Press Release

IACHR Completes 177th Period of Sessions Remotely

October 15, 2020

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Videos and photos of the hearings.

 Annex with summaries of all the public hearings

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 177th Period of Sessions between September 25 and October 9, 2020. This period of sessions was the second to take place remotely, to ensure compliance with IACHR mandates and operations in the face of the serious impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas and beyond.

During the 177th Period of Sessions, the IACHR held 27 public hearings concerning Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the United States, and Venezuela. Several hearings were also held concerning regional issues, including the human rights of trans persons; sexual violence, forced pregnancies, and access to healthcare in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic; the right of indigenous peoples to consultation and free, prior, and informed consent; the human rights of migrants, refugees, and unaccompanied children and adolescents; the human rights of persons with disabilities in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the challenges and hurdles that justice systems also face in this context.

In the hearings and meetings held during its 177th Period of Sessions, the IACHR received various reports on the overall situation of human rights in the region. The Inter-American Commission notes with concern that individuals who are particularly vulnerable because they faced historical or structural discrimination—including women and girls, LGBTI persons, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, and individuals in a context of human mobility—continue to face serious obstacles to secure protection for their rights to life, personal integrity, or health, among other rights held in the American Convention. The IACHR notes that the situation of these vulnerable individuals has become worse during the ongoing pandemic. In particular, specific hearings were held about Afro-Colombian communities that were victims of armed conflict in the country, and about the structural racism and police violence affecting African Americans in the United States.

The IACHR received with concern information about the increase in gender-based violence and sexual violence during the pandemic—including violence against cis and trans women and against non-binary persons—and also about the barriers that victims are facing to access healthcare, psychological support, and justice. The Commission was also informed about the situation of individuals who are deprived of freedom in Honduras, mainly concerning the militarization of the prison system and other issues that are being made worse by the pandemic. The IACHR was informed of legislative initiatives to develop a comprehensive system to safeguard the rights of children and adolescents in Chile, and of the challenges that the country continued to face in this field.

The IACHR also addressed with particular concern the violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in the context of the pandemic, especially concerning their rights to interculturally appropriate healthcare and to free, prior, and informed consent. The Commission was further informed of the persistent vulnerability of human rights defenders, including indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders who stand up for the human rights of their peoples and communities amid threats, murders, and other attacks, and the impunity around this violence. The IACHR stresses the major role played by defenders, as an essential pillar to strengthen democracies in the Americas. The Commission notes how important it is to consider activities for the defense of human rights as the main hypothesis when investigating these cases.

The Commission was informed of violations of the human rights of individuals in Nicaragua’s universities, in retaliation for their involvement in the social protests that started on April 18, 2018. The allegations made included attacks on university autonomy, expulsions without due process, arbitrary arrests, persecution and criminalization, and murders perpetrated in the context of demonstrations.

The IACHR is sorry that the State of Nicaragua failed to take part in the hearing. Concerning street violence, the Commission was told of the lack of information and social input in policies on this matter in El Salvador, where this issue continues to be handled with a repressive, militarized approach although the number of homicides has gone down.

Concerning the rights of migrants, the Commission obtained information about new patterns of rights violations and displacement observed in the context of the pandemic. The IACHR heard reports on the negative impact of technology for intelligence and migration management, particularly migration alerts, on the human rights of migrants, as well as the use of arbitrary arrests, pushbacks, and deportations, in violation of the applicable due process and international standards.

The IACHR further highlights challenges linked to ensuring the rights to access justice and information in the context of the pandemic, which particularly affect vulnerable persons. The Commission calls on States to ensure transparency in information and access to justice in the face of a digital divide.

The Commission is sorry that delegations from the States of Cuba and Nicaragua did not take part in the hearings to which they had been summoned, which makes IACHR efforts particularly difficult or even impossible. Hearings are an essential tool to obtain information, so the IACHR may fulfil the mandate it has been granted by Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS), to protect, promote, and defend human rights in the region.

The Commission further pursued dialogue with representatives of 27 Member States of the OAS in four meetings with specific regional groups. These meetings enabled significant exchanges with States concerning the human rights situation in various countries.
The IACHR also held three meetings with civil society organizations, to gather information about the situation of human rights in the region, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 100 representatives of organizations from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela took part in these remote meetings.

During the IACHR’s 177th Period of Sessions, 29 working meetings were also held concerning cases, friendly settlements, precautionary measures, and efforts to monitor recommendations regarding Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. The Commission thanks the parties for their involvement and for the information they provided and welcomes progress made concerning various mechanisms. Five bilateral meetings were also held during this period of sessions with State institutions from Canada and Peru, civil society organizations from Bolivia and Venezuela, and petitioners in a case concerning Chile.

During the remote 177th Period of Sessions, the Commission also addressed four conceptual comments concerning thematic reports and compendiums and four memorandums concerning precautionary measures in cases involving deprivation of liberty in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During its 177th Period of Sessions, the IACHR further decided to immediately draft an Action Plan to improve the work environment in its Executive Secretariat. The IACHR had previously met with the Ombudsperson of the OAS to listen to her concerns about this work environment. The IACHR will continue to act in accordance with three inter-American principles: independence and autonomy; respect for workers’ rights, including their right to file complaints for harassment or discrimination; and the right to due process of anyone facing allegations of violating other workers’ rights. The IACHR is primarily responsible for dealing with problems within its work environment, in the exercise of its autonomy and independence. In this context, the Commission has decided to step up the implementation of actions to improve the work environment that it agreed to implement in 2019, which were implemented by former Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão and are now being implemented by Acting Executive Secretary María Claudia Pulido. The IACHR further decided to take additional measures to improve the work environment. The views of staff gathered at the Work Environment Committee and the recommendations made by the Ombudsperson of the OAS will be taken into consideration in the development of this Action Plan. In keeping with its commitment to transparency and accountability, the Commission will periodically inform stakeholders of any progress made in developing and implementing this Action Plan and any supplementary measures.

During this period of sessions, Pedro Vaca started his mandate as the IACHR’s new Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and took part in the relevant hearings.

The Commission thanks States and civil society organizations for the efforts they made to take part in the 177th Period of Sessions and to contribute to ensuring progress in the defense and promotion of human rights in the Americas.

The IACHR notes the fears of potential retaliation expressed by civil society representatives in hearings and working meetings concerning several States. Several participants said they were afraid of the consequences they might face for their involvement in remote public hearings. The Commission strongly condemns any hurdles imposed on an individual to prevent them from exercising their right to use the mechanisms of the Inter-American Human Rights System, and any other retaliation or stigmatization measures taken by a State based on the participation or actions of an individual or organization before institutions that are part of the Inter-American System, in the exercise of their conventional rights. As stated in Article 63 of its Rules of Procedure, the IACHR urges all States to adopt protection measures to ensure the safety of all people who have taken part in activities during this period of sessions or who use any of the tools available to everyone in the Americas.

Videos of these hearings are available, as are high-resolution licensed photos that are free for public download and use. This press release is being published alongside an annex with summaries of all the 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 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. 253/20