OF THE ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
FOLLOW-UP ON THE PLAN OF ACTION
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
I have the honor of addressing Your Excellency to attach herewith, pursuant to your request, the document which the Executive Secretariat of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has produced regarding follow-up on the Plan of Action of the Summit of the Americas in connection with the protection and promotion of human rights.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
Jorge E. Talana
1. Accession to inter-American human rights instruments
The jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was accepted by El Salvador on June 6, 1995.
The additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights "Protocol of San Salvador" now has nine of the eleven ratifications needed to go into effect. Peru deposited its instrument of ratification on June 4, 1995, and El Salvador did so on June 6 of the same year. In 1996, Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil, and Paraguay followed on April 2, April 16, August 21, and June 3, respectively.
On February 22, 1996, Argentina and Panama deposited the instrument of ratification of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Paraguay did the same on the respective dates of April 2, 1996, June 2, 1996, and November 26, 1996. That international instrument entered into force on March 28, 1996.
Brazil deposited the instrument of ratification of the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to Abolish the Death Penalty on August 13, 1996. The Protocol has been in effect since August 28, 1991.
The Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish, and Eradicate Violence Against Women entered into force on March 5, 1995. The first instrument of ratification was deposited at the Organization by Bolivia on December 5, 1994. In 1995, 14 member states of the Organization followed suit, with 11 more doing so the following year. Haiti deposited the instrument of ratification on June 2, 1997.
2. Cooperation with human rights entities
Pursuant to the objectives in the Plan of Action which the Summit put in place to create closer ties between the inter-American human rights system and national and international organizations active in human rights, and achieve greater joint efficiency, the Commission has grown more active and intensified its working relations with national organizations, OAS entities, the United Nations system, and other regional systems.
The Commission continued working to maintain cooperative ties with specialized organizations of the OAS involved in human rights, such as the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), the Inter-American Children's Institute (IIN), and the Inter-American Indian Institute (III). Activities carried out are mentioned below.
The Commission also developed cooperative ties with UN bodies responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, including the Commission on Human Rights, the Committee on Human Rights, and, in particular, the latters working group on forced disappearances, in hopes of shedding light on some similar cases reported to the IACHR.
The Commission stepped up its activities and ties with organs of the European and African international human rights systems through coordination of jurisprudence, and via technical meetings and internships.
3. Programs to promote human rights
In recent years the Commission has increased its promotional activities in an effort to bring about an awareness and understanding of regional instruments for the protection and promotion of human rights. These activities have been directed at the general population as well as subject-matter specialists, including government officials, professionals in the legal arena, court officers, members of public and nongovernmental human rights organizations, and military and security forces.
The Commission developed a module-based seminar for the presentation and discussion of the procedures and jurisprudence of the inter-American human rights system. The seminar is offered in member countries at the behest of their governments. Seminars have already been held in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, with several hundred court officers from those countries participating as well as guest officials from neighboring countries. Furthermore, the Commission has expanded its Rómulo Gallegos Award program for young professionals doing 10-month internships at the Executive Secretariat.
The commissioners and the Executive Secretariats legal specialists regularly and increasingly attend technical meetings on human rights matters. They also give special courses at various of the regions universities and military training institutes.
The Commission also strengthened working relationships and information exchange with governmental human rights agenciesin particular, national human rights commissions in various countries, ombudsmen, and the like.
It should be emphasized that during 1995 the IACHR provided support to the Haitian National Truth and Justice Commission (CNVJ). Initially, the CNVJs investigatory unit was headed by a professional from the IACHRs Executive Secretariat, with 50 investigators in charge of collecting information on the human rights abuses committed in the country.
As to dissemination, the Commission has a publications office that makes the Commissions reports available to several hundred public, private, and academic organizations. It also has created a site on the Internet where its reports and other published documents can be consulted directly.
In compliance with the resolution on the subject adopted by the General Assembly in Lima, the Commission will prepare a draft for an Inter-American Program for the Promotion of Human Rights, in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and other specialized organizations in the region. The proposal will be submitted for the consideration of the member states before the next General Assembly session, scheduled to be held in Caracas.
