Thursday, March 29, 2007

Washington, D.C.


 President of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, Distinguished Representatives of the Member States, and Observers of the Organization, Ladies and Gentlemen,


As President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I am honored to present the Commission’s 2006 Annual Report to the Permanent Council’s Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. I am accompanied on this occasion by the Executive Secretary and the professional staff of the Secretariat.


The report I present to you today was approved by the Inter-American Commission during its 127th ordinary period of sessions that took place between February 26 and March 9 of this year. The report was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of Resolution AG/RES. 331 (VIII-0/78) of the General Assembly, pursuant to Article 57 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure. The report reflects the general activities of the IACHR under the presidency of Commissioner Evelio Fernández Arévalos.


Structure of the 2006 Annual Report


As in previous years, the Annual Report is divided into three volumes: the first two refer to the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the third contains the report from the Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.


In addition, following the practice initiated in 1999, Chapter I of the 2006 Annual Report is dedicated to assessing the human rights situation in the Hemisphere as well as the obstacles to the enjoyment of these rights.


Chapter II provides a brief introduction to the origins and legal bases of the Commission and describes the primary activities carried out during 2006, including those carried out during its three periods of sessions. Chapter II also describes visits as well as other activities developed by the Commission during the year and activities of the Commission related to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


The longest chapter in the report, Chapter III, contains the decisions of the Commission with respect to petitions and individual cases  concerning human rights violations in the Organization’s Member States. This chapter also includes statistics on the work of the Commission, summaries of precautionary measures adopted or expanded during 2006, and a general overview of the follow-up on the recommendations on decisions published since 2001.


Chapter IV of the 2006 Annual Report contains the analysis of the human rights situation in those OAS Member States whose practices in the area of human rights call for special attention. Accordingly, this report analyzes the human rights situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.


General Human Rights Situation in 2006


Since its last annual report, the IACHR has seen significant progress in the area of human rights, attesting to the political will of the Member States to ensure the full effect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Hemisphere. In particular, the Commission applauds the statements made by the President of Chile to the effect that Chile will comply with the decision of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the inapplicability of the Amnesty Law in cases of human rights violations committed under the military dictatorship. Similarly, the Commission underscores the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina on compliance with the provisional measures issued by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based on recognition of a critical situation in a provincial penitentiary system critical.


It should be emphasized that when making their decisions national judicial authorities increasingly take into account the recommendations and standards emerging from the human rights bodies of the inter-American system. An example of this is the resolution of the Constitutional Court of Ecuador that, following a recommendation from the IACHR, declared unconstitutional the practice known as “detención en firme” used to extend pre-trial detention beyond the limit allowed by the Ecuadorian Constitution and international standards in this area. At the same time, the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court recommended that the National Congress urgently modify the Criminal Procedures Code in keeping with the finding of the Constitutional Court. Another example is Brazil’s efforts to bring its domestic legislation in line with international human rights standards by enacting the Law on Domestic and Family Violence against Women, known as the “Maria da Penha Law.” This law was adopted pursuant to recommendations made by the IACHR in the case with the same name and substantially improves the mechanisms providing protection for women who are the victims of violence in Brazil.


The Inter-American Commission also commends Bolivia for its ratification of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The commission also notes significant improvement in the situation of prisoners in the Dominican Republic with the installation of new prisons employing civilian personnel supported by a penitentiary school.


Unfortunately, various challenges remain to be faced. The weakness of the rule of law in various countries in the region continues to affect the full observance of human rights. The insecurity of citizens, social inequity, the lack of access to justice, and the slow process of democratic consolidation and the rule of law are only some of the areas that require major attention from the States in the area of human rights. In particular, the weakness of the judicial branch in most countries in the region and in some cases attacks on the independence and impartiality of judges represent significant problems States in the Americas face in ensuring the full enjoyment of human rights. This fragility is reflected in impediments to equal access to justice, in slow judicial proceedings, and basically in impunity in cases of serious human rights violations.


There is no doubt that all of us here are aware that marginalization and social exclusion continue to be characteristic of the region and not only obstruct the effective exercise of economic, social and cultural rights by the large majority of the Hemisphere’s population but also impede the strengthening of democratic institutions. The Commission notes in its report close links between exclusion and institutional degradation as expressed in acts of torture; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; violent deaths; the collapse of prison systems; illegal and arbitrary detentions; beatings and executions by police of young men in working class neighborhoods; excessive and disproportionate use of police power; the abuse of imprisonment without trial as a mechanism for controlling excluded sectors; the violent repression of indigenous peoples who resist being evicted from their lands; and ethnic and racial discrimination practiced by authorities of the State.


Although inequality continues to be a key factor in the diagnostic assessment of the observance of human rights in the region, it is not given priority in the public policies of governments. The situation prevailing in the Hemisphere is one of de facto and de jure inequality that affects women and street children as well as groups traditionally targeted by discrimination such as indigenous peoples, rural farmers, Afro-descendant people, migrants, the disabled, and homosexuals. To this we must add that millions of people in the Hemisphere are excluded due to problems of structural unemployment, social marginalization and lack of access to basic social services.


The Commission continues to be particularly concerned by the growing insecurity of citizens in the region and the lack of an inter-institutional response by government that is compatible with the principles of a democratic society and respect for human rights and the rule of law. In this respect, the Commission again underscores the urgent need for public discussion regarding the undeniable obligation of States to ensure the security of their citizens in the face of any type of violence, crime, and aggression, in the context of full respect for fundamental human freedoms and guarantees. On this subject, the Commission has started to prepare a hemispheric study on the relationship between citizen security and human rights to help the Member States effectively confront the challenge of preventing and eradicating criminal violence while fully respecting human rights.


I wish to emphasize here the continued growth in the acceptance and legitimacy of the inter-American human rights system, evidenced by the consistent increase in the number of people presenting petitions, the diversity of issues presented and of the organizations attending the hearings, the high level of state and civil society representation at these hearings, the increased use of the system’s jurisprudence by many courts in our region, and significant results achieved in defense of human rights thanks to appropriate use of the system. Particular emphasis should be placed on the good faith and political will of some States in the region as manifest in friendly settlement agreements reached, the recognition of international responsibility in cases before the Commission and the Court, compliance with recommendations, as well as open invitations extended by countries for the Commission to conduct visits to observe the human rights situation therein. In this way, the Commission represents a particularly important regional forum for discussing the challenges OAS Member States face in meeting their obligation to ensure the observance of human rights in their territories. This shows that progress has been made in understanding that the bodies of the system and the proceedings conducted therein are only contributions to the primary function of States as guarantors of human rights and fundamental freedoms, so that fulfilling the mandates entrusted to the IACHR requires that we work with governments rather than against them. For this reason, I am honored to be here as the Commission’s representative and to engage in dialogue with the OAS Member States. 


