Remarks by the IACHR President to the CAJP of the OAS

Presentation of the 2012 Annual Report by the President of the IACHR to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States

Washington, D.C., April 16, 2013

Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs;
Representatives of the member states and permanent observers of the Organization;
Civil society representatives;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am pleased to present to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council the 2012 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Accompanying me here today are the Assistant Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed; the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero; and members of the Executive Secretariat staff.

The report I am presenting was adopted by the Inter-American Commission in accordance with the guidelines established by the General Assembly and with Article 58 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. It describes the main activities carried out by the IACHR in 2012, under my presidency, to promote and protect human rights.

In a sense, it represents the end of a cycle. It is the last annual report to be prepared under the guidelines of our current Rules of Procedure, which will change substantially on August 1, 2013, when the reform of the Commission’s rules, policies, and practices will take effect, as a result of the strengthening and reform process carried out by the Permanent Council and the Commission from 2011 to 2013.

The report is divided into four chapters.

Chapter I refers to the legacy the IACHR has brought to the inter-American community of States and their peoples and discusses the new human rights demands on the regional agenda and the Commission’s important contribution in that regard, through thematic reports, decisions on petitions and cases, and statements made in the framework of its monitoring authority, among other actions. In its Strategic Plan 2011-2015, the Commission underscored the need to move forward in some areas on that agenda, including the promotion of plans of action for standards development, and heightened visibility for such issues as the rights of LGBTI communities and economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCRs).

Since its establishment on August 18, 1959, the IACHR has repeatedly fine tuned its procedures, policies, and practices. That exercise has involved dialogue and broad consultation with States, civil society organizations, victims, and other users of the system. Along those lines, Chapter I of the Annual Report contains a summary of the activities carried out by the Commission and its Executive Secretariat in 2012, as part of its reform process. Judging by their number alone, this series of activities is particularly impressive. Since July 2011, it has included:

• 29 meetings of the Special Working Group of this Permanent Council;
• 51 country position papers setting out the opinions of all Member States;
• 98 position papers outlining the views of more than a thousand organizations, individuals, academic institutions, and other nongovernmental entities;
• A preliminary hemispheric seminar;
• Five regional forums in which more than 150 speakers from civil society organizations and 32 states participated;
• Three hemispheric hearings in which this Council and over 70 civil society organizations took part;
• 15 regular and special meetings of this Council;
• 37 deliberation meetings of the Commission;
• Two hemispheric consultations; and
• One special session of the General Assembly.

In light of this background, I would like to commend the extraordinary investment that the government representatives have made in this process. Thanks to their professionalism and seriousness, the documents issued by this Council enjoy unique legitimacy, that born of inter-American consensus.

The reform process may be summarized as follows:

With respect to precautionary measures, the core purpose of the reform is to promote legal certainty. The fundamental vehicle for change will be publication of the grounds on which the Commission bases its decisions for requesting the granting, expansion, or modification of such measures. It bears mentioning that there has always been a procedure involving written, well-reasoned considerations in which the whole of the Commission has taken part, but now it will be published, thus ensuring that said certainty is in harmony with the useful purpose of the protection procedure, namely, to be an effective mechanism for preventing irreparable harm to persons.

As regards the individual petition and case system, the Commission’s reforms are intended to make the criteria it applies more explicit and predictable to the parties involved, victims, and States.

It should be noted that, through this reform, the Commission has decided to completely restructure its Annual Report. The main objective is transparency and accessibility, in a framework of accountability. The Member States, permanent observers, and inter-American civil society may be assured that, in implementing the new guidelines for the Annual Report, the Commission will be committed to making the best, most relevant and most precise assessment possible of the human rights situation in the Americas.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

With the reform that was carefully crafted by all actors of the inter-American system in place, the resources and efforts devoted to that process have returned to the work of defending and promoting human rights, which is the essence of our mandate. In any event, dialogue with States, victims, and civil society will continue to be a basic instrument for performing our task. In addition to the Commission’s efforts to make its processes transparent, increase their effectiveness and efficiency, and surround them with a universally accepted normative framework, it is essential to focus on major challenges.

