Press Release

IACHR Completes 173rd Period of Sessions

October 4, 2019

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 173rd Period of Sessions between September 22 and October 2, 2019, at its own headquarters in Washington, D.C. During those sessions, the IACHR held 33 public hearings concerning Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela, as well as several regional hearings. A total of 60 working meetings were also held—setting a new record—concerning petitions, cases, precautionary measures, and monitoring efforts, as well as dozens of other meetings with representatives of victims, States, civil society organizations, and academia. This period of sessions also witnessed the approval of 21 merit reports, a historic figure. Sessions also included workshops, courses, seminars, and consultations with experts, while Commissioners took part in several external events, whether as speakers or in panels.

During its 173rd Period of Sessions, the IACHR assessed the overall situation of human rights in the region. The Commission examined the situation in several specific countries, and also focused on the human rights of various groups who have historically suffered discrimination. Based on the information it obtained in hearings and meetings, the IACHR was struck by the challenges faced by efforts to defend the human rights of individuals who are mobile in the regional migration context and of human rights defenders, by the climate’s effects on human rights, and by pending issues regarding memory, truth, and justice in the region. The Commission expressed its profound concern about the serious—and deepening—human rights crises in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The IACHR paid particular attention to the regional migration context, given the growing forced migration which has led to a 219% increase in the number of asylum seekers in the Americas over the past three years. The IACHR granted five hearings to address the situation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. The main migration flows forced by human rights crises in the region involve Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the countries in Central America’s Northern Triangle. The IACHR has observed with concern that some States of destination have taken measures aimed at criminalizing migration, including the use of detention, border militarization, and actions against human rights defenders and other people who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants. The IACHR stresses its willingness to keep observing migration comprehensively, examining both its causes and its effects and demanding full respect for human rights.

A further issue that required special attention during the 173rd Period of Sessions involved the effects of the climate on human rights, with droughts, floods, mudslides, hurricanes, and various other extreme weather events that affect human rights and might increase exponentially, unless adequate mitigation, remediation, and adaptation measures are implemented with a human rights perspective. Based on the information received by the IACHR, both the causes and the effects of climate change are linked to human rights violations, so any responses to the climate crisis must adopt a human rights approach. Use of fossil fuels, extraction and exploitation activities, and deforestation are some of the main causes of the ongoing crisis, which compromises future generations’ options to live and enjoy their human rights and has a disproportionate effect on vulnerable people. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) highlighted that this is a crucial, urgent issue. They called for comprehensive, joint efforts with States and civil society, and they demanded greater visibility for the role of financial institutions and other businesses in these contexts. They also encouraged swift ratification by States of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement. They stressed that the IACHR’s Strategic Plan 2017–2021 asks the SRESCER to develop and strengthen inter-American standards concerning the “human right to a healthy environment and the challenges that emerge from climate change.” Given this goal and the fact that this is a priority issue, the SRESCER is currently leading work on it with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. A workshop—open to organizations and individuals who specialize in issues concerning the environment and climate change—was held during this period of sessions.

The IACHR warns of the large numbers of murders of human rights defenders and social leaders in the region, and of the attacks, threats, harassment, intimidation, stigmatization and smear campaigns, and the intense criminalization processes that these individuals continue to face in the region. The Americas remains the world’s most dangerous region for efforts to defend human rights. The Commission is particularly concerned about reports of an arbitrary use of criminal law against human rights defenders—especially environmental rights defenders—as a tool to hinder or prevent cases concerning the defense of human rights in the region. In the context of recent hearings, the IACHR stressed its position and noted it would increase its efforts to address this problem.

Concerning Memory, Truth, and Justice, the Commission highlighted the creation of specialized institutions focused on investigating serious past human rights violations. However, the IACHR expressed its concern about the lack of substantial progress made to launch and advance such investigations, given the seriousness of the crimes involved, the nature of the rights that were violated, and the fact that a major portion of the victims are older adults. A further challenge involves creating reparations programs and keeping them active, in compliance with international standards on comprehensive reparations. The Commission highlighted that it is important to develop remembrance initiatives, with the participation of victims, as a way to recognize their dignity and to restore historical truth in democratic societies.

