IACHR

Press Release

IACHR Concludes 170th Period of Sessions

December 18, 2018

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María Isabel Rivero
IACHR Press and Communication Office
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mrivero@oas.org

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Washington, DC — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 170th Period of Sessions at its headquarters between December 3 and 7, 2018. At the event, the IACHR held 21 public hearings concerning Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the United States, and Venezuela, and several regional hearings. Videos of the hearings are available, as are high-definition photos, which are licensed for download and use by interested parties. The event also included 29 working meetings on petitions, cases, and precautionary measures and dozens of other meetings with representatives of victims, states, civil society organizations, and academia. Workshops, courses, consultations with experts, and other conversations also took place during the sessions, and IACHR commissioners took part in or were panelists for outside events.

As part of the IACHR’s work with the Office of the United States High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and to follow up on the joint declaration signed in 2014, representatives of the OHCHR and the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances took part in three hearings. A consultation with experts was also held as part of the OHCHR/IACHR Joint Action Mechanism to Contribute to Protection of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. This consultation was organized jointly by the two organizations and addressed issues relating to the protection of human rights defenders and the prevention of and investigation into crimes against them, with the aim of gathering information and material for drafting the first joint report on the comprehensive protection of human rights defenders. Likewise, a meeting was held on the core issues of the OHCHR/IACHR Joint Action Mechanism to Contribute to Protection of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, in which representatives from the OHCHR offices in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico took part, along with representatives from the IACHR Executive Secretariat. Those who attended the meeting shared information on the activities that each organization has carried out and their current priorities. They also planned activities for the first half of 2019.

On December 7, the IACHR and the OHCHR held their annual meeting on the core issues of regional human rights mechanisms. The aim of this meeting is to promote collaboration between these mechanisms and between them and the universal system of human rights. The meeting was attended by 18 people representing the IACHR, the OHCHR, and regional and subregional human rights mechanisms from every continent.

On December 8, the IACHR and the United Nations held a regional consultation on racism. The aim of this consultation was to improve collaboration between inter-American and international human rights mechanisms to develop concrete plans for cooperation to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other related forms of intolerance.

Also on November 8, a meeting on Nicaragua was held with the participation of the IACHR, the Special Follow-Up Mechanism of Nicaragua (MESENI), the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts for Nicaragua (GIEI-Nicaragua), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Amnesty International, and other organizations.

Within the framework of the internal working sessions, the teams from each section and each Rapporteur's Office of the Executive Secretariat presented the IACHR with an evaluation of the work carried out during 2018. In addition, the Executive Secretariat submitted for approval by the IACHR a compendium of norms and standards relating to the right to seek and receive asylum, the right to non-refoulement, and due process guarantees in procedures for determining refugee status. This document includes the legal framework established by the American Declaration and the American Convention, as well as the standards developed in substantive reports, thematic reports, and resolutions of the IACHR, as well as judgments and advisory opinions issued by the Inter-American Court. The IACHR approved the document.

In addition, the IACHR met with the OAS Core Group on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Rights to coordinate strategies to advance the recognition of LGBTI rights in the region in the current context of advancing anti-rights groups. The Core Group is composed by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, México, Uruguay and the United States.

The IACHR wishes to thank member states and civil society for taking part in the hearings, working meetings, and public events that were held as part of these sessions. The IACHR stresses the importance of member states participating in hearings in good faith and with sufficient background information, as this helps them move toward constructive solutions to the human rights problems that the region is facing. The Inter-American System of Human Rights is strengthened by the active involvement of states, victims of human rights violations and their representatives, and civil society organizations.

The IACHR regrets the absence of the state of Nicaragua from the hearing that it was summoned to take part in. The absence of state delegations seriously hinders or prevents the IACHR from going about its work. Hearings are an indispensable way for the IACHR to receive information that enables it to fulfill the mandate given to it by OAS member states, namely to protect, promote, and defend human rights in the region.

Based on the information collected at the hearings and meetings held during this period of sessions and the information that has been obtained in the field by the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI), the IACHR wishes to express its deep concern over the escalation of the grave human rights crisis in Nicaragua and the deterioration of the rule of law. The state of Nicaragua has implemented a strategy to prevent social protest which has entailed police prohibition of demonstrations, the harassment of human rights defenders and social leaders by paramilitary groups acting with the consent of state security forces, and the disproportionate deployment of riot police squads, paramilitary groups, and other police units in places that are traditionally used for public protests and in other public spaces. Likewise, the state has taken retaliatory measures against human rights defenders, students, social leaders, and dissidents in the form of threats, stigmatization, arbitrary deportation, and criminalization through hundreds of prosecutions without due process on unjustified and disproportionate charges such as terrorism or organized crime. Given this decline in the situation in Nicaragua, the IACHR is once again calling on the country’s authorities to take steps to end the human rights violations that are taking place there. The IACHR also urges the state to comply with the precautionary measures that are in force. Throughout 2018, the IACHR has granted 62 requests for precautionary measures to protect the rights of people in Nicaragua through 29 rulings to protect 137 individuals and, in several cases, their families.