Some of these challenges are urgent, and they are urgent for all of the system’s actors. Principal among them is implementation of reform in the area of precautionary measures. We have to ensure that the issuance of decisions represents added value for the system and is under no circumstances an obstacle to the efficiency and efficacy of the measures.

The same applies to extending the results of the programs for eliminating procedural delays and handling petitions. Since 2007, the program for eliminating delays has achieved major results that should be multiplied for the benefit of victims of human rights violations. This means that we should make certain that we have sufficient resources for reviewing petitions and preparing reports on admissibility and on merits.

All of this will require a considerable inflow of material resources for the Protection Group and other areas of the Commission; the Commission’s Executive Secretary is currently in Europe to strengthen cooperative ties and, in some cases, to establish them. On this side of the Atlantic, we must do our utmost to ensure that, in the medium term, the resolve expressed by the member states on the Council to “reaffirm its commitment to attain full financing of the [system] through the Regular Fund of the Organization” becomes a reality.

Chapter I emphasizes that fulfillment of the Commission’s mandate requires a speedy resolution of other challenges, which can be faced in the medium term: universal ratification of all inter-American human rights instruments. In this connection, I would that to reiterate a respectful appeal to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to reconsider its decision to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights, which would deny everyone under the Venezuelan State’s jurisdiction protection by the Inter-American Court and would undermine the goals of universalization.

The inter-American system is and must be an additional means of providing reparations and protection to victims. The cases before the regional system help to identify challenges and deficiencies at the national level and to establish priorities for addressing them. Nonetheless, the concept of access to justice recognizes that the existence of institutions is not sufficient to ensure the vindication of rights, as it is also necessary to guarantee that procedures are accessible and, as appropriate, that judgments will be enforced by the executive body. All of these processes are part of a broad, substantive concept of access to justice.

The system’s effectiveness as a regional mechanism for protecting human rights presupposes that the Member States comply fully and effectively with the decisions of the Court and the Commission. To this end, the States must adopt the necessary legislative and other measures to ensure that the decisions taken by the Commission and the Court have a mechanism enabling and facilitating their domestic implementation. While important progress has been made in implementation, a level of compliance that would guarantee the efficacy of the decisions of the system’s organs has yet to be reached.

We have listened to the request of States to advise them, without neglecting our protective efforts, on the difficult challenges faced in implementing human rights. At the OAS General Assembly session to be held in Antigua, Guatemala, the Commission will hold a seminar on best practices for friendly settlement, and later, will convene high-level meetings on progress made and challenges faced in the full implementation of the decisions of the system’s organs, as well as on the different views involved in full ratification of all the inter-American human rights instruments.

In the year covered by this report, the Commission continued to conclude collaborative agreements with government institutions to promote jointly a culture of promotion of and respect for human rights, in particular, with supreme and constitutional courts (like the one concluded with the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia), as well as with non-judicial human rights bodies (like the one concluded with the Human Rights Commission of Mexico’s Federal District), for the purpose of fostering the domestic adoption of inter-American standards on the administration of justice and the protection of human rights, in such a way as to preserve the complementary nature of the inter-American system.

Chapter II includes an overview of the Commission’s background and legal bases, along with a description of its most important activities in 2012, during which the Commission held three periods of sessions, which included 71 hearings and 48 working meetings. I would like to thank civil society and the Member States for their important assistance in providing information and creating forums for dialogue. The hearings touched on some of the most essential items on our human rights agenda, including six hearings on the rights of indigenous peoples, six on the rights of women, five on matters related to the rights of migrants, five on issues related to freedom of expression, five on the rights of the child, five on the problems of human rights defenders, seven on persons deprived of liberty, three on the rights of persons of African descent, and four on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons.

In 2012, the IACHR received 1,936 new individual petitions and accepted 137 petitions for processing; it approved a total of 42 admissibility reports, 17 inadmissibility reports, eight friendly settlements, 42 archiving reports, and 15 reports on the merits, one of which it decided to publish. During the same period, it continued to pursue its mandates under the Convention and its regulations and referred 12 cases to the Court, with extensions granted, in another 14 cases, suspending the time period for possible referral to the Court. Likewise, it attended and participated in public and private hearings of the Court and presented 105 briefs with observations on the government reports on implementation of decisions. In addition, it received and decided on 448 requests for precautionary measures and granted 35 of them.

