Press Release

Annex to Press Release 220/18: Summaries of Hearings
169th Period of Sessions in Boulder, Colorado

October 19, 2018

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Boulder, Colorado—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 169th Period of Sessions between September 30 and October 5, 2018, in Boulder, Colorado, at the invitation of the University of Colorado. Holding the sessions at a venue other than its headquarters is a way for the IACHR to bring its mechanisms for defending, protecting, and promoting human rights closer to the victims and people it serves, raise the organization’s public profile in the region, and further democratize access to the Inter-American Human Rights System. The IACHR wishes to thank the University of Colorado for the invitation to hold the sessions on its campus and for helping to make all the scheduled activities a reality. Collaboration with academic institutions is one of the programs that form part of the IACHR’s Strategic Plan, and holding this period of sessions at the University of Colorado Law School reinforced this collaboration strategy.

The rest of this document contains summaries of the public hearings in the chronological order in which they were held.

Citizen Security and Reports of the Irregular Use of Police Forces in Natural Resource Exploration and Mining Activities In Peru

The organization that requested the hearing argued that Peru’s public security forces have been privatized through conventions that favor the interests of extractive companies to the detriment of the Peruvian people’s human rights. It also maintained that mining projects have generated social conflict over environmental issues and that to protect companies, the state has begun signing agreements that undermine the constitutional roles of both the police and the armed forces. It also condemned actions by both of these groups that have led to patterns of human rights violations. The delegation from the state of Peru discussed the legal framework that governs these special agreements and maintained that there had been no privatization of public forces, as the agents in question do not provide private security services to the companies. It added that there is no labor relationship or form of dependence between police officers and the company in question and that the aim of the agreement is to maintain domestic public order and citizen safety. The IACHR expressed concern over the existence of decrees that allow companies to be offered private security services in extraordinary circumstances. Under Peru’s constitution, the specific role of the police force is to guarantee internal order within the country. The IACHR also stressed that this was a recurring problem that is affecting sustainable development and expressed concern about the impact it is having on police officers’ labor rights.

The Serious Health Problems Experienced by Peruvian Miners and State and Corporate Responsibility

The organizations that requested the hearing expressed their concern over the health of mining workers and other groups and gave examples of various such cases, including the population of La Oroya (Junín), where there have been reports of children being affected by high blood lead levels. They also emphasized the lack of monitoring and oversight on the part of the state to protect the health of this particular group of people. In their response, the delegation from the state of Peru highlighted the regulations that are currently in force in the country regarding calls to tender for health projects in the mining sector, which are implemented through the Ministry of Labor, and the national and regional bodies that adapt and monitor these norms. The IACHR mentioned the importance of raising the visibility of this type of problem and said that governments, the civilian population, and international organizations are responsible for monitoring the sustainable development goals, especially goal 3.9, which seeks to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses caused by hazardous chemicals by 2030.

The Judicial Corruption Crisis in Peru and Its Impact on Human Rights and Freedom of Expression

Civil society representatives alleged that serious corruption is widespread in the Peruvian judiciary and that this mainly affects rights relating to legal guarantees and protection; access to an independent, impartial, and effective form of justice; the freedom of the press; and journalists’ freedom of expression. Specifically, the representatives argued that although the network of corruption they alluded to centers on the judiciary, other political agents were also involved in connection with the political and personal interests of the legal officials in question. The delegation from the state of Peru expressed its concern over the crisis and stated that the office of the president has implemented a reform process to combat corruption within the judiciary as a whole. Finally, the IACHR acknowledged and valued the state’s attempt to confront this crisis and requested specific information on the measures that were being taken to protect the press and guarantee that it would be able to continue its work reporting on these circumstances, given the risks they entail. The IACHR also requested that the state take concrete measures to ensure that investigations can proceed unhindered and that all officials involved in the corruption network will be appropriately sanctioned.

The Process of Searching for People Who Disappeared During the Armed Conflict in El Salvador

The organizations that requested the hearing expressed various concerns regarding the searches for adult victims of forced disappearances during the internal armed conflict in El Salvador, such as the fact that the public body in charge of these searches (CONABUSQUEDA) does not operate transparently, that it was created through a presidential decree and not by law, which limits its powers and the funding available to it, and that its budget is insufficient. They added that CONABUSQUEDA must establish criteria for prioritizing cases as some victims are ill and others are dying and have yet to discover the truth of what happened. The organizations also expressed concern over the risk of setbacks at the Legislative Assembly following the creation of an ad hoc commission whose members include individuals with a history of involvement in the very human rights violations that the commission is supposed to be investigating. They also reported that the state has systematically denied them access and relevant information and that, despite the creation of a special unit at the attorney general’s office to investigate crimes committed during El Salvador’s internal armed conflict, no cases regarding disappeared adults have yet gone to trial in the country. The organizations further stated that Salvadoran law needs to be adapted as despite forced disappearance being classified as a statutory offense in the country, the definition used has been called into question as it does not comply with international standards. The delegation from the state of El Salvador noted the progress that had been made on locating missing children; the work that CONABUSQUEDA has carried out, including the creation of databases and technical cooperation; the process of habeas corpus as the ideal mechanism for dealing with cases of forced disappearance; and the signing of the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons, the ratification of which is pending. The IACHR expressed concern about the lack of legislation governing CONABUSQUEDA, the creation of the ad hoc commission within the Legislative Assembly, and the lack of access to information regarding files in military possession.

