Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up 167th Session in Colombia

March 2, 2018

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Bogotá, Colombia — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 167th session in Bogotá, at the invitation of the State of Colombia, from February 22 to March 2, 2018. Holding sessions outside its headquarters allows the IACHR to bring its mechanisms for the defense, protection, and promotion of human rights closer to victims and peoples under its competence, broadens the institution’s public presence in the region, and promotes democratization of access to the inter-American human rights system. The IACHR expresses its appreciation to the Colombian State for the invitation to hold this session in the country and for the financial and logistical cooperation it provided to make it possible to hold all the scheduled activities. The Commission thanks civil society organizations and the Colombian people for their collaboration and hospitality.

The session opened on February 22 with an official ceremony at the National Museum of Colombia, with the participation of the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos; the then-President of the IACHR, Francisco Eguiguren; Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín; the Minister of Justice and Law, Enrique Gil Botero; and the Director of the National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State, Luis Guillermo Vélez Cabrera.

On the first day of the session, the IACHR elected its new board, in accordance with the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The board of officers is now composed of Margarette May Macaulay as President, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño as First Vice-President, and Luis Ernesto Vargas Silva as Second Vice-President. The other Commissioners are Francisco Eguiguren Praeli, Joel Hernández García, Antonia Urrejola Noguera, and Flávia Piovesan. The Executive Secretary is Paulo Abrão, and the Assistant Executive Secretaries are Elizabeth Abi-Mershed and María Claudia Pulido. The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is Edison Lanza, and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER) is Soledad García Muñoz.

During the opening ceremony of the session, the IACHR and the State of Colombia signed a cooperation agreement to provide technical assistance in the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The technical assistance will seek to encourage dissemination of inter-American standards for the protection of human rights through high-level dialogue with authorities involved in the implementation of the Peace Agreement. In this framework, a high-level roundtable was held with the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and another with the Special Truth Commission, as well as meetings with other institutions that are part of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition (SIVJRNR). Bilateral meetings were held with the Missing Persons Search Unit and the Victims Unit. The IACHR also held meetings with high-level State authorities, including the Vice President of the Republic, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General’s Office.

As it does in all its sessions, the IACHR held a meeting with Colombian civil society organizations, which had a high level of participation. The Commission thanks the organizations for the information received on the human rights situation in the country. The IACHR also held a meeting with the coalition of organizations that engage with the inter-American human rights system and another with inter-American civil society organizations in which it received troubling information on various human rights situations in the Americas. In addition, Commissioners held more than 30 intense bilateral meetings and encounters with different civil society organizations from around the region.

During this session, the IACHR did an evaluation and assessment of the first year of implementation of its Strategic Plan 2017-2021 and approved its action plan for 2018. Priorities for the year include attention to the procedural backlog, the new section for follow-up on recommendations, the plan for collaboration with the Caribbean, technical cooperation activities, and the monitoring of the human rights situation in the region, which will include on-site visits to Honduras and Brazil, among other activities. The IACHR also decided that Commissioners Flávia Piovesan and Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño will become the member and alternate member, respectively, of the Working Group of the Protocol of San Salvador, alongside the Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER), Soledad García Muñoz.   

In the city of Bogotá, the IACHR approved two thematic reports and four broad outlines for the preparation of new reports; examined and made decisions on requests for precautionary measures; and reviewed and studied two draft resolutions, one on the situation of Venezuelan nationals in circumstances of displacement and the other on corruption and human rights. The IACHR also approved 17 reports on admissibility, 3 on inadmissibility, 5 on the merits, and 1 decision to publish a merits report. During the session, the Commission held seven working meetings on friendly settlements related to the following countries: Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Panama, and three involving Paraguay; it also held a working meeting to follow up on recommendations from a Merits Report in a case related to Brazil. Ten working meetings were also held on implementation of precautionary measures involving Argentina, the Bahamas, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. In the context of the session in Bogotá, the IACHR also launched two thematic reports: “Towards the Effective Fulfillment of Children’s Rights: National Protection Systems” and “Toward a Comprehensive Policy to Protect Human Rights Defenders.”

During this session, the IACHR approved the work plan to give continuity in 2018 to the Special Follow-Up Mechanism on the precautionary measures granted for the students from the “Raúl Isidro Burgos” rural school in Ayotzinapa, Mexico (PM 409-14), and the recommendations of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts. The Follow-Up Mechanism monitors compliance with the precautionary measures and with the Inter-Disciplinary Group’s recommendations related to progress in the investigation, the search for the missing students, comprehensive attention to victims and their family members, and structural measures of non-repetition. The Mexican State, the students’ family members and their representatives, and the IACHR decided to renew the Follow-Up Mechanism for another year, until December 2018.

In Bogotá, the IACHR announced the installation of a Roundtable on the Implementation of Public Policies on Human Rights, proposed by the Dominican Republic, in the context of following up on recommendations the Commission made to that country. The Roundtable, which will include the participation of civil society, will cover 12 priority issues highlighted by the IACHR during its working visit last year, related to acquisition of nationality, migration, policies to combat all forms of discrimination, and policies on women’s rights and gender equality.

