Press Release

Annex to the Press Release Issued at the Close of the 159th Session

December 7, 2016

A+ A-

Panama - In the hearing on the “Situation of Indigenous Peoples and the Right to Consultation in Honduras,” the participating organizations discussed the situation of criminalization and prosecution experienced in indigenous communities by those who defend the right to prior consultation. The organizations indicated that the killing of Bertha Cáceres—even though she was a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR—accentuated the violence and repression. They said that the State is trying to privatize and grant concessions for the rivers in their territories to create mining, hydroelectric, wind, and other projects; therefore, they requested that mechanisms for prior, free, and informed consultation be created to respect the self-determination of indigenous peoples. The organizations also asked that Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) be upheld. The State said that it had set up an interinstitutional roundtable to work on draft legislation and had held 18 workshops in the communities, with the presence of national and international observers such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the ILO. It indicated that in January 2017 the indigenous communities will be provided with a systematized account of the input it received, for their consideration, before it is sent to the executive and legislative branches. The State reported on actions that had been taken to regularize and title lands, as well as steps to address cases before the IACHR involving indigenous peoples and their leaders. The Commission underscored the importance of the right to consultation as established in inter-American standards, including prior consultation and free, prior, and informed consent, along with rules and guidelines established in the IACHR report “Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Descendant Communities, and Natural Resources: Human Rights Protection in the Context of Extraction, Exploitation, and Development Activities.” Finally, the State accepted the suggestion for a visit to Honduras by the Country Rapporteur and the Thematic Rapporteur to accompany the processes being carried out.

In the hearing “Justice Situation and Human Rights Defenders in Honduras,” representatives of the participating organizations indicated that Honduras continues to be the most dangerous country in the region for human rights defenders. They said that there are still large numbers of killings, with almost total impunity; that the State improperly criminalizes defenders’ activities by bringing criminal charges against them; and that high-level authorities constantly make statements defaming the work of human rights defenders, particularly those who advocate on environmental issues. The organizations expressed concern regarding several articles in a new draft of the Criminal Code under debate in Congress. The State affirmed that it is State policy to respect human rights and it is not its policy to criminalize the work of human rights defenders. It noted that a section on human rights defenders was created within the Public Prosecutor’s Office. As to the draft Criminal Code, it indicated that the general part of the bill has been approved and that the specific section is still under debate and there is still time to incorporate civil society’s recommendations. The IACHR expressed its concern regarding the situation of human rights defenders in Honduras and urged the State to publicly acknowledge the work they do and their contribution to strengthening democracy.     

In the hearing “Follow-Up on Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders in Honduras,” the participating organizations agreed with the assessment that the work of human rights defenders is extremely dangerous, and adding to the danger is the extreme violence caused in part by the circulation of weapons and the existence of criminal gangs. They added that the approval of the protection law was an important step forward; however, they said the mechanism has not reduced the attacks and threats faced by defenders, nor has it led to cases being investigated. They claimed that there is no effective civil society participation and said the State had not complied with the recommendations already established by the IACHR in Case 12.462, Carlos Antonio Luna López v. Honduras. The State indicated that it has been working on implementation of the protection mechanism for a year and has asked for international support on the matter. It reported that the National Council for Protection includes seven civil society representatives, and said that 31 police protective measures had been granted as well as four temporary relocations. The State reiterated its commitment to the work of human rights defenders. The IACHR underscored the need for a strong and effective protection mechanism and urged both parties to intensify their dialogue to work out any problems that arise, including the lack of participation by civil society and the lack of transparency of information.

In the hearing “Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Cuba,” the organizations indicated that they had been at an IACHR hearing in April and had presented a report on the situation of human rights defenders in Cuba, and that since then the situation had become more dangerous. They said that was because of their efforts to denounce the situation internationally, before both the inter-American and the universal human rights systems. They presented a video in which the Executive Director of CUBALEX shows a raid on the organization’s headquarters and the detention and interrogation of some of its members. The organizations talked about the reprisals, threats, and detentions they suffer for exercising freedom of expression and opinion, and said some activists had to leave the country. They presented the IACHR a written report on the subject. The organizations reported that human rights defenders who fight against racism and discrimination suffer reprisals, detention, confiscation, and prosecution. They presented the main findings of a report on the press situation in Cuba. The organizations requested that the IACHR continue to speak out about the human rights situation in Cuba; that it urge the government to refrain from stigmatizing human rights defenders and recognize their work, and prevent or reduce the threats against them; that the IACHR create a focal point to follow up on their situation; and that the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression carry out a visit to evaluate the situation concerning freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and make his findings and recommendations public. The IACHR regretted the State’s absence and expressed its solidarity over the situation the organizations are going through because of the work they do. It thanked them for the information they had provided and took note of the reprisals they suffered for accessing the inter-American human rights system. The Special Rapporteur said that his office will work on a report on freedom of expression in Cuba.

The Commission held a public hearing on Case 12.982, Luis Alberto Rojas Marín with regard to Peru. The case involves the alleged rape and torture of a person because of his sexual orientation; the subsequent failure to investigate and punish those responsible; and the discrimination based on the perception of his sexual orientation, which had purportedly hampered his access to justice. The IACHR heard the alleged victim’s claims presented by the petitioners in the context of their allegations. It also heard arguments regarding the merits of the case, both from the petitioning party and from the State.

The State also held a public hearing on Case 12.893, Nam Qum Indigenous Community of the Qom People (Toba) with regard to Argentina, which involves alleged human rights violations as a consequence of an incursion by State security forces. The petitioners claim that this took place in a context of structural discrimination against indigenous peoples in Argentina, and that similar situations have been repeated. During the hearing, one alleged victim gave a statement, and videos were shown in which other alleged victims made statements. The State indicated that it will provide its observations on the merits of the case as soon as possible.