Activities of the Inter-American Commission during 2006


During 2006, the Inter-American Commission held three periods of sessions: the 124th ordinary period of sessions that took place between February 27 and March 17 of 2006; the 125th special period of sessions that was held July 17-20, 2006 in Guatemala City at the invitation of the Government of Guatemala; and the 126th ordinary period of sessions that was held October 16-27, 2006. 


In internal working sessions held during 2006, the Commission gave special attention to studying and reviewing petitions and cases involving different States in the Hemisphere, as well as to analyzing priority situations in the area of human rights. During these sessions, the Commission approved a total of 144 reports and held 120 hearings relating to individual cases and petitions, preventive measures, and general human rights situations in the various States and subregions of the Americas. 


In 2006, the Commission also continued with litigation before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and filed 14 new cases.


In addition, exercising its authority to prepare studies and reports and to make recommendations to the States to foster due respect for human rights, the Inter-American Commission discussed and approved the "Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas,” which emphasizes the legitimacy of the human rights promotion and protection activities carried out by human rights defenders that, coinciding with an essential obligation of the States, generates in those States a special obligation to protect those who are dedicated to promoting and protecting those rights. In March 2006, the Commission also published a study on the administration of justice in Haiti that analyzed systematic failures to protect the fundamental rights of the Haitian people. The study is called “Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges Ahead for Haiti and the International Community.” The IACHR also published a thematic report on the impact of the armed conflict on Colombian women, addressing the main manifestations of violence against women that are aggravated by the armed conflict, such as: physical, psychological and sexual violence; forced displacement; forced and voluntary recruitment; the imposition of social control measures by illegal armed groups on the populations or territories under their control; and the particularly critical situation of indigenous and Afro-Colombian women. The report is called “Violence and Discrimination against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia.”


Throughout 2006, the Commission and its various Rapporteurs conducted various working visits to the region. Thus, the Commission visited Haiti in May to carry out promotional activities and in December to collect information on the various forms of violence against women and children, the justice system’s response to these acts, and the problem of impunity.


The Commission also made various visits to Colombia. In February, a delegation from the IACHR traveled to Bogota to follow up the demobilization process in Colombia. In March, there was another monitoring visit to Valledupar to observe the judicial circuit session held prior to the formal demobilization of the Bloque Norte de las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. In April, a delegation from the Commission visited the city of Apartadó to observe the second phase in the demobilization of the Bloque Élmer Cárdenas. Finally, there was another observation visit to Colombia in May during which meetings were held with national government authorities, with the staff running the office of the MAPP/OAS in Colombia, and with members of the international community, civil society organizations, and inter-governmental organizations.


In April 2006, the Rapporteur on Children visited Paraguay in response to an invitation from that country to gather information on the situation of street children in Ciudad del Este.  During his visit, the Rapporteur met with street children, with human rights organizations working on issues related to the rights of children and adolescents, as well as with local and national senior authorities.


At the invitation of the Government of Bolivia, the IACHR conducted a visit from November 12 to 17, 2006 to observe the general human rights situation in that country.  During the visit, the Commission held meetings with senior government officials and various civil society organizations. In addition, in my capacity as country Rapporteur and Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, I participated in several working meetings and friendly settlements regarding individual cases submitted to the Commission and visited various penitentiaries in La Paz and El Alto, including a women’s prison.


Again as country Rapporteur and thematic Rapporteur, I also visited the Dominican Republic at the invitation of that government from August 7 to 13, 2006. The purpose of the visit was to verify the situation of persons deprived of liberty in the country’s nine prisons, including youth centers and women’s centers, to carry out promotional activities on the inter-American human rights system and to hold meetings with government officials and non-governmental organizations.


In my capacity as thematic Rapporteur, I also visited Brazil from September 20 to 22 to verify the situation of persons deprived of liberty in the State of São Paulo who are the beneficiaries of provisional measures ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.


From December 1 to 9, I led a working visit to Argentina as country Rapporteur and thematic Rapporteur, during which I visited various detention centers, including police precincts, a women’s detention center, and a psychiatric hospital. I had working meetings with officials from the federal and provincial penitentiary services, as well as with members of civil society organizations working on the issue of detention centers in Buenos Aires Province. I was also able to conduct promotional activities on the inter-American system at universities in that country. In addition, I met with senior officials in the Argentine Chancellery, the Ministry of Justice and the National Ombudsman Office to coordinate efforts regarding a 2007 regional conference on good penitentiary practices, which we plan to hold in November 2007 in Buenos Aires, with the participation of governments in the region.


Finally, from December 11 to 14, the Rapporteur on matters relating to Peru conducted a working visit to Lima accompanied by staff from the Executive Secretariat, during which they had interviews with President Alan García and other senior officials of the Peruvian government as well as with a number of civil society organizations, organizations of Afro-descendants, and indigenous organizations and communities.


The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to the various Member States that invited the IACHR to visit them, since such visits allow the Commission to fulfill its mandate to monitor human rights in the Hemisphere. On this subject, the Commission is concerned about the difficulties it faces with the government of Venezuela when carrying out the mandate entrusted to it by the Member States. In this respect, one of the aspects to which the Commission dedicated a portion of its work during the year 2006 was the attempt to conduct a visit to that country, an effort that was seriously frustrated given the Venezuelan government’s failure to respond by proposing a specific date for the visit of the country Rapporteur.  The Commission feels that the inability to visit a Member State due to the absence of government consent or invitation contradicts the very spirit that led the States to create the bodies of the human rights protection system. Accordingly, in its 2006 Annual Report, the Commission reiterates its interest in conducting an official visit to the country in the near future in order to contribute to the development and strengthening of human rights in Venezuela, as it does regularly with many Member States.


During 2006, the various IACHR Rapporteurships continued their support activities in the system of individual cases and have also continued their promotion and advisory activities for the OAS Member States.


The Rapporteurship for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples continued to advise the Chairman of the working group charged with preparing the Draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Through this advisory work, the IACHR has been witness to the efforts of the OAS Member States and the representatives of the continent’s indigenous peoples in the process of negotiating the draft. 


The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women continued to give priority in 2006 to the issue of how to ensure women’s effective access to justice, particularly when they have been the victims of violence and discrimination. The results of these efforts have been reflected, for example, in the issuance of the report on “Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas,” presented during the IACHR’s last period of sessions, thanks to support from the government of Finland.


The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Children also continued its activities on behalf of the rights of children in the Hemisphere. It should be noted that the IACHR has signed an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank to strengthen the activities of this Rapporteurship, which will continue to be executed during 2007 and will allow the Rapporteurship to engage in activities in addition to those it has been carrying out to date.


