Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up its 150th Session

April 4, 2014

Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 150th regular session from March 20 to April 4, 2014, the year of the 55th anniversary of the Commission’s creation. The IACHR underscores the active and abundant participation in this session of the Member States and representatives of civil society from around the region.

During the 150th session, the Commission held productive meetings with high-level authorities from States, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Missions to the OAS, and civil society organizations, among others involved in the inter-American human rights system. The Commission held a meeting with the States and another with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and marked the end of the session with a closing ceremony that included the participation of the Permanent Representatives of the Member States and civil organizations. The IACHR appreciates the constructive atmosphere in which these gatherings took place.

The session included 55 public hearings with the participation of delegations from 20 OAS Member States, as well as 30 working meetings on petitions, cases, and precautionary measures. The Commission approved reports on individual cases and petitions and made progress in friendly settlement proceedings. During the session, the IACHR presented two Commission reports, one on guarantees for the independence of justice operators and the other on the use of pretrial detention in the Americas.

The IACHR notes that significant progress was made in various working meetings. In particular, the Commission appreciates the participation of representatives of States and petitioners from Argentina, Colombia, the United States, Honduras, Jamaica, Paraguay, and Peru in working meetings on the implementation of precautionary measures in effect. This makes it possible to reach agreements and overcome hurdles, in order to ensure greater protection in the face of grave and urgent situations that pose a risk of irreparable harm to people.

The Commission also greatly appreciates the willingness to move forward in friendly settlement proceedings or in compliance with previous reached agreements, shown by the parties in 17 working meetings on petitions and cases from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Suriname. In this regard, the IACHR notes the signing of a document attesting to the intention to move toward a friendly settlement in Petition No. 1171/09, Ananías Laparra Martínez et al., Mexico.

For this session, the IACHR received 61 requests to hold working meetings and 220 to hold hearings, including 12 requests from Member States. The Commission notes in particular the initiative by nearly one third of the OAS Member States to request a hearing on the issue of the death penalty in the Americas, a step toward identifying ways to work toward the abolition of the death penalty in the region. The participating States were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay, with the Permanent Observer Mission of France to the OAS and Amnesty International also joining in. In addition, a significant number of civil society organizations from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay requested a hearing to address an emerging issue and one that the Inter-American Commission will be following: the adverse impact of repressive anti-drug policies on the exercise of the human rights of major sectors of the population, with a disproportionate impact on children and adolescents, women, poor people, people of African descent, and campesinos, among other groups.

The active participation of States and civil society in these mechanisms and the constant increase in the requests received are indicators of these mechanisms’ effectiveness, as well as an acknowledgment of the credibility and legitimacy of the inter-American human rights system as a whole. The public hearings were transmitted via webcasts, and 135,000 computers tuned in. Organizations and universities from the region invited audiences to follow live hearings at various events, and some hearings were retransmitted live by open television channels. Over the past year, the Commission received 1.2 million visits to its website and had a more than 200% increase in the number of followers on social media. The IACHR views as extremely positive the growing interest of people of the Americas to be informed about the human rights situation in the region and the inter-American human rights system’s mechanisms to protect and promote fundamental rights so that they are respected and guaranteed.

The hearings held and the reports approved during the session reflect some of the structural human rights problems that persist in the region. These have to do with respect for the right to life and humane treatment; guarantees of due process and judicial protection; judicial independence; justice and reparation for grave human rights violations of the past; the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights and the right to freedom of expression; discrimination based on race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity; and the situation concerning the rights of children, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, internally displaced persons, stateless persons, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, persons of African descent, women, persons deprived of liberty, and persons with disabilities, among other matters. The Commission also addressed emerging issues such as corporate responsibility as regards the impact of extractive industries on the observance of human rights, especially the impact on certain groups such as Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples. In one hearing to follow up on recommendations from the report “Juvenile Justice and Human Rights in the Americas,” the IACHR received troubling information indicating a regressive trend in this area in several countries in the region, including the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and an increase in penalties, in a context of poor incarceration conditions and scant socio-educational measures.

The Commission examined the implementation status of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women, “Convention of Belém do Pará,” 20 years after the treaty’s adoption. Violence against women and structural gender-based discrimination continue to be profound and widespread problems in the region, and the response from States continues to be inadequate, in terms of both prevention and investigation and punishment. An unacceptable percentage of killings and other violent attacks on women continue to go unpunished, while human rights defenders—particularly those who defend the rights of women—are victims of attacks, the criminalization of their activities, public defamation campaigns, and the excessive use of police force against them, among other grave problems. The IACHR urges the States to make significant and urgent advances in implementing public policies that give effect to the standards established in the Convention of Belém do Pará, particularly through measures that dismantle the structural discrimination underlying violence against women.