In the hearing on the “Situation of Human Rights and the Juvenile Justice System in Argentina,” the Santa Fe Province Public Defender’s Office presented information about the situation of underprivileged children and young people in the province who are subject to structural and widespread illegal detentions and institutional violence, primarily at the hands of law enforcement. The representatives of the Public Defender’s Office indicated that they have found that police forces detain children and adolescents in cases in which they were not caught in the act of committing a crime or there was no warrant for their arrest. The representatives said that one of the most serious problems is the failure to inform the respective authorities about these arrests. In terms of the conditions of detention, they reported that these minors are housed in unsuitable locations, including in police station lockups that do not properly separate minors from adults. In addition, they denounced what they characterized as a practice of torture of the youth in custody. The representatives asked that a Provincial Mechanism against Torture be implemented; that a mechanism be adopted to ensure that these arrests are reported immediately to the relevant administrative and judicial authorities; and that there be proper judicial oversight of the detentions. Finally, they expressed concern over the recent suspension of the province’s General Defender, Gabriel Ganón. For its part, the State explained that the defender in question was suspended by the provincial legislature in an impeachment proceeding carried out in accordance with the law. The State took the opportunity to talk about the province of Santa Fe’s policies on juvenile criminal justice and to reaffirm its commitment to the defense of human rights. The State recognized that the measures adopted regarding torture are insufficient and announced that the provincial Chamber of Deputies had recently approved a law establishing a Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, in keeping with the guidelines established in the Istanbul Protocol. The State explained that there is currently a protocol in place to inform parents and the provincial defender’s office if a minor is arrested. It announced that to prevent a situation in which police detain citizens to ascertain whether they have a criminal record, the province has already put out a bid for 400 mobile ID readers, which will allow for immediate identification of those who are detained. It said that in the future it will reduce the number of intake facilities to six, and that there will be multidisciplinary teams available for judicial and medical oversight and for the defense of those arrested.

In the hearing “Reports of Violations of Women’s Human Rights in the Context of Extractive Activities in Peru,” the organizations that requested the hearing talked about the importance of urgently adopting a differentiated approach to address the situation of indigenous women who are affected by extractive industries in Peru. They laid out information concerning serious problems that affect them due to the unregulated presence of extractive companies in their territories. Such problems include, for example, the lack of crops due to contamination; the lack of medical care for the women and children; the introduction of prostitution and alcoholism; and domestic violence. The State’s representatives presented information regarding various measures that have been adopted in response to oil spills—including the declaration of states of emergency in several regions of the country—and on interinstitutional initiatives to address the needs of people who are affected, with a gender perspective. Finally, they expressed the State’s willingness to present additional information about the issues raised in the hearing. The IACHR expressed its concern over the information it had received, particularly regarding violence against women and the impact of these activities on children, and regarding the need for concession contracts to include human rights safeguards and for the authorities to maintain strict oversight.

The hearing “Peruvian State’s Human Rights Policy”—regarding the progress made on human rights public policy and the human rights plan for the 2017-2021 period—was held at the request of the Peruvian State. Among other issues, the State informed the IACHR about its policies to address the problems of forced sterilization, the search for the disappeared, and human trafficking, and to provide human rights education for public servants. The participating civil society organizations asked the State to include issues related to LGBTI people, sexual violence against children and adolescents, public defenders for victims, therapeutic abortion, and socio-environmental conflicts, among other issues. The IACHR urged the State to engage in dialogue with civil society to include such issues in its public policies.

In the hearing “Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression in Paraguay,” the participating organizations reported that since 1991, 17 journalists have been killed for reasons that may be connected to their exercise of freedom of expression in Paraguay. They said that 40 percent of the killings occurred in the last three years and have yet to be solved, and that threats and attacks against journalists have increased, particularly on matters related to reports of drug trafficking and its ties to public security forces on the Paraguay-Brazil Border. The organizations said that Paraguay does not have a mechanism in place to protect journalists; that threats received by journalists are not investigated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which considers that it is up to the individual to press charges in the case of the crime of making threats; and that ownership of media outlets continues to be concentrated in a few hands. Community radio stations, meanwhile, are subject to police persecution and confiscation of equipment, and continue to face serious limitations in terms of gaining access to the broadcast spectrum, according to the organizations. For its part, the State underscored the fundamental role that the press and journalists have had in building a democratic society in Paraguay. The State said that the problem along the Paraguay-Brazil border is no different from the situation that occurs on other borders in Latin America, due to the scourge of drug trafficking. It said that many of the investigations into killings of journalists have been beset by difficulties related to events that have happened in border areas. As to the killings in the last three years, the State said that 60 percent of the alleged perpetrators were exonerated and 40 percent put on trial. According to the State, a letter of intention has been signed to establish a safety mechanism for journalists, in the framework of the United Nations Action Plan; draft legislation has been sent to the Chamber of Deputies on “Freedom of Expression and Protection of Journalists”; and a series of measures have been pursued by SICOM and CONATEL to address challenges related to the concentration of media ownership and to community radio stations. The IACHR noted the efforts made on this issue by the State of Paraguay, and urged it to create a mechanism for the protection of journalists and media workers. In addition, the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression stressed the need to redouble efforts to avoid media ownership concentration and implement measures to expand the broadcast spectrum to include community radio stations.