Concerning Nicaragua, the IACHR obtained information about persistent repression, marked by a ban on social protests, the use of harassment and threats against human rights defenders, trials of opposition activists without due process, arbitrary arrests of opposition activists, harassment against religious ceremonies, and threats against the Roman Catholic church and against various religious leaders, the worrying situation of peasants, and the persisting imposition of a police state that keeps pushing thousands of people into exile. The IACHR also received information about persistent threats, attacks, and assaults on journalists, and about the closing of media outlets who do not support the government, through administrative measures and other moves adopted by the government to suffocate such media outlets. The Commission was particularly concerned about reports of increased repression in rural areas, which have allegedly led to at least 30 peasant deaths so far this year. Most of these individuals were linked to protests and/or to the ongoing political conflict. Almost all cases remain unpunished, and only one of them has resulted in one arrest.

Concerning Venezuela, the IACHR received worrying information about serious human rights violations and about a persisting impact on the country’s democratic institutions. In particular, the IACHR heard allegations of widespread political persecution of all opposition activists and dissidents active against the de facto government, especially members of the National Assembly and public officials who disagree with Maduro. In a context where the separation of powers is being violated, civil society organizations reported violations of parliamentary immunity, arbitrary arrests, and forced disappearances affecting the human rights of certain individuals, as well as the operations of the National Assembly as a whole. Civil society further reported repression and criminalization of human rights defenders based on the National Security Doctrine, which considers them an “internal enemy.” There are reports about stigmatizing discourse, harassment, threats, murders, and extrajudicial killings.

Considering the serious situation in the country, the IACHR decided to launch the Special Monitoring Mechanism for Venezuela (MESEVE, by its Spanish acronym), in order to monitor the recommendations issued to the State by the Commission and to ensure special monitoring of the situation of human rights in the country. Since 2017, the IACHR has a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (RIRCU) in place to address issues concerning Venezuela. With the creation of the MESEVE, the IACHR will expand its capacity to monitor the recommendations it has issued through its various mandates; to verify the implementation of precautionary measures; to monitor the analysis of any petitions it receives; to monitor the situation of human rights on the ground; to build civil society capacities to promote respect for and to protect human rights in the country; and to publicize the situation of human rights in Venezuela among the international community. In the context of the MESEVE, the Commission plans to draft two reports—one on the situation of human rights in Venezuela, and another on the forced migration of Venezuelans.

The IACHR has been observing the social and political situation in Haiti with concern since July 2018. During this period of sessions, the IACHR prioritized the situation in Haiti and had access to more information on that country, particularly concerning the rights to health, education, freedom of expression, and freedom to protest, and concerning policies and other efforts adopted by the Haitian State to ensure better conditions for the enjoyment of human rights. The IACHR also warns of the current rise in political tensions and violence during protests in Haiti. In this context, the Commission observes that the current political dynamics, where the president’s mandate is being questioned, joins economic issues like the hike in the price of fuel, food shortages, and inflation, and a lack of basic public services. All this has led to a reduced enjoyment of human rights and worsened Haiti’s security problems. The IACHR has denounced the use of political violence and urged the State and other social actors to peacefully restore the political process.

In this period of sessions, the IACHR continued to develop—through bilateral meetings—its coordination and articulation plan for joint efforts with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The OHCHR’s representative in Colombia, Alberto Brunori, took part in the hearing on “Threats and murders of social leaders in Colombia.”

Concerning cases, the Commission approved 21 merit reports, making this session the one with the highest number of reports. The IACHR assessed State responsibility for human rights violations and issued the relevant recommendations. A working meeting was held on Case 12,880 (Alex Lemun—Chile) to seek progress in compliance with recommendations. A hearing was held on Case 13,377 (Silvia Elena Rivera and Others—Mexico, concerning girls and young women who were murdered or disappeared in Ciudad Juárez), where the Commission heard a witness as well as oral statements from both parties. The Inter-American Commission will continue to examine this case in the relevant report.

The Commission supervised the implementation of precautionary measures that are currently in force. The IACHR held 16 working meetings concerning 22 precautionary measures, involving the States of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. The Commission further held a public hearing on compliance with precautionary measures to protect independent journalists in Nicaragua, concerning precautionary measures 693-18, 1606-18, and 399-19.