The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Their Liberty, under my leadership, participated in numerous promotional activities and on-site observation and advisory visits to the Member States, as described above. The Rapporteurship has closely followed repeated incidents affecting the life, dignity and integrity of persons deprived of liberty in the Americas. Finally, I should mention that the Rapporteurship over which I presided made significant progress in preparing the Draft Declaration of Principles on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Their Liberty in the Americas, through which the IACHR seeks to promote the use of principles recognized in the various international instruments to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, as well as principles on the subject emerging from the jurisprudence of the inter-American system of human rights. The IACHR opened up a broad process of regional consultation involving various governments, NGOs, universities and experts on the subject, whose participation and contributions have helped to enhance the text of the Declaration of Principles, which is expected to be approved by the Commission in 2007 and also represents a contribution from the IACHR to the preparation of the Inter-American Declaration on the subject already initiated by the States at the urging of the General Assembly.


The Rapporteurship on the Rights of Afrodescendants and against Racial Discrimination continued carrying out various activities to increase popular awareness that racism and  discrimination are tools used to exclude political minorities and impede their access to the full exercise of citizenship in the Americas. The Rapporteur attended the International Conference of African and Diaspora Intellectuals in Salvador, Bahía, Brazil. In addition, the Rapporteurship participated in the Regional Conference of the Americas held in Brasilia on the accomplishments and challenges of the program of action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance. Both meetings represented important opportunities for discussion on ways to combat racism and develop strategies to help implement public policies to reduce the social inequities that result from racism.


During 2006, the Rapporteurship on Migrant Workers and their Families continued its promotional and advisory activities. It is noteworthy that from August 2005 to the end of 2006 this Rapporteurship did not have any additional funds for developing its activities and thus its work dwindled. In November 2006, a sizeable donation was received from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, whose support is highly valuable to the Commission. At the same time, the Commission hopes that the interest expressed by other States and organizations will result in other financial contributions that will allow the Rapporteurship to continue fulfilling its mandate.


In addition, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression prepared his 2005 report on the subject; it is Volume III of the IACHR Annual Report.  As mandated by the Commission, the report covers the subjects and activities that were given priority by the Rapporteurship during the year, including the evaluation of the status of freedom of expression in the Hemisphere. The report also includes a section on the jurisprudence and doctrine of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.


Finally, the Human Rights Defenders Unit of the IACHR Executive Secretariat dedicated its work to publishing the Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas as well as on distributing it in various States in the Americas.  The unit also continued to monitor the situation of human rights defenders in the Hemisphere and the Member States’ compliance with the recommendations contained in the report.


In conclusion, it should be said that the Commission has fulfilled the mandates established in the American Convention on Human Rights as well as the mandates given to it by the General Assembly and the Summit of the Americas. However, several of these activities were carried out by the Commission through voluntary contributions and external funding sources due to shortfalls in the regular budget of the Commission. In this regard, I must again emphasize the need for Member States to meet their commitment to increase the Commission’s regular budget so that it can continue to effectively fulfill its growing responsibilities and mandates.


Decisions of the Inter-American Commission with Respect to Petitions, Cases, and Precautionary Measures


During the period under review, the Commission decided on a total of 148 reports, including 56 reports on the admissibility of petitions, 14 reports on the inadmissibility of petitions, 10 reports on friendly settlement, 27 reports to be archived, 8 reports on publications, and 33 reports on the merits. During the same period, the Commission granted a total of 37 precautionary measures in accordance with Article 25 of its Rules of Procedure in order to prevent irreparable harm to persons.


In addition, during 2006 the Commission received a total of 1,325 individual petitions and initiated the processing of 147 petitions, for a total of 1,237 individual cases and petitions processed before the Commission during 2006.


All of this was achieved thanks to the tireless efforts of the small group of Executive Secretariat staff and the members of the Commission. These circumstances put considerable pressure on the Executive Secretariat in its attempt to handle this increasing case load and increased mandates from the Commission in other areas, with a budget that remains unchanged or even subject to cuts in real terms.


Finally, I want to emphasize that the strength of the inter-American human rights protection system depends on compliance with recommendations made by the Commission, the decisions of the Court, and emergency protective measures. As seen in the table on the Status of Compliance with the Recommendations of the IACHR  (page 1,145 of the report), several States have carried out the recommendations totally or partially. In contrast, there are many cases in which the States involved have yet to implement the recommendations made. In this regard, it is important to reiterate the obligation of the Members States to do everything possible to carry out the Commission’s recommendations in good faith.


Development of Human Rights in the Region: The Situation in Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela


The Inter-American Commission continues its practice of including a chapter in its Annual Report to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States on the human rights situation in those states that have received special attention from the Commission. Based on the criteria pre-established by the Commission (included in its 1997 Annual Report), the Commission decided to include four Member States in this report: Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.


Regarding Colombia, the Commission is keenly aware of the complex situation in Colombia, of the impact on the civilian population of the violence perpetrated by participants in the conflict, and of the State’s pacification efforts. In this context, the efforts of the Colombian government in promoting measures intended to uphold human rights should be applauded. In particular, the IACHR would like to note the “Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders, Trade-Unionists, Journalists and Social Leaders,” which protects numerous beneficiaries of precautionary and provisional measures granted by the Commission and the Inter-American Court, respectively. In addition, the IACHR reiterates the need to continue strengthening the protective mechanisms created by those programs.


However, despite initiatives to promote human rights undertaken by the Colombian Government and the decline in the figures for some human rights violations, the effects of the armed conflict continue to be felt by the most vulnerable sectors of the civilian population. Manifestations of violence continue alongside efforts being made to demobilize the outlawed armed groups and to administer justice, which have yet to produce results in terms of effectiveness, comprehensive reparation and the elimination of violent actors.


During 2006, the Commission noted various obstacles to the process of demobilizing armed participants and developing and enforcing the applicable legal framework, persistent patterns of violation of the right to life and personal safety, the situation of vulnerable groups, and continued threats against human rights defenders and social leaders. In addition, the IACHR continues to be concerned about the lack of judicial clarification regarding most massacres, targeted killings and forced disappearances committed by parties to the internal armed conflict as strategies against the civilian population.


The Commission continued to receive information on the violent situation that plagues vulnerable groups in Colombia, particularly indigenous peoples and Afro-descendent community councils and communities, particularly in some regions of the country where members of these groups are individually and collectively targeted, threatening their autonomy and their territorial and cultural rights.


The Inter-American Commission has closely followed the process of demobilization of paramilitary groups in Colombia, particularly those aspects of the process related to the State’s observance of its human rights obligations. During 2006, the IACHR received with concern information about the continued commission of crimes against the civilian population by fighters who had regrouped or continued to operate after the demobilization, in violation of the commitments assumed. These crimes translate into violations of the rights to life, humane treatment, and freedom, and lead to the continued existence of the internal displacement phenomenon. The year 2006 marks the culmination of the demobilization phase of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and Colombia now faces the challenge of showing concrete results in undoing the armed structures of paramilitarism and implementing the legal framework adopted for adjudicating the crimes committed by the AUC. 


