Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up 165th Regular Session in Uruguay

October 27, 2017

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Montevideo, Uruguay—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 165th regular session in Montevideo on October 23-27, 2017, at the invitation of the Uruguayan State. Holding sessions outside its headquarters allows the IACHR to bring its mechanisms for the defense, protection, and promotion of human rights closer to the individuals and peoples under its jurisdiction. This was a historic occasion—the first time since it was founded that the Inter-American Commission has held a session in Uruguay. The IACHR expresses its gratitude to the Uruguayan State for the invitation to hold this session in the country, as well as for the financial and logistical cooperation it provided to make it possible to hold all the scheduled activities. The IACHR especially appreciates the fact that the Uruguayan State made sign-language interpretation available for all the public hearings. The Commission also thanks civil society organizations and the Uruguayan people for their collaboration and hospitality

The IACHR appreciates the participation of the Vice President of Uruguay and President of the General Assembly, Lucía Topolansky, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rodolfo Nin Novoa, in the ceremony to open the session. In his opening remarks, the President of the IACHR, Francisco Eguiguren, noted that while Uruguay is no stranger to the major human rights challenges that affect the region, it has made significant progress. Among other things, he highlighted the activities of the Working Group on Truth and Justice, which continues to collect testimony, carry out exhumations, and locate the remains of people who disappeared during the dictatorship (1973-1985); the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Law, enacted in 2012, which is considered a best practice in the region in matters of sexual and reproductive rights; important steps in fighting impunity for acts of violence against women, particularly the codification of the crime of femicide; the approval in 2013 of marriage equality and the installation in office of the country’s first transgender senator; and the creation of the National Institute for Older Persons, along with progress in the implementation of the second National Plan on Aging and Old Age. By contrast, the IACHR regrets that during its session in Uruguay, the country’s Supreme Court issued a decision declaring unconstitutional the inapplicability of the statute of limitations for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the dictatorship; this runs counter to Uruguay’s international human rights obligations and to inter-American standards.

The IACHR is pleased to report that the intense work done on petitions and cases has resulted in a very significant increase in the number of admissibility and merits reports approved this year; so far, the Commission has adopted more than double the number of reports compared to last year. In all of 2016, 45 admissibility reports were approved, while 99 have been approved so far in 2017. In terms of reports on merits, 16 reports were approved last year, and 33 so far this year. This is a key achievement for reducing the procedural backlog, which is an essential goal of the IACHR Strategic Plan.

The Commission also analyzed draft thematic and country reports, adopted decisions concerning the Annual Report for 2017, and examined applications for precautionary measures. The Commission held 13 working meetings during this session. The working meetings on precautionary measures were on the following matters: PM 223/13 – Saleh and Gerardo Carrero, Venezuela; PM 17/17 – The Child Juan, Argentina; PM 265/02 – Embera Chambí Indigenous People, Colombia; PM 70/99 – Cacarica Communities, Colombia; PM 564/17 – Santiago Maldonado, Argentina; and PM 25/16 – Milagro Sala, Argentina. The IACHR also facilitated six working meetings on petitions and cases at different stages of negotiation and implementation of friendly settlement agreements in the following matters: Case 12.629, Kelyenmagategma Indigenous Community, and P-850-15, Ayoreo People, both from Paraguay; P-1159-08, A.N., and P-1377-13, Aurora, Costa Rica; P-687-11, G.B., and 12.904, Aymara Chusmiza Usmagama Indigenous Community, Chile; and P-1224-07, David Rabinovich, Uruguay. The Commission underscores the goodwill of the parties in Petition 1224-07, Uruguay, who signed a friendly settlement agreement to resolve the matter outside the adversarial system. The Commission will monitor the implementation of the agreement in the process toward full reparation. The Commission welcomes the willingness of parties to advance friendly settlement negotiations that enable victims to obtain full reparation for the human rights violations related to these matters.