In the hearing on the “Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression in Ecuador,” the participating organizations reported that in 2016 “there have been a total of 460 attacks” on the exercise of freedom of expression and specifically on the work of the press in Ecuador. During the public hearing, the organizations said that the Communications Act—a law that has generated various statements of concern on the part of the United Nations human rights system and the Inter-American Commission—continues to be enforced selectively and arbitrarily, and that prior censorship continues through the imposition of content by various State authorities, affecting the right to reply and correction. They said that there continue to be reports of censorship of Internet content carried out by the National Secretariat of Communications; media outlets are still being closed and equipment seized; new insults and stigmatizing statements have been directed against specific journalistic targets; and those exercising the right to protest continue to be subject to physical attacks, incarceration, and repression, among other actions they claimed are affecting the exercise of freedom of expression in Ecuador. The organizations also reported continued misuse of the official media and said that media outlets are forced to run responses and air mandatory broadcasts (cadenas), in a context of an increasingly hostile and stigmatizing environment for journalists. They also reported Internet censorship, arbitrary suspension of accounts, and abuse of copyright laws to silence those who exercise their right to freedom of expression. During the hearing, the organizations underscored their concern regarding the draft Organic Law for the Protection of the Rights to Privacy of Personal Data currently being debated in the National Assembly, given that the bill apparently does not clearly define the scope of its application or make a distinction between citizens’ personal information and information that should be categorized as being in the public interest, among other possible situations. For its part, the State of Ecuador did not participate in this hearing and sent a communication to the IACHR explaining its reasons for not appearing. The Commission regretted the Ecuadorian State’s failure to appear at the hearing and expressed its concern regarding the current state of freedom of expression in Ecuador, which it has also expressed in press releases and in the annual report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

In the hearing on the “Situation of the Right to Freedom of Expression and Information in Venezuela,” the participating organizations indicated that there is a social and economic crisis going on in Venezuela and in that context, the media are neither pluralistic nor diverse, as media outlets that are independent of the government have been punished. They added that international and regional human rights organizations agree that the media’s freedom of expression is violated in Venezuela and that the State has not complied with these organizations’ recommendations. They also pointed to discrimination in the exercise of political rights; for example, the content of forms that people had filled out for the recall referendum was made public, which led to detentions of individuals who had favored the recall. The State indicated that there is complete freedom of expression in Venezuela, within a legal framework that adheres to all international standards. It added that there is ample exercise of transparency and access to public information, and denounced a campaign of vandalism of telecommunication structures by paramilitary groups, which has left entire areas in silence. The IACHR expressed its concern regarding the situation and insisted on the need to conduct a visit to the country.      

In the hearing “The Human Right to Housing in Venezuela,” the State discussed its housing and urban development policy—“Gran misión. Vivienda Venezuela” (“Grand Mission: Housing Venezuela”) and “Gran misión. Barrio nuevo tricolor” (“New Tricolor Neighborhood”). The State emphasized the success of the design of the new policy, saying that from 2009 to 2016 it led to a reduction in the number of unfit dwellings and the construction of 1,828,596 adequate ones, and that the goal is to build 3 million dwellings by 2019. The State said that it had made progress in urban development and the rehabilitation of housing. It reported on the financial investment that had been made from 2011 to 2016 to build decent housing for any family in need, and said that in 2010 it had enacted the largest housing construction program in the country’s history, granting people title to urban property and housing units. The State explained that the right to housing has been guaranteed without distinction, with priority given to families living in poverty, and showed a video and provided materials on the subject. Civil society presented information about three aspects of the right to housing: the lack of access to information about the housing policies and contradictions in the data regarding implementation; violations of the legal security of tenure inherent in the right to adequate housing; and violations of the right to housing resulting from the “Operation to Liberate the People,” a citizen security policy implemented in 2015. The organizations made recommendations to the IACHR in these areas and asked the State to make a commitment that there will be no reprisals against those who appeared or spoke out at the hearing, either in person or by video. The IACHR stressed the importance of the information presented regarding the progress made on the right to housing. It noted the importance of guaranteeing people’s economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly the right to housing, as well as the importance of the measures adopted in terms of the progressiveness and non-regression of these rights in the country, issues it will continue to study. The IACHR reiterated to the State the importance of ensuring that petitioners and victims can access the inter-American human rights system in an atmosphere free of reprisals and retaliation.

In the hearing “Human Rights Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Venezuela,” the Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones (“Venezuelan Prison Observatory”) offered some statistics on prison overcrowding and reported on deficiencies related to health and guarantees of judicial protection for those being held in pretrial custody. The State, for its part, reported on the creation of new prisons and the various health and education programs it is developing. The Commission requested more detailed information from the participants in the hearing and expressed the IACHR’s willingness to conduct an observation visit to Venezuelan prisons, if the State gives its consent.
In the hearing “Human Rights in the Context of the ‘Arco Minero del Orinoco’ Mining Project in Venezuela,” the participating organizations indicated that Decree 2248 published on February 24, 2016—creating a mining area called the Arco Minero del Orinoco—constitutes a violation of international standards and of the Constitution of Venezuela. Specifically, they reported that environmental and social impact studies were not performed and that there was no prior, free, and informed consultation. They also referred to the impact of the Arco Minero del Orinoco on the demarcation of lands and territories of indigenous peoples and communities, on the rights to freedom of assembly and peaceful association, and on labor rights. They also discussed the relationship between the Arco Minero del Orinoco and the government’s special powers. For its part, the Venezuelan State indicated that the project is not part of a pro-extraction policy but rather aims to have mining become the engine of the economy. The State invoked the principles of sovereignty and self-determination to apply sustainable models that ensure the necessary economic, political, and social conditions to fulfill human rights. It indicated that it has ensured that conditions are in place for the actors involved to participate. The IACHR requested more information regarding the consultations mentioned by the State. It also emphasized the importance of not allowing any type of reprisals against organizations that come before the IACHR, in order to safeguard their right to defend human rights.