The 33 working meetings held to discuss the friendly settlement procedure—in its various negotiation and implementation stages—involved Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru. In those meetings, the parties made progress—facilitated by the Commission—toward developing work plans and identifying interests to negotiate and implement friendly settlements. The Commission values the will of the parties to seek progress in negotiating and signing friendly settlements that enable victims to obtain comprehensive reparations for the human rights violations involved in these cases. The Commission welcomes progress made in negotiations concerning Case 12,956 (F.S.—Chile).

The Commission also values efforts made by States to implement settlements reached on the following matters: Case 13,011 (Graciela Ramos Rocha—Argentina); Petition 687-11 (Gabriela Blas—Chile); Case 11,545 (Marta Saire—Honduras); Case 12,915 (Ángel Díaz Cruz—Mexico) and Petition 735-07 (Ismael Mondragón—Mexico); Cases 12,632 (Marcelino Gómez Paredes—Paraguay) and 12,359 (Cristina Aguayo—Paraguay). In all these cases, the IACHR heard reports of significant progress toward implementation. The Commission further calls on the Panamanian State to swiftly execute the two new friendly settlement agreements signed in May and June 2019 concerning human rights violations perpetrated in the country during the military dictatorship. The Commission also calls on the Chilean State to seek faster progress toward legislative approval of the non-repetition measures agreed in the Sonia Arce Case.

The Commission congratulates these States for the progress they have made toward compliance with individually and structurally relevant measures in those cases. The IACHR urges these States to keep working toward full compliance, to ensure either approval or an end to supervision in the monitoring stage of published settlements. The Commission observes with great satisfaction the joint development of work methods among the parties, and urges them to keep dialogue open, so they may make further progress toward executing any measures that remain pending.

The 10 working meetings on cases that are at the stage of monitoring recommendations concerned Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. The IACHR thanks the parties for the information they provided and welcomes progress made to implement its recommendations. The IACHR urges all States in the region to keep implementing effectively and in agreement with victims and their representatives the recommendations issued in the Commission’s merits reports, with the aim of ensuring full and comprehensive reparations for victims of human rights violations.

During the public hearing to monitor Case 12,958 (Russell Bucklew–United States), the IACHR called on the State to suspend Mr. Bucklew’s execution—scheduled for October 1, 2019—in keeping with the United States’ obligations under international law.

The IACHR appreciates the participation of States and civil society at the hearings, working meetings, and public events that took place during this period of sessions. The Inter-American Commission highlights how important it is for States to get involved in all hearings, in good faith and contributing relevant, substantial information, to move constructively toward solving the region’s human rights problems. The active participation of States, victims of human rights violations and their representatives, and civil society organizations makes the Inter-American Human Rights System stronger.

The IACHR is sorry that the States of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Trinidad and Tobago did not take part in the hearings to which they had been summoned, while the United States also failed to take part in one of the hearings it had been called to. The absence of delegations from those States makes the IACHR’s work substantially more difficult, or even impossible. Hearings are an essential tool to obtain information, so the IACHR may fulfil the mandate it has been granted by Member States of the OAS (to protect, promote, and defend human rights in the region).

In the context of these sessions, the IACHR approved the thematic report Situation of Human Rights of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon Region, to address the problems of peoples who live in that region in light of the standards of the Inter-American Human Rights System. This approval is in line with the IACHR’s decision to prioritize the situation of indigenous peoples, and with the growing information that has made it possible to see that Amazonian peoples face specific problems, beyond the major challenges faced by all indigenous peoples in the Americas. Further, the impact of these problems on these peoples’ rights extends beyond the individual and collective and threatens the very protection of the Pan-Amazon region. The IACHR also addressed the report Situation of Defenders in Colombia.

In internal working sessions, the Executive Secretariat’s teams for each unit and each Rapporteurship presented to the IACHR an assessment of the work done to date and of the commitments that remain pending to ensure compliance with the 2019 Action Plan. The Technology and Systems departments of the IACHR and the OAS presented progress made to develop new IACHR management systems. During this period of sessions, the Commission assessed the proposed creation of an IACHR Impact Observatory, and it adopted the Resolution on Initial Petition Review, which regulates how further review of a petition that was originally rejected can be requested, to ensure legal certainty and transparency. The IACHR further approved the following documents: 1. Plan to request an advisory opinion on differentiated approaches concerning persons deprived of their liberty; 2. General Guidelines to Monitor the Recommendations and Decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The following internal documents were also approved: Guidelines for members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take part in external meetings, committees, and other activities; and Directive on the performance of the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurships concerning the activities and roles held in their mandates.