The IACHR once again emphasizes the need to employ effective negotiation mechanisms in order to eliminate the violence that has been affecting Colombia’s inhabitants for four decades and reiterates that respect for the right to truth, justice and comprehensive reparation for victims of the armed conflict is crucial for achieving a lasting peace and strengthening the administration of justice in Colombia, ensuring that serious human rights violations are not repeated.


With respect to Cuba, the Commission continued to observe and evaluate the human rights situation of Cuba’s inhabitants. During the period covered by this report, the Commission received information on violations of freedom of expression; the precarious detention conditions of persons deprived of liberty because they are political dissidents; the systematic practice of actions to repudiate political opponents; and the violation of labor and labor union rights, situations that are particularly exacerbated by the judicial branch’s lack of independence. The Commission feels it must insist that the peaceful expression of opinions different from those of the Cuban government cannot be criminalized.


Restrictions on political rights and freedom of expression and dissemination of ideas have amounted for decades to a permanent and systematic violation of the fundamental rights of Cuban citizens, a situation that is also made particularly worse by the judicial branch’s lack of independence.  Similarly, the Commission feels it necessary to reiterate that the absence of free and fair elections based on universal secret suffrage as the sovereign expression of the people violates the right to political participation established in Article XX of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.


In its 2006 Annual Report, the Commission once again points to the negative impact of economic sanctions on the fundamental rights of the Cuban population and reiterates the need to put an immediate end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed on Cuba for more than 40 years.


With respect to Haiti, the Commission continues to be concerned about the lack of protection and guarantees against serious human rights violations that affect the population, particularly women, children, human rights defenders, and journalists. The Commission notes persistent high levels of violence in Port-au-Prince, which have claimed hundreds of lives and victims of kidnappings due to the marked deterioration of the security situation in Haiti. The Commission is alarmed by the persistence of such conditions in the absence of a strategy and effective measures to control and prevent these acts of violence and the fact that unstable conditions caused by confrontations of armed bands and the intimidation of civilians continue to take root in Haiti. 


While the level of violence diminished during the electoral period in early 2006 and a new National Commission on Disarmament was created, since mid-2006 Haiti has seen a re-escalation of violence.  To a large extent this situation reflects the proliferation of armed groups and the consolidation of the activities of organized crime exercising exclusive control over various parts of the country, in conjunction with the inability of the police to effectively and adequately respond to the situation. The Commission is concerned about the increase in systematic kidnapping, the use of children by armed groups, the physical and sexual exploitation of women in criminal activities, and the State’s failure to respond adequately to bring those responsible for these crimes to justice. In this respect, while underscoring the importance of preventing crime and capturing dangerous criminals in order to provide greater safety for the population, the Commission again emphasizes the prohibition on arbitrary arrests and detentions established in Article 7 of the American Convention.


In its report, the Commission reiterates that achieving a durable peace in Haiti requires the State, in cooperation with the Haitian population and with support from the international community, to take decisive measures to effectively disarm all those who possess illegal weapons, to engage in constructive dialogue to bring about reconciliation among the various sectors in order to promote social and political consensus, to take firm steps to end impunity for human rights abuses, and to support the national economy so as to provide greater employment options and self-sustainability for Haitians.


Regarding Venezuela, the Commission continues to be concerned about the administration of justice, the impunity surrounding reports of extrajudicial executions at the hands of agents of the state, the precarious situation of persons deprived of liberty, and the climate of political pressure reportedly imposed on various sectors of civil society.


On the subject of the administration of justice, the Commission is concerned about the lack of guarantees of impartiality and independence on the part of those in the judicial branch and impunity for human rights violations, particularly the right to life. Citizen security in Venezuela is an aspect of particular concern to the Commission given the high level of impunity with regard to extrajudicial executions committed by agents of the state in the context of the phenomenon known as ajusticiamiento of alleged criminals, specifically within the framework of the supposed “protection of citizen security.” In addition, the Commission has learned of alarming figures on assassinations committed through sicariato [paid killings] and has received information on the slow pace of the investigations into these killings.


Another cause for the Commission’s concern are acts of violence committed against those deprived of liberty in Venezuela in 342006, leading to loss of life and serious physical injury for hundreds of persons held in penitentiaries.


The Commission’s Annual Report also includes some observations and recommendations regarding the Draft International Cooperation Law that could have implications with respect to the exercise of the right to freedom of association in general and in particular the work of organizations of human rights defenders that receive external financing for their activities.


During 2006, the Commission has also become aware of numerous situations affecting the normal exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Venezuela, including the murder of two journalists, acts of aggression and threats directed at other journalists, an increase in the number of criminal proceedings against social communicators, and acts that could constitute forms of indirect restriction on the exercise of this fundamental democratic freedom. In particular, the Commission received information that some government authorities reportedly announced a review of the licenses of some communications media for reasons that could include the reporting of those media. In this regard, the Commission recognizes the government’s power to manage the radio spectrum, to establish in advance the duration of licenses, and to decide whether to renew those licenses when they expire. However, the State should exercise that power while giving equal consideration to its international obligations, including its obligation to ensure the right to express ideas and thoughts of any kind without indirect restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression based on the editorial views of the communications media.


The annexes to the Annual Report include additional information on the current ratification status of human rights treaties in the inter-American system as well as press releases issued by the Commission during 2006 and speeches delivered on behalf of the Commission during the same period.


Regarding the current ratification status of human rights treaties, I wish to emphasize that, as shown in the following graphs, one of the great challenges remaining for the observance of the human rights of the inhabitants of the Americas is to achieve full universalization of the instruments of human rights in the Hemisphere.







Mr. President, Representatives, Observers, Esteemed Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I do not wish to conclude without emphasizing that the support of the Member States and their collaboration in the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are crucial to ensuring that the inter-American system for the protection of human rights is truly effective.


The Commission and the Court are, in accordance with the purpose of the Member States, means for aiding the development of “a regimen of individual freedoms and social justice” in the region, which is the final objective established in the preamble to the American Convention on Human Rights. Accordingly, the Commission renews its commitment to work with the Member States in complying with their mandate to defend human dignity above all by fully exercising their mandate to protect and promote human rights.


On behalf of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, I wish to express our appreciation for the cooperation that the Member States have given the Commission so that it can continue to honor that common commitment to safeguard respect for the human rights of all those living in our Hemisphere. I also wish to thank Secretary General José Miguel Insulza for his constant support of our work, for effectively recognizing the independence of the Commission within the Organization of American States, for urging the Member States to comply with the Commission’s recommendations, and for supporting measures to increase its budget, which is so important to the full performance of our mandate.


