Speech by the First Vice-Chair at the General Assembly


San Salvador, El Salvador

June 7, 2011

Mr. Chairman of the General Assembly, Mr. Foreign Minister of the Republic of El Salvador, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, distinguished Heads of Delegation of the OAS Member States and Observers, representatives of civil society, ladies and gentlemen:

I am pleased to present to the OAS General Assembly the 2010 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in view of the impossibility of our current Chair, Commissioner Dinah Shelton, to attend. This document was approved by the Commission at the beginning of 2011 and was prepared in accordance with the guidelines set by the General Assembly and in compliance with Article 58 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The report describes the general activities carried out by the IACHR, under the leadership of Commissioner Felipe González, who was Chair of the Commission during 2010.

The Report is divided into two parts: the first part describes the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; the second part contains the report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

Chapter I refers to the challenges that are faced by many persons in the region, especially human rights defenders, afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, women, migrant workers, children and LGBTI persons. Discrimination and social exclusion continue to be a central problem faced by these persons. Combating and eliminating such discrimination is one of the foremost responsibilities of Member States.

Chapter II of the Annual Report contains a brief overview of the Commission’s origins and legal bases, together with a description of the most important activities it carried out during 2010. Those activities included three sessions, during which the Commission adopted 179 reports on individual cases, held 88 hearings and 47 working meetings. The Commission also conducted a number of working and thematic visits and participated in hearings at the Inter-American Court.

The Country Rapporteurs conducted visits to Argentina and Brazil. Likewise, the IACHR visited Honduras on May 15 to 18, 2010, in order to follow up on its August 2009 on-site visit and its report Honduras: Human Rights and the Coup d’état.

The thematic Rapporteurs also conducted visits to countries in the region and participated in promotional activities:

The Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty visited Ecuador and El Salvador. The Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visited Paraguay and Panama. Likewise, the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women visited El Salvador.

Many other States in the region also invited the Commission to conduct visits during 2010, which it has as yet been unable to do. The Commission would like to extend its thanks to those member states that have invited the Commission to visit them and to those that have kept those invitations open, because such visits play a key role in its work of promoting and protecting human rights in the Hemisphere.

Chapter IV of the 2010 Annual Report contains a specific analysis of the human rights situation in those OAS member states identified by the Commission as warranting particular attention. Thus, this chapter describes the situation of human rights in Colombia, Cuba, Honduras and Venezuela.

The report on the situation in Colombia recognizes the complex situation facing the state after five decades of violence, which has had devastating impact on the civilian population. The IACHR pays particular attention to the advances and challenges in investigating crimes committed during the conflict. The report points to persistent patterns of violations of the rights to life and to personal integrity, the situation of ethnic groups, and the activities of the intelligence services against human rights defenders, social leaders and judicial officers. The Commission would like to recognize the openness to dialogue and the invitation to visit Colombia expressed by the current Government through its Vice President.

The IACHR decided to include Cuba in this chapter after considering the situation of political rights; guarantees of due process and independence of the judicial branch; restrictions on the right of residence and movement; deprivation of liberty of political dissidents; restrictions on the freedom of expression; and the situation of human rights defenders. Consideration is also given to the economic and trade sanctions imposed on the Government of Cuba and the impact of such economic sanctions on the human rights of the Cuban population.

In addition, the Commission recognizes the release of dissidents, opposition figures, human rights activists, and independent journalists who were arrested in March 2003 for exercising their right to freedom of expression

Regarding Honduras, the IACHR has closely followed the human rights situation in Honduras after the coup d’état, granting precautionary measures to protect the lives of hundreds of persons, requesting information on the risk posed to certain persons; and seeking the adoption of Provisional Measures by the Inter-American Court.

In the discussion of Honduras, the IACHR looks at specific issues, especially violations of the rights of human rights defenders; the harassment of judges and magistrates; freedom of expression in Honduras and the most marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the population.

The Commission trusts that the reincorporation of Honduras to the OAS will strengthen the dialogue with the State to overcome the current problems and challenges for the effective exercise of human rights of its inhabitants.

The IACHR included Venezuela based on its analysis on information compiled during its hearings, information compiled through the mechanisms for protection, cases and precautionary measures, and information available from other public sources. In 2010 the Commission published its report titled Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, in which it examined developments in the area of human rights in Venezuela. The Commission has also highlighted the important headway made by the Venezuelan State in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, both with the recognition of education, health, housing and universal social security as constitutionally protected rights, and with implementation of policies and measures designed to correct the problems besetting vast sectors of the Venezuelan population.

Chapter V provides a follow-up to reports published before the Annual Report, which refer to the recommendations made by the IACHR in several reports on Haiti.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform the General Assembly that this year, the IACHR has decided to create the Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders to strengthen its monitoring of the situation of those who dedicate to give voice to thousands of persons of the region and promote respect to their fundamental rights, often risking their lives in this important task. In addition, the Commission has decided to closely follow the respect of to the rights of persons LGTBI. Also, the Commission has paid close attention to the conditions faced by migrants in the region. In this sense, it has given special attention to the serious situation of migrants in the United States, which was analyzed in the report Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process.

As the annual report demonstrates, the credibility and effectiveness of the Inter-American human rights system generates demands on the Commission, which grow in both number and complexity. Individuals present an increasing number of petitions before the Commission; civil society and states request more hearings covering more diverse issues; the Commission carries out expanded thematic initiatives; and each year it receives additional mandates from the General Assembly.

With a trend that continues to rise, the Commission receives more than 1,500 new petitions and several hundred requests for precautionary measures every year. Another area of the Commission’s work that has seen notable growth is its publication of thematic reports containing recommendations for the member states. While in previous decades there were very few reports of that kind, in recent years the Commission has published more than 17 thematic reports, which have been welcomed by the Hemisphere’s states and civil society.

During 2010, the IACHR received 1,598 new individual petitions and transmitted 275 petitions to the member States, that is, approximately 16%. It received 375 precautionary measures requests, and granted 68, that is, the Commission granted approximately one in every five requests. Finally, it submitted 16 cases to the Inter-American Court.

The IACHR considers that the strengthening of the inter-American system, as has been expressed by the member States and the General Assembly, can only be achieved through compliance of the decisions of the bodies of the system and the respect for their independence and autonomy. There is no doubt this requires of a constant dialogue between the States, civil society and the bodies of the system. In the name of the Commission, I reiterate our willingness to continue strengthening this dialogue.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the importance for the Commission of the central topic of this General Assembly. Citizen Security and its relation with human rights has been an issue of interest of the Commission for decades and has been followed through its different protection mechanisms, such as precautionary measures, reports on petitions and cases, country reports, among others. A result of this work is the report that was written together with the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and UNICEF, which was published in 2010.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished representatives and observers, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen: on behalf of the Commission, I would like to thank the member States for the support they have given it in its constant efforts to duly discharge its mandate.

In particular, the IACHR would like to thank the governments of the following OAS member countries for their contributions this year: Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and the United States. It would also like to thank the observer countries that support the Commission’s activities: Spain, Finland, France, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The Commission also appreciates and thanks the contributions received from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the European Commission, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Population Fund, the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights, Save the Children/Sweden, and the University of Notre Dame.

In addition, I would like to note my thanks to the current Commissioners, who deposited their trust in me by electing me to serve as the Commission’s Chair, and I also would like to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights of our Executive Secretary and all the Secretariat’s staff.