Remarks by the IACHR President

Remarks by IACHR President, Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, at the
Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council to commemorate the seventieth anniversaries of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
- December 4th, 2018 -


Ambassador Carlos Játiva, President of the Permanent Council;
Ambassador Nestor Mendez, Assistant Secretary General;
Ambassador Gonzalo Koncke, Chief of Staff of the Secretary General;
Jean-Michel Arrighi, Secretary for Legal Affairs;
Permanent and Alternate Representatives of Member States and Observers;
Ladies and gentlemen;
Good morning.


As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it is a profound honor to speak to you on this occasion on the 70th anniversary of world’s first general international Human Rights instrument, preceding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man”, approved on April 30, 1948.

First of all, I would like to emphasize that the referred Declaration was and is a pioneering instrument, because it was the first contemporary international catalog of Human Rights which has served as the basis for debates on the adoption of certain norms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations for the fulfillment of individual and collective rights.

The Declaration as a normative instrument provides the legal basis for the promotion and protection of Human Rights in the Americas, and consequently for the adoption of the American Convention on Human Rights. In this regard, the Declaration underlines the commitment of the region to international protection of human rights, since in relation to the processing of individual petitions; it is the only normative instrument which the IACHR can apply to all 35 Member States of the OAS. That is, it is also applicable to more than a third of the States of the Hemisphere that have not ratified the American Convention. This means that their population can only file petitions on the human rights violations found in the catalog of rights and duties that embodied in the Declaration.

Second, anniversaries are always a reason to celebrate, but they should also be a reason for reflection about the political and social contexts which present challenges and setbacks in terms of protecting human rights in the Americas. In this context, it is worthy to emphasize the very nature of human rights which are universal, equal, and inherent for all human beings, irrevocable, non-transferable and inalienable. It is under this premise that I call on the American States to redouble their commitment to protect and defend human rights so as to guarantee that every human person in our Hemisphere can "live free, in equal dignity and rights" as indicated in the preamble of the Declaration.

Particularly, I call all OAS Member States to consider to signing or ratifying other human rights instruments such as the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons and the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against persons with disabilities, the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, the Inter-American Convention Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of intolerance, and of course, for those States which have not to date done so, the American Convention on Human Rights.

Historically, the Commission has pursued the objective of increasing the effectiveness of its protection and promotion functions, as well as supporting the OAS Member States in strengthening their own internal capacities and perfecting their mechanisms for protecting human rights. It has also indicated that ratification by the States of all Inter-American Human Rights treaties is fundamental to the full achievement of this objective.

The IACHR has emphasized that the ratification of Inter-American instruments furthers the integration goals of the OAS and ensures that all citizens of the Americas enjoy the full protection of their rights.

Universal ratification would offer to the Member States, the opportunity to play a more active role in the implementation of the mechanisms of the Inter-American system and would increase their leadership and the credibility of their interventions in the area of human rights in the Americas.

In that sense, the IACHR emphasizes that full observance of human rights is important for achieving solid and inclusive democracies. The ratification of international treaties protecting human rights is an indicator of the quality of a country’s democracy, facilitating the integration of its citizens’ voices and demands in all spheres of public policy. In turn, the ratification of international instruments promotes respect and guarantees for the obligation not to discriminate and to ensure the principle of equality – the framing principles of the international system for the protection of human rights and essential for ensuring coherent, representative, and sustainable democracies. It is worth noting that when they created the Inter-American Commission, the States recognized that “harmony among the American Republics can only be effective insofar as human rights and fundamental freedoms and the exercise of representative democracy are a reality within each one of them…”

Even in countries with great democratic standards and practices, stable institutions, and a developed system of human rights standards and regulations, the international and Inter-American systems of protection constitute a supplemental level of protection for citizens, an aspect that is particularly important for members of groups and communities historically subject to discrimination in their countries as in the case of indigenous peoples and communities of African descent, among many others.

In that sense, it is important to point out that the American Declaration, as the first Inter-American human rights treaty, is part of the human rights framework established by the OAS Member States, referring to the obligations and responsibilities of the States themselves, and requires that they refrain from supporting, tolerating, or participating in acts or omissions that contravene their commitments in the area of human rights. As the Declaration is a source of legal obligations, States must implement in practice, within their jurisdictions, the rights established in that Declaration.

In that context and looking to the future, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights worked on it is Strategic Plan for 2017-2021. This new plan serves as the IACHR’s primary institutional management tool and establishes priority strategic objectives designed to help the IACHR successfully carry out its mission and confront current and future challenges involved in addressing and protecting human rights in the Americas.

The importance of having a Strategic Plan as has been designed and drafted with feedback from all relevant actors in the Inter-American Human Rights System, is the provision of a holistic vision to guide the Commission's work: “We listened to the points of view of States and of civil society organizations, we listened to victims who have used the system to access justice and petitioners who have cases pending before us, as well as academics, experts, and former Commissioners who shared their experience. We have drawn sustenance from all these voices and learned from them, and the final result reflects the concerns, needs, and perspectives of all sectors".

Historically, the Commission has pursued the objective of increasing the effectiveness of its protection and promotion functions, as well as supporting the OAS Member States in strengthening their own internal capacities and perfecting their mechanisms for protecting human rights. For that reason, in the referred strategic plan the Commission, redoubles its commitment to assume a more active role as a facilitator in the promotion and protection through capacity-building and interchange with civil society and the OAS Members States, and, in the creation of venues for dialogue using a flexible and participatory mechanisms to achieve comprehensive reparation measures that benefit the direct victims of denounced violation and society as a whole.

I really believe that building knowledge of the Inter-American system’s bodies, mandates and mechanisms is key for better societies in the Americas, as well as to disseminate a cultural vision of respect for human rights, and demanding from governments concrete public policies with a human rights approach in the region and also making advances in the universal ratification of instruments.

Allow me to end this presentation with an extract of the Preamble of the American Declaration: “The international protection of the rights of persons should be the principal guide of an evolving American law.”

Thank you very much for your attention.