BY DR. HÉLIO BICUDO
Mr. Chairman of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs,
distinguished representatives of member states of the Organization and
observers, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
Executive Secretary of the IACHR, ladies and gentlemen:
In my capacity as Chairman of the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, I have the pleasure to present to the Committee on Juridical
and Political Affairs of the Permanent Council the Annual Report of the
Commission for 1999. I would
also like to present the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the
Dominican Republic and the Report on the Situation of Human Rights of
Asylum Seekers within the Canadian Refugee Determination System.
this occasion, it is a pleasure to have in our midst Dean Claudio
Grossman, First Vice-Chairman of the Commission and Commissioner Robert
Goldman. Also present are
Ambassador Jorge Taiana, Executive Secretary of the IACHR, and Drs. David
Padilla and Hernando Valencia-Villa, Assistant Executive Secretaries.
The report being provided to the Committee on Juridical and
Political Affairs was approved by the IACHR during the 106th regular
session held last February and March.
The document was drafted based on the guidelines stipulated in
General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-O/78), and in accordance
with the provisions of Article 63 of the Regulations of the IACHR.
I think that I should indicate that this report covers the general
activities of the Commission, conducted with great dedication and skill
under the chairmanship of Commissioner Robert Goldman.
Synthesis of the 1999 Annual
report is divided into three volumes.
The first two volumes contain six chapters and the third contains a
report from the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
The Commission decided to change the usual structure of the first
chapter of its Annual Report. Chapter I of the 1999 Annual Report is devoted to an assessment of
the human rights situation in the Hemisphere and the main challenges to
the exercise of these rights. The
IACHR highlights the progress made in the area of democratization,
although it also points to the deficiencies that are thwarting the full
establishment of democracy, such as the political and institutional crises
confirmed in several states during the period.
Another source of concern is the violation of the fundamental human
rights that affect life, freedom, and personal integrity.
In the view of the IACHR, the adoption of measures to improve the
administration of justice in the Hemisphere is critical, and in
particular, it notes its concern over the impunity surrounding human
rights violations involving state agents, as well as the use of military
courts in such instances. Among
the serious problems that affect justice, the IACHR report mentions
budgetary shortfalls, lack of training of judicial personnel, as well as a
proliferation of threats against judges, persons in the Office of the
Public Prosecutor, and employees of the judicial system.
Because of its impact on the protection of all other rights, the
Commission is closely monitoring reports on hostage-taking and all kinds
of attacks on human rights ombudsmen.
In that regard, the IACHR has had to avail itself of the different
mechanisms of protection set forth in the guidelines governing the mandate
to protect persons affected by that situation, and has also addressed this
matter in its general reports on the human rights situation in several
states of the Hemisphere.
The Commission also continues to receive reports and information
regarding attacks and acts of aggression against journalists.
As it has done on several occasions, the IACHR reiterates its
concern over the climate of intimidation created by the failure to
investigate attacks on journalists or other acts that curb freedom of
expression. It is always
useful to point out that the complete exercise of this right is very
important to the strengthening of democracy in the region.
In its report, the IACHR devotes attention to the problems of
social, racial, or ethnic marginalization, which are not being adequately
addressed by the states of the Hemisphere.
In this regard, it is noted that the principle of
non-discrimination is one of the main pillars of the inter-American
system. Also serious are the
many threats facing the children of the Americas as a result of poverty,
violence, and sexual exploitation and their use as fighters in situations
of armed conflict. The
Commission is also evaluating the current status of the rights of
indigenous populations, as well as the rights of migrant workers and their
families in the Hemisphere.
In varying the traditional structure of its Annual Report, the
Commission is seeking to present an initial chapter evaluating the human
rights situation in the Hemisphere, and, based on this, to make a series
of recommendations to OAS member states regarding the right to life,
physical integrity, and personal liberty of their inhabitants; the
adoption of measures necessary to strengthen the Judiciary; guarantees
that enable human rights ombudsmen to perform their duties free of hostility and danger;
ensuring the full exercise of the right to freedom of expression;
ratification of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on
Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
(“Protocol of San Salvador”); repeal of discriminatory regulations;
and the effective protection of the rights of children, indigenous
populations, and migrant workers and their families.
The IACHR hopes that these recommendations would be deserving of
the full attention of the OAS member states.
Lastly, the IACHR mentions in this chapter the importance of
strengthening the inter-American human rights system by increasing the
material and human resources of the organs of protection.
