REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
a result of the coup of 1980, in Bolivia, several political leaders were
either expelled or forced to leave the country, among whom the following
should be noted: former president Lydia Gueiler, Juan Lechín and Simón
Reyes, as well as several priests, especially of the Salesian Order and
In Chile, by virtue of the power conferred on the Executive by the
emergency legislation, several important dissident politicians were either
expelled or return to their country prohibited by the Government of
General Pinochet. Among these, the following should be noted: former
Minister of the Treasury and former Senator, Andrés Espinoza, former
Minister of the Interior, Carlos Briones, former Minister of Mining,
Orlando Cantuarias, former Senator, Alberto Jerez, and the former Minister
of Justice and President of the Chilean Commission of Human Rights, Jaime
In Guatemala, as was pointed out by former Vice-President Francisco
Villagran Kramer, “Death or exile is the fate of those who struggle for
social justice in Guatemala”. Even though the majority of exiles from
that country are persons who abandoned the country voluntarily to flee the
terror, there have been several cases of forced expulsion. Among the most
recent cases to be noted are Carlos Statter, parish priest of the Ixcan
region, and the case of bishop Juan Gerardi, President of the Episcopal
Conference of Guatemala, who upon returning from Rome November 22, 1980,
was not permitted to re-enter the country.
In Haiti, numerous political leaders and journalists were expelled
during 1980-1981. Among these, the following should be mentioned: Elsie
Etheart, Jean-Robert Herard, Pierre Andre Clitondal, Richard Brisson,
Gregoire Eugene, Michele Moltas, Saint Jean Jacques Honorat, Marcus
Garcia, Nicole Magloire and Gregoire Eugene, the latter president of one
of few political parties in existence in Haiti.
In Paraguay, Mr. Luis Alfonso Resck, one of the principal
opposition political leaders to President Stroessner, was expelled from
Paraguayan territory on June 27, 1981.
The Commission considers that all of these expulsions, that were
not subject to control by the judiciary, constitute a serious violation of
human rights and, when carried out without the consent of the state to
which these persons were transferred, a serious violation of international
law. Therefore, the Commission urges all states to put an end to this
practice and to limit expulsion of nationals only to those cases that have
been reviewed by the judiciary, as an alternative to the penalty of
privation of freedom and always for a definite period of time.
Another of the consequences originating from prolonged states of
emergency has been the existence of a climate of fear and insecurity which
has not been conducive to the effective exercise of freedom of thought and
therefore, of information.
Whether it is due to the powers granted by these states of
emergency, by the exceptional legislation that has been promulgated in its
application, or to the precedent created by the abuses carried out by
previous governments that had arbitrarily closed down some media or jailed
journalists, the truth is that, in practice, in all those countries in
which the state of emergency has been imposed the media has applied self
censorship due to fear of being sanctioned or of journalists being
Of course, the Commission considers that in these circumstances
authentic freedom of expression cannot be exercised nor can citizens be
adequately informed which simultaneously contributes to the violations of
other human rights.
On the subject, there are, in fact, two rights that should be
protected. On the one hand, clearly the freedom of thought requires the
right to transmit by any means of social communication facts and ideas;
but also, on the other hand, such freedom requires the right of every
person to receive information without interference of any kind.
The interdependence of the peoples of America requires greater
understanding among them, for its effectiveness and freedom of
information, ideas, and news is indispensable. For achieving the
objectives previously mentioned, the means of information should be free
of al pressures or impositions, and those using them assume a great
responsibility before public opinion and should, therefore, be faithful to
Freedom of expression is universal and contains within it the idea
of the juridical right which pertains to persons, individual or
collectively considered, to express, transmit and diffuse their thoughts;
in a parallel and correlative way, freedom of information is also
universal and embodies the collective rights of everyone to receive
information without any interference or distortion.
On the other hand, the Commission recognizes that there are certain
instances in which freedom of expression may be legally restricted and,
consequently freedom of information as well. But these limitations should
always be clearly and explicitly defined such as to avoid abuses of power
on the part of the State.
The Commission is also aware of the ongoing debate in our
continent, as well as in the international community in general, regarding
the definition and scope of freedom of thought and information. Without
prejudice to the contribution that the Commission can made to this debate
at the appropriate time, it cannot fail to point out here that during the
period of this report several attempts have been made against the freedom
of expression (and, therefore, against the freedom of information) that
under no circumstances may be justified.