Assessing the overall workload, by year’s end in 2012, the IACHR had been responsible for conducting the initial review of more than 7,200 petitions and for reaching decisions on admissibility in 1,150 of them and on the merits in 550, as well as for following up on the recommendations contained in almost 200 reports on the merits and the agreements concluded between States and petitioners in 100 friendly-settlement reports. Likewise, it had been responsible for monitoring a total of 750 precautionary measures currently in force or for which information was sought from States or petitioners.

Further, in 2012 the Commission made an on-site visit to Colombia, issued 151 press releases, continued monitoring the human rights situation in 35 States of the Hemisphere, and, through its rapporteurships, continued to follow up on the status of women, children and adolescents, persons of African descent, indigenous peoples, human rights defenders, migrants and their families, persons deprived of liberty, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons, as well as on the status of freedom of expression and of economic, social, and cultural rights, having published during that period nine related thematic reports in addition to a country report resulting from a previous on-site visit. Added to this are the working and promotional visits headed up by Commission members in their capacity as country or thematic rapporteurs, along with numerous seminars and training courses and a wide range of promotional activities.

The foregoing reflects the challenges faced by the Commission and the various ways in which it protects and promotes human rights in the Hemisphere.

To address this array of matters, the IACHR depends on the dedication of the seven of us who serve on the Commission and, at the same time, are obliged to work at our respective jobs in our home countries. To this end, we benefit from the outstanding, committed support of an Executive Secretariat provided with OAS resources to hire 16 lawyers, 11 administrative assistants, and 5 staff members from other areas. And so the Organization’s regular budget allows for only 34 staff members or, in other words, a number smaller than the total number of OAS countries we are required to monitor. It is clearly thanks to external fundraising efforts promoted by the Commission itself that, in December 2012, we were able to hire another 25 people with external funds, on the understanding that they have no guarantee of permanent employment and that they have to work on specific projects that do not always coincide with the regular workload.

The shortage of resources leads to delays that create anxiety for the victims and other users of the system. Even though we are aware of the ongoing challenge to be more effective and efficient, if we compare the scarce public resources allocated to the Commission with the regional impact of its efforts to promote and protect human rights, including recurring legislative reforms and revamped public policies in the various States because of its decisions, it can be said that it is one of the most productive and necessary institutions in the Americas.

As indicated, among its diverse activities, the Commission made various thematic and working visits, noteworthy among them the on-site visit to Colombia from December 3 to 7, 2012, at the Government’s invitation, to observe the human rights situation in the country. The delegation met with government officials, civil society organizations, victims of human rights violations, and representatives of international agencies. With the information it received during the visit and other inputs, the IACHR is in the process of drafting a country report on the human rights situation in Colombia, in which a set of recommendations will be made to define an agenda for implementing the obligations of the State Party to the Convention.

For their part, Commission members Dinah Shelton and Rosa María Ortiz, in their capacity as country rapporteurs, made working visits to Guatemala and Haiti, respectively.

In 2012, the Commission members, in our capacity as thematic rapporteurs, undertook promotional visits and activities, with support from the Executive Secretariat staff. As you know, the Commission has seven rapporteurships and two thematic units: the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, headed by Commission member Dinah Shelton; on the Rights of Women, headed by Commission member Tracy Robinson; on the Rights of Migrants, headed by Commission member Felipe González; on the Rights of the Child, headed by Commission member Rosa María Ortiz; on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, headed by Commission member Rodrigo Escobar Gil; on the Rights of Afro-Descendants and against Racial Discrimination, headed by Commission member Rose-Marie Antoine; and on Human Rights Defenders, which I myself head; the Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Bisexual, and Intersex Persons, headed by Commission member Tracy Robinson; and the Unit on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, headed by Commission member Rose-Marie Antoine.