4. Womens rights
Since the Summit of the Americas, the Commission has moved forward in several ways to advance the high-priority goal, which the Plan of Action set, of promoting policies that ensure full protection of the legal and civil rights of women. The commissioner who is special rapporteur on the human rights of women is heading a study on the compatibility of OAS member states legislation and practices with respect to the right of women to be free from discrimination, established in the American Convention on Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. In May of 1995 the special rapporteur worked with the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights to convene a meeting of experts to discuss the drafting and distribution of a questionnaire on national legislation and practices affecting women. A second meeting of experts was held in March of 1996 to complete preparation of that questionnaire. In addition to that meeting, the Commission held, in conjunction with the Inter-American Commission of Women of the OAS, the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and the Washington College of Law, a conference on "Women, Human Rights, and the Inter-American System: Agenda for Action."
In July of 1996, the Commission started sending out questionnaires to the OAS member states. To date, 13 countries have provided the information requested. During the first half of 1997, the Commission sent the questionnaire to roughly 100 nongovernmental organizations in the region.
In November of 1997, the third meeting of experts will take place. Here, the information that has been collected will be examined, and there will be an analysis of the possible ways in which the IACHR could formulate recommendations aimed at remedying instances of discrimination.
At the urging of the Commission, the Second Inter-American Human Rights Competition, organized by the American University's Law School in May of 1997, with over 40 of the regions universities participating, focused on human rights for women. Commissioners and other IACHR staff took part in the event as judges.
This project of the special rapporteurs, along with the fact that the Convention of Belém do Pará entered into force in 1995, has generated new interest in the inter-American human rights system as a recourse in cases of specifically gender-motivated violence. Within the system it uses to deal with individual cases, the Commission included in its 1996 annual report two reports relating to womens human rights, and it is beginning to receive more petitions in this area. Furthermore, it is looking at the specific situation with regard to womens rights in its monitoring activities and special reports on the human rights situation in various member states.
5. Protection of indigenous minorities, peoples, and communities
In March of 1997, the Commission approved and sent to the General Assembly a proposed text which was the result of broad consultation with governments, indigenous organizations, and experts. This capped a long process of preparation of the future American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and represented the fulfillment of a recommendation which the General Assembly had made in 1989 and reiterated in subsequent years. With the new support which the Summits Plan of Action provided by making this area a priority, the Commission had, by March of 1997, carried out a process of wide distribution and discussion of its initial draft, which was completed in 1995 and circulated starting in October of that year.
This process involved two major components which, in themselves, were valuable for human rights advocacy. The first component was the presentation and distribution of the work, the second, the process of discussion and consultation that followed. The first included wide distribution of the draft, reinforced by publication in technical and general-interest periodicals in the member states, and presentation of the document at specialized meetings in Peru, Mexico, Panama, Canada, United States, and Argentina. For the second stagewide discussion and consultationthe Commission designed and coordinated a special project in collaboration with the Inter-American Indian Institute, the Fund for Indigenous Development, based in Bolivia, the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy of the OAS, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The project included consultation with the main indigenous organizations in 15 countries in the region, and two regional meetings - one in Quito, Ecuador, for the South American countries, and the other in Guatemala, for the Central American and Caribbean countries. A similar meeting was held in Denver, Colorado with representatives of more than 100 Native American organizations from the United States and Canada.
The project also included the first Indigenous Forum of the Americas, organized by the Inter-American Indian Institute and held in December of 1996; a technical meeting of experts organized by the IACHR in March of 1997; and a Forum on Democracy hosted by the OAS General Secretariats Unit for the Promotion of Democracy in May of 1997.
After the General Assembly received from the IACHR the proposal that came out of this broad process, it laid out a series of steps aimed at completing the process of review by member states in time for the General Assembly to approve the proposal in 1998 in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the OAS and in commemoration of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
The Commission is paying special attention to the situations in which indigenous peoples find themselves, in view of the growing number of communications it is receiving on individual situations related to the human rights of indigenous communities and peoples. The focus on this issue is also part of the general attempt to promote human rights, but the issue is approached as being especially closely related to the dialogue about those rights which should be included in the future Declaration. Also, within the general process of looking at the human rights situation in various countries, more emphasis is being placed on the effective exercise of human rights for the indigenous populations of the several countries. The special chapters of the special reports published in recent years on Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and (soon) Mexico, are a result of this emphasis.
6. Rights of the disabled
The Commission has studied and commented on a proposed inter-American legal instrument which is being looked at by the relevant working group of the Organizations Permanent Council.
