During the year 2001 the International Community witnessed the
dramatic consequences of terrorist attacks unprecedented in their
concentrated impact on the civilian population.
The attacks perpetrated on September 11 against the twin towers in
the City of New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.–repudiated by
the OAS and the IACHR—and the threats against the civilian population
that followed, have ignited a vigorous debate regarding the measures to be
adopted to combat this scourge in general and the appropriate means to
investigate, try and punish those responsible for the commission of this
kind of international illegal acts.
The IACHR has recognized the right and the duty of the states to
both protect the civilian population and its own institutional structure
from this kind of attacks. The
American Convention and other applicable international instruments make
provision for the adoption of emergency measures with the purpose of
facing grave threats to public order within the Rule of Law. Such measures–as established by the Commission, the
Inter-American Court and other international intergovernmental
organs—must be implemented while taking into account the respect of the
basic non-derogable guarantees, provided for in international law.
This context presents a new challenge for the member states of the
Organization to balance the duty to protect the civilian population from
the menace and the consequences of these violent acts and at the same time
to continue to guard it from arbitrariness and to continue with the
function of administering justice with all due guarantees.
In a Resolution approved on December 12, 2001, the IACHR made
public its intention to prepare a report on Terrorism and Human Rights
with the purpose of assisting the member states in the adoption of
legislative or other responses to the violence and the menace of terrorism
with due consideration and respect of the standards established by
Also in relation to the full enforcement of the Rule of Law, the
Commission notes that the Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved
during the twenty eighth special session of the General Assembly of the
OAS held in Lima, Peru, the member states recognized that poverty and the
low levels of human development have affected the consolidation of
democracy. In that
instrument, they assumed a collective commitment regarding the challenge
of development “..the importance of maintaining the macroeconomic
balance and the imperative of strengthening social cohesion and
democracy.” The Commission
notes with concern that during the period covered by this report there
have been situations of social and economic crises that have had a
political and institutional impact. These
situations may affect the functioning state institutions and the Rule of
Law and thus threaten the fundamental rights of the population and
postpone the attainment of the stability needed to make possible the
sustained social, economic, and cultural development of many peoples of
The member states, both individually and through their mutual
cooperation must endeavor to implement positive measures in order to
overcome the social, racial, ethnic marginalization affecting the peoples
of the Region and guarantee dignified living conditions, equal
opportunities, and full participation in decision-making as basic
objectives of the integral development of the inhabitants and societies of
the Hemisphere. As expressed
by the member states in the Democratic Charter, the elimination of gender,
ethnic, racial, cultural and religious discrimination, as well as the
diverse forms of intolerance, contributes to the participation of citizens
and the strengthening of democracy (Article 9).
The IACHR has repeatedly stated that States should provide special
protection for and encourage the development of those who are especially
vulnerable, in particular children, the disabled, women, indigenous
peoples, members of afrodescendant communities in certain regions, and
migrant workers and their families. The member states should provide
special protection to these persons or groups of persons, creating or
strengthening legal and institutional mechanisms aimed at combating
discrimination in light of the standards established in the system.
The Commission has repeatedly referred to the situation of hundreds
of thousands of children who live in the region that are forced to work in
adverse conditions for their right to human development and education,
their health and even their right to life. In many cases they are victims of illegal and degrading
practices such as slave labor, sexual exploitation, and recruitment as
combatants in situations of armed conflict.
The promotion of the human rights of children constitutes a
priority for the Commission, in accordance with the directives of the
Declaration and the American Convention on Human Rights, and the standards
set forth in other international instruments that are widely recognized by
the member states, as well as the mandates specifically undertaken in the
Plan of Action of the Summit of the Americas held in Quebec.
The Special Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child of the IACHR
proposes to develop activities of promotion and protection with the
objective of assisting the member states in fully and definitively
complying with the challenge of protecting children, and taking positive
actions to guarantee the security, health and education of the children
who inhabit the continent.
During 2001, women and girls throughout the region continued to be
subjected to violence and discrimination based on their gender. The Commission and its Special Rapporteur on the Rights of
Women have emphasized the need to give priority attention to women who
suffer the consequences of situations of armed conflict, or who, for
reasons of race, ethnicity or poverty, are subjected to multiple forms of
discrimination and subordination.
As set forth in the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention,
Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (“Convention of Belém
do Pará”), violence against women--a manifestation of discrimination
based on gender–is frequently perpetrated both within the home and the
family, as well as within the community.
In many cases, it is perpetrated or tolerated by the state itself.
