues that are widely relevant for the region. Examples include the hearings on the use of unmanned drones in the region, and on communications surveillance carried out through the use of new technologies. The impact of transnational corporations and extractive industries on the enjoyment of human rights was also addressed, in particular the potential negative impact of industrial agriculture on land use, peasant farmers’ access to land, and subsistence agriculture. Another new issue was addressed in the hearing on the human rights effects of mining and the responsibility of the States, not only of the countries where the mines are located but also the countries in which the transnational companies are based. These and other issues addressed in the hearings reflect the IACHR’s attention to the entire range of issues that make up the human rights agenda in the region, to which new challenges are constantly being added.  
The Commission would also like to note that 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 strive to ensure that in the future, all of its hearings will be accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Commission expresses its concern over the State of Ecuador’s failure to appear at the hearings. For the Commission, hearings provide an important opportunity for dialogue between the States and civil society. Moreover, the operating model for the inter-American system, and for the international justice system in general, requires the active participation of the States, precisely because they are the very guarantors of the rights of persons who live in their jurisdictions. This is how international monitoring systems created by democratic States are understood to function. Along these same lines, the Commission is also concerned over the arguments of some State delegations to the effect that domestic remedies must be exhausted for hearings to be held, a prerequisite that is not established in any instrument.

On another matter, the Inter-American Commission once again expresses its concern over the United States’ failure to comply with the precautionary measure for detainees at Guantánamo. The IACHR urges the authorities to take the necessary urgent steps to comply with these precautionary measures, which have been in effect since 2002 and were expanded on July 23, 2013, to include closure of the detention center. In addition, the Commission again urges the State to give its consent so the IACHR can visit that detention center without preconditions, that is, with direct and private access to all detainees and all facilities. Finally, the IACHR regrets the limited participation by the United States in the hearings. The State reported it was unable to adequately prepare for the hearings, given the government shutdown in October.

Finally, the Commission reiterates that any type of reprisal or stigmatization that a State may undertake because of the participation or actions of individuals or organizations before the bodies of the inter-American system, in exercise of their treaty rights, is unacceptable. The Commission reminds the States that Article 63 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure establishes that 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,” and that 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.”

This press release includes an annex that incorporates information the Commission received during the session on the human rights situation in the region.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 83/13