In the hearing “Human Rights and the Peace Process in Colombia,” the participating organizations indicated that more than 60,000 people were made to disappear in Colombia between 1970 and November 2016. They said that this has not been met with a real, effective, and lasting response by the State to combat impunity, and that results have been lacking in terms of locating remains or identifying victims’ whereabouts or fate. The organizations said that the impunity rate for cases in the Office of the Attorney General is 99 percent and in the Public Prosecutor’s Office, 100 percent. They said that there are notable differences between the statistics taken from the National Registry of Disappeared Persons and those from other official registries, which poses a major obstacle to the design and implementation of actions to address this issue. They indicated that women and girls who are victims turn up showing signs of sexual violence and that there are approximately 18,000 victims in the “no information” category. The organizations are concerned that the Unit to Search for People Who Are Considered Disappeared, established in the final peace agreement, does not have constitutional standing and is not autonomous and independent. They said disappearances are being perpetuated in the border area with Venezuela, where the bodies are reportedly being left. The State, for its part, indicated that the homicide rate dropped from 80 to 24 per 100,000 inhabitants from the 1980s and ‘90s to 2015, and said that the agreements have led to a de-escalation of violence, with an average decrease in deaths of 98 percent. The State reported on its efforts to search for remains and return them with dignity. It indicated that the final peace agreement created a special, strictly humanitarian process to provide information to the parties, with the aim of expediting the search process. The Commission reiterated the importance of the signing and approval of the new peace agreement and the need for the State to ensure that it is implemented in line with international standards related to truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.

In the hearing “Gender Perspective in the Context of the Peace Process in Colombia,” the participating organizations spoke favorably about the peace process, particularly the inclusion of a gender perspective in the final agreement and the continuation of dialogue with the ELN, with the participation of citizens, as an important point in the agreement. They identified several challenges for the implementation of the gender aspects of the agreement. Such challenges include the need to incorporate the specific circumstances of women in the armed conflict into policies to address their needs and provide reparations; the reduced effectiveness of the participation of female lawyers representing victims and their difficulties in accessing measures to help victims overcome their victimization; and the fact that the recently approved budget has shown a trend toward declining public investment. The organizations are concerned that the government has not provided information about concrete measures to change the reality of inequality; they also expressed concern that the government’s focus on economic growth is incompatible with the focus on a decent life for people in rural areas. They indicated that female victims of sexual violence do not feel included in the government’s action plans and that there are still no guarantees for access to justice, truth, and non-repetition. The State, for its part, indicated that the participation of women was essential to achieve an inclusive agreement, and pointed to a series of measures of inclusion in which a gender perspective cuts across each point in the agreement. The State also talked about the agreements it has been adopting related to restitution of lands and said that the peace agreement sets in motion a major program for access to lands. It indicated that the agreements provide a roadmap, one that requires citizens to take ownership of the process of implementation, and said that women peasants and female heads of household are the priority in the process of implementing the agreement on access to lands. The Commission takes note of the observations made, in the context of its monitoring of the peace process, and reaffirms the importance of a gender perspective in all human rights measures and policies.      


In the hearing “Human Rights and Penal and Prison Reform in Bolivia,” the participants informed the IACHR about some of the main challenges that Bolivia is facing with regard to the functioning of its judiciary and its correctional system. They stated that only 0.52 percent of the whole national budget is allocated to the operations of judicial institutions in a broad sense, including the Ministry of Justice. The participants indicated that this situation has very specific implications in the judicial backlog, as well as in the living conditions of persons deprived of liberty, noting that the food budget for prisons amounts to only 8 Bolivian pesos per day (the equivalent of US$1.15) per inmate. They also stressed that the prison system as a whole has a housing capacity for only 5,400 inmates, when in fact it houses more than 15,500. The participants also denounced that, in imposing pretrial detention, prosecutors and criminal law judges do not take into consideration the specific situation of women who are pregnant or are mothers of small children or heads of households, and that correctional authorities are insensitive to the particular situation of LGBTI people, those living with HIV, and elderly people. They said the only productive activities inmates can access are provided by third parties such as nongovernmental organizations. For its part, the State acknowledged the budgetary allegations and stressed that 68.52 percent of all persons deprived of liberty have not yet been sentenced. The State also noted that important reforms have been implemented in the field of juvenile justice; access to education for persons deprived of liberty; and the reduction of the prison population by means of presidential amnesties and pardons. The members of the Commission present at the hearing stressed that the State has an international obligation to ensure the effective separation of men and women in custody and the proper classification of inmates. They also called on the State to allocate adequate financial resources to the operations of the judicial system and to use pretrial detention more sparingly, in line with international standards.


In the hearing on the “Situation of Justice Operators in El Salvador,” the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Fundación para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD) focused their presentation on the process of selection of judges and the functioning of the high courts, as well as on key challenges related to judicial independence in El Salvador. They reported that the current mechanism for selecting Supreme Court justices does not give preference to merit as the criterion for selection and that it is seriously lacking in aspects related to disclosure, transparency, and citizen participation. They expressed concern that this inadequate process will soon be applied to select those who will replace four of the five justices on the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, which has recently been the target of several attempts to restrict its independence. The State, for its part, expressed appreciation that the IACHR is promoting dialogue and urging reform on this issue. It also stressed that the way to have effective oversight over the selection of members of the high courts is through citizen participation. The IACHR commended the Constitutional Chamber’s decisions establishing standards for selecting high-court judges, including the need to analyze whether candidates are suitable and the need for the National Council of the Judiciary to provide its reasoning for the selection. The Commission also stressed the importance of ensuring that members of the high courts are replaced on a staggered basis to prevent control by the dominant political forces in a particular context.

In the hearing on the “Situation of Trade Union Rights in Mexico,” the participating union federations expressed concern regarding systematic violations of human rights in Mexico carried out by two means: 1) the continued use of “employer protection” collective contracts, which undermine the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and 2) the criminalization of social protest by bringing criminal charges against union leaders, to the extreme of incarcerating them in high-security prisons. The Mexican State called to mind a series of legislative reforms, including the 2012 labor reform which aimed to ensure transparency regarding the existence, actions, and management of union organizations so that workers are aware of whether there is a union within the company. The State also noted that last April, President Peña Nieto sent to Congress an initiative to amend the Constitution and the Federal Labor Law through reforms designed to modernize labor law to create legal certainty for workers and employers. The Commission noted the importance of the legislative reforms and said it is essential to put them into practice. It also emphasized the creation of the Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the importance of dialogue between the State and workers.