The Rights of People with Disabilities in El Salvador

The organizations that requested the hearing argued that there are de jure and de facto barriers to people with disabilities are fully enjoying their human rights. They drew particular attention to the overlapping forms of discrimination suffered by girls and women with disabilities in El Salvador. The organizations requested that the state recognize people with disabilities as having full legal capacity; that it opt to provide a support system; that it include the explicit prohibition of discrimination against people with disabilities in the constitution; and that it conduct a comprehensive review of domestic legislation to bring it in line with international standards for the protection of the rights of people with disabilities. The delegation from the state of El Salvador expressed its commitment to working with a human rights approach that contemplates the rights of persons with disabilities. They stressed that various domestic regulations have made it possible for 198 people with disabilities to find employment and for 2700 children and adolescents to be included in the education system through the creation of 30 special schools. The delegation invited civil society groups to continue working with the state to create public policies for people with disabilities. Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren stressed that people with disabilities suffer discrimination at the hands of the state, society, and even their families, so overcoming these traditional discriminatory practices will entail a major effort.

Protecting Defenders of the Human Rights of Women, LGBTI People, and Children in El Salvador

The organizations that requested the hearing described the context of violence that human rights defenders face in El Salvador, especially those that defend women, LGBTI people, and children. These negative experiences include stigmatization, aggression, defamation, and slander targeting both the defenders and their families, and violence in relation to the causes they defend. Despite this context, El Salvador does not have a legal framework to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders and their families. The delegation from the state of El Salvador acknowledged the work of human rights defenders and emphasized that rather than preventing or hindering this work, state policy seeks to recognize this. It drew attention to the law to protect victims and witnesses during criminal proceedings, which also serves as a legal framework to protect human rights defenders from violence and violations of their rights. The IACHR commissioners stressed that the work of human rights defenders plays an essential part in building rule of law and underlined that, in addition to changes to criminal law, other comprehensive measures must be taken to foster a culture of respect for human rights and prevent violations. Finally, the IACHR offered the state of El Salvador its technical opinion on the proposed law to acknowledge and protect human rights defenders to ensure that it is in line with inter-American standards on the matter.

Reports of Grave Human Rights Violations in the Disappearance of Social and Peasant Leaders in Guatemala

The party that requested the hearing began its remarks by mentioning the record of serious human rights violations against social leaders and peasants in Guatemala dating back to the time of the armed conflict in the country, including cases of forced disappearance. They reported that the peasant worker community and their leaders still fall victim to attacks that perpetuate systematic patterns of repression to disrupt social movements. They also stated that 21 peasant leaders have been killed so far this year. They asked the IACHR to pay an “urgent visit” to the country to verify these claims. The delegation from the state of Guatemala argued that “it makes no sense to reopen past wounds” but assured those present that it is open to dialogue on the problems that the peasant worker community is currently facing. Following these statements, the IACHR commissioners emphatically expressed that the violations being reported by those who requested the hearing are not “past wounds” and will remain part of the present until those responsible for them are convicted. The IACHR highlighted the importance of strengthening the institutional framework in Guatemala to guarantee protection of the fundamental rights of workers and peasants and asked the state to report on the investigations into crimes that have been committed since 2011.

The Rights of Indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya Families Affected by Forced Evictions in Guatemala

The Maya Q’eqchi’ people have lived on their lands since time immemorial, yet throughout history, their communities have faced grave difficulties in achieving recognition of this and obtaining land titles, which has led to the eviction and displacement of some communities and uncertainty over the future of others. The organizations that requested the hearing listed some such human rights violations, including burning crops; criminalizing leaders; stripping women of their traditional clothing; hindering the celebration of Mayan rites around ancestral lands; and children’s lack of access to schools. The delegation from the state of Guatemala mentioned that these violations were carried out by previous governments and that the current government is complying with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR and the recommendations of the United Nations, including training officials from the attorney general’s office to avoid the persecution of indigenous leaders, and returning properties that had been confiscated by drug traffickers to their original owners. The state delegation argued that compliance with such measures requires time and that the lack of cooperation from indigenous communities has hampered their work. The IACHR stressed how serious and large-scale the problem is, as was verified during its in loco visit to Guatemala from July 31 to August 4, 2017, and also mentioned how vulnerable displaced people are and how long this situation has persisted in the country.

Reports on the Criminalization of Social Activists and Journalists in Cuba

The organizations that requested the hearing stated that freedom of expression in Cuba is fragile and that the work of journalists and human rights activists continues to face criminalization. They argued that journalists are victim to arbitrary arrests, pressure, threats, and restrictions on their freedom of movement. They also alleged that the government applies domestic law to silence independent journalists and that this manipulation of the Criminal Code attempts to criminalize their work by labeling it as resistance or antirevolutionary behavior. They argued that journalists are arrested, interrogated, and held without regard for human rights standards and further argued that persons deprived of their freedom are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and threats. The IACHR reiterated its concern over the circumstances described by the organizations that requested the hearing and expressed its regret that representatives from the state of Cuba had not attended the hearings, which meant that an opportunity for dialogue had been lost. The IACHR ended the session by calling for the rights of all people to be respected and asking the state of Cuba to refrain from taking any kind of reprisals against those who had volunteered information at the hearing.

