Media Center



October 17, 2006 - Washington, DC

Madam Chair of the Permanent Council; The President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; The Assistant Secretary General; Ambassadors representing the OAS member states; Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Ladies and Gentlemen:

Once again it is our pleasure to welcome to OAS headquarters the commissioners pertaining to one of the oldest and most prestigious organs in our institution. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights enjoys ample legitimacy and credibility by dint of its 45 years of serious, independent, and impartial work on behalf of the rights of the women and men of our Hemisphere.

Our human rights system, namely the Commission and the Court, have come to embody the conscience of the Hemisphere, helping the States and their inhabitants to achieve effective protection of human rights. Indeed, while remaining mindful of the complementary and contributory nature of the efforts undertaken by States, the role of the IACHR has been consolidated over the years by its system of individual cases, on-site observation visits, rapporteurships for specific themes, and a wide range of reports on cases, topics, and countries. In a Hemisphere that, overall, has achieved democracy as its form of government, the Commission can assist in the design and establishment of minimum human rights standards. However, it cannot and should not be a substitute for the initiatives and public policies that each State pursues to enhance the protection of the rights of its inhabitants,

We are at a stage in which, following the restoration of democracy, the region is engaged in strengthening the rule of law. Nevertheless, there are hurdles along that path that are difficult to overcome, such as structurally weak justice systems; race, class, and ethnic discrimination, obstacles to economic, civil, and political rights; and a crisis of governance.

Our main challenge is to strengthen member states’ capacity to tackle major governance challenges, an area in which a human rights system such as ours can play a vital role.

Against the backdrop of a revitalized OAS refocusing on the consolidation of democratic governance, it is crucial to boost the inter-American human rights system by strengthening the independence and autonomy of its organs; compliance with their decisions and recommendations; ratification of all the instruments that constitute their legal and regulatory framework; and a substantial increase in the resources assigned to them.

Here I would like to delve deeper into certain issues that strike me as central. We are grateful for the attitude adopted by the OAS member states that have undoubtedly always respected the human rights system, thereby enabling it to be fully independent and autonomous in the exercise of its responsibilities. Often -- as one would expect, given the nature of our system and the fact that we are an organization made up of States -- there are discrepancies regarding the decisions taken by the Commission. Nevertheless, the member states are fully committed not just to maintaining the Commission’s autonomy and independence, but also to respecting and heeding its decisions. That support of the IACHR by the member states is the first fundamental factor I would like to underscore.

However, with respect to the system’s universality, we need to ponder the fact that three levels of protection of human rights coexist in our Hemisphere. The first covers the inhabitants of member states, who enjoy protection of the rights recognized in the American Declaration and the OAS Charter, under the supervision of the Inter-American Court and Inter-American Commission. A second system encompasses those member states that have ratified the American Convention but not accepted the jurisdiction of the Court. Then there is a third level of protection for those that have ratified the Convention and accepted the competence of the Court and Commission. This system is not ideal. It is not right that we have some countries that are members of the Commission but not members of the Court; that we have some countries that are members of the Commission, have ratified the Convention, but do not accept the jurisdiction of the Court, while other countries are members of both the Commission and the Court. So there are three distinct protection systems for citizens of one and the same Hemisphere. We will continue to strive for universality and to convince all the countries fully to accept the jurisdiction of the Commission and the Court.

As for the effectiveness of the system, I believe it is very important for all the countries to comply, as a prerequisite, with the decisions of the organs of the system, be it the Court or the Commission. To facilitate that process, our member states must act, through the political bodies, as genuine guarantors of the system, while at the same time adopting the necessary legislative measures to ensure that the decisions of the Commission and the Court have a mechanism for their enforcement under domestic law. Although significant progress has been made with respect to implementation of the recommendations of the IACHR and, especially, to compliance with the decisions of the Court, in particular with regard to reparation, satisfaction, and compensation measures, there are still areas pending in connection with the execution of justice.