Of course, as was already pointed out, in those regimes subject to
states of exception, it is the climate of terror and insecurity that has
made possible self-censorship. Other states have gone further by
prohibiting or reiterating the prohibition of publishing new publications
not officially authorized, as in Chile by virtue of temporary prohibition
24 of the new Constitution or in Haiti in accordance with the press decree
of March 31, 1980, which, in addition, provides for previous censorship of
all publications and a series of other formal limitations to freedom of
In other states, during the period covered by this report, there
have been also concrete acts or attempts against the freedom of thought
and expression. Among these, the following should be emphasized: the
indefinite closing by the Grenadan Government of the Journal “The
Torchlight” and the Church Bulletin “Grenadan Voice.”
After the publication of the Commission's report on Nicaragua, that
is within a period of approximately three months, the independent journal
“La Prensa” of Nicaragua has been closed for period of two and three
days on six different occasions: twice in July, once in August, twice in
September and once at the beginning of October of 1981.
These events Motivate the Commission to reaffirm that freedom of
expression is an essential right of every means of social communication,
so as to safeguard it from governmental abuses; the Commission would also
like to reaffirm the right of every person to be fully informed without
arbitrary interferences from the state or international structures that
deliver distorted information.
The American States have reaffirmed in the Charter of the
Organization of American States that one of the guiding principles upon
which their solidarity is based requires that the political organization
of those States be based on the effective exercise of representative
democracy. Other international instruments on Human Rights, such as the
Pact of San José of Costa Rica, have recognized the right of every
citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, to vote and to be
elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal equal
suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the
will of the voters.
At the same time, the General Assembly of the OAS at its tenth
regular session, reiterated to its member states that have not yet done so
to reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government, in which
the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of
the will of the people, in accordance with the particular characteristics
and circumstances of each country.
For its part, the Commission has maintained that within the
alternative forms of government that constitutional law recognizes, the
framework of a democratic regime should be the fundamental structure for
the full exercise of human rights.
In this context, governments have, in the face of political rights
and the right to political participation, the obligation to permit and
guarantee; the organization of all political parties and other
associations, unless they are constituted to violate human rights; open
debate of the principal themes of socio-economic development; the
celebration of general and free elections with all the necessary
guarantees so that the results represent the popular will.
As demonstrated by historical experience, the denial of political
rights or the alteration of the popular will may lead to a situation of
Unfortunately, during the period covered by this report several
governments have not taken the necessary steps to reestablish or perfect
the democratic representative system of government. This system implies
the election of authorities resulting from elections in which citizens
participate freely in a fully informed way and whose realization is
carried out through procedures that guarantee that the results truly
correspond to the expression of popular will.
On the other hand, the Commission is pleased to point out that in
some States, although few, measures necessary for the holding of elections
by the end of 1981 or during 1982 are being implemented which will permit
the establishment of democratic regimes. The Commission trusts that in
these countries a consensus will also be achieved in so far as the
electoral mechanisms and procedures are concerned, as well as the purity
of the elections themselves, otherwise the legitimacy of the governments
that result shall inevitable be questioned.
Likewise, the Commission has taken due note of the declaration of
the authorities of non-democratic regimes of their intent to move
gradually towards a political opening, to initiate a dialogue with the
different political sectors of the country and to convoke elections within
a reasonable period of time. Although the Commission considers these
efforts positive and recognizes the goodwill of these authorities, the
IACHR urges them to seek every way to create the circumstances which
permit holding elections within the shortest possible time.
That which is unacceptable, in the eyes of the Commission, is the
desire of some governments to maintain themselves in power indefinitely,
to continue prohibiting the exercise of political rights and to repress
arbitrarily any dissent.
The previous considerations motivate the Commission to insist on
its previous recommendations, in the sense that the member states should
respect the political parties, and that those countries that have not done
so should reestablish or perfect the democratic system of government so
the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and free expression of
the popular will.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers of great
importance the activity carried out in the American countries by those
institutions working in the field of human rights. That is why it has been
a consistent policy of the Commission to stimulate the creation of such
institutions and to foster and to promote their work, which may lend a
valuable service to the task of protecting and promoting human rights in
It should be pointed out that at the present time there are several
countries where these institutions have been established and are
functioning. Likewise, it should also be noted that all of them have been
able, in one way or another, to carry out their functions, even in those
countries where there have been allegations of detentions, threats and
harassment against members or officials of these entities. However, during
the period covered by this report, the Commission has considered a number
of cases which must be pointed out and which represent unjustifiable
obstacles to the fulfillment of the functions of these organizations.