In the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of People Affected by Internal Displacement in Mexico,” the participating organizations reported that there is still an alarming level of displacement in Mexico, due to continuing acts of serious violence and natural disasters, among other causes. They reported that in 2016, there had been 25 large-scale episodes of displacement with an impact on more than 10,000 people, mainly in the states of Guerrero and Sinaloa. They claimed that public authorities are not adopting the measures necessary to prevent and address this problem; that the Victims Act, as written, did not include a focus on helping those affected by displacement; and that thousands of displaced people, primarily women and children, are forced to stay in shelters that are not equipped to provide comprehensive services. For its part, the State reported that the issue of displacement is very important and that a series of comprehensive strategies have been pursued, with a focus on human rights, to prevent the causes and consequences of displacement. The State said that a series of actions related to infrastructure, health, housing rehabilitation, security, and other matters are being implemented, and that the possibility of amending the Victims Act to address the situation of displaced people in Mexico is being studied. The Commission expressed its concern regarding the multidimensional impact on the human rights of people who are affected by a situation of displacement, and urged the State to strengthen its public policies designed to take a comprehensive approach to the situation.

In the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Yucatán, Mexico,” the IACHR heard from different members of indigenous communities from the Yucatán Peninsula who provided information on the alleged environmental damage caused by palm oil production activities, as well as the effects of absorption pits and the planting of genetically modified soybeans, among other problems related to the large-scale development of rural areas in the region. The participants expressed their concern regarding the destruction of biodiversity and the lack of access to and participation in development programs, for the practice of sustainable agriculture. The State, for its part, provided information on the steps it has reportedly taken to carry out a prior, free, and informed consultation with various communities on the Yucatán Peninsula. It also expressed the government’s willingness to engage in dialogue with the petitioners to find a way to incorporate their concerns and their participation in agricultural activities. The State recognized that the consultation on the planting of soybeans was not done before the fact, as the activities to plant and cultivate the crops began in the year 2000. However, the State indicated that is currently carrying out processes of consultation in keeping with inter-American human rights standards.

In the hearing on the “Situation of Human Rights and Forced Disappearance in Mexico,” civil society organizations expressed their concern with regard to pending institutional reforms, the process of drafting the General Law on Forced Disappearance and Disappearance by Private Individuals, the need for an autonomous Special Prosecutor’s Office on Disappearance, and the risks faced by relatives of the disappeared in the context of search brigades. The organizations said that the State’s challenge is to bring about effective prevention and the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible, as well as provide reparations to the victims. They asked the IACHR to monitor the situation, as it has with the follow-up mechanism in the Ayotzinapa case. The State recognized that forced disappearance in the country is a serious problem with major challenges, and laid out the steps it has taken to create the actions and mechanisms needed to strengthen the institutions dedicated to preventing, eradicating, and punishing forced disappearance. It expressed its commitment to establish structural measures to improve safety and justice. The IACHR welcomed the Mexican State’s acknowledgment that it has a serious problem regarding forced disappearance, as well as its commitment in this regard. It said that it applauds the legislative efforts being made, noted the State’s request with regard to the follow-up mechanism on the recommendations in the Ayotzinapa case, and underscored the opportunity to move forward on specific cases raised during the hearing.

In the hearing “Human Rights Education in Brazil,” the State indicated that it has been developing a series of initiatives to promote programs, guidelines, and actions related to education and human rights, in response to historical practices of racial discrimination, acts of homophobic aggression and intolerance of gender identity, and acts of bullying in the educational environment. These initiatives to foster tolerance and an inclusive culture of human rights include, among others, launching a national university pact for peace and human rights; showing films on human rights issues; and promoting National Guidelines on Human Rights Education. The participating civil society organizations, for their part, discussed the context of historical discrimination suffered by black people in Brazil and the patterns of social and educational inequality they continue to face. Even though a legal framework of protection exists, the black LGBT community faces double discrimination, they said. They also noted that progress on human rights education is slow and is rejected by a bloc in the legislature they described as conservative, racist, and phobic. The organizations repudiated the draft legislation on “School without Political Parties,” which is being promoted by social and political sectors the participants characterized as ultraconservative. The organizations said that the bill is an attack on freedom of expression and seeks to remove from the educational agenda the priority of combating discrimination and promoting tolerance of gender identity and diversity. Referring to this initiative, the State reported that the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office sent a statement to Congress arguing that the initiative is unconstitutional. The IACHR expressed its concern about legislative initiatives that could represent a setback on human rights, while welcoming the initiatives on education and human rights—issues the Commission said should be addressed comprehensively. The IACHR called on the State to redouble its efforts to develop campaigns to provide training in tolerance, inclusion, and non-discrimination, including for security forces and other public entities.  

