ANNUAL REPORT 2009
1. Fifty years ago the Foreign Affairs Ministers of 21 countries of the Hemisphere met at the Fifth Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and signed the Santiago Declaration, which recognized that “harmony among the American republics can be effective only insofar as human rights and fundamental freedoms and the exercise of representative democracy are a reality within each one of them.” The ministers agreed to adopt an American convention on human rights and to create organs specifically for the purpose of protecting and monitoring these rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was born in this context, and it was the first OAS organ charged with promoting respect for fundamental rights in the region.
2. Over these past five decades, the IACHR has promoted structural reforms that have strengthened the effectiveness of human rights throughout the region. In its opinions and recommendations, reports and visits, as well as its interaction with the rest of the actors of the system, the Inter-American Commission has advanced in the protection of human rights for all sectors of the population.
3. Noteworthy among its contributions are the repeal of amnesty laws and of contempt [desacato] laws criminalizing critical opinions expressed about public officials. In addition, in their compliance with Inter-American Commission reports on individual cases as well as general situations, several member States of the OAS have taken measures such as, inter alia, the adoption of laws punishing domestic violence, the adoption of public policies for the eradication of forced labor and violence against women, and to guarantee political participation and the right of the Indigenous peoples to own their land.
4. The framework provided by the fiftieth anniversary of the IACHR has been propitious for the celebration of important achievements in the protection of human rights in the region, and has allowed the renewal of its commitment to defend and promote these rights. During the Inter-American Commission’s commemorative visit to Chile, on September 3, 2009 the IACHR signed the Declaration of Santiago de Chile, and declared that the strengthening of the system “is possible through a renewal, consolidation, and universalization of human rights ideals,” a task that should be undertaken jointly by the organs of the inter-American system, OAS Member States and civil society. It also underscored the importance of having a democracy effectively in force for the full enjoyment of the human rights, and the need to maintain a constructive dialogue with all those who use the inter-American human rights system to strengthen human rights and democracy. Lastly, the Inter-American Commission declared that “the ideals of the human rights system expressed in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights, and other instruments continue to apply today, those of ensuring respect for human dignity and guaranteeing a life free of fear and misery; hence, it is essential to consolidate democratic institutions, the rule of law, and economic and social development throughout the region.”
5. In addition, as part of its commemorative activities, the IACHR had the honor of accepting an invitation from the Government of Argentina for a formal visit, which took place in the month of September, thus commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of an in loco visit made by the Inter-American Commission when Argentina was in the throes of a dictatorship. This occasion allowed the IACHR to reunite with the past, remember crucial moments in its history, and reflect on the challenges for the future.
6. Among these challenges is the one of increasing access to the inter-American system for victims of human rights violations. In this respect, an important step was taken in 2009, which brings about a profound transformation of the dynamics of access to the system and the protection of human rights: the adoption of the Rules of Procedure for the Operation of the Legal Assistance Fund for the victims by the Permanent Council of the OAS. For many years the Inter-American Commission has insisted on the need to provide victims of human rights violations with the necessary tools to gain access to the inter-American system when they have not been able to obtain proper protection of their rights within their domestic jurisdictions. However, although the adoption of the rules of procedure of the fund constitutes an important step, it would also be a very small one should it not be accompanied by the financial resources to back its operation and ensure it becomes, in actual practice, a mechanism allowing any inhabitant of the Hemisphere, without regard for the place or conditions in which he or she may be, to petition the inter-American organs that exist for his or her protection.
7. The need to provide sufficient resources to the system for the protection of human rights continues to be the main debt outstanding for the strengthening of the inter-American system. The Inter-American Commission has been fulfilling its role of promoting compliance with and the defense of human rights in the Hemisphere despite its limited financial and human resources, and has always sought to reach the greatest possible number of people and provide effective responses to the victims of human rights violations. The IACHR has also accompanied the member States in their domestic proceedings in order to promote greater guarantees for the fundamental rights of their inhabitants and in their adoption of public policies that are increasingly inclusive and in concordance with inter-American ideals. This response could be even more integral and comprehensive if the resources at the disposal of the Inter-American Commission were proportionate to the mandates it is assigned and, generally, to the great needs regarding the protection of human rights in the region. If the budget of the OAS is an indicator of the priorities of the member States with respect to the activities that the organization must carry out, the 5% assigned to the IACHR from the Organization’s regular 2010 budget constitutes a message conveying meager encouragement regarding the States’ interest in strengthening the inter-American system.
8. Notwithstanding the foregoing, there are many instances of progress in which the organs of the inter-American system have participated, that are also the result of the tenacity of civil society in its role as overseer of the rights of those most vulnerable, as well as of the honest efforts on the part of many states to implement the decision of the organs of the system. However, the American continent continues to display a panorama plagued with a reality of social inequality, serious problems regarding access to justice, discrimination against women, Indigenous peoples, migrants, and an important number of the members of its population due to their sexual orientation.