In this connection, as indicated in the Annual report, the rapporteurships conducted more than 50 promotional activities in the following OAS Member States: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Saint Lucia, the United States of America, and Uruguay. Moreover, various promotional activities were carried out in Geneva, Switzerland, in coordination with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Also, in 2012, the Inter-American Commission published the following thematic reports:

- Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas
- Report on the Human Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas
- Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence: Education and Health
- Access to Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Mesoamerica
- The Situation of People of African Descent in the Americas
- Access to Information on Reproductive Health from a Human Rights Perspective
- Legal Standards Related to Gender Equality and Women’s Rights in the Inter-American Human Rights System: Development and Application
- The Labor, Education and Resources of Women: The Road to Equality in Guaranteeing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition

In its report on the death penalty, the Commission called upon those States of the region that had not yet abolished the death penalty to consider abolishing it or to declare a moratorium on executions as a step toward the gradual elimination of this type of punishment, as well as to ratify the corresponding protocol and to ensure full compliance with the decisions of the Inter-American Commission and Court, specifically those involving individual cases and precautionary and provisional measures related to the death sentence. It should be noted that on March 7, 2013, for the first time in its existence, the IACHR held a hearing requested by a group of States. The hearing, on the death penalty in the Americas, was requested by Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, and Panama.

The Commission also adopted and published the Report on the Human Rights Situation in Jamaica.

Chapter III contains the Commission’s decisions concerning allegations of human rights violations in OAS Member States. This chapter also includes statistics on the Commission’s various activities, summaries of the precautionary measures it adopted or expanded in 2012, and a follow-up to recommendations the Commission made in its decisions published since 2000.

One of the Commission’s principal tasks is its individual petition and case system, for which the 2012 data have already been provided in this report. The activities carried out under this system have resulted in reparations for numerous grave human rights violations and the correction of systemic deficiencies in public policies and legislation and have brought about significant changes in people’s understanding of the contents and scope of human rights in the Hemisphere.

It is not surprising that, partly as a consequence of these achievements, the Commission receives more than 1,500 new petitions and hundreds of requests for precautionary measures each year—a trend is on the rise. Accordingly, it carries out an ever larger number of activities in its efforts to protect and promote human rights in the region. This task also increases as a result of the growing number of mandates it receives.

The heavier workload has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the resources allocated to the IACHR, and therefore, to date, the Commission has been obliged to continue adopting and implementing measures to maximize the search for, and acquisition of, external resources, in order to effectively discharge the mandates assigned to it.

Moreover, full compliance with the decisions of the Inter-American Commission is an essential element to ensure the full exercise of human rights in the OAS Member States, and to contribute to strengthening the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. For this reason, in Chapter III, the IACHR has included an analysis of the status of compliance with the recommendations contained in the reports adopted by the Commission. This Annual Report notes that some States have made considerable efforts in this area but that, in numerous cases, States have still not fully implemented the recommendations. Consequently, the Commission will continue monitoring those cases closely and reporting on any developments.

Chapter IV of the 2012 Annual Report contains a specific analysis of the human rights situation in those OAS Member States that the Commission has identified as needing particular attention.

In 2012, the IACHR continued its process of reflection on strengthening of the inter-American human rights system, which includes improvements on the methodology for drafting Chapter IV of its Annual Report. It bears mentioning that, as part of its reforms, the Commission established a procedure whereby a State that received an on-site visit by the Commission would not be included in Chapter IV of the Annual Report for that year; rather, its human rights situation would be monitored through a country report drawn up as a result of the on-site visit. Once that report was published, the Commission would follow up on compliance with the respective recommendations through Chapter V of its Annual Report. Subsequently, the Commission would reach a decision on the monitoring best suited for monitoring the situation.

Chapter IV contains a description of the human rights situation in Cuba, Honduras, and Venezuela.

The IACHR decided to include Cuba in this chapter of its Annual Report since restrictions on political rights, the right to assembly, and freedom of thought and expression, the absence of free elections, the lack of independence of the Judiciary, and limitations on freedom of movement have for decades constituted a permanent, systematic violation of human rights for Cuba’s inhabitants. Available information from 2012 suggests that the overall human rights situation has not changed. The aforementioned human rights situations persist, as do the severe repression of, and restrictions on, human rights defenders. Likewise, the IACHR learned about cases of discrimination and violence against LGTBI persons in Cuba.