In the hearing on Case 11.291, Carandirú Massacre with regard to Brazil—in which the IACHR issued a decision in 2000, in Report 34/00—the participating organizations spelled out a series of obstacles related to justice and comprehensive reparations for relatives of the victims and for surviving victims. As to comprehensive reparation measures, the organizations maintained that 24 years after the fact, the reparation process is slow and that half of the victims have received no compensation for the harm caused to them. They also maintained that the State has not complied with its obligation to conduct a complete, impartial, and effective investigation to identify and prosecute those responsible for the violations that were established in the conclusions of the IACHR’s Merits Report. They reported that, in contravention of domestic law, the Fourth Chamber of the São Paulo Court of Justice overturned the five cases by which 74 members of the military police had been convicted for their involvement in the massacre. They asked the IACHR to intervene to ensure that the recommendations issued in its Merits Report are implemented effectively and to establish that the State has incurred in a new violation of its international obligations. For its part, the State maintained that this is an emblematic case that lives on in the collective memory of Brazilian society, given that Brazilian prisons are in crisis and that situations of violence continue. The State also expressed its surprise at the decision by the Fourth Chamber of the São Paulo Court of Justice to overturn the convictions, while noting that in a federated system such as Brazil’s, the executive branch must respect the independence of powers. Nevertheless, it maintained that the government is developing a national plan to combat violence and improve safety in prisons and to carry out human rights training programs for judges. Finally, the State expressed a commitment to continue to observe and comply with the recommendations in the IACHR’s report, to transform the reality that unfortunately Brazil is still “ashamed of.” The IACHR expressed its deep concern regarding the court decision to overturn the convictions, which it said fosters impunity and could lead to new international responsibility. The IACHR thus urged the State to comply with the recommendations it issued, investigating, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible for the human rights violations, as well as to conduct a disciplinary investigation of those who want this massacre to remain in impunity. 

In the hearing “Human Rights and Legislative Reforms in Brazil,” the participating organizations reported that a proposed amendment to the Constitution (PEC 55/2016), which establishes a freeze on public spending over the next 20 years would, if approved, create a major crisis in the public education, health, and social security system, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable sectors. They also indicated that this serious setback in economic, social, and cultural rights is linked to a scenario in which civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression and association, are being violated. They pointed out that demonstrations and occupations of premises in protest of the proposed amendment were suppressed in a violent and disproportionate manner by law enforcement. The State, for its part, rejected the allegations of human rights violations and indicated that the proposed amendment, which involves highly technical issues related to fiscal matters, reflects the extreme politicization of the debate on any public policy. It also rejected the idea that the amendment violates the Constitution and international commitments. The State noted that in a Federal Supreme Court ruling that rejected a preliminary injunction (mandado de segurança) for PEC 55/2016, Judge Luis Roberto Barroso, known for his progressive positions, stated that Congress is the appropriate and legitimate body to discuss amendments to the Constitution. The IACHR expressed its concern regarding the impact the amendment measure could have on the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights, and reminded the State of its duty to ensure non-regression of those rights.

Organizations participating in the hearing on the “Right to Health and Lack of Medicine in the Americas” reported that the lack of access to medicine is one of the most serious problems affecting the enjoyment of the right to health, not only because it compromises the right to health and life but because it affects more than 2 billion people in the world. They reported that the region is facing problems that include a lack of research and development of medical technologies suitable for preventing, diagnosing, and treating most diseases prevalent in the countries; high prices of medicines, especially groundbreaking medicines; and obstacles to access to generic medicines. The organizations made a series of proposals to address the lack of necessary medicines in middle- and low-income countries: 1. Support the design of pharmaceutical innovation incentives that are not tied to patents and high monopoly prices; 2. Abolish pharmaceutical patents in middle- and low-income countries, for medicines necessary to health and life; 3. Until such time as the patents are abolished, ensure that all available legal instruments are used to counteract the negative effects of patents; and 4. Promote the legal notion that blocking access to generic drugs at affordable prices is a crime against humanity. The IACHR expressed its appreciation for the information provided and reiterated its commitment to keep working on economic, social, and cultural rights, with an emphasis on issues related to the right to health.

In the hearing on the “Situation of the Right to Health in Guatemala,” representatives of Guatemala’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman said that the public health system is suffering widespread collapse. They reported that 42 percent of the country’s population lacks access to public health services and that in those cases in which people do have access, they are forced to pay for the cost of medicines and medical supplies that should be the responsibility of the State. They pointed to the lack of a State public policy on health; the lack of an adequate budget; institutional instability (from 2012 to 2016 there were eight Ministers of Health, each with different visions); poor administrative and personnel management of health institutions; institutional corruption ranging from irregularities in the bidding process and purchase of medicines, equipment, and supplies to small-scale theft of these items; widespread shortages of medicines, supplies, and equipment, even the most basic items such as vaccines, injections, and cold medicines; the failure to pay providers; and health authorities’ failure to comply with court orders for relief (amparos) issued to protect fundamental rights of people affected by the lack of services. The State, for its part, recognized the crisis the public health system is going through in Guatemala, particularly the budget shortages, institutional instability, and corruption as factors that have a direct impact on this crisis. Regarding the situation that was described, the Commission reiterated that health must be understood not just as a service for which the State is responsible but as a human right in itself, widely recognized in international law. It also emphasized the need to adopt preventive medicine measures and to put into practice the right to health established in the National Constitution of Guatemala.