9. Democratic instability continues to be a threat impossible to ignore, as demonstrated by the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009. This event demonstrates the fragility of democracy and the importance of continuously strengthening it, a process in which all sectors of society should participate. In this process, respect for human rights is fundamental. Undoubtedly, the rights to political participation, of freedom of expression, of freedom of association, and to protection and a fair trial are essential for the development of a pluralistic life in community, respectful of differences, where all voices are heard and force does not prevail, nor do the interests of one sector of society prevail with clear prejudice to those of another, but the good for all people.
10. In addition, the Inter-American Commission has for many years emphasized that respect for human rights must be comprehensive, because it is not enough to guarantee civil and political rights if this does not include the effective respect for the economic, social and cultural rights of the people. In this regard, it should be underscored that after 10 years of the entry into force of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also known as “Protocol of San Salvador,” only 14 countries have ratified it, and the Working Group to analyze periodic reports by the States Parties to the Protocol has not been fully staffed.
11. The Inter-American Commission considers it appropriate to reiterate once again that the fullness and effectiveness of the protection provided to the inhabitants of the Hemisphere by the system depend, chiefly, on the efforts made by member States to achieve the system’s universality by ratifying the American Convention and the other human rights instruments, as well as the acceptance of the jurisdiction of the Court; on their compliance with the obligation to adapt domestic the legislation of the States Parties to the rights provided for by the instruments adopted within the system and their proper interpretation and application by their organs, especially the courts, and, lastly, on their compliance with international commitments and the recommendations made by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court.
12. From its creation, the Commission has transformed itself and has adapted to the needs for promotion and protection of human rights in the system. Thus, it has carried out several regulatory reforms with a view to making its procedures more efficient and effective. This year, after a process that took more than two years and included the active participation of the States, civil society and an unprecedented dialogue with the Inter-American Court, both organs have carried out a profound reform of different elements related to the four essential themes of the system for the protection of human rights: the mechanism of precautionary measures, the processing of petitions and cases, the forwarding of cases to the Inter-American Court, and the hearings held on the situation of human rights in the member States. During the debates, the IACHR gave serious consideration to the valuable comments made by the States, civil society organizations, academics and private citizens from the entire Hemisphere, who responded to the consultations opened on the preliminary draft for reform, between May and August of 2009. The main objective of the reform is to strengthen the inter-American system by, inter alia, strengthening the participation of the victims within it, greater openness in the proceedings before its organs, and the establishment of greater guarantees to ensure procedural equality of arms.
13. The Inter-American Commission’s 2009 annual report has kept the structure of prior reports, including, on the one hand, the main activities of the IACHR over the year in compliance with its mandate to promote and protect human rights and, on the other, its analysis and follow-up of the human rights situation in the region.
14. Chapter II of this report refers, first, to the legal foundations, functions, and jurisdiction of the Inter-American Commission, and then goes on to address different sections related to its 2009 activities including, in addition to its sessions, the Commission’s visits to different countries in the region, the activities carried out by the thematic rapporteurships throughout the year, and the IACHR’s activities related to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In closing, this chapter lists the resolutions approved by the OAS General Assembly during its thirty-eighth regular session, which establish a specific mandate for the IACHR.
15. Chapter III of the annual report refers to the system of petitions and individual cases; it presents statistics for 2009 and describes the follow-up made on implementation of the IACHR’s recommendations and on agreements reached in friendly settlements between parties. In this regard, it is important to emphasize that the IACHR continues its supervision until there is full compliance with the recommendations or a friendly settlement is reached. This chapter also reports on provisional measures and contentious cases submitted by the IACHR to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
16. As it does every year, this Inter-American Commission’s annual report includes a chapter that seeks to provide to the OAS member States up-to-date information on the human rights situation in the countries that received special attention from the IACHR during the reporting period. Chapter IV of the 2009 annual report examines the human rights situation of Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, and Honduras.
17. Regarding Colombia, in this chapter the IACHR specifically addresses the progress and existing challenges in the clarification of crimes perpetrated during the conflict, including the participation of the paramilitary leaders extradited to the United States in the Colombian proceedings held under the Law for Justice and Peace [Ley de Justicia y Paz], a persistent pattern of violation of the rights to life and to humane treatment, the situation of ethnic groups, and intelligence activities against human rights defenders, community leaders and justice operators.
18. In analyzing the situation of Cuba, the IACHR paid particular attention to the structural situations that seriously affect the full enjoyment of human rights, especially political rights, guarantees of due process and independence of the judiciary, deprivation of liberty of political dissidents, restrictions on the right to freedom of movement and residence, restrictions on freedom of expression, the situation of human rights defenders, and the freedom to associate in labor unions. Considerations on economic and commercial sanctions imposed on the Government of Cuba were also included, along with a reiteration that the embargo must end because of the impact caused by these sanctions on the human rights of the Cuban population. This, however, does not exempt the State from compliance with its international obligations, nor is it excused from violations to the American Declaration, described in this report.