The IACHR also expresses its deep concern at the grave human rights situation in Venezuela. The constitutional order has been altered, the principle of the separation of powers is being disregarded, and there is a lack of institutional independence. On top of this critical situation affecting the rule of law, the country is in the throes of a socio-economic crisis which has escalated alarmingly in recent years. Given this humanitarian crisis, the IACHR wishes to once more urge OAS member states to take steps to respond to the forced migration of Venezuelans, as it did through Resolution 2/18 of March 2, 2018. The situation in Venezuela urgently requires a coordinated, regional response and a peaceful, democratic solution that respects all people’s human rights. The IACHR also welcomes the liberation from prison of Kamel Salame, beneficiary of IACHR precautionary measures, after a decade in pretrial detention.

The IACHR also held a hearing on the “migrant caravans” that have been happening since October. An estimated 7000 people have decided to cross Mexico with the intention of reaching the United States and obtaining refugee status. These caravans have been plagued by security problems; a lack of humanitarian assistance; border management problems involving the use of force; arrests and deportations without an analysis of these migrants’ need for international protection; obstacles to seeking asylum; xenophobia and discrimination; as well as different forms of abuse and violations of their human rights. On this isue, the IACHR once again urges states to guarantee people the right to seek and receive asylum and the right to nonrefoulement; to establish mechanisms to identify migrants’ need for protection; and to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. The IACHR has received approval from Mexico and the United States for it to visit the border between the two countries. This visit is currently at the preparatory stage.

During the hearing on the militarization of public security in the countries of the Americas, the IACHR once again voiced its concern about the existence of a regional trend toward using the armed forces to carry out public security tasks, which is particularly on the rise in Argentina, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, the United States, and Mexico. The IACHR wishes to express its concern at this growth in the militarization of citizen security. The IACHR has clearly stated that in any democratic system, it is essential that there be a clear and specific separation between domestic security, which is the role of the police force, and national defense, which is the role of the armed forces. These two institutions are fundamentally different in terms of both the purposes for which they were created and the training that members receive. Citizen security should be the exclusive responsibility of appropriately organized and trained civilian police forces, as the armed forces do not receive appropriate training in this area. The IACHR will be prioritizing this issue in its work agenda.

In relation to the hearing on Precautionary Measure MC-112/16 - Relatives of Berta Cáceres, members of COPINH and others, Honduras, the IACHR received information on the situation of the beneficiaries, as well as on the status of the internal processes with a view to clarifying the facts and determining responsibility for the murder of defender Berta Cáceres. The IACHR welcomes the sentence of November 29, 2018 that condemned seven people for the murder of Berta Cáceres. On the other hand, the IACHR expresses concern about the information presented by the organizations requesting the precautionary measure, in the sense that there have been irregularities such as the denial of access to the evidence, impediments to publicity of the process, denial of COPINH's participation as a victim, and even the exclusion of the family from the trial and its representatives. The representative stressed that the evidence would show that the seven persons convicted had acted as part of a criminal structure linked to DESA. According to the representation, to date, the Public Prosecutor's Office has not called upon the intellectual authors of the facts to testify, despite having this information since at least May 2016. They also indicated that the company involved would continue to carry out various acts to dismantle COPINH. The IACHR hopes that the Honduran State will continue its efforts to dismantle the criminal networks that operate in Honduras and that represent a risk factor for the defenders of the rights to land, water and the environment.

The IACHR also expresses its deep concern at the serious situation of insecurity experienced by human rights defenders in the region. During the sessions, specific information was received on the situation of human rights defenders in Brazil and Colombia. The Brazilian organizations described a series of violations, threats, criminalization, and processes of delegitimization of human rights defenders, which have a strong racial and gender component, especially affecting people of African descent. For their part, Colombian organizations presented information on the situation of structural impunity for crimes committed against human rights defenders in the country, indicating that only 8.5% of the cases of murders of human rights defenders were clarified. The Inter-American Commission urges the American States to adopt urgent measures for the protection of human rights defenders and to guarantee that they can continue their work without retaliation.