Despite these efforts, the amounts provided in the Organization’s annual program-budget do not reflect the real needs of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The IACHR has enthusiastically accepted the mandates entrusted to it by the General Assembly as well as by the Summits of the Americas, in that they demonstrate the increasing legitimacy of the system and the Member States’ recognition of its important role within the Organization. However, the capacity of the Inter-American Commission to fulfill its broad and diverse mandate requires an equivalent commitment in terms of the allocation of financial and human resources.

The total budget for the Commission provided for 2007 is US$3,677,700, which represents 4.5% of the overall budget of the Organization (US$81.500.000). In this regard, I wish to express my appreciation for the commitment and financial support provided by the governments of the following Member Countries: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the United States, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, whose contributions made the Commission’s work possible during 2006. In addition, on behalf of the Commission, I wish to urge all the Member States to express their support by allocating greater resources for the appropriate and regular operations of the human rights bodies of the inter-American system.

The current budgetary situation requires the Commission to cover many of its expenses through specific funds. I must, therefore, take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the contributions received from Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Commission, the Open Society Foundation, and the Commonwealth Secretariat, which made it possible to carry out many activities vital to the work of protecting and promoting human rights in the region.

Finally, I would like to express my particular appreciation and recognition for the sense of responsibility, professionalism, solidarity, and dedication demonstrated in the tireless efforts of the Executive Secretariat and its administrative and professional staff, which have a fundamental impact on the Commission’s efforts to protect and promote human rights in the Hemisphere.







Panama City, June 5, 2007


Mr. President, Heads of Delegation, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General, ladies and gentlemen.  I am honored to address you to present the annual report of the Inter-American Commission for 2006. I will now refer to the human rights situation in the Hemisphere, the most important activities of the Commission, and the accomplishments and challenges pending in the region.


General human rights situation in 2006


The Commission found gains in human rights in the region. For example, I could cite the commitment expressed by the President of Chile to comply with the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordering that the Amnesty Law not be applied to violations committed during the military dictatorship; the approval of the Law on Domestic and Family Violence against Women in Brazil, adopted heeding the Commission’s recommendations; the ratification of human rights treaties of the inter-American system by Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela; and the application of inter-American case law by the courts in several countries, including the Supreme Court of Justice of Argentina, and the Constitutional Courts of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, among other major gains.


Nonetheless, during that period grave human rights violations persisted that came to our attention, and which were mainly expressed in citizen insecurity and the lack of protection for victims; the fragility of the judicial systems and lack of effective access to justice; the lack of independence and impartiality of the courts; impunity; inequity and social exclusion; and the slow process of consolidation of democracy and the rule of law. The IACHR received information on cases of torture; cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; violence and overcrowding in prisons; the excessive and disproportionate use of government forces; discrimination on ethnic and racial grounds; and inequality in access to economic and social rights, the hardest hit being women and children, indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants, migrants, and persons with disabilities.


Activities of the Inter-American Commission


In 2006 the Commission held three sessions, two at headquarters, and the third in Guatemala City, at the invitation of the Guatemalan Government.


The Commission provided technical cooperation to the States. For example, it continued supporting the process of preparing drafts of the Inter-American Convention against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance, and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, it concluded the regional consultation for preparing the draft “Declaration of Principles on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty in the Americas”; and it participated in several regional events against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and prisons, among other activities involving advisory services and cooperation.


It prepared and published the following reports: “Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas”; “Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges ahead for Haiti and the International Community”; and the report “Women and Discrimination Against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia”.


The Commission approved some reforms to the working procedures in order to attain greater efficiency, transparency, and publicity of their activities. In effect, it adopted a Directive for the selection of the thematic rapporteurs; and for the first time in its history, the hearings were transmitted by Internet at the OAS’s web page. In addition, and taking into account the experiences of the last six years, since the 2001 amendments to the Rules of Procedure, the Commission made certain adjustments to those Rules of Procedure so as to make them more expeditious in processing those cases which by their nature so require, always respecting the principle of equality of arms, while at the same time seeing to it that its procedures are more widely disseminated and more transparent, and guaranteeing, as a general principle, public hearings. The Commission will always be receptive to the opinions and recommendations of the states and civil society when it comes to improving its procedures and activities.


In addition, I wish to emphasize that thanks to external cooperation, the IACHR has put in place an internal mechanism to resolve the delays in the processing of petitions.


The Commission also made working visits to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Peru, and the Dominican Republic, thus we are grateful for the invitations from the governments and for the cooperation provided during those visits. In this context, I take this opportunity to ask you, in the context of this General Assembly, to express the political will of your illustrious governments to allow the Commission to visit your countries; therefore, I ask that you make an open and permanent invitation to the Inter-American Commission to be able to make visits without conditions, be it through the thematic rapporteurs or country rapporteurs, or through on-site visits of the Commission, as have been allowed, to date, by Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Guatemala, whose governments we thank for their open invitation and for their cooperation.


Decisions of the Inter-American Commission


In 2006, the Commission received 1,325 individual complaints; it approved 148 reports on individual petitions; it heard and decided on the first interstate petition, applying the procedures in effect; it facilitated many efforts that culminated in friendly settlements; it granted 37 precautionary measures and requested nine provisional measures; and it referred 14 applications to and continued its international litigation before the Inter-American Court. I with to recall that the strength of the inter-American system depends on the effective enforcement of the Commission’s recommendations, the judgments of the Court, and the urgent measures of protection, which are legally, politically, and morally binding. It should be noted that several States have carried out the recommendations of the Commission in full or in part, but there are many recommendations that have not been carried out, constituting a priority challenge in the region that would be overcome if the States, creatively and with political will, adopt legal mechanisms or procedures that facilitate compliance with the recommendations and judgments of the inter-American system, whether having to do with the enforcement of justice, reparation for victims, or respect for measures to ensure the non-repetition of human rights violations.


Status of ratification of human rights treaties


Attaining universal ratification of the human rights treaties is a pending challenge.  At the end of 2006, there had been 119 acts of ratification, of 245 that full universalization would entail, which means that 126 acts of ratification are still pending, equivalent to 51%. Several States have not implemented any of the human rights treaties, which is worrisome as it indicates that after decades, they have not been able to or have not wanted to remove the obstacles that may exist to make it feasible to bring them into force. As of 2006, only five States had ratified 100% of the treaties (Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay); whereas eight States had ratified six of the seven treaties (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela).  I state here our recognition of these States for their contribution to the process of universal ratification.


