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Civil Society Organizations Presented to the OAS Permanent Council Recommendations to Strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System

  December 8, 2012

Civil society organizations, stakeholders and users of the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) today held a dialogue with representatives of the Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) on the proposals received for the application of the recommendations in the “Report of the Special Working Group to Reflect on the Workings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with a view to Strengthening the Inter-American System for the Protection of Human Rights.”

The event, held at OAS headquarters in Washington DC, is part of the second phase of the process that will culminate in March 2013 at the latest with the debate and eventual approval in a special meeting of the General Assembly of the proposals for the strengthening the Commission, according to the timetable established by the General Assembly of Cochabamba, in June of this year.

The Chair of the Permanent Council and Representative of Mexico, Ambassador Joel Hernández, opened the meeting by applauding "the interest of civil society organizations in participating in this process" and advocated for a dialogue "in which successful proposals and recommendations presented by civil society can be put into practice and contribute to the full report." The format chosen for the event allowed for the chapter by chapter analysis of the report in which non governmental organizations presented their specific ideas, followed by interventions of Member States.

In Chapter 1 “Challenges and medium- and long-term objectives of the IACHR” participating organizations agreed on the importance of preserving the independence, autonomy and powers of the organs of the IAHRS, expressed satisfaction that the reforms to that system are being consulted with all stakeholders and called for reforms that do not represent a regression in the protection of human rights in the hemisphere.

Among the challenges mentioned were the need to increase the financial resources available to the system; achieving universality of the Inter-American Convention on this matter, ensuring full compliance and implementation of the recommendations and decisions of the Court and the Commission; making possible the elaboration of reports on the situation of human rights by country; and achieving greater coordination of the Inter-American System and state and local authorities. In addition, participants suggested greater disclosure of the decisions of the Court and the Commission to contribute to greater confidence in the processes and procedures within the system and the addressing of measures to support the economic and social rights of the private sector, particularly small and medium enterprises.

The organizations that spoke in this panel were: Amnesty International, Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos, Asociación para el Estudio y Promoción de la Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM), Asociación Probúsqueda de niños y niñas desaparecidas en El Salvador, Canal Capital, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), el Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM), el Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Dejusticia), el Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), el Centro Feminista de Información y Acción (CEFEMINA), la Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), el Instituto de Estudos da Religião (ISER), la Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia, and Unidad Industrial Iztapalapa A.C.

After the presentations the representatives from Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Argentina, Colombia, United States, Venezuela and Nicaragua referred to the issue covered in this chapter.

In the chapter on the use of "precautionary measures" by the IACHR, the representatives of 12 civil society organizations took part. Several testified that such measures have served as a shield for many people in the Americas, in some cases even saving lives. Among the participants, there was consensus on the great value of this mechanism. Among the proposals on the recommendations of the Report of the Working Group, some participants urged limiting major requirements when adopting the measures, seeking a proper balance between the legal certainty for States and the effective protection of the rights of the people, avoiding the imposition of "too rigid" requirements, which would prevent the Commission from acting in urgent situations, exploring collective measures and protecting the independence of the Commission, among others.

During this debate, representatives from the following organizations took part: la Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos, la Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA), la Asociación Mulabi – Grupo de Trabajo Latinamericano por los Derechos Sexuales, Canal Capital, el Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan, el Centro de Derechos Humanos de las Mujeres (CEDEHM), el Centro Femenista de Información y Acción (CEFEMINA), la Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES), the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF), the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, the International Law Human Rights Clinic, and Peace Brigades International.

Chapter 3 of the dialogue between civil society, the users of the IAHRS and Member States addressed the issue of "Matters of procedure in the handling of individual cases and petitions." Participating in this part of the discussion were Honduran citizen Adam Lopez, as a user of the IAHRS, the American Civil Liberties Union, la Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos (APHD) of Argentina, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), based in the United States, el Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez AC; el Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (CENIDH), el Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais/RJ Brazil, and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission.

