The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported on the activities carried out during its 122nd regular sessions. The Members of the IACHR are Clare K. Roberts, President; Susana Villarán, First Vice President; Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Second Vice President; and Commissioners José Zalaquett, Evelio Fernández Arévalos, Freddy Gutiérrez and Florentín Meléndez. The Executive Secretary of the IACHR is Santiago A. Canton.
Some important advances in the area of human rights in the region were noted by the IACHR: the launching of a comprehensive national human rights program in Mexico; the approval of constitutional reforms in Brazil aimed at modernizing the judicial system and amplifying the judicial mechanisms available to combat impunity for human rights violations; the carrying out of a referendum in Venezuela in spite of conditions of extreme polarization; the efforts undertaken by Chile, Argentina and Paraguay to investigate and punish those responsible for serious human rights violations; the recognition of international responsibility by Colombia, Guatemala and Peru in cases concerning serious human rights violations before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; the signing of a friendly settlement agreement on cases of forced disappearance in Honduras; the reaffirmation in the United States of the right to enjoy a judicial remedy or review in the case of the detention of citizens or persons classified as enemy combatants in the Guantanamo Naval Base; the consideration being given in Jamaica to legislative changes concerning the application of the death penalty; and the possibility in Colombia of reopening criminal investigations based on decisions of international organizations, as well as the judicial confirmation of the need to comply with precautionary measures issued by the Commission.
Special reference must be made to the recognition of State responsibility by Argentina during the present session in the case of the terrorist attack against the headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), an event reported by the IACHR in a separate press release. The Inter-American Commission welcomes the decision by the United States Supreme Court, by virtue of which it declared unconstitutional the execution of persons who committed crimes when they were less than eighteen years of age. The IACHR must also highlight the fact that, in a working meeting on precautionary measures concerning the Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Paraguay, an agreement was reached on several aspects of a plan to improve the conditions of the patients in that Hospital.
At the same time, there are many pending human rights challenges, including such longstanding problems as impunity in cases of serious human rights violations (for example, torture and extrajudicial executions); arbitrary detention; the deficient or insufficient development of the judiciary in the majority of the countries of the region, and the attacks in some countries on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; and inhuman conditions of detention in prisons. Finally, another pending challenge pertains to rising public insecurity due to the increase in criminality, as well as the tendency of putting into practice “strong hand” policies without duly addressing the causes of the problem, and also without considering policies of prevention and rehabilitation.
During the sessions, the Inter-American Commission received information on the general situation of human rights in Bolivia, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti and Venezuela.
The Inter-American Commission received information on the situation in Bolivia, especially regarding problems that affect the rule of law, indigenous peoples, the right to health, women’s rights, torture, and the situation of human rights defenders. The IACHR has been closely following the situation of social and institutional unrest, and it hopes to see the instability resolved by the strengthening of the rule of law and democratic institutions, in conformity with the Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is planning to reschedule the on-site visit to Bolivia, which was originally scheduled for early 2005.
The Commission also received information on the human rights situation in Colombia. Between February 15 and 18, 2005, a delegation of the IACHR led by Commissioner Susana Villarán visited the city of Bogotá to formally present the Report on the Demobilization Process in Colombia, adopted and published this past December. The Inter-American Commission must express concern because, despite the commitment to a cease-fire by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), acts of violence and intimidation against civil society persist. Any effort at pacification and demobilization of armed groups must rest on the legitimacy that can only be generated by agreements consistent with international standards, the end to use of violence and intimidation against the civilian population, respect for the law, justice and reparations for the victims.
In Cuba, although some persons were liberated after arbitrary detentions, there has been no significant change in the situation of systematic repression against dissidents, human rights defenders and independent journalists. Generalized violations of public freedoms persist, especially with respect to the right to political participation and freedom of expression. The IACHR reiterates the need for elections in Cuba, which must be periodic, free, fair, plural and based on universal and secret suffrage, as the expression of the will of the people. The IACHR also considered information received since its previous sessions, which pertains to the conditions of detention of persons deprived of liberty, labor and union rights, the rights of women, the right to residence and transit, as well as the right to freedom of expression in Cuba. Finally, with respect to the economic sanctions imposed on the Cuban regime, the Commission considers that they have a serious impact on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by the population.