In Argentina, a search of the office of the Center of Legal and
Social Studies—CELS—was carried out on February 27, 1981, as well as
of the domicile of its President. The offices of the Center were closed,
documents were seized as well as other belongings and six of its members
were detained: Emilio Fermín Mignone, Augusto Conte MacDonell, José
Federico Westerkamp, Boris Passik, Marcelo Farrilli and Mrs. Carmen Aguiar
de Lapacó. The initial judicial process was begun by a Federal Judge and
was later passed to another judge since objections were raised against the
first one. The persons detained were kept “incommunicado” until March
4, 1981 and subsequently set free; at the same time, the judicial decision
ordered that the proceedings be definitively suspended. This act, in the
opinion of the Commission, was designed to intimidate.
In Bolivia, as the Commission points out in its special report on
that country, several officials and members of the Permanent Assembly on
Human Rights were detained, threatened, and expelled, among them its
former President, Father Julio Tumiri, a man of advanced age, who at the
present time has been banished.
In Chile, Dr. Jaime Castillo Velasco, President of the Chilean
Commission on Human Rights was again expelled from the country on August
In El Salvador, the offices of the Socorro Jurídico of the
Archdiocese of San Salvador were searched on July 1980. The operation was
carried out by combined forces of the Army and the National Police. The
military operation ended with the theft and seizure of documents and
files. The Salvadoran Government has not given a satisfactory explanation
of these events. Likewise, in September of the same year, the offices of
the Salvadoran Commission were bombed. The damage was considerable and the
bodies of three unidentified youths were found in the main door of the
office, bearing marks of having been subjected to brutal torture. The
IACHR has not received any information indicating whether an investigation
has been carried out.
In Nicaragua, the Chief of Police of Managua, accompanied by
another person, broke open the door, entered and occupied the office of
the Permanent Commission on Human Rights of Nicaragua (CPDH) on February
11, 1981, seizing their files and ordering the suspension of all
activities until the authorities verified the legitimacy of its existence
and activities. The Commission was informed by the Permanent
Representative of Nicaragua to the OAS on the situation of the CPDH after
the return of the office and its belongings. Notwithstanding the reply of
the Government, that the CPDH could function and operate normally, the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was informed that on February
19, 1981, José Esteban González, National Coordinator of the CPDH was
detained. The Commission transmitted the communication to the Government
which in turn invited the IACHR to observe the trial of Mr. González. On
March 3, 1981, the Commission was informed that Mr. González had been
acquitted and had been set free.
The Commission feels that it is its duty to recommend to all
governments of the hemisphere that they adopt the necessary measures
instructing governmental authorities on the necessity of duly guaranteeing
and respecting the activities of these entities.
In its previous annual report, the Commission emphasized the
importance of economic, social and cultural rights for the integral
development of the person.
In that respect, the Commission stated, inter alia, that the
essence of the legal obligation incurred by any government in this area is
to strive to attain the economic and social aspirations of its people, by
following an order that assigns priority to the basic needs of health,
nutrition and education. The priority of the “rights of survival” and
“basic needs” is a natural consequence of the right to personal
The Commission added that efforts to eliminate extreme poverty have
been made under radically different political, economic and cultural
In turn, those efforts have produced spectacular results as has
been shown in those countries that have expanded public health care
services at the lowest level of society, that have tackled the problem of
mass illiteracy systematically, that have undertaken comprehensive
agrarian reform programs or that have extended the benefits of social
security to all sectors of the population.
To date, there is no political or economic system or individual
development model that has demonstrated a clearly superior capability to
promote economic and social rights; but whatever the system or model may
be, it must assign priority to attaining those fundamental rights which
permit the elimination of extreme poverty.
These considerations, which were shared by the General Assembly,
which reaffirmed in its resolutive paragraph 8 of Resolution 510 (X-0/80)
the conviction of the IACHR that effective protection of human rights
should also extend to economic, social and cultural rights, and, in that
regard, emphasized to the governments of economically more developed
member states the responsibility to make every possible effort to
participate fully in cooperation for hemispheric development, since it is
a fundamental means of helping alleviate extreme poverty in the Americas,
especially in the most needy countries and regions.
The Commission considers that the next General Assembly should
reinforce this commitment by adopting specific measures for the effective
fulfillment of the above-mentioned resolution.
RIGHTS MORE EFFECTIVE
In last year's annual report, the Commission observed the organic
relationship existing between the violations of the rights to physical
security on the one hand, and neglect of economic and social rights and
suppression of political participation, on the other. Neglect of economic
and social rights—the extreme poverty affecting vast parts of the
population—has been the fundamental cause of the terror prevailing in
several countries of the hemisphere.