The regional norms of protection oblige the states of the
hemisphere to act with due diligence to prevent gender-based violence and
discrimination, and to prosecute and punish all persons responsible, as
well as to take measures to permanently eradicate these violations.
The Commission and its Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women
must reiterate their grave concern for the fact that these fundamental
obligations are not adequately implemented in law and practice at the
national level in many of the member states.
Impunity remains the rule in the vast majority of cases involving
instances of gender-based violence and discrimination.
This impunity encourages the persistence of such violations, which
exact an extremely high cost, not only for the victims and their families,
but also for our societies as a whole.
Every member state has the obligation to use all the legal means at
its disposal to combat this situation, and to ensure that victims have
access to effective judicial protection and guarantees.
Further in this regard, the Commission considers it essential that
the member states seek additional means to encourage the participation of
qualified women in public life, both within the courts as well as in other
positions within the judicial system, the legislative branch, and in
decision-making and the setting of public policy at all levels of
Respect for the individual and collective rights of the approximately
40 million persons who comprise the almost 400 aboriginal ethnic groups that
inhabit the continent continues to be a historic, geographic, cultural and
social challenge for the member States. The
indigenous population of the continent is frequently the victim of extreme
poverty and the violation of its fundamental rights, both within and outside
of their communities.
At this time, the Commission wishes to reiterate once again its call to
the member States to support approval of the American Declaration of the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples
as an instrument to facilitate compliance with their due obligations in favor
of the indigenous communities of our hemisphere. Further, the IACHR wishes to emphasize that, during 2001, in
a case involving the question of due reparation for the dispossession of
natural resources pertaining to one of these communities, the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights decided the issue taking into account their right to
development in accordance with their own traditions, needs and interests.
In some regions the members of afrodescendant communities are amongst
the human groups most afflicted by poverty and extreme poverty in the
Hemisphere. The members of these
communities are also victims of social marginalization, discrimination and
violence, and in many cases they suffer the consequences of lack of title to
the land they inhabit. The
Commission is seriously concerned with this problem and has initiated a
general study relating to the situation of human rights of afrodescendants in
the Americas while it continues observing the situation of the members of
these communities in each one of the member states.
The question of migrant
workers and their families continues to be one of the significant issues in
the progressive universalization of international relations.
The vulnerable situation of these persons due to the linguistic, racial
and cultural differences they encounter in the states where they work, is a
constant preoccupation of the IACHR. The
Commission considers extremely important that the member states promote
respect and guarantee the fundamental rights of migrant workers and their
families in their domestic legislation, in keeping with international
standards on the subject. The
Commission shall continue with its efforts to contribute to the analysis of
this issue through the work of its Special Rapporteur on Migrant Workers.
The Commission shall continue evaluating the measures adopted to combat
discrimination and eliminate the social marginalization that afflicts the
inhabitants of the region mainly in light of the de rules of the American
Convention and its Additional Protocol in the Area of Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights, known as the Protocol of San Salvador.
The Commission once more calls upon the states that have not yet done
so to join Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname and Uruguay, in ratifying this
The Commission has repeatedly expressed its grave concern for the
continuation of acts of intimidation, disappearances, attacks and murders
against persons and organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights.
During the year 2001 persons protected by the Commission and even the
Inter-American Court were victims of fatal attacks against their lives.
Persons dedicated to the defense of human rights play a crucial role, both
litigating cases linked to the observance of human rights and in the processes
whereby civil society exercises oversight over democratic institutions.
Member states have the obligation to adopt the necessary measures to
protect the life, the personal integrity and the freedom of expression and
association of those who work for the respect of fundamental rights, according
to the collective compromise reflected in Resolutions AG/RES. 1671 (XXIX-O/99)
and AG/RES. 1818 (XXXI-O/01) from the General Assembly of the Organization.
On December 7, 2001–in response to the mandate conferred by
Resolution AG/RES. 1818 to elaborate a comprehensive study on the situation of
human rights defenders in the Americas—the Executive Secretariat of the
IACHR created a “Functional Unit of Human Rights Defenders.”
The purposes of this Unit are those of receiving information on the
situation of human rights defenders in the Hemisphere, maintain contact with
non governmental and inter-governmental organizations and coordinate the work
of the Executive Secretariat in that area.
It is expected that the initiative will contribute to evaluate the
situation and establish mechanisms to assist the Organization to act in a more
effective and coordinated fashion when addressing this serious problem.
