Remarks by the IACHR President

Remarks by Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay
President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Presentation of the 2017 IACHR Annual Report to the
Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the OAS
March 22, 2018

Ambassador Hugo Cayrús, President of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council;

Judge Eduardo Ferrer McGregor, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights;

Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi, Vice President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights;

Jean-Michel Arrighi, Secretary for Legal Affairs;

Permanent and Alternate Representatives of Member States and Observers;

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honored to appear before you today as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to present our 2017 Annual Report. With me today are Maria Claudia Pulido, IACHR Assistant Executive Secretary; Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression; Soledad Garcia Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights; and staff members of the Executive Secretariat.


The 2017 report was adopted by the Inter-American Commission in accordance with the guidelines established by the General Assembly, and with Article 58 of our Rules of Procedure. I would like to recognize Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, who as President led the Commission during the period covered by this report. I would also like to thank former Commissioners José de Jesús Orozco, Paulo Vannuchi and James Cavallaro, who completed their mandates at the end of last year, and who conducted a very important part of the activities reflected in this report. Last but not least, I am very pleased to acknowledge the dedication and quality of the work of our staff, fellows and interns, wisely led by our Executive Secretary.

Overview of chapters

The 2017 Annual Report reflects the range of activities carried out by the Commission to discharge its mandate of protection and promotion of human rights. The report begins with a summary of the origin of the IACHR, its legal bases, structure, purposes and mandates; this is followed by an account of the status of ratification of inter-American instruments, as well as highlights of areas where progress has been achieved in human rights during 2017.

Chapter I contains a general overview of the Commission’s activities during the year, as well as positive initiatives by Member States toward dealing with their human rights challenges. It also refers to the eleven cooperation agreements signed during 2017.

Chapter II is about the management of the IACHR systems for petitions, cases, and precautionary measures and underscores the efforts currently underway to reduce and eliminate its procedural backlog.

Chapter III is devoted to the full activities of each of the seven Commissioners during 2017 in their respective capacities as thematic and country rapporteurs. This includes thematic reports, working and promotional visits, supervision of cases, requests for information and recommendations to States, as well as press releases.

Chapter IV is divided into two main sections. Section IV.A provides an overview of the human rights situation in the hemisphere during 2017, as part of the IACHR’s monitoring powers. In this regard, the Inter-American Commission focuses on the persons, groups, collectives, and matters that warranted the special attention of the IACHR. This section provides an analysis of the main trends, problems, challenges, advancements and good practices pertaining to human rights, from the viewpoint of cross-cutting themes and priority issues set forth in the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan.

Section IV.B comprises the special reports on the situation of human rights in those Member States considered necessary by the Commission during the year. For 2017 those States were Cuba and Venezuela, following the careful application of the criteria, methods and procedure set in the IACHR Rules of Procedure. The special reports are submitted to States to give them the opportunity to respond and provide additional information for consideration by the Commission before final approval.

With respect to Cuba, the IACHR dealt with persistent challenges to human rights within the State. These included restrictions on political rights, as well as on the rights to association and freedom of expression, along with restrictions on freedom of movement, all of which have led to a situation of systematic violation of the human rights of the population of Cuba. During 2017 the IACHR found the persistence of lack of judicial guarantees and judicial protection, which especially affect human rights defenders and political dissidents, social and political leaders, and independent journalists.

Section IV.B also includes an executive summary of the report on “Democratic Institutions, the Rule of Law and Human Rights in Venezuela”, containing four main axes that represent the IACHR’s main concerns regarding that country. The serious deterioration of democratic institutions; the alarming increase in the repression of social protest and freedom of expression; violence and insecurity; and the political, economic and social crisis, all of which continue to systematically limit the human rights of the population of Venezuela.

Chapter V addresses the follow-up to the recommendations made in the country reports on the situation of human rights in Colombia, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

On Colombia, the Inter-American Commission observed additional complexities arising from the violence of the armed conflict, while it recognized the efforts conducted by the State with respect to the exercise of victims’ rights and the creation of the legal framework and institutional structure required for the implementation of the peace agreement.