The Commission observes with deep concern the institutional fragility of the rule of law in Ecuador. In recent years, the Ecuadorian political system has been one of the most unstable in the region. The average duration of its governments has been less than two years. This situation has been aggravated in the last few months by the removal of five of the nine members of the Constitutional Tribunal, the members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all 31 Justices of the Supreme Court. Independence and impartiality of the Judiciary are essential elements in the protection of human rights and the rule of law. These are underlying principles in the American Convention on Human Rights, which have been expressly recognized as fundamental elements of democracy by the Inter American Democratic Charter. Additionally, in the last few months, there has been a series of acts of violence, harassment and threats aimed at leaders of labor unions, social organizations, indigenous groups and students, who have expressed their public opposition to the aforementioned decisions.
With respect to Haiti, the Commission received information concerning the human rights situation in that country, including conditions of insecurity, the situation of persons in detention, the status of members of the press and freedom of expression, and the role of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). In light of this information, the Commission remains extremely concerned about the apparent lack of control by the State over security throughout the country and the continuing threat that members of the former military, gangs and other illegal armed groups pose to the civilian population and the future stability of the country. The Commission renews its call for the government and the international community to take all urgent measures necessary, consistent with applicable human rights standards, to ensure the security of the people of Haiti and create conditions conducive to general elections scheduled for the fall of 2005. With respect to the continued incarceration of persons associated with the former government and others, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, the Commission once again reminds the State of the prohibition against arbitrary arrest and detention enshrined under Article 7 of the American Convention and urges the government to clarify the juridical situation of all detainees and prisoners, and to ensure that their security is protected and that they are afforded minimum standards of humane treatment. Further, the Commission expresses its profound concern for the situation of particular groups in Haiti, including women, children, human rights defenders and journalists, who have been particularly harmed by the violence and deplorable living conditions, and stresses the urgent need for international aid to reach those who most require assistance.
During the sessions, the IACHR received information on the endemic problem of provisional judges in Venezuela. From 2004 to date, 436 prosecutors have been appointed provisionally. The Commission expresses its deepest concern with respect to this situation, given that the high percentage of provisional judges and prosecutors seriously affects the right to an adequate justice system. It also has a negative effect on the rights of magistrates and prosecutors to stability in their positions, which in turn helps to guarantee their independence and autonomy. This worrisome tendency not only contradicts international human rights protection standards and the case-law of the inter-American system, but it also goes against the specific recommendations set forth by the IACHR pursuant to its visit to Venezuela in 2002. The Commission reiterates its concern regarding the situation of risk and stigmatization suffered by human rights defenders in Venezuela, as well as the climate of hostility faced by organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights, especially those human rights defenders who attended these hearings before the IACHR and those who work in the border areas of that country.
During the sessions, the Commission carried out an intense program of activities. As customary, the larger part of its work was dedicated to the study and review of reports on individual petitions and cases pertaining to different countries in the hemisphere. The matters considered include 30 reports dealing with the admissibility stage of the proceedings and 14 concerning the merits stage. During the second of the three weeks of the sessions, the Commission held 43 hearings on individual cases and petitions, and on the human rights situation in the hemisphere, covering general issues or specific subjects pertaining to the mandate of the Commission. Further, the IACHR finalized the approval of its Annual Report setting forth the work accomplished during 2004, and planned the activities to be carried out throughout 2005. The Commission is also working on a number of cases that are being dealt with by the Inter-American Court during the period of sessions it initiated on February 28, 2005.
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The IACHR decided to hold its next regular sessions from October 10 to 28, 2005. The complete report concerning the 122d period of sessions can be found on its website: www.cidh.org.
Washington, D.C., March 11, 2005