In the hearing on the “Right to Full Reparation for Victims of the Armed Conflict in Guatemala,” the participating organizations discussed the critical situation facing the National Reparations Program, which is manifested in the reduction of its budget and technical staff who can attend to victims, as well as the lack of continuity in the reparation process, which leads to re-victimization of victims. The organizations called on the State to approve Law 35-51, create a National Registry of Victims, appoint appropriate personnel, and budget sufficient resources for the National Reparations Plan. The State recognized that compensating victims of the conflict is still unfinished business in Guatemala, and reported that it has begun to take measures to restore the National Reparations Program. The State said it shared the victims’ concern for the prompt approval of Law 35-51 and the creation of the National Registry of Victims. Given this situation, the Commission urged the State to settle a debt with history, because a peace accord that has been in place for 20 years cannot remain only on paper.
In the hearing on the “Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Dominican Republic,” the participating civil society organizations expressed regret that the State did not participate, considering that this is the only space for exchange and dialogue in which civil society organizations can discuss their concerns with the State. They informed the Commission that in recent years, human rights defenders have faced continued harassment, public smear campaigns, and incitement to violence and hatred toward them, including toward those who are beneficiaries of precautionary and provisional measures. They denounced an increase in such attacks in the past year, including acts of physical violence that endanger their lives and personal integrity. They maintained that the dangers they face are exacerbated because the attacks, though reported, remain unpunished, and said that there have been no public expressions of support and recognition of the work they do from the State’s highest authorities. They described various cases involving attacks, killings, and disappearances of human rights defenders from 2009 to the present, especially of defenders who advocate for the rights of Haitian migrants and defend the nationality of their Dominican descendants. They asked the IACHR to encourage the State to hold a public act to recognize the work of human rights defenders; establish a national mechanism to protect human rights defenders and a protection program for witnesses and victims of human rights violations; and take steps to investigate the attacks on defenders to address impunity, as a measure of non-repetition. The IACHR regretted the State’s absence from the hearing, saying that this poses an obstacle to the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate to monitor human rights. It also regretted that the State had not responded to a request for information related to compliance with the recommendations made in the country report on the Dominican Republic published in 2015, and invited the State to provide the information requested. Finally, the IACHR reiterated what it stated in that report, in the sense that the State should take decisive steps to respond to the acts of violence and obstacles that undermine the work of human rights defenders in the Dominican Republic.    

In the hearing on “Human Rights and Statelessness in the Dominican Republic,” the participating organizations referred to the implementation of Law 169-14 (Naturalization Law), which was passed in the wake of Judgment 168-13 of the Constitutional Court, as well as other laws and practices. They noted that the court ruling had left thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless, that the law adopted to address the situation perpetuates the discrimination, and that its implementation has been flawed. They noted that the law divided those affected into two groups: Group A, those who were registered as having been born in the Dominican Republic, and Group B, those who were not registered. The treatment of people in the latter group is incompatible with the American Convention, the organizations said. They said the people who belong to Group B are entitled to Dominican nationality because they were born in the Dominican Republic; however, they are required to apply for registration in records of foreign births to be able to obtain residence and have the possibility of obtaining nationality after two years. The organizations stated that out of an estimated 100,000 people contemplated under the law, according to the National Office of Statistics, only 8,765 were registered; of these, only 4,500 applications had reportedly been accepted, with the rest not having received any response. They concluded, therefore, that the measures to mitigate the effects of the court judgment conflict with the recommendations of the IACHR and the case law of the Inter-American Court. They also referred to the need to create a process of dialogue with the State to discuss the situation and proposals to address it. The organizations indicated that the people affected by the judgment “are being treated as objects and not as subjects of rights.” The IACHR expressed its concern regarding the State’s absence from the hearing and called on the State to put in place a mechanism for dialogue that allows for a meeting of the minds to find a comprehensive solution. The IACHR also underscored the disproportionate effect that Judgment 168-13 has had on Dominican people of Haitian origin, which reflects a situation of structural discrimination. The IACHR made a series of recommendations in this regard in its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Dominican Republic, published in 2016, and is awaiting information concerning the state of compliance with those recommendations.

In the hearing on “Human Rights, the Secular State, and Women’s Morbidity and Mortality in the Americas,” participants said that the reason they wanted to appear at the hearing is to address the lack of secularism on the part of States. Even when States are constitutionally secular, they are influenced by anti-rights groups, the organizations said. This situation leads to violations of the right to life and to health for girls, adolescents, women, and LGBTIQ people. The participants expressed their concern about the gap between secularism and the influence of anti-rights groups or fundamentalist groups that hinder the enjoyment of rights. The Commission thanked the participants for requesting the hearing. It noted that nobody has the right to impose their own moral conceptions on others and recognized that the world is going through a state of regression because of the presence of certain intolerant groups.

In the hearing on “Torture, Institutional Violence, and Impunity in the Americas,” the participating organizations reported that the torture and institutional violence experienced by persons deprived of liberty are serious problems that continue to exist in most of the region. They reported that solitary confinement, humiliating body searches, overcrowding, onerous transfers, overpopulation, implementation of repressive social-control policies, and lack of adequate infrastructure, among other problems, are factors that contribute to the practice of torture, violence, and ill treatment against people in prisons. They added that cases of torture and acts of violence are not reported or are underreported; that prison authorities fail to cooperate when asked for information about these cases; that criminal investigations are not done with proper diligence and authorities have sometimes used the lack of convictions for crimes of torture as an argument to deny that such practices are systemic; and that people who claim they are victims of torture are not given proper and timely medical examinations, in line with the Istanbul Protocol, among other aspects that reinforce impunity in these types of situations. The IACHR thanked participants for the information they provided and reiterated its commitment to this issue, in the framework of the various mechanisms of the Inter-American Commission.

In the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation in the Context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the Americas,” the organizations expressed their concern regarding the protection the TPP gives to investors, through subjective provisions, over the decisions of States to implement public policies, including those related to the protection of human rights. They said that the TTP’s provisions prevent the region’s indigenous peoples from the full enjoyment of their right to prior, free, and informed consent regarding projects in their ancestral territories. The organizations also maintained that the treaty’s conflict-resolution provisions infringe on the right to an impartial trial and to due process in those States that join the treaty. Moreover, they indicated that the TPP’s provisions regarding intellectual property would have a negative impact on the right to health in the region, as they give higher priority to the protection of commercial patents than to the needs for treatment and prevention of diseases of the States’ public health agencies. The organizations urged the Commission to closely follow the connection between the signing of international trade agreements and their possible consequences for human rights. The Commission recognized the importance of discussing this and other regional agreements, to monitor their potential impact on human rights in the hemisphere.