Budget of the IACHR


In order for the Commission to respond effectively to its mandate, it is urgent that its regular budget be increased such that the amounts allocated correspond to the real needs of the Commission. The legitimacy of the system and the recognition of its important role translate into an increased number of complaints,  mandates, and functions.  Nonetheless, the capacity of the Commission to carry out its obligations requires an equivalent commitment by the States to guarantee, among other things, an increase in the staff of the Executive Secretariat, and a greater presence of the Commissioners at headquarters and on the ground. Until now the Commission has responded to the growing demand thanks to the cooperation of international agencies and several governments from Europe and the region, to whom we are deeply grateful. Nonetheless, we consider that the OAS should cover the regular costs of the Commission, not external cooperation.


Human Rights Developments


The Commission decided to include in its Annual Report a chapter on the human rights situation in those Member States that have been the subject of special attention in 2006. It decided to include Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela in that chapter.


Colombia. The Commission, aware of the complex situation that faces Colombia and the consequences of the armed conflict for the civilian population, recognized the efforts of the State and society to achieve peace and diminish the number of human rights violations. Nonetheless, it observed obstacles in the process of demobilizing the armed actors and in applying its legal framework.  The Commission stated its concern over the failure to clear up the facts in most of the massacres, disappearances, and threats to human rights defenders and social leaders. The year 2006 marks the culmination of the phase of demobilizing the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and the challenge is being faced of achieving specific results in dismantling paramilitarism, and in bringing to trial the perpetrators of the crimes. The Commission highlighted the need to use effective negotiating mechanisms to end the violence, and recalled that respect for the rights to the truth, justice, and full reparation for the victims is crucial for attaining a lasting peace.   


Cuba. The Commission received information on the precarious conditions of persons deprived of liberty for being government dissidents, and on acts to repudiate political opponents, situations that were aggravated by the lack of judicial independence. The restrictions on political rights and the freedom of expression have for decades constituted a situation of systematic violation of fundamental freedoms. The IACHR reiterated that the lack of free, democratic, and pluralistic elections, based on universal suffrage and secret ballot, undercuts democratic political participation. At the same time, it noted once again the negative impact on the economic sanctions imposed on the population; it reiterated the need to put an immediate an end to the economic, trade, and financial embargo that has been imposed on Cuba for more than 40 years; and it recognized that despite these serious limitations, there were major gains in the areas of human development, universal primary education, gender equality, and health for the population.


Haiti. The Commission recognized the efforts of the State to create a favorable climate in the elections held in early 2006. At the same time, the IACHR lamented, in its report, the lack of protection and fundamental guarantees for the population observed during the year, which had an especially negative impact on women, children, human rights defenders, and journalists. It expressed its concern over the deterioration of the security situation and the high levels of violence, aggravated since mid-2006 by the proliferation of organized armed bands in several parts of the territory, together with the incapacity of the police forces to respond to this phenomenon, and the climate of impunity that prevails in the country.  The Commission reiterated that attaining a lasting peace requires that the State, in conjunction with the population and with the backing of the international community, foster a constructive dialogue to reach a national consensus; adopt firm and effective measures for disarmament and to put an end to impunity; and strengthen, accordingly, the institutions that investigate crime and administer justice. The Commission values the initiatives that the current authorities are taking to seek solutions to the existing problems.


Venezuela. In 2006, the Commission noted the significant and peaceful participation of the Venezuelan citizenry in the presidential elections in 2006. Likewise, it expressed its concern over the repeated refusal of the Government of Venezuela to allow visits from the Commission to carry out its functions and its mandate. In addition, it continued to be concerned about citizen insecurity; the lack of judicial independence; the precarious situation of persons deprived of liberty; and the high levels of violence in the prisons. The Commission was informed of incidents that affected the freedom of expression, which included murders, assaults, the increased number of criminal proceedings against journalists, and actions that could constitute indirect restrictions on the freedom of expression, according to which governmental authorities announced the review of the concessions of media outlets for reasons that may include their editorial line.


To conclude, I wish to emphasize that the cooperation and compliance of the States is crucial for ensuring the legitimacy and effectiveness of the inter-American system, thus we consider it necessary to deepen the dialogue with the States, but also with civil society, so as to enable us, together, to strengthen the system, and with it, democracy and the rule of law. I therefore wish to express our gratitude for the cooperation of the States and the non-governmental organizations, and the trust they deposited in us, in 2006; and I take this opportunity to vehemently call on the States to make every possible effort to faithfully carry out the commitments and obligations to respect human rights that they have taken on in the framework of the Organization; to strengthen the constructive dialogue with the Commission and to ensure the participation of civil society in its activities.


Finally, I wish to thank the Executive Secretariat staff for their valuable work; and Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, for recognizing the Commission’s autonomy and independence; for asking the States to carry out our recommendations; and for supporting the initiative to secure a budgetary increase. All of this is necessary to carry out our mandate effectively, a mandate that clearly favors victims who have turned to the Commission seeking international justice for violations of their rights. This is the raison d’etre of the inter-American human rights system, to provide protection to those who have not found justice in their own countries. For this reason, we are committed and willing to work together with the States and civil society to ensure full respect for human dignity and fundamental rights and freedoms, and to attain justice in the Americas.



Thank you very much.





Washington, DC

October 9, 2007


Mr. President of the OAS Permanent Council, Ambassador Rodolfo Hugo Gil; Mr. Secretary General of the OAS, Don José Miguel Insulza; Mr. Assistant Secretary of the OAS, Ambassador Albert Ramdim; distinguished representatives of Member States of the Organization, and observers, representatives of civil society organizations, esteemed colleagues of the IACHR, and of the General Secretariat, ladies and gentlemen:


It is an honor for me to address you as President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at this inaugural ceremony of the Commission's 130th regular session. It is a pleasure to be here together with my colleagues Paolo Carozza, First Vice President; Víctor Abramovich, Second Vice President; and Commissioners Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Evelio Fernández Arévalos, Clare Kamau Roberts, and Freddy Gutiérrez. We also have with us Mr. Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary of the Commission, and staff members of the Executive Secretariat.


We are now beginning the fourth regular session of the IACHR for 2007, and I want to take this opportunity to report to you on our activities since the 127th regular session that was held in February and March of this year.


IACHR activities between the 127th and 130th regular sessions


General Secretariat


As President of the IACHR, I met with the Secretary General in March to discuss a number of issues of interest to the Commission. I thanked the Secretary General for his support to the Commission, and in particular for calling upon member States to comply with the decisions of the inter-American system and to move forward in the process of universalizing the system's standards. I also spoke of the need to increase the Commission's regular budget so that the Executive Secretariat could hire more lawyers and give the Commissioners a greater presence both at headquarters in Washington and in the field. I mentioned the interest in deepening our constructive dialogue with States, and in pursuing cooperative relations, and I asked for his support in this area. I also asked him to continue to urge member States to comply with the Commission's decisions, to make the system more universal, in particular with regard to those States that have not yet ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, to increase the Commission's regular budget significantly, and to encourage States to issue an open and permanent invitation to the Commission to make field visits.


