Press Release

IACHR Completes 174th Period of Sessions

November 20, 2019

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Washington, D.C./Quito, Ecuador – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 174th Period of Sessions on November 8–14, 2019 in Quito, Ecuador. The IACHR thanks Ecuador for its invitation and for the facilities that made it possible to hold all scheduled events successfully. The Commission thanks Ecuadorian civil society organizations and the Ecuadorian people for their cooperation and hospitality.

During its 174th Period of Sessions, the IACHR held 25 public hearings, concerning Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and concerning regional issues like violations of the human rights of Afro-descendant LGBTI persons in the Americas, the death penalty in the Anglophone Caribbean, and the need to adopt a gender perspective in public policies about human rights. A total of 26 working meetings were also held 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 nine merits reports. Promotional and training activities were held too, and Commissioners took part in several external events.

During its 174th Period of Sessions, the IACHR assessed the overall situation of human rights in the region. The information the IACHR received in hearings and meetings highlighted the existing challenges to protect human rights in the protest contexts that are ongoing to demand social rights in several countries around the region. The Commission calls on States to step up their efforts in the fight against poverty and inequality, with a human rights perspective. States should not respond with repression and an excessive use of force in these contexts, when facing legitimate citizen demands. Instead, they should focus on encouraging genuine social dialogue through effective citizen participation, in a fully transparent, non-discriminatory atmosphere that reflects the rights perspective required by international and inter-American human rights standards. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) issue a special call to States, so they ensure that, whenever they decide to implement austerity measures or economic reforms that may affect access to economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights and the enjoyment of these rights, they make sure that citizens—particularly the most vulnerable groups—are adequately informed and consulted and take part in the decision-making process. These measures and reforms must include an impact analysis concerning human rights and take into consideration the relevant obligations of Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS).

The Commission highlights the hearing it held on its own initiative concerning Chile. At that hearing, the IACHR was informed about multiple forms of violence and other negative effects on the human rights of individuals while they were exercising their legitimate right to protest. The Commission also noted the information submitted by the Chilean State, and its invitation for the Executive Secretary of the IACHR to travel to Santiago to prepare the Inter-American Commission’s upcoming visit. The Commission has warned that, while the State has a legitimate duty to protect security and public order, any use of force must respect the principles of legality, proportionality, and strict necessity. The IACHR stresses that firearms must be kept out of all operations to control social protests. The IACHR warns that the actions of the security forces must focus only on preventing violence and on ensuring the right to protest, without subjecting peaceful demonstrators to any kind of direct repression or arbitrary arrest. The Commission stresses that, based on inter-American standards, preserving public order and citizen security are State obligations that should be reserved for civilian police institutions.

Further, the IACHR rejected widespread violence in Bolivia and called for respect for the country’s democratic institutions, as well as for the human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all Bolivians. Given the serious events in the country, the IACHR set up a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (RIRCU, also known as SACROI by its Spanish acronym), to continue to monitor the situation of human rights in the context of the serious political and social crisis in the country. The Commission also noted the invitation for a visit extended to it by the State of Bolivia during the Special Session of the Permanent Council of the OAS that was held on November 12, 2019. The IACHR is willing to conduct that visit to observe the situation of human rights in Bolivia.

A further issue that commanded special attention during this period of sessions were the human rights of indigenous peoples in several countries in the region, including reports of multiple violations of the rights of indigenous peoples in Mexico. Similarly, the Commission received worrying information about the situation in the Colombian department of Cauca, and it strongly condemned attacks and murders perpetrated against individuals, authorities, and members of the country Indigenous Guard. The IACHR also stressed the significant participation of indigenous persons from various countries in the Americas in hearings and meetings held in the context of this period of sessions. Based on the information it has received, the Commission stresses its call on States in the region to take any measures necessary to end hate speech and racist and discriminatory discourse against indigenous persons, as well as all other forms of violence against them. The IACHR further calls on States to ensure full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and, in particular, their authorities and symbols, and to take any measures necessary to investigate and punish such violence and to provide serious, prompt, comprehensive, and independently defined reparations with a differentiated ethnic-racial perspective.

