Media Center

Press Release


  October 6, 2003

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened its 118th regular session this morning, expressing concern that respect for the rule of law and democratic governance is deteriorating in a number of countries of the Americas.

José Zalaquett, Chairman of the Commission, a body of the Organization of American States (OAS), said some ground has been lost in consolidating the rule of law. He noted that “a number of democracies are still showing signs of institutional weakness, and coup attempts or moves to disrupt constitutional order have not disappeared entirely.”

Zalaquett said mechanisms have been created within the OAS for collective protection against serious attacks on democratic institutions. Citing the Inter-American Democratic Charter, he identified the democratic system and the rule of law as “vital for effective human rights protection.” The Democratic Charter establishes that essential elements of representative democracy include “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, [and] access to and the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law,” Zalaquett stated.

He said a major concern continues to be the need for effective mechanisms to fight terrorism “with absolute respect for human rights,” adding that in order to prevent impunity, perpetrators must be tried for crimes that undermine a community’s security and human rights. He lamented that so-called “heavy-handed” policies are often used to respond to a lack of security and safety, without due regard for proposals to rebuild trust and community policing.

According to Zalaquett, the Commission’s decisions in individual cases as well as its specialized and country reports “are intended precisely to help member states improve the quality of democracy.”

Speaking on the OAS Secretary General’s behalf, Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs Enrique Lagos said the OAS views the Commission’s work defending human dignity as “essential collaborative effort with member states.” He hailed Commissioners Robert Goldman of the United States and Julio Prado Vallejo of Ecuador, who were participating in their last session, as well as Juan Méndez and Marta Altolaguirre, who resigned recently.

For his part the OAS Permanent Council Chairman, Honduran Ambassador Salvador Rodezno, reiterated the importance of Resolution 1925, adopted at the General Assembley in Santiago, Chile, last June, on “Strengthening of Human Rights Systems Pursuant to the Plan of Action of the Third Summit of the Americas.” He said the resolution underscores the member states’ commitment to strengthening and enhancing the inter-American system.

Over the next three weeks, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission will, among others matters, consider reports and hold hearings on petitions and individual cases from various countries. It will also review the general human rights situation around the hemisphere.

Reference: E-189/03