On another matter, the Commission values the fruitful dialogue it had with Colombia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, María Angela Holguín Cuéllar. The State of Colombia participated actively in the IACHR session, including in six working meetings on implementation of precautionary measures and three public hearings. The Commission regrets that the State decided not to participate in a fourth hearing held during this session.

With regard to Bolivia, the Commission values the active participation of the State in the session, including in three working meetings on cases that are in different stages of friendly settlement. The Commission particularly values the presence of the Attorney General of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Héctor Arce. However, the Commission regrets Bolivia’s absence at a hearing on the right to life for women in that country, for reasons of which the Commission is unaware.

Moreover, the Inter-American Commission deeply regrets the absence of the State of Ecuador in the two hearings convened on that country. While Ecuador did participate in a working meeting on a case in process of friendly settlement, it is troubling that the State made the decision not to appear at two hearings, on the right to freedom of expression and on the right to freedom of association in connection with the situation of environmental defenders. Moreover, the Commission notes that this is the second period of sessions in a row in which the State decided not to appear at the hearings. In addition, the Inter-American Commission deeply regrets statements made by high-level Ecuadorean authorities on matters related to the development of the session.

With regard to the Dominican Republic, the IACHR expresses its deep concern over the situation of the more than 210,000 people who have been left stateless as a result of Constitutional Court Judgment 168/13. Also troubling is the information presented in a hearing on the situation of the right to nationality of Dominicans of Haitian descent indicating that the Constitutional Court had confirmed the criteria established in that ruling, through Judgments 275/13, 290/13, and 28/14, which has exacerbated the situation. As the Commission already indicated in the preliminary observations from its December 2013 visit, this ruling entails an arbitrary deprivation of nationality and has a discriminatory effect, since it primarily impacts Dominicans of Haitian descent, who are Afro-descendant persons. Although the State indicated in the hearing that the judgment is not discriminatory, since individuals descended from 117 other nationalities in the country could also see themselves affected, the information available to the Commission indicates that there is a disproportionate impact on people of African descent. The IACHR urges the State to seek a solution that ensures the right to nationality to people who already had this right under the domestic legal framework in effect from 1929 to 2010, without requiring them to register as foreigners as a prerequisite for recognition of their rights. The Commission also deeply regrets that the State of the Dominican Republic kept Juliana Deguis Pierre from leaving the country to participate in the hearing. The Commission has requested information from the State as to the reasons for keeping her from leaving the country, and it has yet to receive this information.

With regard to Venezuela, the Commission values the State’s participation in the four hearings on the country, as well as the fact that the State had requested the hearing on the general human rights situation in the country. In that hearing, both civil society and the State referred to the context of protest demonstrations that have been taking place since February. The information received indicates that there continue to be serious allegations concerning infringements on the rights to life, humane treatment, and personal liberty in the context of the demonstrations; the right to peaceful protest; and the right to freedom of expression. In particular, information was received on alleged attacks by armed civilian groups on demonstrators in several cities in the country. According to figures published by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, as of March 28, 2014, 37 persons had died and some 559 had been injured. According to information provided to the Commission, some of the deaths have been attributed to purported officials of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). In this regard, the Venezuelan State informed the Commission during the hearing that the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman are carrying out investigations into alleged excesses on the part of official security forces, and that at least 15 officials had been arrested for alleged human rights violations. The IACHR has also received information on alleged acts of torture and maltreatment in the context of the demonstrations, and in the hearing the organizations alleged that people who had been detained were not receiving adequate medical care. The Inter-American Commission expresses its deep concern over the situation in Venezuela, and at the same time encourages the State to move forward with a process of dialogue to find a peaceful way to resolve the current situation, with full respect for human rights.

Finally, the Commission expresses its deepest concern over threats, reprisals, and acts of disparagement directed against some individuals who attend IACHR hearings and working meetings, both on the part of individuals and, in some cases, State authorities. Democratic States should not hamper participation in the inter-American human rights system through prior actions, reprisals, or stigmatizing actions.

The IACHR is made up of Tracy Robinson, Chair; Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, First Vice-Chair; Felipe González, Second Vice-Chair; and José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Rosa María Ortiz, Paulo Vannuchi, and James Cavallaro. The Executive Secretary is Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 35/14