In addition, at the hearing on the human rights of older persons, requested by the State of Uruguay, the regional situation was assessed with regard to the approval and ratification of the Inter-American Convention on the Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons by the member countries of the OAS. Uruguay urged the other OAS member States to ratify the American Convention on the Human Rights of Older Persons in order to implement the integrated follow-up mechanism consisting of a Conference of States Parties and a Committee of Experts, which will be established once the tenth instrument of accession or ratification has been received. Civil society mentioned the challenges that still persist in the region in terms of care for the elderly. The IACHR welcomes the initiative of the State of Uruguay to propose the hearing and appreciates the participation of civil society. The IACHR considers that this Convention is a fundamental instrument to achieve necessary transformations in the sense of guaranteeing the rights of older persons, being an instrument that expands the mechanisms of legal protection of these persons. The IACHR urges OAS member states to ratify the Convention and to commit themselves to guaranteeing the standards established by it.

At the hearing on equal marriage, the petitioning organizations presented an overview of the realities and challenges related to the recognition of same-sex partnerships in the OAS member states. They presented the negative impacts of the lack of recognition of this relationship in the lives of LGBTI people, especially those related to the lack of protection of the rights of children and adolescents belonging to diverse families. They also emphasized the non-compliance with or delay in the implementation of the guidelines on equality and non-discrimination for same-sex couples contained in Advisory Opinion No. 24/17 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. They also addressed the advancement of anti-rights groups and the use of hate speech against LGBTI people in various spaces of society, including judicial and political platforms in the region. The IACHR recalled that equality and non-discrimination are fundamental human rights and, therefore, States must promote socio-cultural change to move towards the elimination of negative stigmas and stereotypes against LGBTI people and ensuring that these people live their lives free from any kind of violence. The IACHR urges all OAS member states to implement the guidelines contained in Advisory Opinion 24/17 of the Inter-American Court.

The IACHR debated and passed 15 merits reports during the period of sessions. It also held 29 working meetings on precautionary measures and the monitoring of recommendations, cases, and friendly settlements being reached in connection with 11 countries: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Venezuela. Of these 29 meetings, 14 were on compliance with existing precautionary measures; 8 were on matters on which friendly settlements were being reached; 3 were on cases that are being processed; and 4 were on cases the recommendations for which are being monitored.

During the session, the IACHR debated and decided on requests for precautionary measures. So far this year, the IACHR has granted a total of 113 requests through 79 resolutions. During this period of sessions, the IACHR also held 14 working meetings on precautionary measures that are currently in force concerning the following states: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Venezuela. Finally, the IACHR held three public hearings on precautionary measures that are currently in force. The first two concerned Ecuador and Colombia and the Special Follow-Up Team (ESE) that was created to monitor precautionary measures 309-18 and 310-18 on the kidnapping and murder of the team of journalists from El Comercio newspaper on the border between the two countries. The third focused on PM 112-16, concerning the relatives of Berta Cáceres and the members and legal representatives of COPINH in Honduras.

The eight working meetings on matters relating to friendly settlement procedures at different stages of negotiation and implementation involved Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru. At these meetings, the IACHR facilitated the creation of potential work plans and helped identify areas of interest in the negotiation and implementation of friendly settlement agreements. The IACHR values parties’ desire to make progress on friendly settlement agreements that will enable victims to obtain comprehensive redress for the human rights violations perpetrated in relation to these events.

On December 5, the IACHR held a meeting with over 30 civil society organizations from within the Americas and beyond, at which it received worrying information on different human rights situations throughout the region. The IACHR wishes to draw particular attention to the widespread involvement of civil society organizations from different countries in this meeting, which helped build a broad, detailed picture of the human rights situation in the region.

Meetings were also held with representatives from different states. The IACHR met with the member countries of the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), which are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. It also held meetings with the member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA)— Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama—and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)— Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. The IACHR also held a meeting with the United States and Canada. These meetings are an essential part of moving toward more and better compliance by states with the decisions of the Inter-American System of Human Rights.

With regard to the Caribbean, during this period of sessions, the IACHR decided to renew its Special Plan for the Caribbean Region, which was launched in the first half of 2018 as part of the implementation of the IACHR Strategic Plan. This will include a public consultation on the human rights of the LGBTI population and a period of sessions to be held in the region. Working visits will also be made to various Caribbean countries with a view to identifying specific areas for articulation between development and human rights. The IACHR welcomes the fact that the Executive Secretariat has tripled the representation of people from the Caribbean and of African descent on its staff.

