Assistant Secretary General Speech


December 4, 2018 - Washington, DC

Ambassador Carlos Játiva, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the OAS and Chair of the Permanent Council;

Margarette Macaulay, President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;

Paulo Abrao, Executive Secretary of the IACHR;

Distinguished Ambassadors and Alternate Representatives of OAS Member States;

Representatives of civil society

Ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning,
On behalf of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States I am honored to join you today on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

As we have been reminded, The American Declaration was adopted in 1948 along with the OAS Charter. Its origin dates back to the Inter-American Conference on the Problems of War and Peace held in Mexico City in 1945, where the countries of the region supported the idea of establishing an international system to protect human rights and directed the Inter-American Juridical Committee to prepare a draft declaration with a view to paving the way for future commitments in this area.

The Preamble to the OAS Charter states that “the true significance of American solidarity and good neighborliness can only mean the consolidation on this continent, within the framework of democratic institutions, of a system of individual liberty and social justice based on respect for the essential rights of man.” For its part, Article 3.l of the Charter establishes that “the American States proclaim the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed, or sex” and Article 17 provides that “the State shall respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality.”

The Declaration includes civil and political rights, as well as economic and social rights. The former were largely restated from the texts of the constitutions of most of the countries of the region, while the latter had not yet been provided for in legislative acts or subjected to judicial protection in OAS Member States at the time of the Declaration’s establishment.

The rights recognized in the Declaration began to be applied to specific cases after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was created in 1959. Then in 1965 OAS Member States approved the IACHR Statute which formally empowered the organ to examine communications and to make recommendations with the aim of engendering more effective observance of human rights. This Statute also requested the Commission to pay “particular attention” to observing the following human rights recognized in the American Declaration: right to life, liberty and personal security; equality before the law; religious freedom; freedom of investigation, opinion, expression and dissemination; right to a fair trial; protection from arbitrary arrest; and to due process of law.

For its part, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has interpreted that for the Member States of the Organization, the American Declaration is “the text that defines the human rights referred to in the Charter”.

The Inter-American Commission has developed a very rich case-law in the application of the American Declaration in individual cases with respect to those countries that are not parties to the American Convention on Human Rights. It has also applied the American Declaration in its reports on the general situation of human rights in countries of the region, where it expressly found that non-compliance with the Declaration by Member States constituted a violation of their international obligations.

Meetings such as this one provide an opportunity for much needed reflection. As we take stock of the last 70 years of the American Declaration and the Inter-American system itself, we can see that although many advances have been made, many challenges remain.

In the last few decades, our region has benefitted from the incorporation of human rights standards, the establishment and strengthening of institutional human rights structures, as well as a growing awareness of rights as a whole. There has also been an increasing consolidation of the guarantees necessary to promote democracy, which “is indispensable for the effective exercise of fundamental freedoms and human rights”, as provided for in the OAS Democratic Charter. Likewise, we have seen increased participation by social organizations and by historically marginalized or excluded groups following transitions to democracy; as well as the expansion of freedom of expression and access to information.

In spite of these and other important advancements, serious challenges persist for human rights in the Americas. The lack of solutions to historical problems in the region jeopardize future advancements. There are also a number of elements that may impact the full enjoyment of rights by the inhabitants of the Americas. These include: fragile democratic systems; corruption and impunity; lack of independence of the judiciary; economic crises which generate disproportionate effects for historically discriminated and marginalized groups; lack of guarantees for the work of human rights defenders; as well as high levels of conflict and violence that lead to a context of insecurity. Additionally, rise in extreme nationalism and other forms of discrimination such as xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia and hate speeches in general are also detrimental to the full enjoyment of human rights in the hemisphere. In fact, we only need to listen to the news or to look around to note many instances in our region when rights are in jeopardy or are being violated.

The work of the organs of the Inter-American human rights system has been fundamental in addressing some of these challenges. With respect to the Commission, these include the individual petition and case system, precautionary measures, general monitoring, promotion and advice to States and political organs of the OAS.

The Commission has also adopted and is currently implementing its 2017-2021 Strategic Plan. The mission of the plan is “to stimulate awareness and promote the observance and defense of human rights in each and every one of the States of the Americas in accordance with the highest international standards in order to safeguard the dignity of all people and consolidate the rule of law and democracy”.

However, the effectiveness of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is buttressed on the support received by Member States as protectors of human rights in the hemisphere.

The OAS General Secretariat has also supported the full autonomy and independence of the Commission. We look forward to the results of this week’s sessions.

Once again, the advancements made in the protection of human rights in the region must be applauded. This is an earnest task that requires steady persistence, tireless dedication and a smart, pragmatic approach to the defense and promotion of human rights. These efforts have helped to improve the lives of millions people in the hemisphere and notwithstanding the persistent challenges, it is hoped that our region continues along this path of human rights for all. We owe it to our people.

Thank You