Naturally, these measures must be accompanied by faithful
compliance with the international obligations of OAS member states in the
area of human rights. In that
regard, the Commission reiterates its willingness and desire to continue
to work cooperatively with states and civil society representatives with a
view to the full exercise of human rights in the Americas.
Chapter II contains a
brief introduction on the origins and legal basis of the Commission and
discusses the main activities conducted by the IACHR during the period
being analyzed. In that
context, emphasis is placed on activities conducted within the framework
of the regular sessions (Nos. 102 and 103) and the two special sessions
(104 and 105), the last of which was held in San José, Costa Rica. Furthermore,
this chapter discusses the activities conducted with other organs of the
inter-American system, and with similar regional and world institutions.
In particular, I would like to underscore the practice of
addressing matters of common interest at annual meetings of the IACHR and
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, with a view to the enhanced
functioning of the regional human rights system. The Commission and the Court have a relationship of
cooperation that is mutually beneficial to the fulfillment of their
respective mandates. Unfortunately,
based on the report provided recently by Professor Antonio Augusto Cançado
Trindade, Chairman of the Inter-American Court, it will not be possible to
hold that meeting this year because of budgetary restrictions.
During the period covered by this report, the Commission conducted
an on-site visit to Paraguay and a visit to Texas in the United States. The IACHR is processing the information received before,
during, and after the visit to Paraguay with a view to drafting the report
on the human rights situation in that country.
The purpose of the visit to Texas in the United States of America
was to observe immigration and asylum processes in that region. On-site visits
permit the Commission to have direct access to information for evaluating
the general situation in a member state.
Moreover, during these visits, the situation regarding specific
rights is observed and personal contact is established with different
persons involved with the government and civil society.
On behalf of the Commission, I would, in particular, like to thank
the Governments of the United States and Paraguay for their assistance in
achieving the objectives set during the visits in 1999.
At the same time, it is my hope that we will receive cooperation
and assistance from member states in conducting both the on-site
visits planned for this year and in planning additional visits of the
Chapter III undoubtedly
constitutes the crux of the work of the IACHR, since it contains the
analysis and decisions regarding reports of violations of fundamental
human rights. This chapter,
the most extensive of the report, contains the decisions adopted with
respect to petitions and individual cases submitted to the Commission and
processed based on the applicable guidelines.
The growing importance that the Commission attaches to the system
of petitions and individual cases and to their friendly settlement should
also be noted. This year’s report includes four decisions of this nature.
At the same time, the IACHR is continuing negotiations aimed at the
friendly settlement of dozens of cases in several countries of the region.
The willingness of the parties to hold talks and seek creative
solutions is clearly a positive indication of the continuing development
of the system.
During the period being analyzed, the Commission approved 26
reports that declared the admissibility of the cases in question.
It also declared a total of five reports inadmissible, inasmuch as
they failed to meet the requirements set forth in the American Convention.
The reports mentioned, as well as the 30 decisions regarding the
merits of the matters reported, also reflect the growing diversity of the
reports of human rights violations. The
IACHR points out that the approval and publication of a report on the
merits of an individual case offers, to some extent, reparation to a
victim whose human rights have been violated and who could not obtain
justice through the national legal system.
Chapter III also presents information on the proceedings of the
Commission before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
During the period covered by this Annual Report, the IACHR
submitted the following cases: José María Cantos (Argentina), January
10, 1999; Juan Pablo Olmedo Bustos et
al. (Chile), January 15, 1999; Haniff Hillaire (Trinidad and Tobago),
May 26, 1999; El Caracazo (Venezuela), June 7, 1999; José Carlos Trujillo
Oroza (Bolivia), June 9, 1999; Constitutional Court (Peru), July 2, 1999;
and Constantine et al. (Trinidad and Tobago), February 22, 2000.
I would like to note in particular the fact that Bolivia and
Venezuela recognized their international responsibility in the respective
cases that I have just mentioned. The
IACHR is very appreciative of these decisions, since they represent
significant progress in strengthening human rights in the inter-American
system. Also, the Commission
is continuing to process the other contentious cases and provisional
measures before the Inter-American Court.
The illustrious members of the Committee on Juridical and Political
Affairs will be able to see the activities of the IACHR in the chart
appearing on pages 48 to 54 of the first volume of the report.