A thematic report on progress on and challenges to the recognition of the rights of LGBTI people in the Americas was passed during this period of sessions. Three years after the launch of the report entitled “Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex People in the Americas,” the IACHR notes that the different types of violence it identified at that time are still present in the region. All the same, the IACHR acknowledges that there has been significant progress toward protecting, recognizing, and guaranteeing the rights of LGBTI people in different countries in the region. These changes are emerging as a result of legislative processes, legal decisions, and public policies. They have led to increased recognition of the rights of LGBTI people and are advancing the agenda of equality, inclusion, and nondiscrimination, which are indispensable steps toward ensuring that LGBTI people can live free from all forms of violence, fear, and poverty. The report that was passed during this period of sessions examines the actions that Caribbean states have taken to recognize, respect, and guarantee the human rights of LGBTI people, while still acknowledging the many profound challenges that remain.

In the course of the activities that took place during these sessions, the IACHR met with experts at an event on corruption organized by the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), an issue that the IACHR has been paying special attention to in relation to its impact on the enjoyment of human rights and which was analyzed in Resolution 1/18. The IACHR is drafting a report on this matter which will be published in 2019.

This week also saw the signing of a framework cooperation agreement on consultancy, information exchange, and assistance with Mexico’s Executive Commission for the Assistance of Victims.

The IACHR held a working meeting on memory, truth, and reparation in Cuba, the objective of which was to identify major opportunities and/or challenges to these areas in relation to human rights violations in Cuba.

There was also a discussion entitled Implementation of Recommendations and Orders from International Bodies on Individual Cases: Looking to the Future, which was organized by the IACHR in conjunction with the Human Rights Law Implementation Project. The event was attended by experts on the Inter-American System of Human Rights. During the discussion, representatives from the project shared key findings on the challenges they had encountered and the progress that had been made by international bodies, including the inter-American, European, and African systems of human rights and United Nations Human Rights Treaty Bodies on the implementation of recommendations, decisions, and orders issued in relation to individual human rights cases. The IACHR discussed the actions it had taken to implement the Action Plan for the Special Program to Monitor IACHR Recommendations (Program 21), part of its Strategic Plan 2017–2021, its major achievements in 2018, and some of the initiatives that have been planned to follow up on its recommendations. It also explored the idea of creating an observatory on the implementation and impacts of IACHR recommendations in partnership with other organizations.

During the period of sessions, the IACHR also presented the documentary Home Truth, which is about Jessica Lenahan’s story and her struggle for justice that led to a landmark lawsuit on domestic violence at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Report No. 80/11, Case 12.626). The screening of the documentary was followed by a roundtable discussion in which the president of the IACHR, the director of the Miami Law Human Rights Clinic, and the director of the film took part.

Courses on the Inter-American System of Human Rights were also held throughout the week of sessions. These included the 2018 session of the training workshop for civil society organizations which was co-organized by the IACHR and the American University Washington College of Law; the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas; the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights; Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; and the MERCOSUR Institute for Public Policies on Human Rights (IPPDH). The training-related events also included the optional in-person stage of the 3rd International Course on Public Policies on Human Rights, which was organized jointly this year by the IACHR and the IPPDH.

The IACHR acknowledges the information it received from civil society representatives at hearings and working meetings at which they expressed their fear over the potential repercussions or consequences they may face when they return to their countries. The IACHR strongly condemns any impediment to a person exercising their right to use the mechanisms of the Inter-American System of Human Rights and any type of retaliation or stigmatization by the state in response to a person or organization taking part in or calling on any of the bodies that form part of the inter-American system in the course of exercising their conventional rights. In the terms to article 63 of the IACHR Regulations, the IACHR urges states to adopt protective measures to guarantee the safety of all people who have taken part in the period of sessions or who use any of the tools available to the entire population of the Americas.

The IACHR has decided to hold four periods of sessions in 2019. The 171st Period of Sessions will be held on February 7–16 in Bolivia, at the invitation of the Bolivian state. The 172nd Period of Sessions will be held from May 2–10 in a Caribbean country to be announced in due course. The 173rd Period of Sessions will take place from September 3–10, 2019, at the IACHR headquarters in Washington, DC, and the 174th Period of Sessions will be held between November 25 and December 6 in Ecuador, at the invitation of the Ecuadorian state.

This press release has an Annex containing the summaries of all public hearings held during this Period of Sessions.

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 and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR 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. 271/18