In addition, the Commission held 28 public hearings and meetings on Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as on regional issues that affect the Americas as a whole or subregions in the hemisphere. The IACHR thanks the States and civil society for the large turnout at the hearings, working meetings, and public events that took place during this session. The Inter-American Commission emphasizes that it is important for the States to participate in all the hearings, in good faith and with sufficient substantive information available, in order to make constructive progress toward solutions to human rights problems in the region. The inter-American human rights system is strengthened with the active participation of the State, victims and their representatives, and civil society organizations. In this regard, the IACHR regrets the absence of representatives of the States of Ecuador and Jamaica in the hearings to which they had been summoned.

The IACHR received troubling information about the human rights situation in Brazil in four thematic hearings. In the hearing on citizen insecurity, participants reported on the serious situation of vulnerability faced by those who live in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the disproportionate use of force by the police, and the hundreds of people reported to have been killed by State forces so far this year. The Commission also received troubling information about the obstacles to access to land for communities of African descent; the human rights situation of indigenous peoples; and the impact on economic and social rights of labor reforms and outsourcing in the country. Labor and pension reforms and cuts in social spending could have a disproportionate impact on the poorest sectors, particularly in relation to their economic, social, and cultural rights. In terms of persons of African descent and indigenous peoples, situations of inequity, inequality, exclusion, and violence continue to exist. The IACHR expresses its concern regarding the context of serious setbacks in human rights, in which public demonstrations have been held in reaction to the processes of labor and pension reform and in relation to the conflict over land. The Commission also expresses its concern over the suppression of these protests by security forces through an excessive use of force, which reportedly left demonstrators and journalists injured, hampering the exercise of the right to protest and the right to freedom of expression in general

The IACHR continues to move forward in its discussion and monitoring of the human rights situation in Venezuela in the context of the preparation of a country report. In a hearing requested by the State of Venezuela, the Commission received information from State authorities and civil society organizations on the situation regarding the right to education in Venezuela. In addition, at the Commission’s own initiative, two other hearings were held on that country, on the situation regarding democratic institutions and the situation of violence, public safety, and freedom of expression.

The information received during the session and throughout the year indicates that there has been progress in the region, which the IACHR recognizes and welcomes, yet it cautions that there are still major challenges for the free and effective exercise of human rights. Due to recent changes and the lack of solutions to historic problems, the region faces a serious risk of setbacks in human rights. This situation is due to the fragility of the democratic system that affects several countries in the region; the questions raised about the legitimacy of institutions, linked to serious cases of corruption and problems of impunity; the economic crisis that has a disproportionate impact on groups of people that have historically faced discrimination and marginalization; and the high levels of violence and public insecurity that have a direct impact on the enjoyment of the rights of the inhabitants of the Americas. Of particular concern is the growing militarization of public security. The setbacks in laws and social policies seen in recent years have gravely affected access to basic economic and social rights such as food, health, and education, with disproportionate effects on sectors that were already poor, as well as on children, adolescents, older people, women, Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, and LGBTI persons, among other historically excluded groups. There have also been setbacks in the protection of rights through other legislative changes, particularly through the expansion of the jurisdiction of the military criminal justice system. In some countries of the region, there have been public statements made by authorities and some sectors of society defending and asserting forms of discrimination such as xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, using discourse that incites hatred and violence for reasons related to discrimination. The IACHR is also concerned about the threats, criminalization, reprisals, and violence against human rights defenders and against journalists, which undermines their fundamental and essential role in consolidating democracy and fighting corruption and abuse of authority. The Commission has also noticed an increase in the disproportionate use of force in the context of demonstrations and protests, as well as increased repression by the police, which particularly affects more vulnerable populations such as people experiencing poverty; indigenous peoples; Afro-descendant and campesino communities; labor union members; women; children and adolescents; migrants, refugees, stateless persons, and the internally displaced; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons, among other segments of society. These and other elements add up to a complex backdrop for the protection and defense of human rights in the region.