The Commission has included this subject on its agenda for study, and it has begun to report on it in its special reports on the situation in specific countries. It has also included the subject in its seminars and technical conferences.
7. Childrens rights
The rights of children are the subject of special attention by the Commission, pursuant to its mandate. This has been reflected in recent years by the existence of special chapters in reports on the general situation in countries. These chapters have looked at the problems of the "street children," the condition of children in juvenile detention facilities, the sexual exploitation of children, socioeconomic rights (including, in particular, health and education), and the special situation of indigenous children and their rights.
This attention is also due to the increase in individual cases and hearings relating to alleged violations against children and the condition of particular groups that are especially vulnerable. Among the most notorious and legally influential cases are certain rulings of special importance, requests for precautionary measures, and friendly settlement with respect to situations which involve both illegal seizure of minors during military regimes in past decades and the present consequences of such acts.
8. Rights of migrant workers
During the Commissions ninety-second special session in May of 1996, a decision was made to commence consideration of the subject of migrant workers in the Hemisphere with a view to preparing a report on the subject. At the Panama session in June of 1996, the OAS General Assembly recommended that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights evaluate the situation regarding migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere [AG/RES. 1404 (XXVI-O/96)].
The Commission formed a working group made up of commissioners and specialized attorneys from the Secretariat to study the situation with regard to migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere. The scope of the Commissions study will be limited to the situation of migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere, and will not delve into problems such as "internal displaced persons," "persons without a country," and "refugees."
The working group started on the first phase of its work, which consists of establishing contact with international, regional, and national organizations that interact with migrant workers, in order to define the problems relating to them and their families, to collect information, and to help prepare the Commissions study of the situation of migrant workers and their families in the Hemisphere.
The working group is currently analyzing the general information and specific data provided by these organizations. The group expects to continue consulting with a variety of organizations in order to build a larger base of documentation and information, as well as visit areas where there are considerable concentrations of migrant workers in order to evaluate the situation first hand.
The working group is also preparing a questionnaire on the subject of migrant workers that will be sent to all the OAS member states for them to answer, thus eliciting their cooperation in the preparation of the study. The preparation of a separate questionnaire for governmental and nongovernmental organizations that have daily interaction with migrant workers is also anticipated, again with a view to obtaining direct evaluation of the situation.
Once the answers to the questionnaires have been received, the series of visits has been completed, and all the data is in, the Commission will analyze the information obtained and prepare a report evaluating the situation of migrant workers and their families.
9. Prison conditions
During the Commissions eighty-fifth and eighty-sixth sessions, a working group was set up to study detention conditions in the Americas. The Commission decided that once the study of prisons was completed, it would issue a report and would prepare an instrument to establish a uniform code of organization and minimum standards in accord with international law, so that the member states would have a model for prison administration and the treatment of the prison population. The Commission expects this model code to lead to more satisfactory practices in the Americas as far as prison conditions are concerned.
In order to help the working group in its study, questionnaires requesting information on prisons and prison conditions in the several countries were sent to the respective governments. The questionnaires were also sent to nongovernmental organizations involved in issues of prison conditions in the Americas.
The Commission also made visits to specific detention centers and prisons in various countries, both during its general observation visits and on special missions for this specific purpose, in order to gain first-hand knowledge of prison conditions in the countries it visited.
The Commission secured the assistance, collaboration, and contributions of the member states, and set December 31, 1996 as the deadline for the countries responses to the questionnaire, to which 26 member states have responded.
The Commission received responses from 14 nongovernmental organizations in various countries and regions on prisons and prison conditions in the Americas.
At its twenty-sixth regular session, in Panama, on June 3, 1996, the OAS General Assembly considered the 1996 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and at its eight plenary session adopted resolution AG/RES. 1404 (XXVI-O/96), paragraph 16 of which reads as follows:
16. To recommend to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that it continue to give priority to adoption of the necessary measures to remedy the situation of persons held in custody awaiting trial and of the overcrowding of prisons, and to request that the Commission present a report on the topic to the General Assembly at its next regular session.
The IACHRs working group on prisons and prison conditions continued its evaluative activities and is now studying the report on "Detention Conditions in the Americas" which will be submitted for the General Assemblys consideration.
