Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 147th regular session March 7-22, 2013. The IACHR is made up of José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Chair; Tracy Robinson, First Vice-Chair; Rosa María Ortiz, Second Vice-Chair; and Felipe González, Dinah Shelton, Rodrigo Escobar Gil, , and Rose-Marie Belle Antoine. The Executive Secretary is Emilio Álvarez Icaza L.
During the 147th session, the Commission held hearings and working meetings, and approved reports on individual cases and petitions. The hearings and reports reflect some of the structural human rights problems that continue to exist in the region. These have to do with respect for the right to life and humane treatment; the guarantees of due process and judicial protection; the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights: and situation regarding the rights of children, migrants, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, women, persons deprived of liberty, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex persons, among other issues.
For the first time in its history, the IACHR held a hearing requested by a group of States. Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and the Dominican Republic called on those States in the region that have not yet abolished the death penalty to consider doing so, or to declare a moratorium as a step prior to abolishing it, as suggested by the Commission in its report The Death Penalty in the Inter-American Human Rights System: From Restrictions to Abolition. The States participating in the hearing also urged States to comply with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR with regard to individuals sentenced to death. The Inter-American Commission welcomes this initiative, which serves as an example of the States and the IACHR working together in the defense of human rights.
The Commission is deeply concerned over information it received indicating that the phenomenon of forced disappearances continues to exist today in the region and that the situation remains invisible. This is due to the lack of, or ineffectiveness of, public policies in this area, and in some cases due to the denial that the phenomenon exists. Issues of particular concern include the failure to investigate cases of disappearances, the ineffectiveness of efforts to find individuals who have disappeared, and the impunity in which the majority of the cases remain.
In this regard, the Commission identified impunity as an ongoing problem in the region, one that seriously impairs victims’ right to justice and to reparation, and paves the way for these crimes to be repeated.
The Commission received troubling information indicating that human rights defenders continue to be targets of murders, threats, and harassment, along with acts of violence at protest demonstrations and the criminalization of their activities. The IACHR is particularly concerned about States’ failure to adopt effective measures to protect human rights defenders who are at serious risk.
In two hearings, the Commission also received information that persons of African descent in Brazil and in Colombia continue to face disadvantaged treatment and situations because of their race and that the intersectionality of race and gender worsen discrimination against women of African descent. The information received in these sessions is consistent with the conclusions of the Commission’s Report on The Situation of the People of African Descent in the Americas regarding the situation of structural discrimination that affects them, which is reflected in important obstacles for the enjoyment and exercise of their political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The invisibility of the needs of Afro-descendants, togethter with ongoing stereotypes and prejudices, contributes to perpetuate historical situations of sgregation and exclusion. The IACHR reiterates the need for the States to adopt measures promptly and without delay in order to deal with the obstacles and barriers in the exercise, respect, and guarantee of the human rights of Afro-descendant people in the Americas.
On another matter, the Commission is deeply concerned about the continuing violation and disregard of the territorial rights of indigenous peoples in several countries of the region; the ongoing, serious violations of the right to life and to the physical and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples, communities, and persons; the repression of protests and public demonstrations carried out by leaders, authorities, and members of indigenous peoples in the defense of their rights; and the retaliatory actions or threats carried out against indigenous leaders.
With regard to persons deprived of liberty, the Commission continues to be deeply concerned over the serious human rights situation in prison facilities in all countries of the region. During the hearings, it received information of utmost concern on the excessive use of pretrial detention and the use of solitary confinement, as well as on detention conditions in Cuba and at the Guantánamo Naval Base, United States. In particular, the IACHR expresses its deep concern over the practice in the United States of incarcerating children under 18 years of age in prisons for adults, without any effective separation between the two. It is also cause of concern to the Commission the abuses, sexual rape and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, such as solitary confinement. The Commission urges the United States to identify and urgently implement a federal mechanism to identify anyone under the age of 18 as a child, to keep them from being tried as adults or incarcerated alongside adults.
In several hearings, the Commission received troubling information about the right to freedom of expression in several countries. Attacks on journalists, laws that violate the right to freedom of expression, the lack of regulatory frameworks that recognize community radio stations, and the closure of media outlets through administrative or judicial processes are some of the problems the Commission heard about during its sessions.
With regard to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, the Commission is concerned about the existence of centers for “curing” homosexuality, in which young and adult lesbian women are coerced or forced into these centers and subjected to all forms of violence, including physical and sexual violence. The Commission also heard with concern information about medical interventions to which intersex children are subjected because their bodies are different from the standard male or female body, without waiting for them to be of age to be able to consent. These procedures are medically unnecessary, done for cosmetic reasons, and tend to have irreversible effects, including genital insensitivity, sterilization, and chronic pain. The IACHR urges the States to adopt urgent measures to review these medical interventions for persons under 18 years of age, in the light of every person’s right to personal integrity, dignity, privacy, identity, autonomy, access to information, and sexual, reproductive, and health rights.
Disturbing information was also received about the situation of women’s rights, in particular the fact that violence against women continues in the Americas, and these crimes continue to go unpunished. In the hearings, the Commission heard troubling information about the legal and practical obstacles that continue to exist for women to be able to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights; obstacles in access to justice for women victims of violence; the growing problem of human trafficking; and the overlapping discrimination against women of African descent, indigenous women, poor women, and lesbian women, who are invisible when it comes to formulating laws and public policies and programs.
In several thematic hearings, the Commission received deeply troubling information about economic, social, and cultural rights. These include the lack of proper treatment for LGBTI indigenous persons living with HIV; the link between discrimination against communities in vulnerable situations and their exercise of the rights to work, to health and to land; and the overlap between the right to live free of discrimination and the exercise of economic and social rights for various groups, including women, indigenous persons, and Afro-descendants, among others. The Commission also received troubling information indicating that a high percentage of cases involving women and girls who have illegal abortions or are accused of violating laws that criminalize abortion are the result of poverty and lack of access to the right to health.
The IACHR held hearings on countries, and it notes it deep concern over the information it received on the serious challenges faced by the National Compensation Program for victims of the internal armed conflict in Guatemala, as well as the lack of progress in the Dominican Republic concerning the situation faced by Dominicans of Haitian origin and the human rights violations they suffer, especially against their right to nationality, which leads to situations of statelessness. With respect to Guatemala, the Commission calls on the State to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee that the compensation program can continue and to ensure that victims of the armed conflict receive comprehensive reparation that is culturally and gender-appropriate. With respect to the Dominican Republic, the Inter-American Commission will continue to use all mechanisms at its disposal to monitor this serious situation as long as it persists, and it urges the State to adopt the necessary measures to resolve it.
The annex to this press release includes information received during these sessions on the human rights situation in the region.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.