Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up its 154th Session

March 27, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 154th regular session on March 13-27, 2015. During the session, the IACHR worked on analyzing petitions, cases, and precautionary measures, and on implementing plans to address its procedural backlog. The Commission also held numerous meetings with representatives of States, petitioners, and civil society organizations from around the region, as well as with the OAS Secretary General-elect, Luis Almagro. The Commission also received visits from representatives of the Arab League Human Rights Committeeand of the United Nations, including Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and John Knox, Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment. During the session, the IACHR also presented its report “The Right to Truth in the Americas.”

Over the course of this session, the Commission held 55 public hearings, in which it received information on cases being heard on the merits, as well as on regional human rights issues and situations in 22 countries. Delegations from 19 OAS Member States participated in the hearings, as did more than 200 civil society organizations and 17 academic institutions. The Commission also held 29 working meetings, of which 20 were related to friendly settlements.

After evaluating the information it received, the Commission underscores that the transitions to democracy that many Latin American countries experienced in the mid-1980s constituted historic achievements, since only in democracy can countries move forward in ensuring people’s human rights, whether political and civil rights or economic, social, and cultural rights. Information received by the IACHR indicates that in these last decades, significant progress has been made with regard to the approval of laws and public policies that seek to guarantee the right to equality, as well as in terms of access to public information and judicial independence, all of which has a positive impact on the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights. Moreover, the information available indicates that in the last 15 years there has been a significant decrease in poverty in a number of countries in the region.

However, the region still faces profound challenges, regarding both the right to truth, justice, and reparation for grave human rights violations of the past, and the fulfillment of human rights in the democratic present. In some countries, extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances are still widespread, and the practice of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in prisons and detention centers continues to beextensive in the region. There are also major obstacles to access to justice. Human rights defenders and journalists are targets of threats, harassment, and killings, a high percentage of which go unpunished. Moreover, in many countries in the region there is a tendency to criminalize and suppress social protest, and the Commission received information indicating that in some countries the armed forces are routinely used to controldemonstrations and to carry out citizen security functions, which runs contrary to inter-American human rights standards. The Commission also received information concerning the disproportionate use of force by the police, which has an especially serious impact on children and adolescents and on young people of African descent. Violence against Afro-descendants, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons is perpetuated in a context in which it is tolerated by society and in which there are high rates of impunity for the perpetrators; meanwhile, people of African descent continue to experience structural discrimination, which permeates judicial systems. Finally, the Commission received information concerning the high concentration of ownership and control of both public and private media outlets, which results in a troubling lack of diversity and pluralism. Furthermore, the rights of children and adolescents continue to be affected as a result of the programming content of many media outlets.Delegations from five States shared their experiences in addressing this issue during a productive session convened by the Commission.
On another matter, economic development in the region in recent decades has led to an unprecedented drive to exploit the hemisphere’s natural resources. These development projects are often not managed with strict adherence to human rights, and have a particular impact on people of African descent and on indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands and territories. In one of the hearings, a participant indicated that he had come before the IACHR to “attest to the anguish and suffering of many brothers and sisters who in some circumstances are suffering the consequences of a devastating and increasingly threatening extractive activity that has no human face or ethics.”It is essential that any development project is carried out in keeping with the human rights standards of the inter-American system, including the requirement of prior consultation. The Commission also received troubling information concerning the existence of a relationship between companies in the extractive industry and members of the police said to be hired by them. The exploitation of natural resources generates different types of impacts which affect not only indigenous peoples and people of African descent but also other population sectors; these impactsinclude growing problems involving access to drinking water in some regions, especially in rural areas.

Development pressures on the environment have reportedly led to an increase in flows of migrants and internally displaced people. These phenomena are due both to economic reasons and lack of opportunities in people’s place or country of origin, as well as to attempts to escape high rates of crime and violence, since citizen insecurity is another widespread problem in several countries of the region. The situation regarding the serious human rights violations experienced by stateless persons and thousands of internally displaced persons in the region is alarming, as are the threats, attacks, killings, and forced disappearances to which hundreds of thousands of migrants and victims of human smuggling and trafficking—including children—fall victim, many of them for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

The IACHR received disturbing information during this session regarding the serious human rights violations that stem from lifein urban shantytowns. Moreover, poverty continues to disproportionately affect women, children, indigenous people, and people of African descent, as well as people with disabilities and senior citizens.

In order to delve deeper into its work on economic, social, and cultural rights, in April 2014 the IACHR announced its intention to create a Special Rapporteurship, which would become operational at the end of 2015 provided the necessary funds were received. To reach this objective, the IACHR invited the OAS Member States to contribute to a special fund to be used exclusively to create this Special Rapporteurship and finance its activities. The IACHR reiterates this invitation to Member States and other donors.

Finally, the IACHR received information indicating that people in some countries are suffering reprisals and receiving threats for attending hearings and for accessing the inter-American human rights system. The Commission considers it absolutely unacceptable for a State to take any type of action motivated bythe participation or activities of individuals or organizations that engage the bodies of the inter-American human rights system, in the exercise of their rights under the Convention. As Article 63 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR establishes, States “shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission,” and they “may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.”

The Commission will publish a Report on the 154th Session within the coming weeks.

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. 037/15