Additionally, on September 25, the IACHR met with almost 80 organizations and representatives of inter-American and international civil society, at a gathering where the Commission obtained worrying information about various human rights situations in the Americas. In particular, the IACHR notes the participation and representation of civil society organizations from various countries, which provided the Commission with a broad, detailed outlook of human rights in the region.

The IACHR also held a parallel meeting with representatives of OAS States, to improve dialogue toward ensuring greater and better protection of human rights in the region and adequate implementation by States of the decisions issued by the Inter-American Human Rights System.

In its sessions on September 21, at the IACHR headquarters, the IACHR held productive talks with the panel of experts concerning the promotion of freedom of religion and belief and of certain secular aspects from the Inter-American Human Rights System. The event was attended by representatives of States, civil society organizations, and religious groups. Participants were able to debate and make observations about the issue, which is particularly timely following the approval of the relevant resolution during the most recent meeting of the General Assembly of the OAS.

The Commission also held a promotional event to launch the report Public Policy with a Human Rights Approach . Attendees included many officials, academics, representatives of civil society, and private individuals. The main goal of this report is to put forward a conceptual framework on public policies with a human rights perspective, to help States to achieve structural impact for the prevention and non-repetition of human rights violations.

At the invitation of the Permanent Council of the OAS, the IACHR took part on October 2 in the Council’s Extraordinary Meeting to address this issue in relation to the 60th anniversary of the creation and installation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in keeping with Declaration AG/DEC. 99 (XLIX-O/19). The IACHR thanks Member States of the OAS for inviting the Commission to this session to mark its anniversary. This shows countries’ priceless commitment to promoting and protecting human rights in the region and to strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System.

Various promotion and training activities concerning human rights were held throughout these sessions. First, the optional in-person week on the Inter-American Human Rights System was also held, in the context of the Fourth International Course on Public Human Rights Policy held jointly by the IACHR and MERCOSUR’s Institute of Public Human Rights Policy. A total of 47 people from 14 countries in the region took part in this optional week. This space seeks to train relevant actors from all over the region to integrate a human rights approach in public policy. The IACHR further held—jointly with the American University, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and the Robert Kennedy Human Rights Foundation—a course on the Inter-American Human Rights System for State agents. A total of 20 officials from nine countries in the Americas took part in the course. Finally, all academic work on the impact of IACHR efforts was presented during this period of sessions, in the context of celebrations of the Commission’s 60th anniversary. A total of 72 academic pieces were presented, on issues including the IACHR’s role in its 60-year history, the IACHR and the protection of groups who are particularly vulnerable or have historically suffered discrimination, and the impact of the IACHR on domestic jurisdictions.
On September 27, a Technical Cooperation Agreement was signed with the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School, in order to develop specific projects and activities to promote the Inter-American Human Rights System and to provide training on human rights.

During the 173rd Period of Sessions, a framework agreement for cooperation was signed with the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Ecuador to hold the Third Forum of the Inter-American Human Rights System, hosted jointly by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This forum is set to be held on November 6–7, 2019 at the facilities of the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Ecuador in Quito. The IACHR notes that the 174th Period of Sessions is set to be held on November 8–14 in Ecuador, at the host country’s invitation.

Videos of these hearings are available, as are high-resolution licensed photos that are free for public download and use. This press release is being published alongside an annex with summaries of all the public hearings held  during this period of sessions.

The IACHR notes the fears of potential retaliation expressed by civil society representatives in hearings and working meetings concerning several States. Those participants said they were afraid of the consequences they might face when they returned to their countries. The IACHR strongly condemns any hurdles imposed on an individual to prevent them from exercising their right to use the mechanisms of the Inter-American Human Rights System, and any other retaliation or stigmatization measures taken by a State based on the participation or actions of an individual or organization before institutions that are part of the Inter-American System, in the exercise of their conventional rights. As stated in Article 63 of its Rules of Procedure, the IACHR urges all States to adopt protection measures to ensure the safety of all people who have taken part in activities during this period of sessions or who use any of the tools available to everyone in the Americas.

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. 248/19