RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS IN THE REGION*
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continues its
practice of including, in its Annual Report to the General Assembly of the
Organization of American States, a chapter on the situation of human
rights in member countries of the Organization, based on the competence
assigned to it by the OAS Charter, the American Convention on Human
Rights, and the Commission's Statute and Regulations.
This practice has served the purpose of providing the OAS updated
information on the human rights situation in those countries that had been
the subject of the Commission's special attention; and in some cases, to
report on a particular event that had taken place or was emerging or
developing at the close of its reporting cycle.
In this chapter, the Commission reiterates its interest in
receiving the cooperation of the member states to identify the measures
taken by their governments that display a commitment to improving the
observance of human rights. Without
prejudice to this, the IACHR reflects, in various chapters of this report,
the positive advances achieved by many states of the hemisphere in the
area of human rights.
The Annual Report of the IACHR for 1997 set forth five criteria
pre-established by the Commission to identify the member states of the OAS
whose human rights practices merited special attention, and which
consequently should be included in its Chapter V.
In addition, as anticipated in that Annual Report, the Commission
has developed an additional criterion for inclusion in this chapter, which
is added to the previous ones.
The first criterion encompasses those states ruled by governments
that have not come to power through popular elections, by secret, genuine,
periodic, and free suffrage, according to internationally accepted
standards and principles. The Commission has repeatedly pointed out that representative
democracy and its mechanisms are essential for achieving the rule of law
and respect for human rights. As
for those states that do not observe the political rights enshrined in the
American Declaration and the American Convention, the Commission fulfills
its duty to inform the other OAS members states as to the human rights
situation of the population.
The second criterion concerns states where the free exercise of the
rights set forth in the American Convention or American Declaration have
been, in effect, suspended totally or in part, by virtue of the imposition
of exceptional measures, such as state of emergency, state of siege,
suspension of guarantees, or exceptional security measures, and the like.
The third criterion to justify the inclusion in this chapter of a
particular state is when there is clear and convincing evidence that a
state commits massive and grave violations of the human rights guaranteed
in the American Convention, the American Declaration, and all other
applicable human rights instruments. In so doing, the Commission highlights the fundamental rights
that cannot be suspended; thus it is especially concerned about violations
such as extrajudicial executions, torture, and forced disappearances.
Thus, when the Commission receives credible communications
denouncing such violations by a particular state which are attested to or
corroborated by the reports or findings of other governmental or
intergovernmental bodies and/or of respected national and international
human rights organizations, the Commission believes that it has a duty to
bring such situations to the attention of the Organization and its member
The fourth criterion concerns those states that are in a process of
transition from any of the above three situations.
The fifth criterion regards temporary or structural situations that
may appear in member states confronted, for various reasons, with
situations that seriously affect the enjoyment of fundamental rights
enshrined in the American Convention or the American Declaration.
This criterion includes, for example:
grave situations of violations that prevent the proper application
of the rule of law; serious institutional crises; processes of
institutional change which have negative consequences for human rights; or
grave omissions in the adoption of the provisions necessary for the
effective exercise of fundamental rights.
In compliance with the second
guideline given above and using information received from different
sources, the Commission will now describe the measures taken by Bolivia
and Ecuador to suspend full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in Article
27 of the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was informed that the
State of Bolivia decreed a stage of siege on April 8, 2000, following a
week of demonstrations (some of which were violent) in several cities
around the country, particularly Cochabamba. These demonstrations flared
up in protest against a project that would lead to increased
drinking-water rates in Cochabamba. The reports available to the
Commission indicated that in the course of events, five people lost their
lives, including both civilians and members of the armed forces, and one
minor child. The Commission was also told that the clashes left some 40
people wounded and that numerous arrests were made.
Article 111(1) of the Bolivian Constitution rules that a state of
siege is an exceptional measure that can be invoked by the executive
branch of government to preserve law and order at times of grave danger or
internal unrest. In the case at hand, the rules stipulate that the state
of siege must be lifted within 90 days or it will expire automatically. In
turn, Article 112(3) describes the effect of declaring a state of siege:
“The guarantees and rights enshrined in this Constitution shall not be
suspended on a de facto or general basis simply with a state of siege being
declared; however, they may be thus suspended with respect to specific
individuals duly suspected of plotting against law and order.” Article
112(4) provides that “the legitimate authority [may] issue summonses or
warrants against the accused, but within a period not exceeding 48 hours
must bring them before a competent judge, along with the documents upon
which the arrest was grounded.”
Article 27(3) of the American Convention on Human Rights reads as
follows: “Any State Party availing itself of the right of suspension [of
constitutional guarantees] shall immediately inform the other States
Parties, through the Secretary General of the Organization of American
States, of the provisions the application of which it has suspended, the
reasons that gave rise to the suspension, and the date set for the
termination of such suspension.” According to information submitted by
the OAS’s Department of International Law on March 6, 2001, the Bolivian
State did not notify the General Secretariat of its declaration of a state
of siege or of the constitutional guarantees that were suspended on April
In late January 2001, a year after the events that shook the
Republic of Ecuador and culminated with the removal from office of
President Jamil Mahuad and the investiture of Vice-President Gustavo Noboa
in his stead, a number of indigenous and grassroots organizations began to
coordinate efforts and demonstrations in order to bring about the repeal
of a series of recently-introduced economic measures. The mobilization and
protest activities of the demonstrators, who had come together from across
the country, threatened to paralyze Quito. In light of the situation of
“grave internal turmoil,” the government issued Executive Decree Nº
1214 on February 2, 2001, under which:
1. A state of national
emergency is declared, and a security zone is established in the entire
territory of the Republic.
2. Orders are given for
total national mobilization in accordance with the terms of Articles 54
and 55 of the National Security Law, for the requisitions deemed necessary
under that Law and its regulations, and for the use of public force to
restore the conditions required by the citizenry for the normal pursuit of
Art. 3. As long as the declared emergency lasts, the rights enshrined in paragraphs 12, 14, and 19 of Article 23 of the Constitution of the Republic are suspended.
4. Enforcement of this
Decree, which shall come into force on this date and irrespective of its
publication in the Official Register, shall fall to the Minister of
Government and Police and the Minister of National Defense.
According to different sources, the acts of violence carried out
between January 21 and February 6, 2001, left a total of five people dead
and almost a dozen wounded. On February 6, 2001, the Commission asked the
Government for information about the situation. To resolve the crisis, the
government and the country’s indigenous, campesino, and social
organizations signed an agreement in which the government undertook to
reduce the price of gasoline and to freeze fuel prices for a period of one
year. On February 12, 2001, the government informed the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights that it had succeeded in “reestablishing
order, security, and peace throughout the nation’s territory.” Its
letter also reported on the violence that had led to the state of
emergency being declared, and on the agreement reached with the different
organizations; a copy of the agreement was attached. The government also
informed the Secretary General of the Organization of American States
about the declaration of the state of emergency, in compliance with
Article 27(3) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
The IACHR does not include in this chapter States with respect to
which the Commission is preparing general reports on the human rights
situation pursuant to Article 62 of its Regulations, or has approved
such reports during the period considered.