The situation of human rights defenders in the region is an issue that deeply concerns the IACHR. Killings, attacks, harassment, and threats continue to be perpetrated against those who devote themselves to defending the rights of others. At the same time, the mechanisms used to silence and intimidate them have become more sophisticated, with criminalization processes and an improper use of criminal law, leading to violations of defenders’ human rights and to the vulnerability and lack of protection of those for whom they advocate. In this context, the IACHR held hearings in Montevideo on this issue, to receive information on the situation of human rights defenders in Panama; the situation of rights defenders and social leaders in Colombia; and the criminalization of environmental defenders in Latin America. During the session, the IACHR also organized a workshop for defenders of the land, territory, and environment. In this workshop, human rights defenders from Africa, Asia, and the Americas shared positive experiences and lessons learned to build capacity for collective action.

In addition, in order to strengthen existing mechanisms to address and respond to this serious problem, on October 25 the Inter-American Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a joint action plan in Montevideo to help protect human rights defenders in the Americas. The President of the IACHR, Francisco Eguiguren Praeli; the IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, José de Jesús Orozco; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; and the Representative of the High Commissioner for South America, Amérigo Incalcaterra, headlined the event to launch the plan. As a first joint action, the IACHR and the Office of the High Commissioner will prepare a report on best practices that will serve as a guide for actions and public policies that States can adopt in the future to address this situation. Cooperation with the UN and with other regional human rights systems helps to reinforce the Commission’s work and its impact, which is why it is one of the strategic objectives under the current IACHR Strategic Plan. The Commission hopes that this joint action plan will contribute effectively and tangibly to improving safety conditions so that human rights defenders can do their work without fear of suffering violence in reprisal for their actions. In addition, the IACHR and the Office of the High Commissioner held a three-hour meeting with civil society organizations from around the region, in which they listened to their concerns and received information about different human rights situations. This highly productive meeting also demonstrates the close collaboration that exists between the inter-American system and the universal system for the protection of human rights.

As part of this collaboration, the adviser on prevention and victim assistance of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ivonne Pineda Castro, participated in the hearing on the human rights situation of victims of human trafficking and smuggling in Latin America and the Caribbean. At the hearing, the expert presented the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons and the results of the last meeting of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime.

In Montevideo, the IACHR held regional consultations to hear suggestions on priority areas of action with a view to preparing work plans for its Thematic Unit on Memory, Truth, and Justice and its Thematic Unit on the Rights of Older Persons. These units were created in March 2017 through the approval of the IACHR Strategic Plan, and during the May 2017 session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Commission designated Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi as the person in charge of both areas. The Inter-American Commission thanks the individuals, civil society organizations, academics, and specialists who participated in both consultations in massive numbers. At the event, a regional campaign was launched to raise the visibility and awareness of older persons as subjects of rights with autonomy, under the theme “living with dignity and rights at all ages.” This is an initiative of the Permanent Commission on Older Persons of the MERCOSUR Meeting of High-level Human Rights Authorities (RAADH) to support and encourage the signing and ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons. The campaign was developed by the MERCOSUR Institute of Public Policy on Human Rights (IPPDH) and has the endorsement of the IACHR. Parallel launch events were held during the consultation in Montevideo and during the XXX Meeting of the RAADH in Brasilia, Brazil.

Both thematic units will systematize the suggestions and proposals received so as to develop their action plans for the 2018-2019 period. The Inter-American Commission has been working on these issues for decades, and it seeks to expand that effort and become more specialized in the area through the creation of these thematic units. Along these lines, a hearing was held in Uruguay to receive updated information on the right to memory, truth, and justice and the status of cases involving crimes against humanity in Argentina. Another hearing was held to follow up on the investigations into serious human rights violations in the context of the implementation of the Peace Agreement in Colombia. In terms of the rights of older persons, the Commission held a hearing in Montevideo on the situation of older LGBTI persons in the Americas.