Also, the Commission has followed the guidelines indicated in its
1998 Annual Report for identifying member states whose practices in the
area of human rights warrant special attention and inclusion in a special
chapter of the Annual Report. In
that regard, Chapter IV of this
year’s report analyzes the situation of human rights in Cuba and
Cuba has been included in this chapter due to the fact that it is
run by a government that was not freely elected in accordance with
internationally accepted practices, which constitutes a violation of the
right to political participation enshrined in Article XX of the American
Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.
The report on Ecuador included in Chapter IV contains an analysis
of the serious institutional crisis in that country, which affected the
free exercise of several rights guaranteed by the American Convention. The 1999 Annual Report of the Commission has followed the
practice of not including in Chapter IV reports pertaining to states for
which special reports are being prepared or have been approved on the
human rights situation during the period in question, pursuant to Article
62 of its Regulations.
In 1998, the Commission decided that the Annual Report for that
period would include a special chapter dedicated to follow-up to the
recommendations made in its special reports on the human rights situation
in a member state, prepared pursuant to Article 62 of its Regulations.
Chapter V of the 1999
Annual Report continues the practice of analyzing progress in the
implementation of recommendations made earlier by the Commission, in the
exercise of its authority as the principal human rights organ of the OAS.
On this occasion, this chapter contains reports on compliance by
Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico with the recommendations contained in the
reports of the IACHR on the human rights situations in these countries,
approved in 1997, 1999, and 1998, respectively.
Chapter VI contains
special studies on three specific subjects. The first is a progress report
on the situation of migrant workers and their family members in the
Hemisphere. This is a matter
of great interest to the IACHR, of which it has become aware over the
years during its on-site visits to the states of the region, in reports on
human rights violations, and in general or individual hearings.
It should also be noted that this topic has been included on the
hemispheric agenda, in particular in the Santiago Declaration.
The report presents, first, the principles developed by the organs
of protection of the inter-American human rights system on the subject of
migrant workers, based on the fundamental principles of equality and
non-discrimination. The main
part of the text of the report follows, and is made up of the responses
provided by member states to the questionnaire submitted by the IACHR in
order to evaluate the situation of that group.
To the states that have not yet done so, the IACHR avails itself of
this opportunity to ask them to complete the form on the human rights
situation of migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere, so that
it can have the information needed for a report that addresses the topic
in the most accurate and up to date manner possible.
Lastly, the progress report mentions the activities conducted by
the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Migrant Workers.
The chapter goes on to recommend elimination of the practice of
recruitment and participation of children in armed conflict.
The recommendation was formulated within an international legal
framework that guarantees special protection for children, and is aimed at
nullifying any regulation that permits the voluntary or mandatory
recruitment of adolescents under the minimum age permitted in
international instruments, as well as the adoption of measures to
prosecute and sanction state or civil agents who recruit minors or their
participation in armed conflicts. Furthermore,
the IACHR recommends that states adopt different measures to remedy the
effects of this type of practice on children and adolescents, and
establish mechanisms for awareness-building and public education related
to this improper practice. It
also makes the same recommendations to all persons involved in armed
conflict (states, paramilitary groups, and armed dissident groups) and to
children and adolescents, so that they may be aware of their rights and
obligations in this area. In
this context, I think it should be noted that the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights recently submitted a draft optional protocol to
the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the participation of
children in armed conflicts.
Lastly, in Chapter VI, the Commission includes a study regarding
what are called “affirmative action measures,” aimed at promoting the
political participation of women, from the standpoint of compatibility
with the principles of equality and non-discrimination.
The study, drafted on the basis of a document prepared by the
Inter-American Commission of Women, concludes that affirmative action
measures are compatible with the principles mentioned above. Furthermore,
the IACHR points to the need for additional measures by the states of the
Hemisphere to achieve full observance of the right of women to political
participation, in accordance with international regulations on the matter.
II of the report ends with the usual annexes providing a status report on
the conventions and protocols of the regional human rights system, press
releases, and selected speeches disseminated by the IACHR in the past
Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
I will now move on to the third volume of the Annual Report for
1999, which contains information from the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR
for Freedom of Expression for that period.
During its 106th session, the Commission discussed and approved
this report, which has been included as one of the volumes of the Annual
Report, as was done in the previous year.
As you are all aware, the Commission appointed a Special Rapporteur
in this area in November 1998, in accordance with the functions and
authority provided for in Article 41 of the American Convention and
Article 18 of its Statute. The
Commission charged the Rapporteur with the task of providing assistance
with the follow-up, promotion, and protection of freedom of expression in
the Americas. The Commission
appreciates the support expressed by the Heads of State and Government in
the Santiago Declaration of 1998 for the appointment of this Special
Rapporteur, which was reaffirmed individually on several other occasions.