In the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of Migrants in Nicaragua,” the participating organizations reported on the dire situation of migrants in transit through Nicaragua enroute to the United States, including migrants from Africa, Haiti, Cuba, and other countries. They referred specifically to the obstacles the migrants face when they cross Nicaragua’s southern border from Costa Rica. They indicated that in November 2015, 3,000 Cubans remained on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua and that when 1,917 of them tried to enter Nicaragua by crossing the border bridge, the government blocked their entry with a security operation consisting of an Army battalion and a special police force, using excessive force and tear gas. They also said that between 800 and 1,000 migrants—including children, pregnant women, and elderly people—are in an encampment on Costa Rica’s northern border, as they have been prohibited from traveling through Nicaraguan territory. This extremely vulnerable situation exposes them to diseases, crime, and human trafficking, the organizations said. They also documented the deaths of 10 Cuban migrants who drowned trying to cross Lake Nicaragua, as well as the detention on April 24, 2016, of more than 26 African migrants at a police outpost on the southern border; they had been hidden in a water tank truck and were deported immediately. Finally, the organizations denounced the fact that on September 20, 2016, a teacher was sentenced to three years in prison for providing humanitarian assistance to migrants in this situation, as well as the fact that authorities have failed to investigate cases involving excessive use of force against migrants by public security forces. The organizations requested that the IACHR ask the Member States of the Central American Integration System to consider the possibility of adopting a regional agreement to ensure a safe and humanitarian transit for migrants. The IACHR expressed deep concern regarding the State’s absence, noting that hearings provide a space to engage in dialogue and find comprehensive solutions to human rights challenges. The Commission also called to mind the States’ specific obligations with regard to migrants, the prohibition of mass expulsions and the need to respect the principle of non-refoulement.

In the hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of Women, Children, and Adolescents in Nicaragua,” the participating organizations referred to the lack of access to justice for women, girls, and female adolescents who are victims of sexual violence and who are not allowed to legally interrupt a pregnancy even when it results from sexual violence. The organizations also talked about the challenges faced by women human rights defenders, including the constant attempts to discredit them, the difficulties they have in participating in court hearings, smear campaigns in media outlets that are allied with the State, and direct threats to the buildings where women’s organizations are located. The IACHR regretted the State’s absence from the hearing and expressed concern about the alarming statistics presented by the organizations: 1,600 girls between 10 and 14 years of age give birth every year in Nicaragua; 8 percent of women in Nicaragua have been victims of rape; and an estimated 10,000 girls are victims of rape every year in Nicaragua. The Commission said that these numbers reveal a weakness in the State’s public policies, as well as the need to develop a comprehensive response to these problems.

Participants in the hearing “Situation of Political Rights in Nicaragua” informed the IACHR about the deterioration of conditions for the effective exercise of political rights in Nicaragua, in the context of the general elections held on November 6, and the effects of that situation on democratic institutions. They referred to events they said hampered the development of a competitive electoral race on a level playing field and also had an effect on political pluralism. They reported that Nicaragua has suffered a significant setback in its democratic institutions, through the adoption of various amendments to the Constitution and to election laws, which they said had unduly restricted Nicaraguan citizens’ ability to exercise their political rights. They referred to the constitutional amendment that allowed the President of the Republic to be reelected indefinitely. They indicated that all the institutions and powers of the State, as well as the vast majority of the communications media, had come under the absolute control of the government party, and that the National Police and the Army had become partisan institutions. The organizations also mentioned President Ortega’s decision to prohibit electoral observation in the most recent elections, and the June 8, 2016, judgment of the Supreme Court that removed the Partido Liberal Independiente’s legal representative and the candidates of the main opposition party. The organizations ended their presentation by indicating that the current government’s only purpose is to keep itself in power against the will of the majority, without ensuring the independence and transparency of the electoral body. The IACHR regretted the State’s failure to participate in the hearing and expressed its concern regarding the serious situation described by the organizations. The Commission also called to mind that the State has entered into an obligation to respect political rights and to take the necessary measures to guarantee that these rights can be freely exercised in Nicaragua.

On Friday, December 2, 2016, the IACHR held 8 working meetings on the matters P-850-15, Pueblo Ayoreo, Paraguay; Case 12.191, María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez, Peru; Case 12.905, Pablo Rafael Galván and other, P-118-12 Isabel Guzman, and Case 13.011, Graciela Ramos Rocha, all from Argentina; P-1159-08 and 1377-13 AN and Aurora, both from Costa Rica; and Case 12.789, Heriberto Chica and other from Honduras. During these meetings 5 minutes of understanding were signed for the impetus of the negotiations and implementation of friendly settlement agreements.

On Monday, December 5, the IACHR facilitated 10 working meetings in Case 12.376, Alba Lucia Rodríguez, Case 10.916, James Zapata, Case 11.990 Oscar Orlando Bueno Bonnet and Case 11.144, Gerson Jairzinho González Arroyo, all from Colombia; P946 / 12, César Antonio Peralta Wetzel and others, P687 / 12, GB and daughter GBB and Case 12.904, Aymara Chusmiza Usagama Community, all from Chile; P-735-07, Ismael Mondragón Molina, Mexico; P1224 / 07, David Rabinovich, Uruguay; and Cases 12,487, Rafael Cuesta Caputi and 12,625, Marco Javier Zambrano and José Rada, both from Ecuador. Within the framework of these meetings, 2 minutes of understanding were signed for the implementation of friendly settlement agreements and recommendations of the IACHR. In addition, the parties in case 11.144 Gerson Jairzinho Gonzalez signed a friendly settlement agreement. The IACHR takes this opportunity to welcome the willingness of the parties to engage in dialogue and resolve the issue outside the contentious path.

On Wednesday, December 7, the IACHR facilitated 2 working meetings in Case 12.934, Frank Guelfi and 12,552, Rita Wald, both of Panama. At these meetings, the IACHR facilitated the dialogues between the parties to encourage the negotiation of a friendly settlement in the first mater, and compliance with a friendly settlement agreement in the latter.

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. 183A/16