IACHR Wraps Up its 153rd Session
November 7, 2014
Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 153rd regular session from October 23 to November 7, 2014. During the session, the IACHR worked on analyzing petitions, cases, and precautionary measures; studied various plans to address its procedural backlog; held 53 public hearings and 31 working meetings on cases and precautionary measures; and held meetings with representatives of States, petitioners, and civil society organizations from around the region, among other activities.
As part of its efforts to continue strengthening ties with the universal human rights system, during the session the IACHR received visits from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere. The Commission also met with a delegation from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), headed by the agency’s regional representative, Shelly Pitterman.
The Commission also continued to develop its work plan to establish a Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR) toward the end of 2015, to delve deeper into this subject. The main obstacle to this objective is the lack of sufficient funding. In this regard, the Commission reiterates its call to the OAS Member States to make specific contributions to the special fund created in April 2014, resources that will be used exclusively by the Special Rapporteurship on ESCR.
During the session, the Commission was concerned to receive information about the structural exclusion in which millions in the region live, which leads to serious violations of their human rights. Forced labor continues to exist in several countries, and there are reportedly 5.7 million children in the region who work. Racial discrimination continues to be a widespread and, in some cases, structural problem, and during this session the Commission received information about how racism affects criminal justice systems. Meanwhile, millions of people face significant obstacles to education and health, among other economic, social and cultural rights, with a disproportionate impact on particularly vulnerable segments of the population such as children and adolescents, persons of African descent, indigenous peoples, rural populations, migrants with irregular legal status, and stateless or internally displaced persons. Women are another group especially affected by these problems, in addition to a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services. For their part, trans persons also face serious obstacles in accessing employment and basic health and education services.
The Commission also received troubling information on the tension that often exists between the implementation of development projects and the full exercise of human rights for large segments of the population in the Americas. There have been cases of violations of the right to life, forced displacement, instances in which water and food sources have been cut off, and violence against leaders opposed to development projects, among other problems. In hearings concerning several countries, the Commission received information on the negative impact that many development projects have on indigenous peoples’ rights over their lands and territories, as well as on the rights of communities of African descent and rural and peasant populations. The Commission was also informed about the implementation of projects in areas in which indigenous peoples live in voluntary isolation and initial contact, as well as about other projects implemented in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples in contact but where their rights to prior, free, and informed consultation have not been respected. The Inter-American Commission urges the States to adopt measures to prevent the multiple human rights violations that can result from the implementation of development projects, both in countries in which the projects are located as well as in the corporations’ home countries, such as Canada.
The Commission also expresses its deep concern regarding the criminalization of human rights defenders in different countries of the region. During this session, the Commission continued to receive alarming information concerning a trend it had noted before, in its Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, indicating that they are systematically subject to baseless criminal actions for the purpose of hampering their work and undermining the legitimacy of their causes. This, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to acts of aggression and attacks. The institution of such criminal cases is based on vague or ambiguous charges—such as “inducement to rebellion,” “terrorism,” “sabotage,” “incitement to crime,” or “attacks on or resistance to public authority”—which are used arbitrarily by authorities. Such criminal cases are often preceded by stigmatizing statements on the part of public officials, and often drag on indefinitely and are accompanied by measures such as pretrial detention and a ban on leaving the country. This problem is particularly acute when it comes to human rights defenders who participate in social protest demonstrations; those who defend the rights of LGBTI persons; defenders of sexual and reproductive rights; and peasant and indigenous leaders who express opposition to the implementation of mega-projects. The Commission urges States in the region to give priority and full attention to the problem of the criminalization of human rights defenders.
In a hearing on the human rights situation of migrant and refugee children and families in the United States, the IACHR received troubling information about the widespread practice of detaining children along with their mothers; the lack of qualified, properly trained staff to attend to these families; violations of the right of migrant children and families to request and receive asylum; and expedited deportation proceedings, many of which are held without individuals having legal representation. This information is in line with what the Commission observed during its visit to the U.S. southern border in September and October of this year. The Inter-American Commission reiterates that under international standards and the principle of the best interest of the child, States may not resort to the detention of migrant children who are with their parents or those who are unaccompanied or separated from their families. In this regard, the IACHR regrets that the United States has decided to expand its family detention facilities. The Inter-American Commission urges the United States to immediately end its policies of widespread detention and to adopt measures to identify persons who may qualify as refugees or who, because of their vulnerable status, may need special protection, such as the case of families and children fleeing situations of violence in their home countries. The IACHR also urges the United States to ensure access to legal representation for migrant persons and refugees, especially as regards children.
During a hearing on Mexico, at the initiative of civil society organizations, a moment of silence was observed in honor of 43 students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa. On October 3, 2014, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for students in the “Raúl Isidro Burgos” rural school, after receiving information about the disappearance of 43 students in the context of acts of violence that took place on September 26. Through this precautionary measure, the Commission requested that the State of Mexico adopt any necessary measures to determine the situation and the whereabouts of the missing students and to investigate what had occurred, among other things. During this session, the IACHR held a working meeting with the parties to Precautionary Measure 409/14. The IACHR recognizes the commitment of the delegation representing the State of Mexico—high-level authorities from the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic and the Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, among other government agencies—to investigate the facts and discover the whereabouts of the 43 missing students, and to identify the perpetrators and masterminds and bring them to justice. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission believes that the detention on November 4 of the Mayor of Iguala and his wife, who were fugitives from justice, is a step forward. Nevertheless, the IACHR is deeply concerned about the lack of progress in determining the whereabouts of the missing students. The Inter-American Commission urges the State to redouble its efforts and devote any necessary material and human resources to the search, as well as to adopt measures designed to address the structural problems that underlie forced disappearances, which are not limited to the case of the students from Ayotzinapa.
With regard to Guatemala, the Commission is deeply concerned about the authorities’ denial of genocide and the position the State delegation took in the hearings, in which it defended the application of amnesty to grave human rights violations, which is incompatible with the State’s international obligations. The IACHR also strongly criticizes statements made by the State delegation in the hearing on access to justice and the legacy of the internal armed conflict, which constituted an act of defiance toward the Inter-American Court. In the hearing, the representative of the State indicated that “the Inter-American Court’s claim that there should be criminal cases and sanctions will depend on what the courts with criminal jurisdiction in Guatemala decide,” and said that “the State does not recognize” other judgments “as it considers that the Inter-American Court acted without jurisdiction.” In this regard, the Commission urges the State of Guatemala to abide by the Inter-American Court’s judgments and all decisions of the inter-American system, and to adopt any necessary measures to identify, prosecute, and punish all perpetrators and masterminds of the genocide, as well as of other grave human rights violations perpetrated during the armed conflict.
The Commission will publish its Report on the 153rd Session in the coming days.
The IACHR is made up of Tracy Robinson, Chair; Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, First Vice-Chair; Felipe González, Second Vice-Chair; José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez; Rosa María Ortiz; Paulo Vannuchi; and James Cavallaro. The Executive Secretary is Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria.
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.