Gender Equality, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Reports of the Forced Sterilization of Women in Peru

The organizations that requested the hearing argued that the women who were victims of forced sterilizations carried out as part of the public health policies promoted during Alberto Fujimori’s government have not obtained access to justice or reparation and have been revictimized during the process of seeking these. During the hearing, the organizations stated that the Peruvian attorney general’s office had not yet made their complaint against Alberto Fujimori and his former ministers official. They also stated that current support policies for victims of forced sterilization in Peru have been ineffective and have fallen short of guaranteeing victims’ rights. The delegation from the state of Peru said that it was committed to providing victims with fair reparation. It informed those present at the hearing that a special panel would be implemented to address the issue and also stated that the accusations against Alberto Fujimori and his government’s health ministers were in the process of being made official at the time of the hearing. The state representatives also said that Peru’s implementation of its sexual and reproductive health and family planning policies was being modified, including aspects relating to intercultural issues and free, prior, and informed consent. The IACHR stressed that some victims have been waiting for more than 15 years for justice over forced sterilization. It also stated that what took place in Peru was patently a misogynist, discriminatory practice that targeted vulnerable women.

Guarantees Around the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Workers in Bolivia

Civil society representatives highlighted the weakness of the Bolivian judiciary and the lack of participation of civil society in the reform of this, as they were prevented from participating in the Commission for the Implementation of the Conclusions from the Judicial Summit. They also claimed that the country’s legal system is currently going through one of its greatest ever crises. This is due to the judiciary’s lack of institutionality and the passing of infraconstitutional standards that damage the constitution itself. As evidence for these two problems, they mentioned the fact that today only 13% of Bolivia’s judges are career judges, while the rest only hold temporary positions. The delegation from the state of Bolivia argued that the guiding principles of the Judicial Summit had been access to justice and social participation. However, it was decided that an interinstitutional approach was necessary to implement the resulting recommendations. The delegation also requested that the commission’s public policy work not be confused with the administration of justice. It said that the necessary steps are being taken to implement judicial careers for justice officials and those working at the attorney general’s office. In response, the IACHR requested additional information on Bolivia’s judicial career system and expressed concern over the scarcity of career judges and the provisional nature of the system, and the effect this has on judicial independence. The IACHR also requested information on the process of removing judges from office and the steps being taken to promote a law on access to public information.

Allegations of Harassment and Violence Against Female Social Leaders in Bolivia

The organizations that requested the hearing stated that female leaders continue to fall victim to criminal actions and political violence in Bolivia. These circumstances and the conditions in which women can participate in political spaces are a source of serious concern as only a low percentage of the violent situations that politically engaged women face lead to official complaints or reports. Although there are policy frameworks to safeguard women’s involvement in politics, these laws have not been adequately implemented for various reasons, which include temporary, economic, and administrative factors as well as the persistence of gender stereotypes within the police force. They made specific mention of the matter of town councilor Juana Quispe, whose case reflects many of the structural flaws that continue to plague state institutions and regulations. The delegation from the state of Bolivia responded by arguing that it has put mechanisms in place to protect women and has passed laws that guarantee their right to a life free from violence. It also stressed that the passing of the Political Constitution has led to women playing a greater role in political life in Bolivia. The IACHR argued that Bolivia has played a pioneering role in promoting women’s participation in politics, noting that it has achieved gender parity in various instances of political representation. It drew attention to the passing of the law against harassment and political violence, but recommended strengthening the implementation of this with a view to eradicating political violence against women and guaranteeing their ability to fully exercise political rights without discrimination.

Allegations of Violence and Repression During Protests in Nicaragua

The parties that requested the hearing noted that Nicaragua is in the midst of a serious human rights crisis. The state has responded to those who have exercised their right to social protest using violence and repression. This repression has gradually escalated, so much so that these social protests are now being criminalized and classified as illegal and those who organize and take part in them are being threatened with prosecution, as was announced in recent police communiqué. These circumstances are what prompted the organizations to report on how the grave human rights crisis in Nicaragua is developing. They emphasized the violence of the government’s response to human rights defenders, journalists, demonstrators, independent media, and the general public. They also commented on how freedom of expression and the freedom of the press were being seriously violated through a policy of terror that includes threats, aggression, intimidation, attacks, theft, persecution, surveillance, the destruction and censorship of media, and deportation. They delegated that simply engaging in journalism in Nicaragua is being treated as a crime by the current regime. They also pointed out that President Ortega’s family controls almost 70% of the media in the country and that there is no access to official sources of information. They asked the IACHR to continue making public statements on the extreme vulnerability of journalists and human rights defenders in Nicaragua; to coordinate a protocol for the effective implementation of precautionary measures with the Nicaraguan government; and to include Nicaragua in Chapter IV of its next annual report. The IACHR expressed its regret over the absence of an official delegation from the state of Nicaragua from the hearing. It then stated that the presence of the MESENI in Nicaragua, which is part of the process of complying with the recommendations in the country report, does not prevent the IACHR from exercising its powers or mandates, which include public hearings. The IACHR also expressed its regret over Nicaragua’s absence from other public hearings over the last three years. It finished by calling on the state to refrain from taking reprisals against those who requested the hearing and members of civil society who file similar complaints at public hearings.