Another cross-cutting area in the work of the IACHR has to do with access to justice and the conditions needed to protect it. In Montevideo, several hearings were held on different aspects of this subject: on judicial independence and due process guarantees in Paraguay; the independence of the Constitutional Court in Peru; autonomy and independence of national human rights institutions in Uruguay; and judicial independence in Bolivia, among others. The IACHR will continue to monitor access to justice in all countries of the region, given the high rates of impunity prevalent in many countries, especially with regard to crimes against humanity and cases involving violence against women; against human rights defenders; against indigenous leaders and environmentalists; against gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual, and intersex persons; against people living in poverty; against persons deprived of liberty; against children and adolescents who live on the streets or are in conflict with the law; and against migrants and stateless or displaced persons, among other groups that for various reasons are in more vulnerable situations. The weakness of some justice systems, the lack of independence and autonomy of some institutions and ombudsman’s offices, the lack of transparent and objective criteria in the selection of judges for high courts, the precarious appointments of judges, and threats against justice system operators are some of the problems that hamper the right of access to justice and perpetuate impunity for these and other crimes. The Inter-American Commission will continue to closely follow this problem, which affects the whole region to different degrees.

For his part, Commissioner James Cavallaro, IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, gave a presentation in Buenos Aires to introduce the Report on Measures Aimed at Reducing the Use of Pretrial Detention in the Americas. The starting point for the report is that the arbitrary and illegal use of pretrial detention is a chronic problem in the region and that there is a widespread lack of political will to address the issue. Commissioner Cavallaro also introduced the Practical Guide to Reduce Pretrial Detention, which accompanies the report. The presentation by the Commissioner Rapporteur took place October 25 during an event organized jointly by the Public Defender’s Office for Cassation of the province of Buenos Aires along with the provincial Office of the Public Prosecutor, the Buenos Aires Chamber of Deputies, and the organization Foro para la Justicia Democrática (FOJUDE).

In Uruguay, several hearings were held to address this problem and others related to the rights of persons deprived of liberty. Several hearings were held on the public security situation in the region as a whole and various countries in particular, a problem to which the Inter-American Commission is paying special attention. This is not only because people have the right to live free from violence, but also because public policies to address this problem must be adopted with full respect for everyone’s human rights, taking into account that so-called “iron fist” policies have essentially helped to multiply human rights violations and not necessarily to improve citizen security, as the IACHR’s report on the subject established. During the session in Montevideo, the IACHR received information on these issues in the hearings related to the prison situation in the Americas; reports of extrajudicial executions and the excessive use of pretrial detention in Jamaica; citizen security and the human rights situation in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the situation of pretrial detention in Mexico.

The situation of the rights of indigenous peoples continues to be of deep concern to the IACHR and is being closely monitored by the thematic rapporteurship, led by Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren. This session included a hearing on the human rights situation of peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in the Amazon Region and the Gran Chaco, and another on the human rights situation of indigenous peoples in Brazil. During the session, the Commission also published a new report on the human rights situation of indigenous women in the region. This report examines how indigenous women are exposed to intersecting forms of discrimination based on their cultural identity, sex, and gender, or as a result of historical and structural remnants of colonialism, creating overlapping human rights violations. The report analyzes the impediments that this situation creates in terms of indigenous women’s access to and fulfillment of their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and how this structural discrimination leaves them exposed to high levels of violence, occurrences that go largely unpunished.

The rights of women and girls, people of African descent, and people in the context of international human mobility continue to be cross-cutting issues in the work of the IACHR. In addition to the hearings on women human rights defenders in the region, hearings were held on the right of access to land of the Afro-descendant Quilombo people in Brazil; on reports of killings, disappearances, and torture in Coahuila de Zaragoza, Mexico; on sexual violence against girls in Latin America and the Caribbean; and on the human rights situation of victims of human trafficking and smuggling in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many of the hearings also addressed situations stemming from the intersectionality of various factors that contribute to a situation of discrimination and exclusion with multiple causes, such as the hearing on the situation of older LGBTI persons, which addressed the intersection between discrimination based on age and that based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression and/or body diversity. The IACHR continues to monitor these issues under the leadership of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afro-Descendants, led by Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay; the Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child, led by Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño; and the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrants and the Unit on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, both led by Commissioner Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva.