19. The Commission continued to give special follow up to the human rights situation in Haiti in 2009, and analyzed the structural situations that seriously affect the enjoyment of the fundamental rights of its inhabitants and, more specifically, the grave situations of violence that prevent proper rule of law, the serious institutional crises, the processes of institutional change that can have negative consequences for human rights, and the grave omissions in the adoption of the necessary norms for the effective exercise of fundamental rights.
20. With respect to Honduras, the IACHR submits, as part of its analysis in chapter IV, the executive summary of its report Honduras: Human Rights and the Coup d’État, which addressed the human rights situation since the date of the coup in that country, June 28, 2009. This report was largely based on a visit in loco of the Commission to Honduras from August 17 to 21, 2009. It can be inferred from the document that the reported human rights violations are a direct consequence of the breakdown of constitutional order. For this reason, the Commission considers that the return to democratic institutions in Honduras is necessary so that conditions may exist for the effective protection of and compliance with human rights of all the inhabitants of that country. The Commission confirmed during its visit that in Honduras, along with the institutional de-legitimization caused by the coup d’état, there have been grave violations of human rights, including deaths, arbitrary declaration of a state of siege, repression of public demonstrations using disproportionate force, criminalization of social protest, arbitrary arrests of thousands of people; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and poor conditions of detention, militarization of the territory, an increase in the instances of racial discrimination, violation of the rights of women, serious and arbitrary restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and grave violations of political rights. The IACHR also confirmed the ineffectiveness of judicial remedies to protect human rights.
21. Finally, regarding Venezuela, the IACHR includes in its chapter IV the executive summary of its report on Democracy and Human Rights in Venezuela, in which it examines the evolution of human rights in that country and, specifically, a series of conditions that evidence the lack of effective separation between and independence of the different branches of government in Venezuela. The Commission also has noted that in Venezuela the full exercise of their rights has not been guaranteed to all people without regard to their stance towards government policies, and that the punitive power of the state is being used to intimidate or punish persons on the basis of their political opinions. The Commission’s report establishes that conditions do not exist in Venezuela for human rights defenders and journalists to freely engage in their occupation. The IACHR has also determined that a pattern of impunity exists regarding cases of violence, which particularly affects communicators, human rights defenders, union members, persons participating in demonstrations, imprisoned persons, peasants [campesinos], Indigenous peoples, and women. In the opinion of the Commission, all these elements have contributed to the weakening of the rule of law and democracy in Venezuela.
22. In Chapter V of its annual report, the Commission includes a follow-up report to the one published in 2007, titled Access to Justice and Social Inclusion: the Road towards Strengthening Democracy in Bolivia. The follow-up focuses on the same aspects analyzed in the 2007 report, including both positive developments and the main conflicts that have occurred in Bolivia in recent years and their relation to the duty of the State to respect and guarantee the human rights of all persons under its jurisdiction. Also examined are the topics of the administration of justice, the rights of persons deprived of liberty, the rights of Indigenous peoples and peasant communities, the rights of women, of children, and of refugees and those seeking refugee status. Each section of the follow-up details the status of compliance with recommendations made, whether measures have been taken and, if the answer is affirmative, their results and the current challenges that remain.
23. The other follow-up report included in chapter V is on the recommendations made by the IACHR in its report on Violence and Discrimination against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia, of October 18, 2006. In this report, the Commission examines the main manifestations of violence especially affecting women within the armed conflict, as well as the impact on their bodies and their lives and, specifically, the manners of discrimination against Afro-Colombian women. The 2006 report also examines progress made and pending challenges regarding the response given by the Colombian state to the impact of the armed conflict on women, and includes a number of recommendations for the design of a comprehensive state policy to deal with these problems and advance in the protection of women’s human rights.
24. The follow-up report begins with a brief diagnosis of the impact of the Colombian armed conflict on women during the period of study, from the time the recommendations were issued by the Commission in its prior report. This report also examines the current situation regarding manifestations of violence against women and the different forms of discrimination that continue to affect Indigenous and Afro-Colombian women. The state’s response is also analyzed, from October 2006 to date, with respect to the design and implementation of the normative framework and public policies for the protection of the human rights of women in the face of violence and discrimination within the armed conflict, the diagnosis and prevention of violence, the administration of justice, and the humanitarian and support services given to the victims of forced displacement. The progress made by the state and the persisting obstacles towards making the rights of women to truth, justice, and reparations effective, are also examined. Finally, the conclusions summarize the main obstacles remaining and progress made in the state’s compliance with its obligation to protect the human rights of women and to adopt a comprehensive state policy providing a satisfactory response to the acts of violence and discrimination suffered by women within this context.
25. Last, it should be said that in 2009 several commissioners concluded their mandates: Sir Clare K. Roberts, Florentín Meléndez, Paolo Carozza and Víctor Abramovich, whose work was outstanding during their terms with the IACHR. In 2009 the election of new members to the IACHR took place, who will replace the aforementioned commissioners: Rodrigo Escobar Gil, of Colombia; María Silvia Guillén, of El Salvador; José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, of Mexico, and Dinah Shelton, of the United States.