The Current State of Affairs for Human Rights Defenders in Nicaragua: Allegations of Arbitrary Detention and Lack of Access to Justice

The organizations that requested the hearing presented the IACHR with information on the human rights violations that have been taking place in response to the social protests in Nicaragua that began in April 2018. Specifically, the organizations reported on the escalating violence that is currently being faced by human rights defenders. According to the organizations, more than 400 people have been deprived of their freedom to date in response to these protests and at least 1900 people have been arrested. Since June there has been an increase in the numbers of arbitrary detentions and the undue use of criminal law, particularly against demonstrators and movement leaders. Defamation campaigns are also on the rise. These take the form of lists of individuals who are supposedly planning to stage a coup, lists of terrorists, unfounded accusations of crimes, or the publication of personal data. The civil society organizations observed that some human rights defenders have had to decide to relocate within the country or to leave it altogether due to the constant attacks and threats against them and their families. The IACHR expressed its regret over the absence of an official delegation from the state of Nicaragua at the hearing, as by not attending the state is failing not only to comply with its international obligations but also to respect civil society organizations. The IACHR reiterated its ongoing commitment to using all available mechanisms to address the situation in Nicaragua, work with Nicaraguan civil society organizations to put an end to the violence in the country, and continue to monitor the recommendations it made in its report through MESENI. It ended by congratulating the organizations that took part in the hearing for their courage.

Safeguarding Children’s Rights in Colombia’s 102 Indigenous Communities

The organization that requested the hearing stated that the human rights situation of Colombian indigenous children is very serious and is exacerbated by the vulnerability in which most such children live, which entails extreme poverty, social exclusion, structural racism, and an absence of effective state mechanisms to guarantee their rights. It expressed particular concern over child malnutrition, teenage suicide, lack of access to health and education services, sexual violence, and teenage pregnancy and motherhood, among other risk factors. The delegation from the state of Colombia claimed that protecting indigenous children’s rights is one of its priorities. It expressed its willingness to create spaces for direct dialogue with indigenous communities and mentioned that the state has implemented various initiatives to promote the physical and cultural survival of the country’s 102 indigenous peoples, mostly in the areas of health and education. The IACHR then stated that it is particularly concerned regarding the indigenous girls who are victims of sexual violence and exploitation; teenage suicide; and the death of 28 children from the Wayúu Community so far this year, which has been granted IACHR precautionary measures since December 2015. The IACHR requested further information on the issues raised and stressed the importance of establishing a system to address such shortcomings and protect children’s rights in order to ensure that they can develop fully. It ended by offering guidance in relation to the report that it has recently published on this matter.

Safeguarding Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Association, and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly for Trade Union Organizations in the Americas

The organizations that requested the hearing, part of the Trade Union Delegation of the Americas, reported on multiple cases of violations of the human rights to freedom of expression, association, and protest. The applicants painted a bleak picture of the situation that demonstrators and workers are currently facing: in addition to intimidation and threats, union leaders in several Latin American countries have been killed. They blamed the different state authorities for perpetrating these crimes and subjecting victims to humiliation. The delegation also pointed out that these actions contravene international standards and asked the IACHR to keep a watchful eye on the situation in the Americas and to work to support trade union organizations. In response, the IACHR stressed the importance of working on the ground to document and record human rights violations that can then contribute to protocols that will allow these violations to be categorized as disproportionate use of force and be addressed. The IACHR also pointed out that it is seeking to strengthen its mandate through alliances with the academic sector to confront these attacks and human rights violations.

Violations of the Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights of LGBTI People in the Region

The organizations that requested the hearing presented information that was gathered during the process of drafting their latest report, “Waiting for Death,” which documents cases of violence and discrimination against trans people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The organizations in question reported on the discrimination and social exclusion they suffer in various areas of their lives, including in relation to the exercise of their economic, social, and cultural rights. They also expressed their concern over acts of hatred and violence, death threats, and stereotyping on the part of fundamentalist groups in the region, and over the continued violation of their right to identity and legal recognition. The IACHR acknowledged the struggle that LGBTI organizations in the region are engaged in and recognized that the right to identity is an essential right without which all other rights are compromised. The IACHR mentioned that it is drafting a special report on the economic, social, and cultural rights of trans people in the region, which it said would benefit greatly from the information and inputs presented at the hearing.

The Rights of People Who Have Been Subject to Forced Internal Displacement in Honduras

The organization that requested the hearing stated that the violence that is causing forced internal displacement in Honduras is directly related to common organized crime, which the state is complicit in. It insisted that the state is obliged to assess and monitor the situation, and argued for the need for legislation to control firearms. The delegation from Honduras described a series of measures, institutions, and projects it has promoted since officially acknowledging the issue in 2013. It also discussed its intention to publish a report on the issue by the end of 2018 and drew attention to the reform of the Criminal Code that is slated for 2019 and which aims to include forced displacement among crimes against life. The IACHR expressed its unease over the limited economic resources that have been pledged at the national and regional levels to respond to internally displaced people’s needs for protection. It also voiced concern over the measures being taken to guarantee that various vulnerable groups can enjoy their human rights.