In terms of the right to freedom of expression, a hearing was held on the reform to the Organic Law on Communication in Ecuador, and freedom of expression was also addressed in one of the hearings on Venezuela. The IACHR will continue to monitor these situations through its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, led by the expert Edison Lanza.

Meanwhile, in terms of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (ESCER), two hearings were held on labor rights—one on the situation of labor and union rights in Argentina and another on labor reforms and outsourcing in Brazil—and a hearing was held on the right to access to health, having to do with the Zika virus in relation to the protection and guarantee of the rights of women and people with disabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The expert Soledad García Muñoz, the first IACHR Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights, also participated in the hearings on the right to education in Venezuela, the right to access to land of the Afro-descendant Quilombo people in Brazil, and on the rights of women environmental defenders in the region. This Special Rapporteurship, which began operating on August 15, 2017, will continue to follow these and other issues, deepening and expanding the IACHR’s work as it relates to these rights.

With regard to the Special Follow-Up Mechanism to Ayotzinapa, the IACHR held a new hearing to receive updated information from the parties on progress made in the investigations to determine the truth about what happened to the 43 students from the “Raúl Isidro Burgos” School on the night of September 26, 2014, as well as to advance the investigations into the whereabouts of the students, establish who is responsible for perpetrating and masterminding their disappearances, and obtain justice. Family members of the missing students, their representatives, and the State participated in the hearing. The Special Follow-Up Mechanism was created by the IACHR to monitor the precautionary measure granted on October 3, 2014, which remains in force, and in this context to monitor the recommendations made by the Inter-Disciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) created by the IACHR, which presented its final report on its work of two years at the end of 2016. The IACHR and the Mexican State in 2016 agreed on full funding for the Special Follow-Up Mechanism to make periodic visits to Mexico and maintain an open dialogue with the students’ relatives and their representatives, the Mexican State, and other relevant actors. The Inter-American Commission appreciates the information it received in the hearing, but regrets that the whereabouts of the missing students remain unknown. It once again reiterates its concern about the slow pace in coming to conclusions, both in the search activities and in the effective clarification of the lines of investigation indicated by the Interdisciplinary Group. The fact that not one person has yet to be prosecuted in this case for the crime of forced disappearance, and that no new charges have been filed since December 2015, continues to be a matter of great concern to the Commission.

In fulfillment of its mandate to promote human rights in the region, the Commission held a course designed for civil society organizations, which was held in the Legislative Palace and in which nearly 40 organizations from around the region participated. This course was organized jointly by the IACHR and by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas School of Law, and the Washington College of Law at American University.

The session in Uruguay was the fourth held outside IACHR headquarters in 2017, following sessions in Argentina in May, Peru in July, and Mexico in September. Sessions held outside headquarters provide an opportunity for the IACHR to broaden its public presence in the region and have closer contact with victims. The IACHR especially thanks the State of Uruguay for having given its consent for the session in Montevideo to be a regular session, making it possible to hold hearings and meetings on human rights situations in Uruguay. This year, the IACHR also held a session at its headquarters in March and will hold a special session from November 29 to December 7 at its headquarters, during which it will hold the Inter-American Forum on Human Rights and public hearings on Canada and the United States.

The IACHR takes note of the warnings of potential reprisals raised during various hearings and working meetings by civil society representatives who expressed fear of returning to their country for that reason. The Commission calls to mind that it is unacceptable for a State to carry out any type of action to retaliate for or stigmatize the participation or activities of individuals or organizations that engage the bodies of the inter-American human rights system in the exercise of their rights under the Convention. As Article 63 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure establishes, 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 they “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.” The IACHR urges the States to take protective measures to ensure the safety of every person who participated in this session’s activities or who uses any of the mechanisms available to everyone in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the 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 the respect for and defense of 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. 168/17