10. Training for law enforcement agents and security forces
Through commissioners and lawyers from the Secretariat, the Commission is an active participant in the activities agreed upon at the inter-ministerial defense meetings ("Armed Forces, Democracy and Human Rights on the Threshold of the Twenty-first Century" in 1996, and in Miami in February of 1997), and, especially, in the multinational efforts undertaken by governmental representatives from the armed forces with a view to working out, insofar as possible, common standards to guide the training and evaluate the performance of armed forces with respect to human rights. The IACHR took part in a meeting sponsored by the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and the United Statess Southern Command in Panama in July of 1997, with military and civilian government representatives from 12 member countries participating. There it was agreed by the governmental representatives that this process should continue unfolding on the national level to develop and evaluate human rights progress in military and security-related actions.
As for the Commissions own work in this area, it has availed itself of its usual mechanisms as well as making special visits to military centers in the region to discuss human rights curricula for training military and security officers.
11. Strengthening the Commission and the Court
In accord with the priority objective which the Plan of Action established in relation to the observance of human rights and the strengthening of the system, the Commission has carried out ample and ever greater activity in fulfillment of its mandate to promote and defend human rights in the Hemisphere.
With respect to all the mechanisms at the Commissions disposal there was an increase in activity. Thus, we can point to the fact that since the beginning of 1995 the Commission has held an annual average of more than three regular and special sessions, which were also of increased duration; that, as to on-site observer missions, this period has included 11 general or subject-specific observer missions as well as various special visits to make contact with authorities and monitor compliance with agreements; that the number of cases taken up and ruled on, the number of requests for precautionary measures, and the number of friendly settlement procedures in progress or concluded have also increased.
The Commission has been very active in dealing with the protection of human rights through its system of individual petitions. In this connection, it is appropriate to note that the Commissions 1995 Annual Report contains a total of nine cases that were approved for publication, while the 1996 Annual Report published a total of 31 reports on individual cases, of which 14 dealt with admissibility, one with the friendly settlement procedure, and 16 with decisions on the merits of the respective cases brought before the Commission.
In the past two years, the Commission has substantially strengthened its ties with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This is a result of the greater number of cases which the Commission has submitted to the Court, as well as of the provisional measures requested.
Coordination between these two organs of the inter-American system has also benefited from joint Commission-Court meetings, which have provided a good framework in which to share experiences and coordinate activities.
Under the rubric of strengthening the system, the IACHR organized and sponsored a "Seminar on the Inter-American System for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights" which took place in Washington, D.C. from December 2 to December 4, 1996. The aim was to begin discussing matters of importance for the future of the regional system in order to enrich the dialogue which various sectors interested in strengthening the system have undertaken. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights invited representatives of the Hemispheres governments to the seminar along with academics, members of nongovernmental organizations, judges, legislators, and representatives of the European and international systems (European Commission and Court of Human Rights, and the UN Committee on Human Rights).
The seminar was made up of six panels, in which subjects considered crucial for advancing the regional system were considered. Specifically, the panels dealt with the following topics: 1) evaluation of the structure of the inter-American system, the independence and autonomy of its organs, and incompatibilities and conflicts of interest; 2) the filing and admissibility of petitions as well as questions having to do with proceedings relating to individual casesin particular, time periods governing proceedings, confidentiality, evidence, hearings, friendly settlement procedures, precautionary measures, and follow-up of Commission recommendations; 3) the Commissions other areas of authority, such as on-site visits, the adoption of special reports, and reports on the general human rights situation in various countries; 4) the relationship between domestic and international law, and the theory of the "margin of appreciation"; 5) questions having to do with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights adjudicatory and advisory jurisdictionparticularly, criteria and time periods for referring cases to the Court, publicizing of the process, reparation and indemnification measures, and individual participation in cases before the Court; and 6) the new challenges that the inter-American human rights system confronts as the new millennium approaches.
As a result of the seminar, the Commission came to a series of conclusions on improving the inter-American human rights system. These conclusions indicate that improvement should focus on modifying the rules and regulations governing the systems organs. The problems from which the system suffers are primarily procedural, so that their solution does not require reforming or modifying the text of the American Convention. The Commission should confront the question of improving its procedures so as to guarantee maximum transparency and predictability in the filing and processing of individual cases and so as to assure respect for due process by the parties involved in proceedings before the Commission.