Remarks by the IACHR President at Seminar

Remarks by the IACHR  President, Commissioner José De Jesús Orozco Henríquez, at the Preparatory Seminar on the Strengthening of the Inter-American Human Rights System

Washington D.C., May 30, 2012

Following through on the commitment it made to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has—responsibly, professionally, and diligently—organized this first seminar to analyze and delve more deeply into the recommendations made by the Special Working Group to Reflect on the Workings of the IACHR with a view to Strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System.

This seminar is being held at a critical juncture for the inter-American human rights system. What is being discussed here is, without any doubt, the legacy that the States, along with the people of the Americas, have built so that current and future generations throughout the hemisphere can enjoy their human rights. This has to do with effective mechanisms and international guarantees to ensure that nobody in the region feels defenseless when it comes to his or her most basic rights, and that the States—through their current and future governments—see themselves as bound to respect those values that at some point, in the exercise of their sovereignty, they embraced and made an international commitment to safeguard. It is essential to achieve the universality of the inter-American human rights instruments without delay and to ensure proper compliance with the decisions made by the system's bodies.

This is the perspective from which we address this issue, the real strengthening of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, which lights the way and sets the course for our discussions. It is on the basis of a recognition of our own history and the challenges of today, even in democracy, that we should reflect on which measures we should adopt to strengthen the protection of the rights of all people of the Americas and which measures, on the other hand, would lead to the system's weakening.

It is important to remember that the experience of the inter-American system is arguably one of the most successful in the world. It constitutes, in a subsidiary and complementary way, a hope for millions of people in the region in the face of possible shortcomings or inefficiencies in domestic mechanisms for protection against injustice or arbitrariness.

The Inter-American Commission is always open to a critical evaluation of its performance and to input to help perfect its procedures. To that end, a distinction should be made between legitimate objections to and criticisms of a particular decision on which there is disagreement—which may eventually be contested before the Inter-American Court, when its jurisdiction has been recognized—and the general questioning or discrediting of the Commission's powers and the workings of the inter-American system. On that point, so as not to err in the measures to be adopted, it is also worth reflecting, with maturity and objectivity, on the extent to which some of the specific criticisms or questioning of the Commission's work are derived from or explained by the shortage of financial and human resources assigned to it by the OAS.

As we noted in our preliminary response to the Permanent Council, the Inter-American Commission appreciates the recommendations of the Special Working Group that are being discussed here as an important contribution by the States. Certainly, the Commission would have expected that it would have been consulted on the reports that other OAS bodies have prepared for the General Assembly, or at least that what the Commission had already said on the same subject would not have been ignored.

In any case, the Commission is convinced that the process of reflection on the inter-American system is and should be ongoing. This process is enriched with the participation of the States, civil society organizations, academia, and the voices of victims, as well as the bodies of the human rights system themselves. All of us have something to say; we all must talk to each other and listen to each other closely and with respect. We must openly and carefully evaluate each of the reasons for or against a particular recommendation or proposal. Any adjustment, however subtle it may appear, could affect the guarantees we have worked so hard to build, and thus it merits the most wide-ranging, pluralistic, open, and participatory discussion, carried out calmly and thoughtfully. This is the commitment we have made to the people of the Americas, and we will not let them down.

I would like to express my thanks to the States that are interested in the strengthening of the system, to the human rights defenders and academics for their valuable participation, to the Ibero-American Institute of Constitutional Law—both its new president, Diego Valadés, and his predecessor, Jorge Carpizo—as well as to the Colombian Embassy for its generous sponsorship.

I assure you that the recommendations that are the subject of this seminar, as well as any proposals that might emerge from this seminar or future similar exercises—including those of a regional nature—will be seriously evaluated by all of us at the Inter-American Commission who today have the privilege and responsibility, in the exercise of our autonomy and independence, of looking after and perfecting that which has been built, with so much effort and enormous difficulty, to safeguard the dignity and the rights of all human beings in our hemisphere—the cornerstone and raison d'être of the inter-American system that we are determined to strengthen. .