The report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of
Expression begins with a brief description of its mandate and authority,
and goes on to list the main activities conducted by that office in 1999. The main section of the report is dedicated to the evaluation
of the situation regarding freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, and
includes studies on legislation, as well as an analysis of that right with
respect to women and the perspectives presented by the electronic
communications media such as the Internet.
The situation with regard to freedom of expression is also
analyzed, with emphasis being placed on the progress made and the serious
problems that persist, such as the assassination of journalists.
The report ends with a series of conclusions and recommendations
regarding member states, which I would like to bring to the attention of
everyone, in the common interest of moving towards the effective and full
protection of the right to freedom of expression in the Hemisphere.
Mr. President, representatives, dear colleagues and staff, ladies
We are at a critical moment, since we are faced with major
challenges that pose a threat to the strengthening of democracy in the
region. The safety of
citizens, which is a topic of special concern, is guaranteed first by
civil police that protect citizens, and includes the strengthening of the
administration of justice and the elimination of corruption or impunity,
and lastly, a prison system that is aimed at the genuine rehabilitation
and social reintegration of prisoners.
Also, in terms of remaining challenges, mention should be made of
the observance of human rights regulations and international humanitarian
law in situations of armed conflict, combating poverty and inequality, the
protection of children, respect for freedom of expression, and an end to
discrimination on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender-related grounds, as
well as guarantees for human rights ombudsmen.
We have taken note of the statements of the Heads of State of the
Hemisphere in which they stressed that human rights form the bedrock of
Furthermore, in the area of the strengthening of the inter-American
human rights system, we should point out that the IACHR requested comments
on the process of reform of its Regulations from the ministers of foreign
affairs of member states, nongovernmental organizations, and other civil
society groups. The
suggestions received have been noted, including those of the Ad Hoc
Working Group on Human Rights and the Committee on Juridical and Political
Affairs. The Commission is
willing to reform its Regulations during the special session to take place
in Brasilia next June, on the invitation of the Government of Brazil, and
will try to finalize this during its regular session in October of this
this regard, I would like to note the satisfaction of the IACHR with the
recent draft resolution of the OAS General Assembly approved by the
Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, which urges member states,
among other things, to adopt measures to implement the decisions or
rulings of the Inter-American Court and to make every effort to implement
the recommendations of the Inter-American Commission.
However, I must mention an issue of grave concern to the IACHR,
namely, the budget cuts announced a few weeks ago by the OAS Assistant
Secretary for Administration. The
Commission is fully aware of the serious financial difficulties that
affect the Organization stemming from the fact that the quotas of member
states are not paid on a timely basis.
Nevertheless, it would be highly contradictory for the work of the
IACHR, recognized on many occasions by member states as being one of the
highest priorities in the Hemisphere, to be affected by a general
reduction in allocations within the Organization.
In fact, in February of 2000, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Human
Rights recommended to the foreign ministers of OAS member States a
substantial increase in the funds earmarked for the organs of the
inter-American human rights system. In
keeping with this unequivocal show of support for the system, I would like
to cite operative point 4 of the aforementioned draft resolution of this
Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs to the Permanent Council of
instruct the Permanent Council to seek to increase substantially, in the
upcoming fiscal years, the funds allocated to the Inter-American Court and
Commission, based on the recognition that the protection and promotion of
human rights are one of the main priorities of the Organization.
A budget reduction would have a great impact on the operations of
the IACHR and would be prejudicial to the fulfillment of its functions of
protecting and promoting human rights as a principal organ of the OAS
under the terms of the Charter. Furthermore,
it would be useful to bear in mind that the preamble to the American
Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man states that “the
international protection of the rights of man should be the principal
guide of an evolving American law.”
With that in mind, it is my hope that the significant support
expressed by the representatives of member states in that draft resolution
is reflected in full access by the IACHR to the financial resources
provided for in its program-budget for this year, as approved by the
Lastly, on behalf of the Commission, I would like to express my
sincere appreciation for the support given to us by the member states and
the Secretary General of the Organization in better performing our
mission. It is my hope that we will continue to work in an
increasingly harmonious and effective manner, with the aim of guaranteeing
respect for the human rights of all persons in the Americas, without any
Thank you very much.