The Executive Board of the Commission also held very useful working meetings with the Secretary General during the course of the year in Washington.


General Assembly


On June 5, 2007, as President of the IACHR, I presented the Commission's annual report for 2006 to the OAS General Assembly meeting in Panama. At that time several States demonstrated their interest through various interventions, and the Commission was given more time than in the past to present its annual report.


I want to mention that the General assembly approved some important resolutions on various human rights issues in the hemisphere. The Commission welcomes the mandates given it by the General assembly, demonstrating the confidence that the political bodies of the OAS have in its work of protecting human rights, and it is committed to fulfilling those mandates to the limit of its human and material resources. I want to make special mention of resolution AG 2354 (XXXVII-O/07), which extended the budgetary authorization to cover payments to the Commission’s members for special services as of 2008.


I am grateful for the confidence that member States have shown by reelecting me at the last General Assembly, along with my colleague Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Brazil), for a further term in the IACHR. I also want to congratulate the new members of the IACHR elected by the General Assembly, who will take up their mandates in January 2008. They are Felipe González (Chile), and Luz Patricia Mejía (Venezuela).


Finally, I am gratified at the receptivity shown by several States during the General Assembly to my request for governments to issue an "open and permanent invitation" to the Commission to visit their territory. This is an activity that began when I assumed the presidency of the IACHR, and it received a positive reaction during the General Assembly from Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, which have now joined other States that have allowed the Commission the freedom to make visits, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. As President of the IACHR, I recognize the political will shown by those States, and I reiterate my request that member States should issue "open and permanent invitations" for the IACHR to visit their territory and to fulfill its mandate and its functions. This is indeed a necessary step in order to confirm the transparency, the democratic political will, and the commitment of member States to respect human rights in the Americas.


Visits to States


Mexico. As Rapporteur for Mexico, I visited that country from April 9 to 13, 2007 to gather information on the situation of human rights, and to establish initial contact with the new government authorities. The visit was also the occasion for several working meetings relating to petitions and precautionary measures, and included a visit to a military detention center, as well as various promotional activities.


Colombia. Commissioner Victor Abramovich, Rapporteur for Colombia, visited that country from April 10 to 13, 2007 at the invitation of the government to monitor the demobilization process jointly with the MAPP/OAS Mission.


Haiti. The Commission visited Haiti from April 16 to 20, 2007 in follow-up to the 2005 report entitled: "Haiti: failed justice or the rule of law? Challenges ahead for Haiti and the international community", and to look into the issue of discrimination and violence against women in that country.


Argentina. As Rapporteur for Argentina and President of the IACHR, I visited the country from May 9 to 11 in order to sign a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Justice and with the Office of the Public Defender in preparation for the Seminar on Good Penitentiary Practices to be held in Buenos Aires in November of this year, with representatives of the penitentiary systems of 19 Latin American countries, international agencies, nongovernmental organizations and experts. I took advantage of the visit to participate in a promotional event at the Penitentiary School of the Province of La Plata. A similar seminar for English-speaking countries will be held in the Caribbean next year, provided financing can be obtained for it.


Colombia. Commissioner Clare K. Roberts, Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons of African Descent and against Racial Discrimination, visited Colombia from May 14 to 18, 2007 to prepare an initial assessment of the socioeconomic situation of Afro Colombians, a report that will also cover application of Law 70, the recognition and protection of communal lands, and the status of Afro Colombian communities and individuals who have been displaced. It will assess as well the impact that demobilization and application of the Justice and Peace Law are having on Afro-descendent communities.


Haiti. As Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, I visited Haiti from June 17 to 20, 2007 to gather information on the status of prisoners held in detention centers for adults, women and children. I met with officials of MINUSTAH and the ICRC, and I also held working meetings with government authorities and with civil society organizations, and took part in activities to promote the system.


Mexico. As Rapporteur for Mexico and Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, I visited Mexico from August 6 to 11, 2007 to follow the situation of human rights in the State of Oaxaca, and to verify the status of inmates in certain Mexican prisons. During the visit I held meetings with senior authorities of the federal government and of the government of Oaxaca, including the President of Mexico, Mr. Felipe Calderon, and the Governor of Oaxaca, Mr. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and also with many representatives of civil society. As well I visited prisons in the State of Mexico and in the State of Oaxaca.


Paraguay. The Rapporteur for Paraguay and Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Commissioner Paula Carozza, visited Paraguay on September 3 and 4, 2007, prior to the Commission's special session in Asunción. Her activities included a visit to the Xákmok Kásek and Yakye Axa communities in the Paraguayan Chaco, and working meetings with government authorities, as well as meetings on a number of cases and petitions pending before the Commission.


Chile. The Rapporteur on the Rights of Women, Commissioner Victor Abramovich, visited Chile from September 11 to 13 to gather information on discrimination against women in its various manifestations.


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Dr. Ignacio Alvarez, also visited several countries, including Haiti, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.


On behalf of the Commission, I want to thank member States for their invitations and for the support and the cooperation they have shown the IACHR during these field visits, and I extend my thanks as well to the NGOs that cooperated and participated in activities during those visits.


The Commission is still awaiting the response of the Government of Venezuela in order to finalize a visit by the Rapporteur for that country, Commissioner Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which the IACHR has proposed for December 2007. The Commission is also awaiting the response of the United States government to a request I submitted as President of the IACHR to the US State Department in July 2007 to visit the prison at Guantánamo, and the detention centers for immigrants in the State of Texas.


Country reports and thematic reports


On June 28, 2007 the IACHR approved its report on "Access to justice and social inclusion: the road to strengthening democracy in Bolivia", relating to the investigation conducted during the on-site visit to Bolivia in November 2006 by Commissioners Evelio Fernandez Arevalos, Victor Abramovich and myself, as Rapporteur for Bolivia. That report was recently published and contains some important recommendations that the IACHR hopes will be useful for institutional strengthening and for protecting human rights in Bolivia.


The Commission moved forward in its report on observations during the visit to Haiti in April 2007, in follow-up to the Report on the Administration of Justice in that country, published in 2006. It is also preparing a report on discrimination and violence against women in Haiti, on the basis of that visit.


The Commission began preparatory work for a study on the situation of public security, intended as a contribution to the hemispheric debate sponsored by the OAS at a meeting of experts on public security held in Washington on May 30 and 31, 2007.


The Commission continued dissemination of its reports published in 2006. In this connection, the report on "Violence and Discrimination against Women in the Armed Conflict in Colombia" was launched in Bogotá on April 12, 2007, the report on "Access to Justice for Women Victims of Violence in the Americas" was publicized in Peru and Chile, and the report on "The Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas" was presented in Mexico in June 2007. The Commission is now wrapping up a second edition of its book on children and their rights in the inter-American system.