During this period of sessions, the IACHR also received information about environmental pollution in land, territories, and ecosystems in many countries, with a major impact on the rights to health, life, and personal integrity of the most vulnerable people in the region, particularly indigenous peoples. Besides acknowledging the bond that those peoples have with the land and with biodiversity, based on their various worldviews, the IACHR asks States to value their priceless contributions and strongly condemns attacks and other acts of violence perpetrated against their cultural and spiritual symbols. The Commission and its SRESCER are particularly worried about the evidence of a destructive pattern that directly affects sensitive ecosystems, mostly within indigenous territories. The Commission therefore calls on States to constantly review their environmental control and regulation processes—including active participation by citizens and residents of the areas affected by harmful activities—and to respect the right to prior, free, and informed consultation in accordance with the applicable international standards.

Concerning the rights of LGBTI persons, the Commission was informed about the different acts of violence and discrimination that these persons continue to be subjected to in the Americas, particularly when considered intersectionally with other vulnerable groups, as in the case of Afro-descendant trans women. The lack of disaggregated official data makes that violence invisible and leads to the perpetuation of a systematic pattern of impunity. The Commission also heard with concern reports on the challenges faced by migrant LGBTI persons who seek protection and a safe haven in the United States, particularly trans persons. The IACHR stressed the need for the State to implement specific measures to protect migrant persons with a diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and/or expression, based on the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

The IACHR was particularly concerned about the information it heard regarding the death penalty in countries in the Anglophone Caribbean. While these countries have not enforced the death penalty for more than 10 years, challenges remain to abolish this form of punishment. The organizations who requested the hearing that was held in this period of sessions said that death sentences continue to be used in a discriminatory way against vulnerable groups. They further noted the violation of the rights of individuals who are on death row, denounced the prevailing conditions of detention, and highlighted violations of due process that stem from a lack of access to an appeal to a different court in these cases. The IACHR urges the States who still apply the death penalty to either abolish it or at least impose a moratorium on its application.

The Commission was also concerned about reports regarding the disproportionate effect of gun violence in the United States on Afro-descendant persons, women, and children and adolescents. According to the information received by the IACHR, easy access to firearms fuels domestic violence, urban violence, and mass shootings. The Commission would particularly like to highlight the participation of victims and survivors of gun violence in the United States and their families, who shared their testimony in this thematic hearing. The IACHR stresses that all States have a responsibility to protect the safety, integrity, and dignity of residents in their territory, as a universal tenet of respect for human rights.

In this period of sessions, the IACHR approved the report Violence and Discrimination against Women, Girls, and Adolescents: Best Practices and Challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean and the document Principles on Public Policies Concerning Memory in the Americas. The Commission also discussed the following drafts: Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of all Migrants, Including Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking and the thematic report Corruption and Human Rights.

The Commission further debated the merits of nine cases, in which it established the relevant international responsibilities and issued its recommendations. Those cases focused on due process, applying the death penalty, racial discrimination, the ancestral land rights of indigenous peoples, the right to information, job stability, and access to justice concerning serious human rights violations, among other issues.

The Commission held three public hearings concerning the following cases that are currently being assessed: Case 12,204, Asociación Mutualista Israelita (AMIA), with regard to Argentina; Case 13,095, A.B. and S.H., with regard to Jamaica; and Case 12,569, Quilombola communities in Alcántara, with regard to Brazil. The Commission also held four working meetings to monitor compliance with its recommendations in cases where a merits report has already been issued and where the Commission is set to make a decision concerning a potential submission to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Holding more meetings of this kind during this period of sessions marked the start of an effort that the Commission would like to improve, to make its decisions more effective. The Commission appreciates the participation in these meetings of victims and their representatives, and of the States of Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.

The Commission held six working meetings about the friendly settlement procedure—in its various negotiation and implementation stages—on the following matters: Case 11,755 (Carlos Alberto López de Belva—Argentina); Case 12,904 (Chusmiza-Usmagama Aymara Community and its Members—Chile); Case 11,026 A (César Chaparro Nivia—Colombia) and Case 12,998 B (Nelson Vergara Coy—Colombia); Case 13,170 (Víctor Emmanuel Torres Leyva and his Family—Mexico); and Case 12,191 (María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez—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 in these cases to seek progress in negotiations and compliance concerning friendly settlements that enable victims to obtain comprehensive reparations for the human rights violations they suffered.

The Commission also values efforts made by the States of Chile and Peru to implement settlements reached on the following matters: Case 12,904 (Chusmiza-Usmagama Aymara Community and its Members—Chile) and Case 12,191 (María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez—Peru). In both these cases, the IACHR heard reports of progress toward implementation. The Commission congratulates these States for advancing toward compliance with individually and structurally relevant measures in those cases. The IACHR urges these States to keep working toward full compliance and formal approval, in the case of Chile, and toward the end of supervision in the monitoring stage of published settlements, in the case of Peru.