Regarding Mexico, the IACHR identified significant advances in constitutional and legislative areas in recent years. However, it also noted that there was a persistence of challenges in terms of violence and insecurity, made evident by the number of disappearances, homicides and reports of torture. The follow-up report points out that the Mexican State must close the gap between its legal framework and the practical recognition of rights in practice.

This chapter also analyzes the compliance of the recommendations of the IACHR in its country report on the Dominican Republic. There is recognition of the important measures adopted by the State to solve the serious situation affecting thousands of persons who do not effectively enjoy the right to nationality of to a regular migrant status; however, the Inter-American Commission also observes that these rights are yet to be restored to a large number of persons born in the Dominican Republic. A Task Force was established to conduct permanent dialogue between the State and the IACHR about the acquisition of nationality and migration; policies to combat all forms of discrimination; and policies to ensure women’s rights and gender equality.

Chapter VI provides information on our structure, staff, personnel training, financial resources, budget execution, fundraising and project management, among others.

Human rights situation in the region during 2017


The IACHR recognized in its report progresses made in the normative field to protect human rights and to promote equality and non-discrimination. These included laws for the prevention, investigation and punishment of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; definition of femicide as a crime; improvement in the protection of LGBTI persons who face hate crimes; inclusion of persons with disabilities in the quotas of the educational system; and authorization for transgender and transvestites to include their social name on their identification cards.

In particular, the IACHR highlighted migration laws and initiatives regarding internally displaced persons in accordance with the standards of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, judicial resolutions, and decisions that recognize refugee status to homosexual, lesbian and bisexual persons. These are pioneering measures at the regional level that guarantee some level of neutrality in travel documents as a way to recognize and respect diverse gender identities.

During 2017 the IACHR also observed progress made by the States in terms of freedom of expression, access to public information and the fight against impunity for crimes against journalism. Among others, the Commission highlighted the release of imprisoned journalists and whistleblowers, the strengthening of national mechanisms for the protection of journalists and multiple judicial decisions and legal reforms that incorporate the standards of the inter-American system in cases related to freedom of expression.


The IACHR Annual Report is an important tool for its monitoring mandate, since it allows this organ to regarding the human rights situation in the region. Currently, a predominance of freely elected governments has laid the foundation for the effective exercise of human rights a vital element of democracy. However, the region is still facing serious challenges such as impunity, due process violations, restrictions on judicial independence, police abuse, discrimination, poverty and social exclusion, to list only a few issues which undermine respect for human rights.

These issues highlight the institutional fragility of the rule of law and the need to strengthen democracy in the hemisphere. Deterioration of economic and social conditions in several countries of the region, coupled with legal and constitutional reforms --which chip away at hard-won rights or represent a regression in combating impunity-- have triggered massive demonstrations, which are in many instances  repressed with excessive force by police and/or military forces and, in more than a few instances, deepen political instability.
During 2017 the IACHR also expressed its deep concern over increased threats, criminalization, retaliation and violence against members of groups that have historically suffered discrimination. These acts have also targeted human rights defenders, journalists and the media who investigate and denounce corruption, which has escalated into a serious problem in the Americas.
The Commission also noted with extreme concern that authorities in some States of the region have adopted official positions attacking human rights and the basic principles of tolerance underpinning democracy. In this context, a discourse of intolerance by senior government officials could be construed as inciting racial hatred, as well as calls to build physical barriers along borders and stigmatization of migrants.
In 2017, citizen insecurity continued to be a focus of concern due to increased crime and the inadequate institutional response, which is incompatible with the principles of a democratic society and respect for human rights and fundamental liberties. "Get tough" policies are often put into practice without properly dealing with the causes of the problems or considering the implementation of prevention and reintegration policies.  Moreover, the Commission has continued to receive reports of torture and excessive use of force by the law enforcement agencies.