Participants requested that any reforms to the system be carried out with the objective of making the procedures "less cumbersome"; they also expressed fear that the reform process could threaten the independence of the Commission and the Court, and they advocated for the principles of Pro-person, dynamic interpretation, free access to justice, simplicity, judicial economy, they also called for the safeguarding of the equality of the parties to the litigation.

Chapter 4 of the special meeting of the Permanent Council referred to "friendly settlements" between the states and the plaintiffs. Representatives from APDH; CEJIL; the la Red Latinoamericana y del caribe para la Democracia; and el Refugio para la Niñez all took part.

Among the recommendations for friendly settlements, the petitioners requested that the agreements signed by the parties be approved by the Commission in a timely manner; they also suggested that the friendly settlement be available during the entire proceedings of the case, even after the Commission issued its recommendations; another proposal indicated that the Working Group on amicable solutions should be permanent and not temporary; and in reference to the re-establishment of deadlines, it was proposed that the reports will be issued only when the friendly solutions have been met in full.

At the end of this chapter the representatives of Mexico and Argentina took part.

The dialogue with civil society also considered Chapter 5 of the report referring to the "Criteria for the construction of Chapter IV of the Annual Report of the IACHR - Human Rights Developments in the Region." At this point, the NGOs suggested strengthening this section as a means to expand the specific monitoring of countries in deficiencies in the protection of human rights and use it as a special surveillance system to contribute to the adoption of measures to improve the human rights situation in the region. They also proposed that the annual report strengthen the channels of dialogue with the States providing advice and assistance on specific situations, open a special space for the request of information prior to States that are being considered for inclusion in this chapter and continue with the independence in the compiling of the report to ensure its accuracy, fairness and transparency.

The organizations that submitted recommendations in this regard were the Colectivo de Abogados "José Alvear Restrepo" (CCAJAR), Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad (Dejusticia) y Unidad Industrial Iztapalapa A.C. Other organizations presented recommendations through written documents that were circulated among the delegations.

Mexico and Argentina addressed the Council on the issues involved in Chapter 5.

The promotion of human rights was the focus of Chapter 6 of the Council meeting. In this instance, representatives of the Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia (AJD); Asociación Mulabi; the Association of Caribbean Media Workers; CEJIL; la Organización Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos (ONALDEP); el Refugio de la Niñez; and the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith participated.

One of the participants urged the Council not to replace the protection of human rights with the promoting human rights, and requested OAS Member States to increase their contributions to the promotion of human rights, and to implement activities in this regard in areas related to universities, and civil society organizations; another participant indicated that seeing promotion and protection as opposing one another is a mistake, as the two are mutually reinforcing, and indicated that the promotion of human rights depends upon all OAS Member countries signing all international treaties, and complying with those signed, as well as providing assistance to victims.

At the end of this chapter the delegates of Argentina, Venezuela, El Salvador and Peru took part.

The last issue addressed at the meeting was the "financial strengthening of the ISHR", a theme referred to by the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, on Wednesday, when he proposed to the Council the creation of a capital fund with one hundred million dollars to finance the operation of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In this section of the day’s discussions, CEJIL took part, as did la Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia and la Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH), through a video presentation.

Everyone who took the floor in this topic concurred on the need to provide more funds to ensure the effective operation of the ISHR, and suggestions as to how to achieve it included raising the contributions from States, the creation of a separate fund belonging to the System, fundraising activities, joint strategies with universities and civil society organizations, and online donations, among other proposals. The representatives of Canada, Argentina, and Brazil took part in this chapter.

At the end of the special meeting, which lasted all day, the President of the Council, Ambassador Joel Hernández, concluded by expressing his conviction that "each of these steps we are taking is a step toward building confidence. From an atmosphere of mistrust in which this process began, little by little we have been consolidating the confidence we need. " He said he saw the meeting as "a dialogue that this Chair understands as not only an opportunity for the parties to express themselves, but rather as an opportunity for the parties to be heard."

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video of the event is available here.

The audio of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-453/12