The member states expressed in the Inter-American Democratic Charter
that the transparency of the governmental activities and freedom of expression
and of the press are fundamental components in the exercise of democracy in
general. The Commission has
already expressed that full exercise of freedom of expression constitutes a
fundamental element in the strengthening of democracy in the region and it has
frequently underlined the role of independent press in that process.
Unfortunately, the Report of the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of
Expression of the IACHR reveals that the acts of intimidation, persecution,
reprisals and instigation to violence against the independent press have
increased during 2001.
The Commission must express its serious preoccupation in relation to
acts of intimidation and violence perpetrated against independent journalists
and the constant reports that many of these acts remain in impunity. The right
to disseminate matters of public interest through the press merits the special
protection of justice. The lack
of effective investigation of the crimes committed against journalists and
other acts that seek to restrain the freedom of expression indirectly has an
intimidating effect as it provokes fear of criticizing those who hold power or
denounce abuses and unlawful acts and affects the foundations of democracy.
As in previous years, the decisions and reports compiled in this Annual
Report confirm that numerous inhabitants of the Hemisphere are still victims
of violations to fundamental rights to life and physical integrity as a result
of abuses of authority or tolerance by state agents. The Commission continues to be preoccupied for the delay and
the lack of effectiveness in the prosecution and trial of human rights
violations. In many cases
impunity continues affecting the enjoyment of the right to judicial protection
and the reparation of the victims of human rights violations and their
families. Impunity and the lack
of trust in the Rule of Law generated by it continue to be amongst the most
serious challenges facing our Hemisphere.
Violations to due process also continue to affect the citizens accused
of breaking the law. Delays in
decisions in pending cases continue to have a detrimental effect on the
presumption of innocence for approximately 70% of the prison population,
which, as the Commission has continued to document, is overcrowded and under
the supervision of personnel who lack the proper training.
Moreover, the prison population lacks effective mechanisms for lodging
complaints internally, or for outside supervision, in conditions that offend
the right to humane treatment. The
justice system continues to be seriously compromised by structural
shortcomings, such as inadequate budget, the inability of low-income persons
to gain access, and the fact that state-appointed defense counsel are
generally not able to perform their functions effectively.
In some cases, the lack of a judicial career has a detrimental impact
on the suitability and stability of judges, which is reflected, for example,
in their lack of knowledge of international human rights standards. In addition is the proliferation of threats against judges,
prosecutors, and witnesses, and the insufficiency of the measures of
protection adopted by the state in respect to such threats, as well as the
actions taken to combat the sources of such threats.
In those countries of our region in which there is domestic strife,
grave violations of international law continue, in addition to serious
humanitarian problems such as those suffered by refugees and internally
displaced persons, who are forced to leave their places of residence in order
to avoid situations of extreme violence.
In such cases, the Commission wishes to reiterate the urgent need to
fully observe international human rights law and the basic norms of
international humanitarian law in order to prevent any act that may hinder the
return to peace and national reconciliation.
In addition, whenever international crimes are found to have been
committed, the member states must ensure the observance of the principle of
individual criminal liability at the international level, and its complement,
the principle of universal jurisdiction, in order to prosecute and punish the
persons responsible. The IACHR
wishes to highlight once more the necessity to guarantee the protection of
children, women, indigenous communities, and afrodescendants as members of
groups particularly vulnerable to violence in this context.
The Commission takes this opportunity to make the following general
recommendations to the states of the Hemisphere, and it hopes that they are
useful as an instrument for meeting the objectives of the inter-American
system for the protection of human rights:
The Commission calls the member states to contemplate and respect the
standards established by international law in the establishment of
legislative and other kind of responses to violence and the threat of
The Commission calls the member states to adopt measures to ensure the
observance of the social, economic, and cultural rights of the inhabitants
of the Hemisphere, individually and collectively.
In addition, it urges those states that have yet to do so to ratify
the Additional Protocol
to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights, and thereby to expand the protection for those
rights, to the benefit of the inhabitants of the Hemisphere.
The Commission reiterates its call to the member states to derogate those
laws that permit discrimination within the meaning of the applicable
instruments and to decidedly combat these practices in light of their
The Commission urges the member states to fully and definitively
meet the challenge to protect children and to take positive actions to
ensure their human development, security, health, and education.
The Commission calls the member states to double their efforts to
ensure the respect of the rights of women and girls to live free of
violence and gender discrimination. The IACHR particularly urges the five member states that have
still not done it to ratify the Inter-American Convention,
"Convention of Belém do Pará" on the Prevention, Punishment,
and Eradication of Violence Against Women.