The Current Status of People Who Have Been Criminalized and Deprived of Their Freedom During the Postelectoral Conflict in Honduras

The organizations that requested the hearing stated that massive protests were triggered by the results of the presidential elections of November 26, 2017. These protests were repressed by state agents through the excessive use of force. They claimed that these events had led to 1,396 arrests, and that 13 people are still being deprived of their freedom. Eleven of these individuals are allegedly being held in maximum security prisons, which allegedly uses a solitary confinement regime that does not comply with international standards on this matter, as well as torture and ill-treatment. They expressed their concern that criminal law would be used to subdue political dissidents and social leaders without due process. The delegation from Honduras reported that a political dialogue has begun under the auspices of the United Nations with the support of Spain, and that it seeks to reach solutions to the postelectoral conflict. It also added that all people deprived of their freedom are given legal guarantees. The IACHR acknowledged the efforts being made to establish working groups for national dialogue and expressed its commitment to continuing to monitor the protection of the rights of people who are deprived of their freedom.

Allegations over the Criminalization of the Assertion of Indigenous Jurisdiction in Ecuador

The organizations that requested the hearing stated that Ecuador recognizes collective rights and indigenous law, but despite this, indigenous people still face discrimination and persecution when exercising their constitutional rights. They argued that indigenous law is based not on sanctions but on harmony and that it seeks complementarity, duality, reciprocity, and balance. The organizations noted that over the last decade there have been cases of judges being sanctioned for having declined jurisdiction and respecting the provisions set forth in indigenous law, which affects judicial independence in Ecuador and constitutes the criminalization of the exercise of a constitutional right. They also requested that the IACHR visit Ecuador and draft a report on the situation. The IACHR praised the fact that indigenous law is recognized in Ecuador’s constitution and stated that judges must observe the pro-indigenous principle when ruling on their cases. It also pointed out that the Criminal Code does not establish any offense that criminalizes indigenous authorities. The IACHR stressed how important the constitution’s recognition of multiculturalism and pluriculturalism is for the population of Ecuador and called on the state to analyze how best to assess the claims made by the civil society organizations in question.

The Current Status of Disappeared People in Ecuador and the Rights to Truth and Justice

The organizations that requested the hearing stated that although the crime of forced disappearance is defined as a statutory offense in the Criminal Code, involuntary disappearance is not, nor does the code contain any provisions that would allow a criminal investigation to be initiated following reports on such events. Consequently, a nonspecialist administrative body is responsible for filing such reports. Given that this body lacks a regulatory framework, it does not meet the requirements that would allow it to be considered a suitable, effective mechanism for guaranteeing victims’ right to access to justice. They added that there are specialist administrative units in just two of the country’s 24 provinces and the permanent rotation of district attorneys prevents ongoing lines of investigation and hinders progress. The organizations also discussed problems such as the attorney general’s office’s tendency to file disappearance cases when small procedural obstacles arise, after which it takes months or years for cases to be reopened; a lack of adequate expertise or techniques during investigations, which sometimes leads to important evidence becoming inadmissible or being lost; investigation proceedings that victimize family members again; and a lack of appropriate procedures for systematizing cases and unifying statistics. The organizations asked the IACHR to recommend that the state standardize its investigative standards and bring these in line with international protection systems; provide psychosocial assistance and support for victims’ families; guarantee judicial protection in cases of forced disappearances at public health centers; and to define involuntary disappearance as a statutory offense in criminal law. The representative of the state of Ecuador reported on a series of actions it had taken to address these cases, including creating a digital database of missing persons; efforts to clean up and correct inconsistent information; statistical analysis work; online technological tools that form part of a transparency policy; and the creation of special investigation units and offices, along with protocols for providing priority attention and legal and psychological assistance to the families of missing people. The IACHR voiced its doubts over how successful the database in question had been and called on the state of Ecuador to commit to finding solutions to these disappearances. It also committed to continuing to monitor the situation.

Allegations of Killings, Threats, and Forced Displacement of People Defending the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples and People of African Descent in Colombia

The organizations that requested the hearing expressed their concern over the killing of social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia. Specifically, the organizations alleged that the protection the government provides these individuals and the indigenous peoples that they belong to is fragile at best. They placed particular emphasis on the threats against and murders of leaders of Colombia Humana [Human Colombia] and the Alternative Indigenous and Social Movement (Mais). The delegation from the state of Colombia drew attention to the ongoing investigations and the protection measures that are in place in favor of social leaders, and the regulations, projects, and proposals that the current government plans to implement to solve the situation. The IACHR expressed concern over the fact that human rights defenders continue to be killed in Colombia, especially those belonging to indigenous peoples and whose main activity is protecting areas of land. It ended by stressing that certain forms of protection are not always suitable or sufficient for certain territories.

