Press Release

IACHR Calls on States to Implement Social Inclusion Policies for Youth

August 13, 2014

Washington, D.C. – In the context of the celebration of International Youth Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recognizes youth as a fundamental social actor and underscores their ability to make positive and transformative contributions. However, the Commission is concerned by the discrimination, social exclusion, and lack of opportunities adolescents and youth face throughout the region.

The IACHR is particularly concerned by the social stigma attached to adolescents and youth, who are blamed for the violence and insecurity in the region. The abundant existing evidence shows that children and adolescents are among those that most suffer from and are most exposed to being victims of violence in its various forms.

The Commission urges States to redouble their efforts to tackle the root causes of violence and insecurity and to promote policies that enable social inclusion and overcoming the underlying profound inequities and lack of equal opportunities for the youth. These are the situations that contribute to the problem and force thousands of adolescents and children to migrate. The Commission also urges States to promote the eradication of all forms of violence against children and adolescents and any social tolerance of such violence.

The Commission also warns of the regressive trends throughout the hemisphere in terms of the increased exercise of the State’s punitive power in areas with high levels of insecurity and violence, and particularly as regards adolescents. The IACHR is concerned by the positions being proffered as solutions, such as lowering the age of criminal responsibility and harsher sentences for adolescents. It is relevant and necessary to consider that, in many cases, children and adolescent offenders have also been victims or witnesses to some form of violence, abuse, exploitation or negligence in their homes, schools or community, coming from adults, peers or police forces. Frequently, these children and adolescent have suffered other violations to their human rights, without the possibility of adequate measures to protect them and guarantee their rights.

State and societal concerns about citizen security are legitimate. Violence and crime are perceived by most of the hemisphere’s population as one of the main challenges that States must address. Governments are responsible for taking adequate action, in strict adherence to the law and human rights.

Nevertheless, adopting short-term or heavy-handed policies – based on control and repression – in search of fast, effective solutions is a problem in the region’s countries. This type of policy is due, in part, to the lack of an objective analysis of the context and causes of citizen insecurity, as well as social scaremongering and a public debate focused on emotions and stereotypes. The IACHR expresses that, in general, this type of repression-centered response has proven to be ineffective, generated more violence, and exacerbated other existing problems. Many times these policies violate human rights and are counterproductive to the rule of law, as they erode confidence in democratic institutions by undermining their ability to control these situations.

The IACHR urges States to adopt comprehensive public policies that recognize the multifaceted and complex nature of insecurity and violence and that can address the structural causes of these scourges.

The Commission also expresses its concern for the poor conditions of detention centers for adolescents, identified situations marked by violence and abuse of force, the use of isolation cells, and the limited capacity of current systems to rehabilitate and socially reintegrate adolescents and youth in conflict with the criminal law, which is itself part of the problem. The Commission notes the challenges that all countries in the hemisphere face in working preventively, implementing restorative justice models, and alternatives to deprivation of liberty, as well as systems that do not adjudicate adolescents. The Commission recalls the standards set in its Report on Juvenile Justice and Human Rights in the Americas, in particular the use of the deprivation of liberty as a measure of last resort and for the least amount of time necessary when dealing with minors under the age of 18.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 84/14