During this past year the Commission also observed with concern some challenges and regressive steps in the areas of memory, truth, justice and reparation in countries of the region. There have been actions to undermine efforts to combat impunity, as well as the institutional framework created for this purpose, and the recognition and access to the right to justice and truth of the victims of gross human rights violations.

IACHR Results in 2017

The IACHR promoted important institutional strengthening measures in 2017: its work agenda was established by its second Strategic Plan, approved after an extensive process of participatory consultations. In addition, it promoted measures to expand its protection capacity, such as the expansion by member States of its budget of the Regular Fund of the Organization of American States (OAS); the change of its administrative structure; and the preparation of a Financial Sustainability Plan, all of which will allow for a renewed strength in the fulfillment of its integral mandate.

These measures are directly linked to the results achieved in the year: the approval of a record 120 admissibility reports; 35 merits reports, more than double the number for the previous year; 5 friendly settlement reports; and 45 precautionary measures granted. Likewise, the number of petitions in the initial study stage was reduced to a historical minimum; and 100% of the petitions received the previous year were evaluated. The IACHR thus reached the objectives of the year for the reduction of procedural delay. For the upcoming years, strengthening the friendly settlements mechanism remains a significant challenge.

Regarding the mandate of observing the human rights situation in the region, the new administrative structure of the IACHR integrated its geographic and thematic monitoring work.. During the last year the Commission also carried out a process of standardization and harmonization of work flows, processes and instruments.

In 2017 we created three new thematic units: memory, truth and justice; rights of older persons; and rights of persons with disabilities. Importantly, the public selection of its first Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights was achieved. This new Special Rapporteurship, as well as the decision to ensure minimum funds for all rapporteurships, have contributed to greater thematic balance in our work.

Also in the period covered by this report, the IACHR issued 42 requests for information to OAS Member States. A record number of 222 press releases were issued, 161 of which are related to the monitoring of the human rights situation in the region. During the same period, we published 9 country or thematic reports, and carried out 6 country working visits were carried out. The IACHR also strengthened its technical assistance mandate and the follow-up of recommendations, with a view of promoting the effectiveness of the system. Finally, a relevant result of the year was the expansion of channels and spaces for civil society participation in the duties and activities of the IACHR and the emphasis on the protection of human rights defenders, particularly with the establishment of the Joint Mechanism on Human Rights Defenders with the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Human Rights.

The Commission would like to thank the contributions made by the following member states: Argentina, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United States of America, and Uruguay. The Commission also thanks the invitations by the States of Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Uruguay to hold its Periods of Sessions throughout 2017.

Looking back on the activities for this past year leads me to reflect that they were made possible by many individuals who work closely with us and our committed staff, including authorities, members of civil society organizations, victims and their families, as well as a very broad range of persons and institutions. However, I would like to stress that the responsibility for ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights of the citizens of our region resides first and foremost in the Member States of this organization, whose full cooperation and active engagement are fundamental.

In this regard, allow me to refer to the historic step adopted in 2017 by the OAS General Assembly: the duplication of the financial resources in the Regular Budget for both organs of the inter-American system of human rights over three years. This is a conquest not only of the OAS and its human rights organs, but rather of all our stakeholders. It must highlight a path forward to the constant strengthening of our institutions, by ensuring them the resources necessary to function, and the closing of gaps in universalization and full compliance with the decisions of the IACHR and the Inter-American Court.

We urge the States to fulfill their commitment to the budget increase when deciding on the OAS budget for the 2019 and 2020, completing the staggered application process. We also remind the States that voluntary contributions will continue to be necessary for the full discharge of the IACHR’s mandates, insofar as the duplication of regular fund by 2020 will not meet the entirety of the Commission’s costs and expenses.

On behalf of my colleagues, I look forward to continue to collaborate with you and your authorities for the common goal of making the enjoyment of human rights a reality in our region for all persons, with no discrimination whatsoever.

Thank you very much for your attention.