Allegations of Violations of the Rights of Afro-Colombian Communities Affected by the Armed Conflict in Colombia

The organizations that requested the hearing raised the issue of the humanitarian crisis being faced by Afro-Colombian communities in some of the country’s largest cities. These groups are victims of the armed conflict in the country and have historically been excluded from society. They discussed the state of Colombia’s lack of diligence in complying with its obligations, especially with regard to the orders issued by the Constitutional Court in favor of the Afro-Colombian community. They underlined the structural nature and ethnoracial aspect of forced displacement, the systematic violence against the community’s leaders, the predicament that children and adolescents are in, and the disproportionate effect these issues have on Afro-Colombian women. The delegation from the state of Colombia presented the measures that have been implemented to support Afro-Colombian communities and acknowledged that these have been affected in multiple ways by the violence in the country. It also emphasized the progress that had been made on recognizing and protecting Afro-Colombian communities and the protection measures toward children. The delegation also alluded to the ethnic route for protecting territories, the drafting of collective reparation plans, and the creation of an observatory to monitor racial discrimination. The IACHR questioned the state about the measures it was taking around forced displacement and collective reparation measures with a gender focus. It then underlined the importance of investigations into the murder of leaders and acting with due diligence in this regard, and insisted that measures be taken around justice, truth, reparation, and guarantees of nonrepetition as part of the peace process.

The Use of Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) and the Violation of the Human Rights of Communities and Defenders of Environmental and Land Rights in the Americas

The organizations that requested the hearing gave scientific explanations of hydraulic fracturing and its current and potential impact on human rights and the environment. Specifically, they noted that it required large volumes of water and large quantities of gases and other materials which companies do not provide clear, sufficient information on, making it hard to establish what the impacts of these processes will be and mitigate any ensuing risks. Among the consequences of the technique that they listed were: increased greenhouse gas emissions; greater violence against women and social activists; groundwater pollution; gastrointestinal, respiratory, skin, and hormonal problems; disruptions to the reproductive system; diabetes; some types of cancer; and psychological damage. The IACHR asked whether it was possible to make hydraulic fracturing compatible with protecting the environment and human rights and asked the organizations to provide as much documentation on the issue as possible, including evidence of human rights violations and disaggregated data that would make it possible to analyze the prevention principle. The IACHR also explained how important it was to have information that contains comparative perspectives in order to establish standards on water, sanitation, food, and the right to health.

The Political Crisis in Venezuela and Its Impacts on the Elderly and the LGBTI Community

The organizations that requested the hearing claimed that Venezuela is not taking the accelerated aging of its population into account in its plans nor is it tackling the critical circumstances that Venezuelan families are living in. They described current shortages of food and medicines and argued that measures need to be taken to address these difficulties. The current level of pensions is equal to the minimum wage but falls short of covering the basic basket of goods. There are insufficient care facilities for the elderly and those that do exist do not comply with basic standards. The delegation from the state of Venezuela declared that different steps have been taken to recognize the rights of the elderly. The elderly are protected by the constitution, which ties their pensions to the minimum wage. Women are eligible for pensions at the age of 55 and men at 60. The Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights, Soledad García Muñoz, requested more information on the Venezuelan pension scheme which, according to official information, 100% of old age pensioners are eligible for. She also reiterated the IACHR’s interest in visiting Venezuela and providing technical assistance in response to the complex circumstances that the country is currently experiencing. The delegation that intended to report on the effects of the crisis on the LGBTI community was unable to attend the hearing, allegedly because it lacked the resources to travel to the venue.

The Current Status of People Who Have Been Criminalized and Deprived of Freedom during the Political Crisis in Venezuela (ex officio)

The organizations that requested the hearing expressed particular concern about the current predicament of people who are deprived of their freedom at penitentiaries and in police detention centers that are being used as permanent prisons. They observed that the conditions that these people are being detained in would not meet the corresponding international standards. Given the judiciary’s alleged lack of autonomy and independence, they demanded that the numbers of civilians that have been tried in military courts be made public, that political prisoners be released, and that there be an end to the criminalization of human rights defenders through undue use of criminal law. The delegation from the state of Venezuela described the transformation of the country’s penitentiary system, which it said had enabled state authorities to regain control of penitentiary facilities and to strengthen respect and guarantees for prisoners’ human rights. Likewise, the state of Venezuela acknowledged the extended use of pretrial detention centers as a challenge that needed to be addressed. IACHR expressed its concern over the current circumstances in which people who are deprived of their freedom are living and over the lack of independent mechanisms, be they domestic or international, for monitoring the conditions in which they are being held. As a consequence, the IACHR urged the state to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture.

The Humanitarian Emergency and Social Control Mechanisms in Venezuela

The organizations that requested the hearing presented statistical data to illustrate the grave economic crisis that Venezuela is currently experiencing. They stated that the average income in the country falls short of covering the basic basket of goods, that the number of households living in extreme poverty has increased, and that there is no access to medicine, among other factors that are seriously affecting the lives of Venezuelans. They added that the subsidy system works through the so-called carnet de la patria, an identity card system that does not provide adequate protection for individuals’ privacy and is also used in a discriminatory manner for political purposes and as a means of social control. They condemned the effects these circumstances were having on human rights, the consolidation of authoritarianism in the country, and the growing use of repression. The delegation from the state of Venezuela argued that the causes underlying the crisis and the human rights situation in the country needed to be analyzed, with a particular focus on the economic aggression and coercive measures applied by the United States toward the country. They argued that the state has sufficient resources to meet the population’s needs but cannot distributed them because of these measures. The IACHR requested that the state of Venezuela consent to the Rapporteurship on the Rights of the Child visiting the country to be able to compare different reports and learn more about the situation and to allow other rapporteurships to do likewise. The IACHR called into question whether the state did indeed have sufficient resources to meet the population’s needs and emphasized the effect the crisis was having on the most vulnerable sectors of the population.