The Commission supervised the implementation of precautionary measures that are currently in force. The IACHR held 10 working meetings concerning 13 precautionary measures, involving the States of Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Peru. The Commission considers these spaces important to implement the precautionary measures in force, based on the need to build a consensus and to assist beneficiaries who are at risk. In this context, the Commission is sorry that the States of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Venezuela failed to send representatives to the working meetings to which they had been summoned. The lack of information from the State prevents the Commission from being able to fulfil its mandate and to assess the measures that ate being implemented to mitigate the risks faced by beneficiaries.

During this period of sessions, working meetings were also held concerning eight cases that are in the stage of monitoring recommendations, regarding Jamaica, Mexico, and the United States. The IACHR thanks the parties for the information they provided and welcomes progress made to implement its recommendations. Concerning Case 12,.254 (Víctor Saldaño vs. United States, involving a man who has been sentenced to death in the US state of Texas), the IACHR urged the United States to comply with the recommendations issued about Víctor Saldaño’s human rights. The IACHR asks 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.

The IACHR appreciates the participation of States and civil society in the public hearings, working meetings, and public events that took place during this period of sessions. The IACHR 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 is essential to strengthen the Inter-American Human Rights System. The IACHR is sorry that the States of Nicaragua and Jamaica did not take part in the hearings to which they had been summoned. Concerning Jamaica, the Commission opted to pursue the hearing anyway, in keeping with Article 64.2 of the IACHR’s Rules of Procedure. The absence of delegations from these 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).

Additionally, on November 13, the IACHR met with almost 100 members of civil society organizations and groups, at a gathering where the Commission obtained worrying information about various human rights issues. The IACHR notes the participation and representation of civil society organizations, who provided the Commission with a broad, detailed outlook of human rights.

Various promotion and training activities were held throughout this period of sessions. Following an invitation from Ecuador’s Ministry of Foreign Relations and Human Mobility, the IACHR took part in an event to celebrate its own 60th anniversary. The event “Human Rights Challenges in the Americas: The IACHR 60 Years On,” which was held at the Ministry’s headquarters on November 12, brought together representatives of the Commission, high officials, diplomats, representatives of civil society, and academics. The Commission thanks the State for this invitation to mark such a major milestone. The commemorative activities that were carried out show the commitment of the State of Ecuador and of civil society and academia to promoting and protecting human rights and strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System.

On November 11–15, the IACHR held the Review Course on Litigating before the Inter-American Human Rights System and the Inter-American Public Defense, which sought to train inter-American public defenders from several countries in the region and was organized jointly by the Inter-American Association of Public Defenders (AIDEF, by its Spanish acronym), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

Two training workshops were also held about the IACHR’s friendly settlement mechanism, targeting Ecuador’s State officials and civil society. These workshops addressed procedural and substantial aspects of this mechanism, along with tools for multiparty negotiation focused on mediation-related techniques. In these workshops, the Commission socialized its pilot project to expand the friendly settlement mechanism (launched on August 7) and opened up a space for dialogue between Ecuador’s State and civil society concerning the future of the friendly settlement mechanism as a tool to reduce procedural backlog.

The IACHR further held a training workshop on November 13 about the different mechanisms available in the Inter-American Human Rights System, targeting Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE, by its Spanish acronym).

The IACHR held a promotional event to launch its report Situation of Human Rights of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Pan-Amazon Region, which addresses the problems of peoples who live in that region in light of inter-American human rights standards. Indigenous communities, academics, civil society, and members of the wider public took part in this event, held jointly with the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM, by its Spanish acronym).

Beyond the activities that were held during this period of sessions, the Third Forum of the Inter-American Human Rights System—hosted jointly by the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with the support of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the State of Ecuador—was held on November 6–7 at the facilities of the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Ecuador. During the Forum, with a view to improving the effectiveness and impact of its recommendations and compliance with them, the IACHR deepened discussions about national mechanisms to implement those recommendations (highlighting best practices around the region) and about the creation of an “impact observatory” to monitor its recommendations.

During the Forum, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights presented the report Corporations and Human Rights: Inter-American Standards. This is the inter-American system’s first comprehensive report on the issue, so the IACHR and its SRESCER invited States, the private sector, civil society, and other regional stakeholders mentioned in the report to read and disseminate it, and to implement its recommendations.

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. 301/19