It is imperative that the member states adopt legislative or other
measures to ensure that the regional norms that guarantee equality and non
discrimination are reflected in their entirety in the domestic law and
practice, including concrete measures to address lack of impartiality
based on gender, in the administration of justice.
The Commission urges the member states to recognize the rights and just
aspirations of the indigenous peoples of our hemisphere by
adopting the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Commission urges the member states to adopt the necessary measures to
protect the rights of afrodescendants without discrimination and taking
into account their needs relating to their human and social development.
The Commission recommends to the member states that they promote respect
for and ensure the fundamental rights of migrant workers and their
families in their domestic legislation, in keeping with international standards on the subject.
The Commission urges the member states to ensure that the
legal framework under which the freedom of expression is organized in
their territory is in line with the standards of the Declaration of
Principles on the Freedom of Expression and the American Convention; to do
away with indirect restraints and in particular the harassment of
journalists and other persons who exercise their right to express
themselves freely; and to ensure the protection of justice for the
dissemination of information and effectively investigate and prosecute
crimes against professionals in the area of information.
The Commission urges the member states to adopt effective measures
to protect the right to life, physical integrity, and liberty of their
inhabitants and to ensure that violations are duly investigated and
The Commission urges the member states to adopt the measures necessary to ensure the
independence and impartiality of judges, to administer justice in keeping
with the standards of due process, and to strengthen their judicial
systems so as to ensure the protection of justice for all persons under
The Commission calls on the member states to adopt the measures necessary
to improve the situation of persons deprived of liberty in light of the
minimal standards established in the American Convention and the American
in international human rights law.
The Commission considers that the member states should assume the
obligations and urgently address the challenges set forth in these
recommendations in order to guarantee the human rights of the inhabitants of
the region and to develop the institutions that are the basis for peace,
prosperity, and the successful working of democracy as a form of government.
The Commission also takes
this opportunity to mention the efforts made by the states and the results
obtained during 2001 to comply with their international obligations making
reparation for the consequences of non-compliance with the American
Convention, the American Declaration and other applicable instruments.
The acknowledgement extends to compliance with Commission
recommendations, positive steps in the friendly settlement of individual
cases, as well as cooperation in the implementation of precautionary measures
and follow up procedures. These
efforts will continue to be monitored and evaluated by the Commission as it
carries out its mandate of hemispheric supervision.
The new Regulations of the Commission, introducing reforms aimed at
increasing the juridical security and transparency of the processing of
individual cases, entered into force on May 1°, 2001.
The reforms were adopted taking into account the results of a process
of consultation with the member states, non-governmental human rights
organizations, and other civil society actors in the Americas, as well as
independent experts. The
Commission hopes that the member states endeavor to accompany this reform of
the allocation of the material and human resources needed to enable the organs
of the system to effectively carry out their mandate of promoting and
protecting human rights in the region.
The year 2001 brought the election of new members of the IACHR–José
Zalaquett, Clare Roberts and Diego García Sayán—and
the end of the mandates of Professor Hélio Bicudo, Ambassador Peter Laurie
and Dean Claudio Grossman who had a distinguished role while they served as
Commissioners. It also brought
the end of a cycle with Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana as Executive Secretary, and
the appointment of Ambassador Santiago A. Canton as his successor.
In any event, the Commission wishes to reiterate that the integrity and
effectiveness of the protection afforded the inhabitants of the Hemisphere by
the system depends first and foremost on the efforts of the member states to
attain the universality of the system by ratifying the American Convention and
the other instruments, and accepting the jurisdiction of the Court;
implementing the obligation to bring their domestic legislation into line with
the rights enshrined in the instruments adopted in the framework of the
system, and their proper interpretation and application by their organs, in
particular by the courts; and, finally, implementing the international
commitments and the decisions and orders of the Commission and the Court.
27. Even though the challenges set forth here are complex and require serious and urgent measures, the states of the region have the vision, maturity, and capacity to move forward along the right path. The Commission aspires to continue collaborating with them, and with civil society, in order to respond to these challenges and work together with a view to attaining full respect for human rights in the Hemisphere.
Approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on February 26,
1997, during its 95th Regular Session.
During the thirty-first regular session of the General Assembly held in
Costa Rica, the member states elected doctor Diego García-Sayán, as
member of the IACHR. Dr. García-Sayán
presented his resignation on February 2002 due to his functions as
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Peru.
On March 27, 2002, the Permanent Council of the Organization
elected Ms. Susana Villarán in his place.