The Rights of Afro-Mexicans and People of African Descent in Mexico

The organizations that requested the hearing claimed that historic institutional racism persists in Mexico and that the individual and collective rights of Afro-Mexican communities have not been recognized in the constitution. They also stated that Afro-Mexican peoples have fallen victim to a process of historical invisibility which has been compounded by structural discrimination within public services, particularly in the health sector. They observed that these circumstances particularly affect Afro-Mexican women, girls, and teenagers, who suffer from racial, gender-based, and economic discrimination. They mentioned that migrants of African descent are also victims of discrimination in Mexico. The delegation from the state of Mexico recognized that it faces challenges in the different areas that relate to the human rights of the Afro-Mexican population and stated that it has the will, capacity, and means to improve this situation. It maintained that school textbooks have been revised to include mention of the contribution that Afro-Mexicans have made to the country; that working groups have been established to eliminate discrimination; and that training programs are being implemented to address the use of racial profiling among migrants to Mexico. The IACHR acknowledged the efforts that the state of Mexico has made but stressed that it needed to strengthen existing laws and actions on this matter and also to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance.

Drug Policy and Allegations of Human Rights Violations Within the Mental Healthcare Model in Mexico

The organizations that requested the hearing explained that Mexico’s current health model explains mental health in terms of neurochemical processes and that does not incorporate individual and social experiences into these explanations. They argued that this has led to violations such as treating patients by depriving them of their freedom, torture, sexual abuse, and ill-treatment. They argued that the legislation currently in force in Mexico allows involuntary confinement on the grounds of disability, that the new model the government has implemented falls short as it does not include a true network of resources to enable users to rejoin society, and that data from care centers is not publicly accessible. The delegation from the state of Mexico acknowledged the importance of dialogue to reach agreement on this issue and expressed its commitment to consolidating a mental healthcare and drug policy that respects human rights. The IACHR pointed out that the current law requires clarification regarding the responsibilities of those involved in providing healthcare, while acknowledging the transition that is taking place around the rights of people with disabilities. It ended the session by calling for the rights of all users of the healthcare system to be respected through laws that are in keeping with the current human rights situation and once more underlined the importance of dialogue between the state and civil society.

The Demarcation and Titling of Indigenous Lands and the Caribbean

The organizations that requested the hearing expressed concern over the demarcation and titling of indigenous lands in the Caribbean states of Belize, Guyana, and Suriname. Indigenous groups in each of these countries have faced specific problems during this process, including state governments ignoring the orders of both the Inter-American Commission and the Caribbean Court of Justice to implement this process and legally recognize these groups’ rights to land. They underlined the cultural importance of their relationship with the land and argued that current government practices undermine and dismantle their customs and institutions. The organizations said there is a need for open dialogue between states and indigenous people to promote proper demarcation and titling processes. The IACHR stated that the indigenous land rights in question are clear and that the states have chosen not to respect them. It suggested publishing a thematic report on the indigenous people of the Caribbean. The IACHR ended the session by suggesting that the organizations present continue to act jointly as representatives of the indigenous peoples of the region to broaden the reach of their actions and requested that they continue to send the commission information on this issue.

Allegations of Violations of the Rights to Healthcare and Social Security in the Dominican Republic

The organization that requested the hearing argued that the public health and social security system in the Dominican Republic is going through a serious structural crisis that is jeopardizing the population’s enjoyment of their rights. It argued that the main obstacles to people fully enjoying and exercising these are clinics’ right to free enterprise and the copayment system, through which patients are obliged to pay part of the fee for the care they receive, which many users are not in a position to do. It also expressed particular concern about how low public investment in healthcare is (just 2% of GDP), the lack of primary care, and infant mortality and maternal death rates. The delegation from the Dominican state argued that it was committed to guaranteeing the population equal access to these rights. To this end, it said it is seeking to modify the current regime to include the informal population and thus to meet its goal of achieving coverage of over 90% by 2020. The state delegation also claimed that despite having one of the lowest tax rates in the region, it had undertaken health-related initiatives such as building new hospitals, providing equipment and supplies for clinics, and hiring medical staff. The IACHR expressed its particular concern over people with disabilities, the elderly, the LGBTI population, infant mortality, maternal death, and the degree of privatization of health and social security, and gave the state the opportunity to respond to these issues in writing.