Here we should mention that States have adopted legislative reforms that, both in their content and in their form, conform to the standards set by the IACHR through its individual case system. We consider, therefore, that the system is more effective today than in the past, but it remains imperative that member states indeed comply with the decision of the organs to which they subscribed through international treaties.

I believe it is also important to emphasize that the OAS has to take up the challenge of cooperating with states and with civil society in order to avoid not only grave reversals of the progress achieved in protection of human rights, but also to ensure, through public policies, ongoing progress toward a region that is better for all its inhabitants. Within the OAS, the IACHR and the Court are the key players for achieving that goal.

Increased cooperation by member states with the IACH has enhanced the effectiveness of the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms and enabled justice to be done in numerous individual cases. The Commission’s preventive role needs to be broadened and fortified over the coming years. Increasingly, it should take on the task of cooperating with and advising member states, showing us how to tackle numerous problems. That is how we came to have a rapporteurship on the rights of persons deprived of freedom and began addressing issues such as discrimination against minorities, people of African descent, the indigenous peoples, and gender discrimination.

As I have stated on previous occasions, for the inter-American system properly to fulfill the functions assigned to it under Conventions and its statutes, as well as the mandates assigned to it by the States, it has to be adequately funded. In recent years, the Inter-American Commission endured drastic cutbacks, jeopardizing its ability to operate. Since I took office, I have set about not only restoring the funding that was lost so as to enable the Commission to hold its regular periods of sessions, such as the one we are inaugurating today, but also to normalize the situation of its staff. To that end, this year we have incorporated seven new staff positions.

Given the gap between the funds allocated in the regular budget and the IACHR’s real operating needs, on behalf of the Organization, I would like to thank the states of the region for their contributions. In the form of specific contributions, they make up 44 percent of the Commission’s actual expenditure budget. We thank all those countries, but we believe that the OAS as a whole should make an effort to defray a greater amount of expenditure by the IACHR, which we proclaim as one of our principal assets, while financing barely half of its outlays with the Organization’s regular funds.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight recent activities in the areas of discrimination, freedom of expression, and children’s rights. The period of sessions held in Guatemala City from July 17 to 21, 2006, during which, in addition to meetings with the authorities, there were a series of activities to promote human rights and 10 hearings on important issues and situations on the Central American human rights agenda, was an example of how to facilitate and foster the access of victims of human rights violations to the inter-American system, while constituting an invaluable mechanism for promotion.

I also want to underscore the work of the Commission to support and protect human rights defenders. Mindful of the importance of their work, and pursuant to an OAS General Assembly mandate, the IACHR adopted a report that identified the obstacles faced by human rights defenders in the Americas and the legal framework for protecting them.

Tomorrow, together with the Commission, we will have a formal presentation of this report.

Finally, I would like to point to the excellent practice of issuing quarterly reports by the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression on the situation of journalists in the region. I believe it is essential that we develop an investigatory, research capability with respect to the complaints that reach the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, in order to be able to distinguish between simple complaints and proven cases of violation of journalists’ freedom of expression. Often we lack the tools to carry out that investigation and our reports list all the complaints and pieces of information that arrive at the Rapporteurship without our being in a position to verify them as meticulously as we should. Member states could be of great assistance in this area, which is, moreover, in their own interest, because member states would like to be sure that what the Rapporteurship says matches domestic perception of the problem that has arisen.

These are some of the subjects we wanted to touch on. I am convinced that this Commission’s work will expand over the next few years. It certainly will not diminish. More and more citizens of the Americas are resorting to the IACHR, sometimes for very well substantiated reasons, and in other cases because, thanks to its legitimacy, it is becoming a kind of last instance to which many feel they must resort to. And it is necessary to solve all those problems and to attend to all those demands, even if often they are not heard in full by the Commission. For that reason, the subject of increased funding and an expansion of the IACHR’s capacities is a matter that our General Assembly and our Permanent Council need to discuss seriously, particular given the Commission’s considerable prestige. An IACHR of the caliber of ours has enhanced the reputation of the OAS, and made it better known and respected around the world. For that reason we owe it, in addition to support, the recognition we are showing it on this occasion.

Thank you very much.