In conjunction with the Presidential Council for Human Rights and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, the IACHR Special Rapporteurship on ESCER organized a workshop for dialogue on experiences, challenges, and best practices related to National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights. This was held in the framework of the Second Session for Governance Bodies of Colombia’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, with the participation of representatives of public institutions, civil society, and academia from Colombia. Other participants included representatives of Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Mexico’s Interior Ministry, as well as experts who had been specially invited to the event by the ESCER Special Rapporteurship.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression also held a consultation with civil society organizations on violence against women journalists and members of the media.

The IACHR also met with the United Nations Country Teams in Colombia. The IACHR thanks all the UN agencies in Colombia for the information they provided and reiterates its willingness to continue coordinating joint actions within the framework of their respective mandates. Participants included directors and representatives of the Office of the Resident Coordinator in Colombia, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Information Centres (UNIC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN Women, the UN Population Fund, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).   

In addition, United Nations Special Rapporteurs participated in the 167th session, evidence of the ongoing close cooperation between the IACHR and the UN human rights system. The full body of the IACHR held a meeting with the UN Rapporteurs in which they exchanged information and analyses regarding human rights situations of great concern to both human rights systems and evaluated the results of the joint mechanisms for cooperation and action that are being implemented. The UN and IACHR delegations agreed to continue coordinating strategies and actions to respond to the serious human rights challenges in the region. In addition, UN Rapporteurs were once again invited as participants to IACHR public hearings, where they asked questions and made comments. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, participated in the hearing on the situation of sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls in the Americas. The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jiménez, participated in two hearings: one on 25 years of the Truth Commission in El Salvador, and the other on internal displacement and human rights in the Americas. Finally, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Tendayi Achiume, also participated in several events during the session.

The IACHR and the Offices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Central America, South America, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico held meetings in Bogotá and agreed to step up joint actions to move forward with the effective implementation of the Joint Action Mechanism to Contribute to the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, as announced in Press Release 40/18, issued on March 1.

The IACHR deeply regrets the absence of representatives of the States of Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti, and Nicaragua in the hearings to which they had been convened. The absence of delegations from these States prevents or severely hampers the IACHR’s work. For the Inter-American Commission, hearings are an essential mechanism through which to receive information and fulfill the mandate given to it by the States themselves, to protect, promote, and defend human rights in the region. The IACHR strongly urges the Member States to attend the sessions and hearings to which they are convened, in fulfillment of their international human rights obligations.

Thirty hearings were held during this session, on Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, the United States, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, along with regional and subregional hearings. The IACHR thanks the States and civil society for their participation in the hearings, working meetings, and public events that took place during this session. The Inter-American Commission emphasizes that it is important for the States to participate in all the hearings, in good faith and with sufficient substantive information on hand, in order to make constructive progress toward solutions to human rights problems in the region. The inter-American human rights system is strengthened with the active participation of the State, victims of human rights violations and their representatives, and civil society organizations.

The IACHR takes note of the warnings of potential reprisals raised during various hearings and working meetings, referred to several countries, by civil society representatives who expressed fear about the consequences they could face upon returning to their country. These hearings refer to different countries and situations. In particular, the hearing on the human rights situation of children and adolescents in Cuba was held behind closed doors at the request of the participating organizations, because they had been prohibited from leaving the country and due to concerns about possible reprisals upon their return. The IACHR condemns this violation of the rights to freedom of movement and freedom of expression, as well as the impediment imposed on anyone’s ability to exercise the right to use the mechanisms available through the inter-American system for the protection of human rights. The Commission insists that it is unacceptable for a State to carry out any type of action to retaliate for or stigmatize the participation or activities of individuals or organizations that engage the bodies of the inter-American human rights system in the exercise of their rights under the Convention. As Article 63 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure establishes, States “shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission,” and they “may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.” The IACHR urges the States to take protective measures to ensure the safety of every person who participated in activities during the session or who uses any of the mechanisms available to everyone in the Americas.

In fulfillment of its mandate to promote human rights in the region, on Tuesday, February 27, the IACHR held an event on “New Frontiers in Inter-American Standards for the Protection of Human Rights.” The event included the presentation of the IACHR’s new report on national child protection systems and an analysis of challenges and opportunities for the protection of children and adolescents of African descent in the hemisphere, along with the importance of an intercultural approach in national protection systems for indigenous children and adolescents. The event also addressed standards of due process and judicial protection in the context of human mobility and the use of pretrial detention in the Americas, an issue on which the IACHR recently issued a thematic report. The event also included a presentation on the human rights of trans persons in light of the Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion 24/2018.

On Wednesday, February 28, the IACHR held a promotional event to present its report “Toward a Comprehensive Policy to Protect Human Rights Defenders,” which included the participation of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the organization Protection International, and the South America Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, IACHR Commissioners participated in academic events organized by the Universidad del Rosario, the Universidad de los Andes and the Universidad Externado.

The 167th session was the first to be held in 2018. The 168th session will take place May 3-11 in the Dominican Republic. Sessions will also be held September 27-October 5 and December 1-7, in locations to be announced shortly.

The IACHR will soon publish an annex to this press release on the hearings and working meetings held during this session.

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 and to defend 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. 041/18