The Human Rights of Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees in the Region (Ex Officio)

The organizations that requested the hearing expressed serious concerns regarding the current predicament of Venezuelan migrants and refugees and indigenous populations from the country’s border regions, including the fact that these groups have not been provided documents by various states. They illustrated the specific vulnerabilities and risks that plague migrants and refugees throughout the process of forced international displacement, including the lack of identity documents; statelessness, particularly for children and teenagers, and xenophobia and discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age, among other factors. They asked the IACHR to urge states to recognize, guarantee, and protect the human rights of Venezuelan migrant and refugee populations and to develop special care and protection protocols for those in vulnerable situations. They asked for a special report to be published to assess how states comply with international standards on refugee protection. The IACHR recognized how complex the current flight from Venezuela is and underscored the important work that civil society organizations perform in monitoring states’ behavior. It ended the session by expressing the need to develop regional cooperation protocols to deal with the massive influx of Venezuelans migrants and to implement guarantees against discrimination and xenophobia and measures to promote social integration through access to education, work, and social security.

Collective Land Titling and Protection for the Indigenous Embera, Wopunaan, Guna, Bugle, Ngabe, Naso, and Bribi Peoples in Panama

The organizations that requested the hearing argued that the state of Panama has denied indigenous peoples the right to their ancestral lands. They alleged that the state had agreed to the titling of these lands but then stopped the process, arguing that the lands in question were protected. They also claimed that the state has allowed the advance of extractive industries onto the same lands, which poses a threat to the environment and the cultural autonomy of indigenous peoples. They also requested that the IACHR grant precautionary measures and carry out an in loco fact-finding visit to Panama. The delegation from the state of Panama said that it was committed to protecting human rights, particularly the right to collective ownership; to free and informed consultation; to a healthy, ecologically balanced environment; and to access to sources of food and water for indigenous communities. It stressed that the protection of collective and individual ownership was gradually being strengthened, and drew attention to the creation of the Ministry of the Environment and the promotion of new reforms. The IACHR requested clarification on the demarcation and land titling mechanisms in question; the number and status of applications; the legal status of the protected area in relation to economic and extractive industries; and the impact that infrastructure projects have had on the human rights of indigenous peoples. It concluded by acknowledging the progress that the Panamanian government has made and proposing a consultation on the measures that the state has adopted to guarantee the rights of indigenous communities and to recognize their contributions to land conservation.

Allegations of Killings, Disappearances, and Multiple Forms of Discrimination Against Indigenous Communities and Indigenous Women in Alaska, United States

The organizations that requested the hearing described the rates of violence against women, girls, and adolescents in the United States as “devastating,” especially for Native American and Native Alaskan women. They argued that 84% of Native Alaskan women have experienced violence at some point in their lives, and reported that federal authorities have denied these victims access to justice, and alleged that the crimes are not being properly investigated. The delegation from the US state informed those present that it was committed to taking steps to eradicate violence against women in Alaska and noted that district attorneys are working to bring perpetrators of violent crimes against indigenous women to justice. The IACHR acknowledged the efforts being made by the US federal government in this area, especially the prosecution of acts of violence against women and asked the US authorities to take appropriate measures to fully understand the causes of this phenomenon and comply with their obligation to prevent such crimes against women.

Identification of Remains of Missing Migrants at the US Border

The organizations that requested the hearing reported on the obstacles faced by the families of migrants who have disappeared on the southern border of the United States in their attempts to identify and repatriate their relatives’ remains. They underlined the fact that the means to identify the remains of migrants exist and are being used successfully by forensic scientists and NGOs, but the state’s lack of political will to cooperate with these groups has undermined the effectiveness of this system. They claimed that by failing to take adequate measures to identify and repatriate the remains of missing migrants, the state is violating international standards. The delegation from the US state expressed its deep concern over this situation and explained that some of its current practices and policies prevent certain forms of collaboration with outside groups. The IACHR asked the state questions about the allegations of cremation and public mass graves for unidentified migrants and condemned the lack of investigations to identify migrants’ remains. The IACHR praised civil society organizations and universities for the humanitarian efforts they have made to bring peace of mind to missing migrants’ families and stressed how important it is for the state to take immediate steps to modify policies and regulations that prevent it from playing a greater part in this work.

Four Million US Citizens Residing in Puerto Rico V. United States (P.13. 154) Rosello and Others V. United States (P. 13.326)—Vindication of the Right to Vote in Puerto Rico

Those who requested the hearing argued that US citizens residing in Puerto Rico are denied the right to vote and elect the president, the vice president, and voting members of the US Congress, all on the discriminatory grounds that they reside in a US territory rather than a state. They stressed that they can only exercise this right to vote if they move and take up residence in the US state or a foreign country. However, US federal law applies to the citizens of Puerto Rico and the decisions of local and state authorities are subject to supervision by a federal oversight board. They alleged that the state is violating articles II (the right to equality before the law), XVII (right to recognition of juridical personality and civil rights), XVIII (right to a fair trial), and XX (right to vote and to participate in government) of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The delegation from the US state claimed that although the case is framed as an issue of voting rights, the petitioners are seeking to question Puerto Rico’s political status as a free associated state or commonwealth in the US federal system, which is exclusively an internal matter. It also argued that the differences in the voting rights of US citizens residing in Puerto Rico are not based on the factors identified in article II of the American Declaration, but on the nature of what a federal state is, which is defined in the US Constitution. The state also asserted that the citizens enjoy the same civil rights as all other US citizens, have access to US courts, elect their own governor and legislature, and have the right to vote in US elections. The IACHR underlined the importance of the right to vote by stating that it constitutes the essence of citizenship in a democracy.


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 and to defend 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. 220A/18