Press Release

IACHR Stresses its Commitment to Defending and Promoting Human Rights and Democracy

September 17, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - On the International Day of Democracy, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) stresses that respecting and protecting human rights is a fundamental pillar of the rule of law and democracy. The IACHR highlights the importance of strengthening States’ human rights institutions and stresses its willingness to assist States in this field in any way it can.

In its six-decade history, the IACHR has sought to enable structural reform, in order to ensure the enjoyment and exercise of human rights and democratic values throughout the Americas. The Inter-American Commission highlights the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights, and the undeniable links among democracy, sustainable development, and human rights. To build thriving, peaceful, and fair societies in the Americas, all human rights—whether civil, political, economic, social, cultural, or environmental—must be enforced without discrimination. Further, actions to fight poverty and inequality and to protect the environment need to be immediately prioritized. This is why it is necessary to increase efforts to implement public policies with a human rights perspective, which can have real, concrete impact on the enjoyment and exercise of these rights.

By adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter, Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) recognized that representative democracy is the system that leads to stability, peace, and development in the region, and that it is essential to ensure the full exercise of fundamental rights. Article 3 of the Charter says: “Essential elements of representative democracy include, inter alia, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law, the holding of periodic, free, and fair elections based on secret balloting and universal suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people, the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations, and the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government.”

In this context, the Inter-American Human Rights System has recognized the link between democracy and the right to freedom of expression, as a cornerstone of any democratic society. The IACHR therefore stresses that creating an environment that is free from threats to the exercise of freedom of expression is crucial to consolidate democratic systems in the Americas. The IACHR has further stressed that human rights defenders are an essential pillar to strengthen and consolidate democracies around the region. Faced with an increase in the number of threats, physical attacks, and arbitrary arrests perpetrated against human rights defenders, the IACHR stresses its call to join forces to stop and reverse this trend.

In this context, the IACHR is concerned that some countries in the Americas are currently experiencing a lack of or a rollback in human rights protection and in the separation of powers, as well as a reduction in participatory democratic spaces, a lack of judicial independence, and sometimes an absence of free and informed elections. Further, the serious impact of corruption on human rights is also apparent in States around the Americas.

The IACHR expressed particular concern about the situation of democracy in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in Chapter IV B of its 2018 Annual Report, among other monitoring mechanisms. Concerning Cuba, the IACHR has historically addressed the serious failure to respect essential elements of representative democracy and its institutions. The Commission has been critical of the lack of conditions for political participation from sectors representing various lines of thought, particularly through elections that lack plurality. The basic values of democracy are compromised, given the ban on associations for political purposes and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly.

The Commission has further expressed its concern about a gradual weakening of democratic institutions in Nicaragua. Through its different mechanisms, the IACHR has been informed that power is highly concentrated around the executive branch of government, repression is rife, and measures and decrees have been adopted to restrict the essential rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Further, the IACHR has observed a criminalization and prosecution of opposition[vs1] leaders and human rights defenders, a suppression of independent or critical journalism, and a lack of safeguards for the exercise of freedom of the press.

The IACHR has also warned of a gradual weakening of the situation of human rights and of democratic institutions in Venezuela. The Commission has observed with concern a violation of the democratic principle of the separation of powers, as well as the deterioration of political rights. Specifically, the IACHR has noted that alterations of the constitutional order and institutional actions that disregard the principle of the separation of powers have concrete consequences for residents of Venezuela, who face major hurdles to exercise their political rights and to participate in public life in their country. As democratic institutions are being weakened, a social and economic crisis is also causing severe shortages in basic supplies.

The IACHR stresses its conviction that democracy needs to be constantly strengthened, and its call to increase efforts to that end.

The IACHR has made it clear, through its Strategic Plan 2017–2021, that strengthening human rights institutions is a multidisciplinary axis that all its mechanisms need to work on. As one of its strategic objectives, the Commission seeks to renew its commitment to democracy, human dignity, equality, justice, and fundamental freedoms, based on an active contribution to strengthening States’ institutions and their public policies with a human rights perspective. The IACHR therefore aims to improve its capacity to provide technical assistance to States, to strengthen institutions and to formulate, implement, and evaluate public policies aimed at safeguarding democratic rights and values and ensuring respect for them.

The IACHR stresses that it is now more necessary than ever to highlight that the ideals that inspired the creation of the Inter-American Human Rights System and are held in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, the Democratic Charter, and other inter-American instruments that enshrine respect for the dignity of all human beings and ensure freedom and participation. It is a crucial priority to keep working to consolidate democratic institutions, the rule of law, and economic and social development around the region.

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. 231/19