The Commission approved a study, to be published shortly, on the standards established by the inter-American human rights system on access to justice as a guarantee of economic, social and cultural rights. Pursuant to a mandate from the General Assembly, the IACHR is also in the final stage of approving guidelines for preparing indicators of progress in economic, social and cultural rights.


The IACHR recently approved a report on Colombia, "Report on the implementation of the Justice and Peace Law: initial stages of the demobilization of the AUC and first judicial proceedings".


The IACHR is currently preparing a report on the visits it made in 2007 to Mexico, and its visit to prisons in Haiti.


Activities in relation to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights


The Commission participated in the following public hearings before the Inter-American Court: Doce Clanes Saramaka v. Suriname (May 9 and 10), where the Commission was represented by Commissioner Paolo Carozza; Zambrano Vélez et al. v. Ecuador (May 15); Cornejo et al. v. Ecuador (May 16); and Chaparro y Lapo v. Ecuador (May 17), with Commissioner Evelio Fernández Arévalos representing the IACHR; and Boyce et al. v. Barbados (July 11), where Commissioner Clare Roberts represented the IACHR.


The IACHR presented eight submissions to the Inter-American Court, relating to the following cases: Castañeda Gutman v. México; Eduardo Kimel v. Argentina; Gabriela Perozo et al. (Globovisión) v. Venezuela; Luisiana Ríos et al. (RCTV) v. Venezuela; Juan Carlos Bayarri v. Argentina; María and Josefa Tiú Tojín v. Guatemala; Renato Ticona Estrada v. Bolivia; and Santander Tristán Donoso v. Panama. It also submitted to the Court an application for provisional measures for a human rights defender in Venezuela.


I should also mention the working meetings I held with the President and Vice President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on issues of common interest, with a view to coordinating activities and Court-Commission working meetings, and strengthening the inter-American system.


Cooperation with national human rights institutions (ombudsmen)


The Commission has held various meetings with ombudsmen throughout the hemisphere to exchange views on possible cooperation with national human rights institutions, in order to strengthen the Inter-American system and in particular to enforce the decisions of the Court and the Commission itself. The prospects for cooperating in joint activities were also discussed. In August of this year I made a visit jointly with the President of the State Commission of Human Rights of Mexico, Federal District, to a penitentiary in Mexico City, and this first experiment with joint work turned out to be very positive.


International cooperation


As President of the IACHR I have held discussions with international organizations about the possibility of establishing agreements for cooperation in human rights issues. There have been several contacts with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with the United Nations Subcommittee (pursuant to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture), and with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (UNHCHR).


Records group


As member States are aware, procedural delays in the handling of cases and petitions presented to the IACHR have frequently been cited as a source of concern, both to the Commission and to the outside parties involved. In response to this concern, an externally funded Records Group was established within the Executive Secretariat, effective June 1, 2007, with a mandate to eliminate procedural delays and to give the Commission greater capacity for initial evaluation and processing so that it can respond promptly to petitions and ensure their expeditious processing.


Annual sessions


In 2007, for the first time, the Commission held a total of four meetings, three regular sessions at headquarters in Washington, and a special session that was conducted in Paraguay, thanks to the invitation and cooperation of the government of that country. On that occasion, the IACHR met with the President of the Republic, Mr. Nicanor Duarte Frutos, and with other senior government authorities, as well as with organizations of civil society and representatives of indigenous peoples. It held public hearings and conducted promotional activities for the inter-American system of human rights with academic and judicial circles.


This is the second consecutive year we have held special sessions away from headquarters. They have enabled the Commission to establish closer links with government institutions, NGOs, petitioners and persons interested in the inter-American system, and to publicize the system in the region.


With respect to the reports that need to be approved during the session opening today, in 2007 the Commission approved 56 reports of admissibility; 15 reports of inadmissibility; 15 Article 50 reports, and 5 Article 51 reports; 31 file closure reports; and 5 reports on friendly settlement. In several cases, these figures exceed the number of reports approved in the two previous years, when fewer regular sessions were held. We also held a considerable number of working meetings with States and petitioners, as well as many hearings, which as of this year are public and are announced at the OAS webpage. I may note as well that the annual IACHR budget and its sources of financing are now being published for the first time.


The foregoing denotes the importance of holding a greater number of sessions, and the need to continue the pattern of rotating special sessions in each subregion of the Americas. To meet these needs, the Commission's ordinary budget will have to be reinforced, and governments will have to extend their invitation and cooperation so that the Commission can hold sessions in each of the subregions. I must recognize that holding a greater number of regular and special sessions places a heavy workload on the executive Secretariat and on the Commissioners and I want to pay tribute to the work of all the Secretariat's staff and the effort that the Commissioners have made for the four sessions held in 2007.


In the lead-up to the regular session that begins today and will end on October 19, the Commission received 130 requests for hearings. It will hold 27 hearings as well as 29 working meetings on individual cases, petitions, precautionary measures, the general situation of human rights, and various issues of importance in the inter-American context.


During the 130th session, the IACHR will also examine and consider reports on individual petitions in cases relating to various countries, and it will continue to examine the text of the proposed "Principles on the Protection of Persons Deprived of Liberty", a topic for which I am the rapporteur. We will hold working meetings with the Government of Canada; with the human rights prosecutors in Central America, with magistrates and judges of various countries of the region, and with the OAS Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs, among other activities. We will also have information meetings with the new Commissioners elected by the General Assembly last June.


Final considerations


Finally, I want to reiterate our commitment to continue working objectively and impartially for the observance and defense of human rights in the region, in the hope that member States of the OAS will commit themselves ever more decisively to respect the human rights of those most disadvantaged by the justice system in the Americas.


I would take this opportunity once again to urge member States of the OAS that have not yet ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and the other treaties adopted by the system, to do so, and to recognize the contentious jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court and the competence of the Commission for inter-State complaints.


I also want to urge all member States to comply fully with the decisions of the Court and the Commission, which are legally, politically and morally binding on States. I must reiterate, as I did at the General Assembly, that this is indeed the main challenge for States vis-à-vis the inter-American system of human rights, and that they should make all possible efforts to carry out in good faith the human rights commitments they have acquired, and take various measures, including those of a legislative nature, as necessary to facilitate the enforcement of those decisions.


I also want to express our gratitude to member States and to European States and international agencies for their cooperation and financial support to the Commission.


In closing I want to thank all the men and women of the IACHR Executive Secretariat and all the interns and trainees for their dedicated work and their firm commitment to protecting and promoting human rights in the Americas.


With that, I now declare open the 130th regular session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


Thank you very much.