IACHR Concludes 179th Virtual Period of Sessions

March 26, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 179th Period of Sessions online between March 15 and 26, 2021. It is continuing to use an online format to comply with its mandates and functions while responding to the seriousness of the situation in the Americas and the rest of the world as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the event, the IACHR held 21 public hearings, including ones concerning the States of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Five of these hearings addressed regionwide issues such as the human rights situation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, women who are deprived of their freedom, transboundary indigenous peoples, migrants, and refugees in South America during a pandemic, and sexual and reproductive rights. A regional hearing was also held on internet content moderation and freedom of expression in the Americas. Finally, four of the public hearings were on cases concerning Panama, Guatemala, Peru, and Colombia.

During the hearings that were held, the IACHR received a variety of information on the overall human rights situation in the region, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the IACHR noted with concern that people who are particularly vulnerable—such as women, children and adolescents, LGBTI people, indigenous peoples, women human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, communities of African descent, people who are deprived of their freedom, and people in movement—continue to face serious obstacles to having the human rights enshrined in inter-American legislation guaranteed.

As part of the 179th Period of Sessions, the IACHR continued its dialogue with representatives of 24 OAS Member States through four meetings with different regional groups. At these, it presented the annual operational plan for 2021, which is part of the Strategic Plan, and discussed the progress that has been made on overcoming procedural backlog within the IACHR. It also discussed the human rights situation in the countries of the Americas with State representatives.

The IACHR also held three open meetings with civil society organizations from the Americas to gather information on the human rights situation, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These meetings were attended by representatives of organizations from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela. The IACHR also met with the International Coalition of Organizations for Human Rights in the Americas during this Period of Sessions.

Furthermore, seven working meetings and two bilateral meetings were held regarding the implementation of precautionary measures for the Bahamas, Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Trinidad and Tobago, as was a working meeting to follow up on recommendations on a case concerning Peru.

The IACHR held 11 working meetings on matters relating to friendly settlement procedures at different stages of negotiation and implementation, concerning Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay. On this point, the IACHR valued the efforts made by Argentina, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay to move forward with the different processes for negotiating and implementing agreements. It welcomed the signing of the friendly settlement agreement regarding Guillermo Santiago Zaldívar and others, concerning Argentina, and welcomed the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the case of Martha Saire, concerning Honduras, which sought to bring a landmark friendly settlement agreement in line with current standards on the rights of women with mental disabilities some 18 years after the agreement in question was originally signed. The IACHR particularly welcomed the fact that the alleged victim, a woman with mental disabilities, took part in the working meeting, which speaks to the paradigm shift that has taken place toward a focus on respect for her dignity, autonomy, independence, self-determination, and social inclusion, all of which were included in the amendment to the agreement.

Likewise, as a result of the working meetings on friendly settlements, the IACHR noted the lack of progress that had been made on implementing comprehensive reparation in cases A and C concerning the families of victims of the military dictatorship in Panama, and on investigations in the Marcio Lapoente case, concerning Brazil. It urged the respective States to make efforts to make these measures a reality. In this regard, it recalls that as subjects of international law, States are obliged to comply with the decisions of the organs of the inter-American system.

At the Period of Sessions, the IACHR deliberated on the Resolution on COVID-19 Vaccines in light of inter-American human rights obligations, which will be a strategic contribution in terms of guiding States towards designing and implementing immunization programs and policies with a human rights-based approach. The resolution will be adopted soon.

The IACHR also approved a thematic report and deliberated on a total of four merits reports that covered emblematic issues that are part of the inter-American public agenda. It also deliberated on two other documents.

With regard to the information received during the hearings, the IACHR is concerned by the fact that some States in the region have used the restriction measures imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a method to intimidate or restrict the work of human rights defenders. It also received worrying information on the criminalization of environmental defenders, who are allegedly facing criminal proceedings as a result of their work. It was also informed about the situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation in the Pan-Amazon Region and reminded States to respect the principle of no contact and the decision to remain in isolation. 

The IACHR also received testimonies on the obstacles faced by women survivors in gaining access to truth, justice, and reparation for the acts of sexual torture that were perpetrated during the civilian-military dictatorship in Uruguay, and on the outlook in the region regarding sexual and reproductive health during the pandemic. The IACHR due attention to the broad definition of health that is set out in inter-American and universal standards and to the intersectional approach that public policies should take to address this point.

During the hearing on content moderation, the participants agreed on the importance of the multisector conversation that began with the hearing in question and will be continued through the inter-American dialogue that the IACHR has entrusted to the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The importance of protecting freedom of expression online and offline was highlighted, and challenges and risks were pointed out regarding the possibility that content moderation or the excessive monitoring of social media platforms could become censorship mechanisms.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (OSRESCER) and the Initiative for Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights in Fiscal Policy organized a working meeting on the latter's flagship initiative. This meeting prompted exchanges in response to the presentation of the draft of the document to the IACHR. The working meeting fulfilled its objective of seeking synergies between the initiative's work to align fiscal policies with human rights standards in the region. This is one of the strategic lines of action for the OSRESCER's second mandate.

At the opening of the 179th Period of Sessions, the IACHR elected its new Board of Directors for 2021. The board is now made up of Antonia Urrejola Noguera as President, Julissa Mantilla Falcón as First Vice-President, and Flávia Piovesan as Second Vice-President. The IACHR noted that its Board of Directors is composed of three women for the first time.

The other people who make up the IACHR are Commissioners Margarette May Macaulay, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, Joel Hernández García, and Stuardo Ralón. The Acting Executive Secretary is María Claudia Pulido and the Deputy Executive Secretary for Petitions and Cases is Marisol Blanchard. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is Pedro Vaca, and the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (OSRESCER) is Soledad García Muñoz.

The IACHR also expressed its gratitude to States and civil society organizations for having made the effort to take part in the 179th Period of Sessions. By doing so, they helped make progress on defending and promoting human rights in the Americas.

The IACHR also reminded States that according to the terms of article 63 of the IACHR Regulations, they must adopt protective measures to guarantee the safety of all people who have taken part in the period of sessions or who use any of the tools available to the entire population of the Americas.

Videos of the hearings (with subtitles in Spanish and English) are available for use by interested parties. This press release is accompanied by an annex containing summaries of the public hearings held during this Period of Sessions.

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

No. 076/21