This epidemic of violence has also produced a secondary effect that
is truly alarming in its magnitude. The phenomenon of the displacement of
persons has converted 10% of the population of one country into refugees.
In others, the lack of political participation has caused massive flight
in boats and ships (boat people) of thousands of persons. Such massive
migrations are a challenge for the nations of the Hemisphere, which are
unprepared for the permanent integration of so many people into their
The Organization of American States has an obligation to contribute
to the solution of problems deriving from the displacement of persons and
to support the observance of international legal principles such as non-refoulement
and, a derivative there from, the prohibition of rejecting people in
flight at the border, which have been recognized as fundamental by several
international instruments and recently reiterated by the colloquium on
asylum and international protection of refugees in Latin America, held in
Mexico City from the 11 through 15 of May, 1981.
By virtue of the aforementioned, the Commission recommends to the
General Assembly that it establish the necessary mechanisms so that the
corresponding organs of the OAS, including the IACHR, define the juridical
norms which are required for the assistance and protection of refugees.
Another are that requires the attention of the states is that
related to physically or mentally handicapped persons. Due to this
condition precisely, in many countries these persons have been
marginalized from the rest of society, forming a sector whose rights no
one defends, and whose needs receive scant attention on the part of the
Of course, states must establish priorities in the pursuit of a
balanced development which tends to solve the most pressing social and
economic problems; but this should not be an obstacle to the inclusion of
legislative measures as part of the general programs of development of the
countries that will affect in a positive way the marginalized situation in
which most handicapped persons are found.
Many of these people, especially when they are of humble origins
and of limited means, are the forgotten ones in the development plans and
do not know the meaning of forming part of a community or society that
attends duly to their welfare. In fact, they are also in many cases
excluded from the legal system, since there are no State mechanisms that
protect or listen to their anguish or problems.
These handicapped persons who do not generally form part of the
active sector of the economy could be incorporated into the productive
sphere within their limitations and capabilities. The IACHR would like in
this year dedicated to the handicapped, to call attention to their
problems and to request member states which have not yet done so, to adopt
the legislative measures which will incorporate them fully to the benefits
In view of the foregoing considerations, the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, in addition to reiterating its previous
recommendations, requests that the General Assembly of the Organization of
American States, at its eleventh regular session, adopt the following
To urge those member states in whose countries such events have
occurred, to put an immediate end to the very serious practice of summary
executions committed by security forces or paramilitary groups that act
with the consent of the government. To that end, besides the preventive
measures considered opportune, including those that bring an end to
violence by means of peaceful and democratic procedures, it is necessary
that investigations and subsequent punishment of those responsible for
summary executions are carried out by an independent judiciary acting with
To again urge states in which there have been disappearances of
persons after detention, to undertake the necessary efforts to determine
the whereabouts of such persons.
That, concerning disappeared persons, member states are again asked
to establish central registers of all persons detained, and that
detentions be carried out only by duly authorized and identified persons,
and that the detainees be held only in places designed for such purpose.
To recommend to those member states that maintain extended states
of emergency to limit such periods of exception to the time strictly
necessary, and to terminate them as soon as the circumstances permit, and
that, during the state of emergency the judiciary be allowed to function
so that it may check abuses by government authorities.
To urge member states to limit the exercise of executive branch
detentions carried out in accordance with the powers granted by the state
of emergency to a brief period of time and always subject to judicial
To urge member states to permit the return of exiles and to refrain
from decreeing new expulsions of nationals in violation of domestic and
To reaffirm that freedom of thought and expression should be
enjoyed by all forms of social communication as a safeguard against
governmental abuses, and also to reaffirm the right of every person to be
fully informed without distortion of the truth.
To reiterate to member states their obligations to respect the
political rights of their citizens, including the right to form and
participate in political parties, as well as, in those states that have
not yet done so, to reestablish or perfect the democratic system of
government so that the exercise of power derives from the legitimate and
free expression of the will of the people.
To recommend to the governments of the member states that the
autonomous activities of national human rights entities be guaranteed, as
well as the safety and liberty of the officials of those organizations.
To reaffirm that the effective protection of human rights also
extends to economic, social and cultural rights, and that it is the duty
of the governments of the member states to cooperate as fully as possible
in the task of hemispheric development, in order to alleviate extreme
poverty, and to adopt specific measures which permit fulfillment of this
To establish the necessary mechanisms so that the corresponding
organs of the Organization, including the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights, may adopt adequate measures for the assistance and
protection of refugees.