With respect to Honduras, the IACHR has closely followed the human rights situation regarding the coup d’état, in particular concerning the right to freedom of expression and the situation of the defenders who are following up on situations resulting from the coup d’état, among them, participation of the military in internal security matters and questions related to the separation of powers. In this connection, the IACHR notes with concern the high degree of noncompliance with the recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR).

The information received on Honduras in 2012 is related to structural situations that the IACHR views with special concern, in particular, the situation of citizen security, the independence of the Judiciary, and weaknesses in the administration of justice associated with high rates of impunity, discrimination, and marginalization of some sectors of society. Having evaluated the current situation, the Commission decided to include Honduras in this chapter, reports on the activities carried out in 2012, examines the human rights situation, identifies governmental best practices, and issues recommendations.

Lastly, the IACHR included Venezuela since it had identified structural situations, such as normative changes, that entailed legal and administrative restrictions on the enjoyment of human rights. Likewise, it has become aware of the persistent situation of the provisional appointment of judges and prosecutors, which results in the fragility of the Judiciary and its lack of independence and impartiality and has an impact on the observance of the right to access justice. In this chapter, the IACHR examines the abusive use of criminal law, obstacles preventing human rights defenders from doing their work, and restrictions on freedom of expression, among other topics of special interest to the Commission.

The IACHR has also identified specific situations, such as the persistence of serious situations of citizen insecurity and of violence in correctional facilities, which prevent Venezuelans from exercising their human rights to life and humane treatment, among other relevant matters.

It should be mentioned that included in the appendixes to the Annual Report are the 10 aforementioned thematic and country reports published by the Commission in 2012 in their entirety, as well as the report of the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression.

Mr. Chair, Excellencies, Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to thank the Member States for the support they have given the Commission in its constant efforts to fully carry out its mandate.

Our system is what it is thanks to the committed, forward-looking, and courageous work of inter-American civil society, on which falls the often dangerous, often frustrating, and always delicate task of expressing the voice of the victims, and thus we are very grateful for its indispensable inputs.

Likewise, I am deeply appreciative of the professionalism and dedication of both the present Commission members and our Executive Secretary, Assistant Executive Secretary, and all the Secretariat staff who, in addition to their usual work of defending and promoting human rights in the region, expended great efforts and energy to deal appropriately with the process of strengthening and reforming the IACHR. I also appreciate and thank my colleagues on the Commission for the high honor and confidence they have placed in me by re-electing me as President of the Commission. I am extremely honored and proud, and I stand ready, to coordinate the efforts of an outstanding team of professionals and administrative staff who, despite a shortage of resources and a heavy workload, labor tirelessly to produce quality, transcendent work to further the human rights of the inhabitants of our region.

The IACHR wishes to express appreciation, in particular, for the important financial contributions made by countries from both within and outside the region, as well as by international organizations and agencies, foundations, and other entities. In 2012 the following made specific contributions to our activities: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, and the United States; Finland, France, Holland, Ireland, Spain, and Switzerland; the European Commission, the International Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Plan International, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Save the Children-Sweden, and the University of Notre Dame.

As a necessary complement to its immediate task of increasing the efficacy and efficiency of the promotion and protection of human rights, enriched by legal security and certainty, predictability, transparency, and accountability, the Commission hopes that the commitment of the Member States to strengthening the system and, in particular, the work of the Commission itself, as expressed in the declaration of the General Assembly at its special session on March 22 this year, will be reflected in the allocation of additional resources for its operations, the ratification of all inter-American human rights instruments, and, most especially, compliance with the recommendations and decisions of the system’s organs.

Upon completion of the aforementioned March 22 meeting, the system marked a milestone in its growth. Due protection and promotion of human rights necessarily requires more in-depth revisions of legal, political, and practical frameworks, both domestically and internationally, for the consolidation and development of robust, lasting democracies. In this regard, the Commission will remain ever open to cooperation and dialogue with both the Member States and civil society. The future of our inter-American system requires us to renew and continue bringing substance and efficacy to the vision that sees in legal and political institutions the primary purpose of protecting basic human rights and generating circumstances that lead to spiritual and social progress and the achievement of happiness.

Thank you very much.