Press Release

IACHR Wraps Up its 156th Session

October 28, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 156th regular session October 17-28, 2015. During the session, the IACHR worked on the analysis of petitions, cases, and precautionary measures, and held 55 public hearings and 36 working meetings, as well as meetings with States and civil society organizations from the region. In the public hearings, the Commission received information on cases being heard on the merits, as well as on a range of human rights issues in 20 countries and region-wide. Delegations from Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) participated in the hearings, as did approximately 400 civil society organizations. More than 5 million people followed the hearings in different ways, whether through live webcasts, on-demand video, or through social media. The IACHR takes a positive view of the fact that people in the Americas have a growing interest in being informed about the human rights situation in the region and the mechanisms the inter-American human rights system provides to defend and promote respect and guarantee of fundamental rights.

The Inter-American Commission welcomes the participation in its sessions of various United Nations (UN) agencies and bodies. In this session, it held a meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, participated in a hearing. The Inter-American Commission values and highlights the joint efforts of the regional and international human rights systems to better protect and promote the observance of human rights in the region.

During this session, the IACHR extended the mandate of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts through April 30, 2016, as has been announced. In addition, in the course of this session, the Commission presented the report “Refugees and Migrants in the United States: Families and Unaccompanied Children.” The IACHR also signed a cooperation agreement with the President of the Federal Supreme Court of Brazil, Ricardo Lewandowski.

The Inter-American Commission also analyzed the possibility of bringing about the creation of an Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, as announced in April 2014. Considering that OAS Member States had expressed support for the IACHR to delve deeper into the work it does on economic, social, and cultural rights, the Commission announced on April 3, 2014, that it would establish a special fund to raise the financial resources needed to create a Special Rapporteurship toward the end of 2015, and it invited the OAS Member States to contribute to the fund. Unfortunately, the Commission still does not have the necessary resources to create this Special Rapporteurship; therefore the IACHR has decided to extend the mandate of the Unit that works on this issue under the coordination of Commissioner Paulo Vannuchi. The Commission will continue to seek funding to create this Special Rapporteurship in the future.

In a meeting with civil society organizations and another with delegations representing States, the IACHR introduced the new structure of the Executive Secretariat of the Commission. It also held workshops on how to use the Individual Petition System Portal and the multimedia statistics tool, and gave a course on the inter-American human rights system geared toward civil society organizations.

The IACHR notes that some States did not participate in the hearings to which they had been convoked, or they participated only partially or were inadequately prepared to address the issue for which the hearing was convened. The Inter-American Commission emphasizes that it is important for the States to participate in all hearings, with good faith and with substantive and sufficient information, in order to make constructive progress toward solutions to the human rights problems faced by the region.

The Commission is extremely concerned about information it received at the end of the hearings regarding the existence, in some countries, of alleged reprisals and threats directed against individuals for accessing the inter-American human rights system. This situation has come up in the past in some of these same countries, and it is alarming to see it happen again. It is absolutely unacceptable for a State to take any type of action motivated by the 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’s hearings and reports reflect some of the structural human rights problems that persist in the region. These touch on respect for the right to life and integrity, extrajudicial executions, situations of violence and internal displacement, due process guarantees, judicial protection, judicial independence, and the criminalization of justice operators; the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights, including the impact of extractive industries and other development projects on the right to land and territory and the right to water; and the right to freedom of expression, including the situation of community radio stations, violence against journalists, and the right to access to information in light of secrecy claims on grounds of national security. Other issues addressed include the situation concerning the rights of children, including the criminalization of adolescents; the situation of migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, as well as the interception of individuals eligible for international protection; and human rights defenders and the harassment, attacks, and criminalization they face, as well as specific situations involving those who defend the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. There were also hearings on issues related to indigenous peoples, including the situation of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation, others who have been affected by extractive industries and other development projects, and others who face attacks and violence, as well as the situation of indigenous children. Other topics addressed include the situation of people of African descent, including situations of discrimination and exclusion they face and the excessive use of force against them by the police; the rights of women, including obstetric violence, the rights of women deprived of liberty due to obstetric emergencies, and the rights to health and justice for victims of sexual violence; the rights of persons deprived of liberty, including the rights of their children and body searches of prison visitors; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, and intersex persons, including the criminalization of same-sex relations and the situation concerning the rights of LGBT persons in custody. There were also hearings on the effect of corruption on public institutions and the effect of drug policies on the enjoyment of human rights, among other issues.

Specifically, the Commission once again received information in these hearings that tends to confirm that there is a trend toward criminalizing and clamping down on social protest in many countries in the region, which has a serious impact on other rights. For example, a hearing was held on the situation of women who defend the land and the environment, in which the Commission received deeply troubling information on the rights violations suffered by women activists in particular. The information received indicates that women who defend the rights of land, environment, and nature are being criminalized, stigmatized, and harassed in many countries of the region. In other hearings, the Commission received information that also describes a move toward criminalization and harassment of human rights defenders, indigenous leaders and leaders of other social groups, journalists, and other groups that play a key role in democratic society and in the defense of other rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights.

The Commission also received disturbing information about the situation concerning the right to water in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. According to information provided by civil society organizations, of the 580 million people who live in Latin America and the Caribbean, 20 percent have no access to drinking water through water lines, and less than 30 percent of the water supply is treated at all, and often inadequately; as a result, 34 of every 1,000 children in Latin America and the Caribbean die from water-related diseases every year. The petitioners indicated that the situation has worsened given the increased pressure on natural resources and extractive activities, noting that the construction of hydroelectric dams and mining are the main causes of water scarcity and water pollution. Among the patterns reportedly being seen throughout the region, the organizations identified the establishment of legal frameworks conducive to the appropriation and use of water resources for extractive industry projects, to the detriment of human use and consumption.

The Commission will publish a Report on the 156th 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. 120/15